At a time of constant innovation and evolving customer expectations, business agility has never been more important, says Karine Picard, EMEA Vice President, Applications Strategy & Sales Development at Oracle. The enterprises most adaptable to change stand the best chance of thriving. By contrast, those caged by complex and disjointed back office systems are running out of time.

A recent study by Oracle and The Confederation of British Industry highlighted just how unrelenting this change is, with half of the largest FTSE100 companies disappearing from the index since 2009.

Companies that can’t move at the speed of their customers and handle relentless change won’t be able to compete in today’s digital marketplace. While they won’t disappear overnight, the outcome will eventually be falling revenue, an intense scrambling to identify deep-seated problems, increasing levels of irrelevance and the inevitable death spiral.

By contrast, the opportunities are vast for companies with the courage to remake themselves around today’s realities and harness the pace of change as a competitive weapon.

The age of confusion

It’s no coincidence that some of the least connected companies suffer the most from complexity. To react to changing customer needs, companies need insight from a multitude of data sources and the ability to act on it quickly.

Evolving is only achievable through a state of hyper-connectivity, where company, customer and supplier data are all easily accessible across the organisation. If the CFO needs insight into employee productivity, they should be able to access the data from HR in seconds. Similarly, a CHRO looking for information on a new hire’s financial impact should easily be able to draw the data from finance.

While aspiring to hyper-connectivity is easy, achieving it is the real challenge. The main hurdle for business leaders is the oft-neglected back office. It’s here where some of the most crucial functions, including payroll, HR and supply chain operate. It’s the engine of the organisation, so when it isn’t running efficiently the entire company stalls.

Automate, integrate, iterate

For business leaders to align, the underlying back office must be integrated and connected. Migrating your various functions to the cloud avoids system fragmentation. Doing so also means you have all data in one place and a flexible, scalable environment in which to roll out changes.

Even then, however, organisational functions like HR and finance still drain time and resources. Simple, repetitive tasks like payment processing will continue to draw your staff away from higher-value tasks. Your ability to adapt and change your organisation is still compromised by cultural resistance and long-standing processes.

To overcome this resistance, businesses should look to simplify, standardise and automate with applications embedded with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). A ML application, for example, can easily auto-approve expenses, flagging those that require further investigation.

A connected, cloud based back office is a strong foundation on which to build these shared processes that run by themselves, more efficiently, and which filter throughout the enterprise.

United we stand

The impact of connecting data and automating processes across lines of business is transformative. Armed with the correct tools, business leaders can unlock unprecedented insight into operations, leading to increased collaboration, performance and the ability to anticipate change.

This couldn’t come at a better time. Almost three-quarters of HR and Finance executives struggle to focus on future strategic direction due to a lack of collaboration and too much short-term thinking. With a shared, single source of accurate data, however, business leaders will no longer have to make decisions in the dark.

They’ll also be able to exploit more sophisticated tools. With predictive modelling, for example, organisations can forecast budget and headcount needs, responding early to avoid future crises. AI solutions can also extract insight from vast quantities of third-party data otherwise unavailable to the business. Overall, better, more evidence-based decisions can be made that help grow the business.

Many organisations are already realising these benefits. Amplifon, the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturer, has been able to improve its customer experience and working practices all while growing its network and customer base. Its cloud-based platform has been the catalyst, spreading common governance models, metrics and KPIs across countries.

Global fashion conglomerate Apparel Group has also innovated through a mix of intelligent cloud applications. By centralising its data in a single source of truth, the brand has gained visibility across its global operations, giving them insight into opportunities with new brands and markets.

Connectivity and complexity are like two ends of a see-saw. When one side goes up the other comes down; the less connected you are, the more difficult it will be to run the business.

With a connected, automated mindset, a strategy can be developed at the top and rapidly implemented all the way down. This agility is what allows businesses to outpace change and evolve faster than the competition.

After all, you don’t lead the market by following it.

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