CONTRIBUTOR
Global Head of Business Transformation,
UST

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, it’s difficult to predict what will happen over the coming month, meaning that it is nearly impossible to lay down comprehensive long-term plans. The world is changing fast; CIOs and their organizations need to be ready and prepared to adapt. To do so, they must stop trying to future-proof, and instead prepare to be future-ready.

 

The Difference Between Future-Proof and Future-Ready

One reason that the idea of “future-proofing” is outdated is that the process is treated as tweaking a technology or approach until it reaches the ideal end state. Simply put – this is a misnomer; the future is too unpredictable to be fully protected against. It’s not as simple as waterproofing a jacket; there are too many unknown variables and often we don’t know what it is that we don’t know.

While leaders must embrace uncertainty both in the short and long term, understand that the sands of business environments are constantly shifting – albeit at a faster pace in today’s world. Predictability is merely an illusion, while adaptability is essential and a necessary reality for future-ready organizations.

Future-readiness is fluid, continual, driven and intentional. It’s a willingness to take a more skeptical position on trends or technologies that are taking the industry by storm. A comprehensive future-ready approach ensures that CIOs have systems in place which are open and variable for change when it comes to adopting technologies, embracing innovation and understanding customer behaviors. It’s what happens when you anticipate those changes, engage with your customers and drive the best possible outcomes.

Identifying the Right Approach

So what does this look like in practice? Well, while prevailing trends emphasize the relentless pursuit of automation and AI-driven solutions (something I agree with very much for the direction of the future), it’s crucial to acknowledge the current limitations of such a one-dimensional approach. Future readiness, after all, is not about overinvesting in the latest technology in a bid to future-proof operations; it’s about embarking on a journey of responsible adaptation.

Contrary to the corporate obsession with AI and the allure of technological advancements, it’s essential to confront the reality of technological shortcomings. By delving into real-world examples or broader industry instances, we uncover the inherent value of human capabilities. Creativity, adaptability and emotional intelligence emerge as irreplaceable strengths that underpin both customer satisfaction and colleague engagement.

Moreover, as discussions around sustainability and ethics gain prominence, it’s evident that the market’s focus on ESG principles is waning. Yet, amidst this shifting landscape, a call to action emerges for leaders to rethink their investment strategies. Rather than solely prioritizing technological advancements, a balanced approach is needed that places people at the core while remaining nimble with the integration of technology being advocated.

Similarly, in the ongoing discourse between future proofing and future readiness; it’s imperative to debunk the myth surrounding the former. Agility, not rigid stability, is key in navigating uncertain futures. Leaders must pivot towards empowering employees for decision-making, rather than adhering to traditional command and control structures. Evolutionary progress, rather than revolutionary leaps, may offer a more sustainable path forward, grounded in the recognition of the value derived from products, services and most importantly, people.

As we grapple with the ethical implications of rapid technological advancements, it becomes increasingly apparent that investment in people must parallel investment in technology. In the digital age, where technological leaps offer temporary advantages, resilience, adaptability and the ability to pivot emerge as the true markers of competitive advantage. Closing with the acknowledgment that the illusion of predictability inherent in future-proofing contrasts sharply with the openness to unexpected opportunities fostered by future readiness, the imperative for a human-first approach is underscored.

Embracing Continuous Change 

Organizations that are just now (re)-embarking on their digital transformation journey need to start by accepting that becoming future-ready is not a six-month product engineering project, it is a shift in an organization’s focus to a ‘growth enabled mindset’, one where awards are placed on effective and continual improvement. It might require a three-to five-year roadmap of continual improvement, and then further work to continue on that trajectory.

Every organization has a different level of digital maturity, so future-readiness will happen at different speeds. It is a process of major change involving people, processes and technology. This is an oversimplification for many of you reading, but it still holds true – it is important to get back to basics.

Shareholders and executives want to see how a business’ future-readiness will drive business expansion, generate more market share and improve return. Ultimately, that takes investment. The most successful organizations are those that have a history of ongoing development – particularly those that as a practice set aside 5-10 percent of their budget for innovation.

True transformation isn’t just about becoming “more digital” or leveraging new technologies. It’s about really driving the customer and employee experience within your organization and building a reputation for future-ready leadership in your industry. The more you enable your teams, the better they can service the furiously changing demands of your ever more demanding customers.

Even groundbreaking technology, while impactful in the short term, can become obsolete rapidly; just ask executives who worked for Blackberry. Therefore, organizations should not fixate solely on technological advancements such as AI or the most recent SaaS platform, but rather focus on achieving desired business outcomes such as customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased operational and technology efficiency and sustainable (cost effective for the long term) growth. Technology is undoubtedly the answer for effective implementation, however the driver must be articulated in business terms.

Adapting for Change 

Unfortunately for CEOs, CxOs and CIOs, people typically don’t like change. Businesses need to bring people on the journey to future-readiness by ensuring both the employees who are being asked to change and the customers who will be impacted by the change understand the reasons for the transformation. The executive team must promote the message internally and with customers and have grit to hold the line for the long-term.

CIOs and members of the C-suite must set achievable objectives backed by strong and well-considered governance. There must be proper measurement and focus on user experience and adoption, including constant and consistent comparison between the old and the new.

In preparing for the future, organizations must recognize that being future-ready goes beyond prioritizing either human or technological elements alone. It’s about striking the right balance between the two – having adaptable workers who can navigate change and leverage technology that offers flexibility.

Becoming future-ready is a business transformation all on its own. Employees and customers need to be on board, and the right technology needs to be in place. It takes work. But unlike predicting the future, it’s possible to become future-ready.