Business transformation

Digital innovation and agile working

There is great excitement across industries about the impact that digital technology will have on business operations. However, there is less clarity about exactly what the digital revolution will mean for the way companies do business.

While it is clear that embracing digital will be a prerequisite for success in years to come, “what being a digital business means is multi-faceted”, says Ben Kirk, a Director of Business Development in Atkins’s Infrastructure division. “There is a heavy dose of technology, obviously, but there is also a lot of disruption.”

Some of the signs of the digital revolution are obvious, he adds, “such as the greater availability of smart mobile devices and data, but it is also manifesting itself in the tools used to help organisations become more efficient.”

The less obvious side of this revolution is the need for businesses to evolve in order to get the most from the technology on offer. Organisations cannot simply bring new technology into an existing business and expect it to change everything for the better.

The business itself needs to adapt in a variety of ways to get the most from technology, and, more importantly, to achieve even more successful commercial outcomes.

So while organisations are waking up to the fact that the advent of digital opens up new opportunities, they either don’t know where to start or they don’t know how to progress, says Phil Gruber, Atkins’ Global Leader for Digital Asset Management. “Many companies have spent a lot of time and money on this and the results have been mixed,” he adds.

If we look at the technology, there are a number of clear issues with which companies are dealing. Information is regularly held in a variety of formats, says Kirk: “Companies often have a patchy mix of tools, ranging from a software programme to spreadsheets to documents gathering dust in a filing cabinet. The Holy Grail is to get to a situation where all the data is in one place and the person responsible can access and use the data to achieve more efficient outcomes.”

Companies are, however, harnessing digital in more creative ways; for example, utilities are not only using outage management systems to monitor when the power goes off, but social media too – often comments on Twitter can be the first indication of a problem.

  • The winners will be the companies that embrace digital change fully and wholeheartedly and use it to maximise their productivity.


But such models only work because of the digital infrastructure behind them, points out Gruber: “If you didn’t have this real-time information about assets, ‘as-a-service’ models wouldn’t work.” So, despite the proliferation of data that is now available thanks to the Internet of Things and a plethora of sensors, “most companies are still grappling with the basics – what do I have, what condition is it in and what maintenance does it need?” says Gruber.

And the reality is that even if organisations have a reasonable knowledge of what technology they have and how it can help them manage their assets, many of them are only just appreciating that business transformation is not only about the technology. David Strange, a Client Director in Atkins’ Aerospace, Defence, Security & Intelligence division, says, “To take advantage of the technology, you have to build the organisational capability to respond to what it can do. It is as much about culture and behavioural change as it is about process change.”

Gruber adds, “The technology is usually the easy part – it’s getting people to change the way they work that is much harder.”

More agile ways of working are transforming the way businesses work, as top-down management is replaced by more self-managing teams, with individuals given much more responsibility to make their own decisions and to react to developments as they occur. “Employees are becoming more demanding in this regard as well. They want to be more empowered,” Strange says. “Senior managers need to be comfortable giving people more responsibility.”

Agile working also helps deliver products more quickly, through initiatives such as two-week planning sprints. However, Strange stresses that while by nature these are about not planning too far in advance, it is absolutely not the case that there is no need to plan. Indeed, such short-term timelines create more accountability by increasing the frequency of oversight. “The same amount of rigour is needed and you need to retain an overarching framework,” Strange adds.

Digital innovation and agile working

  • Transformation needs to be done with a proper change programme, led by business leaders and not IT departments to ensure it is embedded in the business, not seen as something being done to the business.


“The trick is to enable more empowerment and flexibility without losing a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve.”

Further, digital advances create opportunities for greater innovation by making it possible to try something in a “fail fast” culture and, if it doesn’t work, move on without incurring massive costs. It also increases collaboration, breaks down silos between different departments and between customers and suppliers, and increases the opportunities for new ideas and new ways of working.

But companies need to act fast to take advantage of this dividend, and they need to pick advisors carefully, ensuring that they understand their company and sector as well as the companies do themselves, while also having a grasp of the technological issues. “We are moving from acting on demand to telling people: ‘we can help you in ways you have never even thought about, to do things you have never even thought about,’” Gruber says.

“The opportunities are out there,” he adds. “The assets are talking to us, but are we listening?”