Technology for agile business

As traditional ways of doing business are turned on their head, a tidal wave of change is sweeping the field of project management


Disruptive technologies, which encompass everything from artificial intelligence and robotics to machine-learning and the internet of things, are having a profound impact on business operations and processes.

While no industry can consider itself immune to the technology revolution, some sectors – manufacturing, construction and energy, for example – are being affected more than others.

And as the pace of disruption looks set to accelerate, organisations within these sectors need to embrace technological advancement, understand the implications for project management, and respond in a flexible and agile manner. By doing so, they stand to benefit significantly, while those that fail to respond could be left at a competitive disadvantage.

Beyond the impact of change on the project management function, in an increasingly tech-driven age, a chief executive needs to know how these changes will impact the boardroom. They need to be aware of the challenges, recognise the opportunities and understand the commercial realities.

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Alaistair Sorbie, chief executive IFS worldwide

As chief executive of global enterprise applications firm IFS, a pioneer of agile business technology solutions, Alastair Sorbie is seeing how the business world is responding, first hand.

He says: “Project management is becoming much more dynamic and multi-faceted, as a myriad of new devices and data streams continue to emerge, with companies increasingly implementing internet of things or IoT solutions. Rather than expecting project managers to simply tune into this, businesses must communicate what is happening, clearly, from the top down, and weave innovation into their company culture and DNA.”

Working with clients from a range of industries, IFS provides them with a range of tools designed to deliver visual insight, understand enterprise performance and enable better decision-making in an integrated way.

It is industries such as manufacturing and oil and gas, arguably the sectors most exposed to economic challenges and fluctuations, where an integrated project management solution can potentially deliver the biggest benefits.

However, organisations in these sectors need to adopt a management ethos that is both forward looking and efficiency driven, because for all the advantages that disruptive technologies such as IoT can bring to project management, as it becomes more widely adopted, it can create challenges.

Mr Sorbie refers to the mismatch that exists between the flexibility of these new disruptive technologies and the inflexibility of fixed mindsets that many companies bring to project management.

“For example, project life cycles tend to be complex in nature, and managers will often use different software products to manage various stages of the project from tendering through to commissioning and servicing,” he says. “This fragmented approach is problematic as disparate project areas are unable to ‘talk’ to each other. This leads to managers spending more time and energy mapping and monitoring their relationships and connections, which in turn leads to a lack of efficiency.”

The IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence solution enables an enterprise-wide, top-down perspective of processes and performance aligned with the business strategy

There is also the issue of a technology mismatch, with many organisations relying on outdated, cumbersome legacy business systems that are unable to support modern IoT platforms. In a changing technology landscape companies must ensure they have the right tools to adjust and take stock.

“Resolving this type of challenge requires a change of mindset and culture,” says Mr Sorbie. “Sectors with ageing workforces will have to engage the more conservative project managers by educating them about these new technologies and how project management tools should evolve accordingly.”

Serco managers can access daily and even real-time data, enabling them to make faster, more responsive decisions throughout the day rather than just at the end of the week or even later

The benefits of an integrated project management solution, one that offers enhanced control and visibility, and real-time control over cost, cash, time, resources and risk, are being realised by a growing number of global companies.

The IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI) solution enables an enterprise-wide, top-down perspective of processes and performance aligned with the business strategy, and was recently adopted by North American service provider Serco Inc.

Director of business services at Serco Jason Adolf says: “Our legacy suite of business intelligence tools provided standard reporting, but we really needed a way to allow our managers to make decisions on the data coming through the EOI tool – actionable intelligence, you could say.”

This actionable intelligence had previously only been available at predefined points in time; for example, through a fortnightly, monthly or annual report. With IFS EOI, Serco managers can access daily and even real-time data, enabling them to make faster, more responsive decisions throughout the day rather than just at the end of the week or even later.

As a result, Serco provides much higher levels of service to its own customers. The company has also enhanced its ability to win new customers and focus its investments more accurately on areas that need improvement.

Having adopted IFS EOI as its global standard for enterprise operational intelligence, Mr Adolf now sees huge growth potential for Serco. He says: “The tool is going to be an integral part of our value proposition to our customers, a way for us to show true differentiation, but also to be more efficient, to work better and work smarter.”

Research has shown that agile project management methods are making their mark in business. Comparing IT project outcomes between agile and traditional waterfall methodologies, across all project sizes, the 2015 CHAOS Report, produced by IT research advisory firm the Standish Group, found that agile approaches resulted in more successful projects and fewer outright failures.

Project success rates could be further increased if companies avoided off-the-shelf solutions and opted instead for solutions that can be configured to the needs of their industry and scopes of their budgets.

The IFS solution transformed Serco’s multiple legacy business intelligence solutions into a standardised single-platform solution, meeting its requirements for both business and operational intelligence, and providing the differentiation that is now part of the company’s strategy.

Organisations cannot afford to ignore the technological changes that are already taking place and will undoubtedly increase over time. It is imperative that they abandon traditional, fixed, process-driven approaches to project management in favour of one built around principles, and based on flexibility and agility.

Mr Sorbie concludes: “Companies should now be focusing on an integrated project management suite, one that captures the true spirit of IoT, and enables them to adapt to constant change and disruption, and most importantly, to maintain their competitive edge for today – and for what’s next.”

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