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Workday Research: Agility Key for Success in 2020 and Beyond

Agility, more than any other factor, was the defining hallmark for success in 2020, according to a recent study from Workday, the cloud-based provider of HR, finance and other SaaS-driven business applications.

The global executive survey, “Organizational Agility: Roadmap to Digital Acceleration,” explores the state of digital initiatives and organizational agility, according to Workday. The research surveyed 1,024 business leaders and senior executives (in the C-suite or their direct reports) in June and July 2020.

The research aimed to identify key challenges and opportunities across the offices of the CEO, chief financial officer (CFO), chief human resources officer (CHRO), and chief information officer (CIO) in adopting digital best practices for greater organizational agility, according to Workday.

The survey investigated how businesses approach digital transformation strategy and execution, the capabilities they need to embrace an agile approach to transformation, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business performance and forward planning, Workday said.

Respondents were based in fourteen countries and worked across twelve sectors, with most from the financial services (18 percent), professional services (15 percent) and technology (10 percent) sectors, according to Workday.

Strategies to Overcome Digital Technology Barriers

The report details strategies for organizations to overcome barriers to adopting digital technologies to achieve greater organizational agility. These include creating an adaptable culture, investing in smart technologies to increase digital revenue growth, ensuring real-time data is accessible for decision making, and leveraging cross-functional teams to boost upskilling and reskilling to empower employees, Workday said.

The survey results indicate that business leaders plan to accelerate digital initiatives, with one-third noting that making that single change would improve organizational resilience, according to Workday.

Other highlights of the survey include:

Digital revenues dominate and are accelerating. Over one-third of firms expect 75 percent or more of their revenue to come from digital (either digital products or traditional goods sold via online means) in three years’ time, according to the survey. This has tripled since 2019, where just one in ten firms had the same projection, the survey showed.

Changing tools is easier than changing minds and habits, respondents said. While more than half of organizations (56 percent) say their technology is compatible with digital transformation goals, just 16 percent say the same about their company’s culture. Without additional emphasis on employees and culture, organizations run the risk of not getting the desired returns on technology investments, according to the survey.

Agility extends to technology investment, according to the survey results. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of firms now report that their organization is fast to act on failing investments in new technology (technology that isn’t successfully deployed or used)—up from 70 percent in 2019.

Continuous planning emerges as a new best practice. With nearly half (43 percent) the respondents having embraced continuous planning prior to the pandemic, three core enablers signal success: access to data, deployment of smart technologies, and an agile culture, the survey showed.

Digital Initiative Priorities Differ Across the C-Suite

Leighanne Levensaler, Workday Ventures, Workday
Leighanne Levensaler, EVP, corporate strategy and managing director and co-head, Workday Ventures, Workday

The findings also explore the perceptions and challenges across key functions when considering digital technology initiatives and challenges, Workday said. Among the offices of the CEO, CFO, CHRO and CIO, different priorities emerged, according to the research.

In the office of the CEO, the study showed CEOs are the most optimistic of the C-suite when it comes to their firm’s digital transformation efforts. Yet they view culture as a barrier to almost all aspects of agility, with nearly one-in-three seeing culture as the biggest barrier to continuous planning (31 percent) and data accessibility (32 percent).

Finance, and the office of the CFO, is focused on ensuring systems are highly integrated (64 percent) and cloud technology is deployed (49 percent) to improve the planning/reporting loop as well as mitigate the risk of future crises, according to the survey.

The CHRO and HR leaders are focused on developing the culture their firm needs to embrace true agility. Yet, only 62 percent of HR leaders agree that incentives and key performance indicators (KPIs) align to cultural outcomes or that the organization’s culture equips the business to embrace change.

The skills deemed most valuable among CIOs, IT and operations leaders are the ability to use smart technologies (33 percent) and advanced analytics and data visualization (30 percent), according to the research.

“Business leaders now face a harsher reality about the urgency of digital transformation,” said Leighanne Levensaler, executive vice president, corporate strategy, and managing director and co-head, Workday Ventures, Workday. “This study highlights that COVID-19 not only cemented the need for companies to modernize but, as important, to accelerate those efforts. From supporting remote work processes to increasing opportunities for digital revenue and rebuilding supply chains, technology limitations proved to be a challenge for organizations in 2020, creating urgency to embrace and adopt new digital strategies.”