Success is as much about responding, as it is about adapting

Posted on 9 Jan 2015 by Jonny Williamson

The adage ‘adapt or die’ has become ubiquitous with businesses needing to move with the times if they wish to thrive. As responsiveness becomes the new era of business evolution, Steve Winder, VP UK & Eire, Epicor Software UK, asks is adaptability still enough?

Steve Winder, VP UK & Eire, Epicor Software UK
Steve Winder, VP UK & Eire, Epicor Software UK.

The difference between responsiveness and adaptability is subtle but critical. Adaptability means change but it doesn’t specify the pace or agility at which it must take place. Being responsive is about being fit and fast – able to adapt more quickly and flexibly.

The need to be responsive has changed the goalposts drastically in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Fifteen years ago ERP was purely a back office system, and its primary function was to provide robust transactional support.

Now ERP is an all-embracing tool for businesses, touching employees, customers, partners and suppliers alike. Customers demand ‘single instance’ ERP platforms that not only manage all core processes in synchronicity, but also deliver real-time insight to the business about what is happening and what action needs to be taken.

Good ERP has answered the call for increased responsiveness, becoming much more focused on supporting critical relationships, decisions, change and innovation, rather than just efficiently managing the status quo.

Increasing responsiveness can help a business improve operational performance and accelerate its productivity, through information being available at people’s fingertips and allowing more informed and rapid decision making. Historically information in businesses was limited in volume and ‘passive’; i.e. there when (you knew) you needed it, if you were lucky!

This stifled responsiveness because you usually had to put time and effort into getting the right information. As businesses increased their use of systems, information became more prolific and ‘active’ – structured data analysed to drive answers to key questions. This helped organisations to know what they needed to do, but problems of data overload often limited the organisation’s ability to act.

Now, information is becoming intuitive – it’s hidden from us in plain sight and doesn’t weigh us down, but is increasingly fed to us in the right format and context at the time we need it, in the form of succinct answers to questions. This evolution of data in organisations is one of the key reasons we’re able to become more responsive, but it also is the reason we continue to demand more responsiveness at the same time.

In many sectors the need to be extra responsive is being driven by an increased focus on selling and delivering services rather than capital projects and equipment. Take, for example, the number of areas where products are leased and supported by value-added services, rather than simply manufactured and sold. This service orientation means greater and continual touch points with the customer. It also means organisations need to be more innovative as they change their business models, and may mean working in continually disruptive markets where change never really stops.

Other specific manufacturing trends demanding responsiveness include the pressure to differentiate in highly competitive globalised markets; tightly manage costs through inventory control and manufacturing to order; the ability to deliver bespoke and high value manufacturing, such as unique products; and working within multi-tier supply chains where complexity can easily put the brakes on your processes.

At Epicor we find that responsiveness is one of the key reasons our customers are looking to improve their ERP software performance. We see four main areas where businesses are trying to be more responsive:

Operationally responsive – being able to react to day-to-day requirements. Optimising inventory is one example in manufacturing. Being able to respond to constantly changing customer and product requirements means that you can dynamically manage stock requirements and reduce both waste and cost. Operational responsiveness is also about driving subtle changes that lead to big benefits, such as looking for new market opportunities from your existing business.

Strategically responsive – the key area where responsiveness can make a real difference. The management team’s ability to access information and respond to changes in the business and market allows them to be in greater control. Doing so requires getting the right information out of your systems, not only in formal reports but intuitively, in the context of the decisions that need to be made.

Externally responsive – constantly working harder to differentiate on service, speed, accuracy and quality, but also predicting the customer’s next move so that they can be ready to act. In a business sense, customer responsiveness is about having information to stay one step ahead. This can mean knowing what the customer will want to buy, or being able to nip potential problems in the bud before they even happen. If we can be more responsive to customer needs, we minimise the chances of them looking elsewhere and can enjoy longevity of relationships and all of the associated benefits.

Personally responsive – underpinning all three of these areas is the ability for an organisation’s employees to be responsive personally – with each other inside the business, as well as with customers and suppliers. Personal responsiveness is about giving people the means and information to take action quickly, decisively and accurately. Again, considering technology and information, embracing enterprise apps, mobile information, intuitive workflows and context-based information allows people to not only work wherever, but respond far more successfully to whatever is thrown at them. People don’t want to have to dip in and out of separate systems to find information, creating the likelihood that they’ll bypass correct procedures and raise the risk of errors, rather systems should be integrated.