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Why Banks Need Enterprise Agility to Thrive in a Post-Pandemic World

Apala Mukherjee
Head, Agile Consulting, TCS

The entire world continues to be focused on the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Economies, governments, industries, companies and individuals are being impacted in ways never before imagined. Uncertainty at every turn means it is more important than ever that banking and financial services remain a pillar of stability for their customers.

Banking Must Stay Steady and Secure

Beyond the regulatory bodies and requirements, customers want to feel that their banks are not only safe and sound, but that they will be immediately responsive and helpful should the need arise. In the United States, the combination of COVID-19 impacts and the CARES Act is placing enormous stress on individuals, small businesses, entire industries and the banks themselves.

The majority of banks have quietly and systematically executed business continuity plans in order to remain open, operational and available to their customers, even with reduced staff and hours of operation. Managing the complexities involved when a significant portion of the workforce must now work from home and across numerous countries around the world is no small feat.

At the same time, systems, processes and staff at banks are under intense pressure to deal with new, crisis-related scenarios from intensified customer demands, complying with new legislation, and managing high volumes:

  • “I do not understand the Cares Act, who can help me relate it to my specific financial situation?”

  • “I am quarantined at home, I cannot reach anyone on the phone at the bank to help me!”

  • “I need access immediately to equity in my home.”

  • “I am out of work, I can’t make my monthly payments, what are my options?”

  • “I need access immediately to funds in my 401K/IRA.”

  • “I typically come into the local branch to … what do I do now?”

Addressing these short-term needs and priorities as the new normal is an opportunity to quickly transform banks’ engagement models and to gain client adoption of them. Banks who have or are currently adopting enterprise agility practices are well positioned to achieve both.

The New Normal, Now and in the Future for Banks

Rajesh Gopinathan, TCS’s CEO, recently noted that “Organizations must build upon their strong digital technology foundations to pursue certain economic behaviors – leveraging ecosystems, personalizing at scale, embracing risk and creating exponential value -- what we call Business 4.0.”*

Thriving in this new world in which we find ourselves underscores the value of digital technologies and why many banks are accelerating their adoption. So, in the future, what will the new normal look like for banks?

  • Purpose Driven: Banks must be “driven by purpose,” which means looking beyond products and services to uncover the reason for a bank’s existence. This helps identify and define the blueprint for that individual bank’s transformation journey. What is the bank’s true source of value to customers? For example, does it proactively educate, advise and support the overall well-being of customers and deliver an optimal, valuable experience in their time of need? Artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics and real-time personalization of data and messaging will undoubtedly become more essential to deliver the experience that customers have come to expect now and for those evolving demands of the future.

  • Resilient: The banks must help customers withstand new, radical changes to the norm. This requires the ability to quickly change current business models, services and products while continuing to provide superior and consistent customer experience across all touchpoints. One example is to look at how the ramp-up of digital channel interactions during COVID-19 can be enhanced and continued after the crisis is over.

  • Adaptable: Banks will need an integrated, adaptable business and IT architecture founded on the Business 4.0 pillars of agile, intelligent, automated and cloud. There is a significant underlying opportunity to leverage the actions and knowledge being gained right now from the pandemic and then apply high-value components in a longer-term, permanent way.  For example, certain support functions previously handled physically at branch locations have been migrated to function remotely.  These can serve as a business case/proof points for customer support to go to the next level and evolve into a more efficient and responsive shared service support mechanism.

These objectives are easy to articulate, harder to achieve—and the challenge is how do you get there in an efficient, timely and effective manner. How do you determine the “right things to do” and then “do them right”? The use of enterprise agility is not a silver bullet, but it is a proven approach that can help banks accomplish this.

The Path to Enterprise Agility

The core tenants of enterprise agility are actually designed for unimagined scenarios like the ones we are currently experiencing with COVID-19. The mindset, the way of working and the technology behind enterprise agility provides banks with the ability to adapt and respond to changing business environments and disruptive events quickly by building a culture of rapid innovation, short product cycles, continual improvement and a motivated workforce.

But to make enterprise agility a reality in this new normal, banks will need to:

  • Ensure that the business teams, product development teams and enablement functions can work together throughout the lifecycle

  • Leverage global skills to accelerate business agility

  • Provide location independence, which bridges global location proximity barriers between business and development teams and allows for continuous engagement between product owners and product developers

The practices, capabilities and technologies of enterprise agility are visible, but a deeper invisible undercurrent of purpose is the motivation that drives it. If the purpose is defined on a bedrock of service, the business has solid ground to stand on in turbulent times.

In the words of Jamsetji Tata, founder of the Tata Group, “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business but is in fact the very purpose of its existence.” When purpose-driven, an enterprise is able to weather the storms of change without losing direction because in the midst of the most turbulent times, the north star of purpose is clearly visible to all leaders and employees. This clarity fosters buy-in and enables the community to make decisions quickly at all levels--allowing rapid experimentation and innovation as an adaptive response to external disruption. For example, in response to the COVID-19 situation, TCS leadership made employee safety its first priority and requested that people to stay home in advance of government mandates. The next priority was ensuring business continuity in order to serve customers who trust TCS to operate as an extension of their brand. Keeping this customer centricity as the focus, TCS proceeded to rapidly roll out Secure Borderless Work Spaces (SBWS), a mammoth endeavor that involved enrolling more than 370,000 employees around the globe, at the record speed of weeks rather than months. The implementation was a success and SBWS is now considered an integral piece of our business continuity strategy.

Enterprise Agility in Action: The Evolution of Secure Borderless Work Spaces

Let’s look at SBWS and its evolution as an example of the value of enterprise agility. The genesis of SBWS was from the TCS vision of “Agile by 2020,” which in pre-COVID days simply meant open, agile collaborative workspaces in TCS facilities. However, the pandemic forced TCS to accept a new remote reality. As a result, the organization rapidly reframed the design of agile workspaces into what is now SBWS -- a 100% distributed network of TCS facilities. This new network turned out to be a virtualized talent cloud with far more potential than what the designers had imagined. Based on positive feedback from employees and customers, SBWS has now become integral to TCS’ business continuity strategy. This experience has proven that enterprise-wide agile implementations improve quality of service, decrease time to market, reduce the cost of IT operations—and enhance employee morale.

The experiment and subsequent innovation instigated by crisis has resulted in a solution design far more robust than pre-COVID avatars of business continuity. This demonstration of resilience reflects “antifragility,” a term coined by Nasim Taleb in his book by the same name. In a world that is pummeled with one disruption after another, the antifragile organization thrives and comes back stronger and better than before. Like the black swan that benefits from disorder, the agile enterprise pivots and takes advantage of new opportunities that crisis offers. In fact, rapid innovation is happening right now with hundreds of new offerings being developed within TCS business units in response to COVID-19.

The key takeaways from this experiment? Our experience shows that to be a truly agile enterprise with the ability to sense and respond during disruptive events or crises, you need to:

  • Create and evangelize a forward-looking vision

  • Radically accept reality and adapt to it

  • Treat chaos and crisis as an opportunity to innovate

It is a proud moment to be part of this organization, where business leaders, HR, infrastructure, delivery units, support groups, individual employees have all come together, to do extraordinary things during an extraordinary moment in time--without a conductor to orchestrate every little move. It is almost as if the need for collaboration is implicitly understood and the TCS collective is responding on its own.

The Agile Enterprise: Powered by Purpose

No one knows what the future holds for any of us. Fortunately, enterprise agility does not require a crystal ball to predict the future. However, it does require a radical acceptance of current reality no matter how inconvenient. In turn, this unquestioning acceptance of reality creates room to adapt systematically and rapidly to changes in the macro environment. The truly agile enterprise is powered by purpose and operates under the premises of core values such as self-belief, customer centricity, adaptive mindset and collaborative ways of working. Embracing these values while leveraging ground-breaking possibilities offered by technology and believing in the power of the individual, the agile enterprise is well poised to go beyond surviving to thriving in the post-COVID world.

As Joi Ito, former director of MIT Media Lab said, “…We need a strong compass. Set aside the notion that we need to plan everything, or stock everything, or we need to be so prepared…Instead let us focus on being connected, always learning, fully aware and super present. For Enterprise Agility to work, we don’t need futurists, we need ‘NOW-ists’…“.**

* Insights from TCS Leadership team during TCS Town Hall; Apr 21, 2020

**Ted Talk, Joi Ito, former director of MIT Media Lab: “Want to innovate? Become a now-ist” (July, 2014)

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