Image: NeetiR/Wikimedia Image: NeetiR/Wikimedia

The tides are shifting, says Karen Clarke, Regional Vice President Northern Europe, Anaplan. With many costs higher than ever as trade deals are re-negotiated in light of the looming activation of Article 50; if businesses can't work cheaper, they need to work smarter.

Brexit? Trump? Digital transformation? Whatever the reason, companies in all industries are having to negotiate almost constant change and navigate the stormy seas of political and economic uncertainty. The tides are shifting, with many costs higher than ever as trade deals are re-negotiated in light of the looming activation of Article 50; if businesses can't work cheaper, they need to work smarter.

In part, this means understanding the full downstream impact of a deal or action on different departments - such a turbulent environment means businesses need to be fully aligned. However, most operate in a state of disconnect, unable to join the dots between related functions. With uncertainty set to be a defining element of 2017, organisations that realise isolated teams and siloed data don't work, will set a course for prosperity in a turbulent year. By doing so, an open conversation is started, allowing information to flow freely across a business and providing the agility that is so symptomatic of success in today's world.

Companies that bridge the gap between finance and HR, for example, will instantly be able to see the impact of changes to the workforce on the balance sheet. Alternatively, if sales of a particular product are on an upward trajectory, this needs to be communicated to the supply chain quickly so that manufacturing levels can be increased. For example, the falling value of the pound has driven record global demand for British manufacturers’ products, forcing businesses to rapidly scale up supplier activity and re-consider workforce strategy. Most importantly perhaps, the leadership team needs to see how all these cogs knit together to operate a well-oiled machine. Without transparency of information across departments, teams are confined to playing catch-up; reacting quickly is the key to efficiency and improving the bottom line.

Creating a connected culture

So how can organisations achieve this? Creating a truly connected workforce comes down to empowering employees with the appropriate culture and tools to work in a collaborative way. While every business has characteristics that make it unique, combining these with a culture that encourages an understanding of the work other functions are doing is key to breaking down departmental barriers. As many younger workers now expect this ‘cross-pollination’ style, adopting a connected culture also has a pivotal role to play in securing the best talent.

Introducing this is by no means an easy task, particularly for older businesses with defined processes in place. Factors such as lack of leadership endorsement or absence of incentive for employees to buy in to a new culture can hold back success. To avoid this, leaders must pull employees out of habits associated with isolated departments by setting an example. When it comes to embracing change across an entire company, however small, a bottom-up approach will simply not work.

Workers shouldn't have to blame their tools

However, encouraging the workforce to think beyond their immediate teams is only half the battle. To put this into practice, organisations need the right tools in place. Luckily, as digital transformation spreads and optimises more industries and processes, connecting data sets and teams is beginning to become a reality. However, to achieve consistency across the business, it's important to get buy-in from as many departments as possible.

To do so, it’s essential to motivate employees by providing tools that are intuitive and easy to access. From a more technological perspective, being able to integrate collaborative aids with legacy systems is likely to make the CIO very happy by avoiding unnecessary costs and disruption. Finally, as a more connected organisation means more frequent transfers of data, tools facilitating cross-department co-operation also need to be secure.

The maturity of cloud technology has made all these factors much easier to realise, giving employees the opportunity to access data from different functions around the company, whether working remotely or on-site. Bringing in new tools doesn't mean blindly equipping employees with new technology purely because it's a digital way of doing things, but empowering them to work more efficiently.

Therefore, it’s vital to see different departments as one interconnected model rather than separate, isolated factions. A common misconception is that this must mean a significant systems overhaul; the cloud has changed this. Once businesses looking to become more connected understand that implementing a collaborative culture and technology are inextricably linked, requiring complete employee buy-in led by company leadership, they will find themselves in a strong position to adapt to the winds of change buffeting businesses this year.