Welcome to the Agility Issue

Our cover features a gymnast upside down as she executes a full rotation over the balance beam. We chose the image because it epitomizes agility and grace under pressure. It also speaks to a time when so many lives and businesses have been upended, and when so much still hangs in the balance.

Over the past year, a global pandemic has killed at least 2.8 million people and brought economies to a grinding halt. Police killings of Black Americans moved thousands to march for racial justice in cities worldwide. Floods and forest fires underscored the reality of climate change, and its dangers.

Democracy came under attack in Washington, D.C., where a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the result of an election that didn’t go their way. Lies and conspiracy theories spread like kudzu on social media, leading many to wonder whether empirical truth had become a relic of the past.

The past year has also seen dramatic changes in tech and business strategy, our focus here at Workflow. Overnight, traditional workplaces emptied out and distributed work became the norm. Businesses doubled down on digital workflows and business models, because there was no other way to stay afloat. In April 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella remarked: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

Business agility became a CEO-level issue during the pandemic, according to a global survey of business leaders conducted by ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow, the publisher of Workflow. A plurality of respondents (33%) said CEOs are taking the leading role in business agility efforts, followed by chief information officers (23%) and chief operating officers (20%).

The survey found data management and security have become 27% more agile since the pandemic. IT support and services have seen a 26% agility boost. Sales, marketing, and channel management are 24% more agile. IT architecture, platforms, and systems have seen a 21% improvement.

It remains to be seen how widespread and durable this agility dividend will be. In an exclusive interview with Workflow, famed Stanford economist Erik Brynjolfsson describes a “winner take most” effect where a few firms dominate the adoption of new technologies and see the biggest market gains from them.

I hope you enjoy the Agility Issue. May your company emerge stronger and nimbler from this trying year.