You can’t move for articles, consultants and vendors barking the word ‘agility’ at you. Today’s business must be nimble and adaptable, able to turn on a pin. So, there is a lot to be said for being agile. But what does it mean to an organisation in terms of process and resource, how do they access it and when is it time to call time on agility?

Firstly, agility as a concept is a reaction to traditional, slow and hierarchical ways of working. Most of us recognise today that to be able to capitalise on new technologies and meet rapidly changing customer needs, we need to speed up our processes. The way many traditional businesses are set up just doesn’t accommodate an agile outlook.

The answer for many isn’t to stop, restructure and start again, but to build-in, outsource or acquire solutions to make themselves more agile. Doing so enables some parts of the business to begin to approximate the experience that some of its start-up cousins are already successfully delivering.

The ‘ABCs of agility’ are central to these solutions, specifically: ‘Automation’, ‘Bots’ and ‘Cloud’. Each brings with it a time and labour-saving element, as well as a technical streamlining that allows otherwise slow and legacy-based organisations to come up to speed.

Automation: A recent IBM report found that 91% of C-Suite executives use some level of intelligent automation. It’s a vital component, if only to manage the throughput of the insane levels of customer data financial organisations currently need to cope with. At more sophisticated levels, bringing in elements of machine learning means that processes, such as triaging clients hands-on (complex insurance claims) or hands-off (credit card approval), leaves human processors free to tackle more involved tasks.

Bots: Another extension of the automation universe, bots can take over some customer-facing tasks to speed everything along, freeing up humans to be more valuable elsewhere. Taking down vehicle information for a fleet claim, processing a mobile phone contract change, or tackling simple purchase requests are all tasks that a bot can happily fulfil in a live chat scenario. In this data-driven age, bots are also valuable for information gathering, making the right request at the right time to get the right information to feed into a machine learning decision tree.

Cloud: If automation and bots are the process tools, the cloud is the hub that’s helping it all happen. Many businesses express concerns about hosting business-critical software and data in a publicly accessible cloud. As information and technology management specialists, however, cloud providers generally have better security and expertise than any single financial organisation could manage.

Cloud is also ‘snackable’, in that companies can use computing resources as they need them and when they need them. This avoids the expense of investing in proprietary systems and the risk of under provisioning, leaving extra computing capacity unused. The cloud has been instrumental in allowing institutions to experiment and ‘plug and play’ new technologies to tweak propositions until they’re just right.

That’s not to say using technology to become agile isn’t without its difficulties. Both automation and bots are data-hungry and unforgiving to bugs in the system. In short: outputs are only as good as the inputs. So, companies often find themselves doing a significant piece of work to get their data in shape before they can access these solutions.

Failure in strategic planning is another issue, one often caused by bandwagon-jumping. While the current trend is to integrate automation or bots, each integration must serve a strategic purpose. If customers are not open to bot interactivity, it becomes a black mark against their customer experience rather than a positive one. Some processes are more open to and appropriate for automation than others. The cloud is an incredibly effective way to manage resources, but only if it doesn’t detract from core operations or it doesn’t integrate well with existing systems.

Becoming a more agile organisation is certainly a desirable activity, but it’s not without its challenges. Our whitepaper, Why the future of payments is modular and cloud-based, takes you through this transformation – its opportunities as well as its hurdles – step by step.