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Building the enterprise of the future: If not now, when ?

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In the 14 years that KMWorld has been publishing this column series, there has been an effort to avoid reacting to the “crisis du jour.” Instead, we’ve focused on formulating a set of foundational principles for building and evolving an enterprise that keeps pace with, and even stays one step ahead of, a complex, rapidly-changing world. The global COVID-19 crisis, however, presents a perfect opportunity to look back and reflect on many of these principles.

As the crisis unfolded and rapidly intensified, some organizations were able to turn on a dime and respond to extraordinary demands with astonishing speed—for example, rapidly converting existing supply and assembly lines to produce specialized products such as respirators, test kits, masks, sanitizers, and the like. At the same time, others stood on the sidelines, helplessly watching as their employees were furloughed en masse.

It should be plainly clear that we need knowledge management now more than ever. You can be sure this won’t be the last crisis to come our way. And the next one might be even more severe because our supporting systems have taken some serious hits. Let’s review some of the more relevant topics we’ve discussed in this column and the dates in which they appeared, along with a few key takeaways. If you still aren’t applying them, now would be a great time to get started.

Building critical capacities for navigating in turbulent times (May 2018): To navigate better in severe turbulence, three critical capacities are needed: foresight, agility, and resilience. Those capacities have always been fundamental to sustaining high performance in knowledge-based organizations. But during times of turbulence, they need to be operating at peak levels.

Before the crisis: From just-in-time to just-ahead-of-time (Sept. 2018): Always be on the alert—knowing that disruption comes in many different forms, always favor foresight over prediction, and make anticipatory systems part of your planning and decision-making toolset.

During the crisis: Be agile—transform how your workforce communicates by introducing a radically new approach in which full transparency replaces reporting. Overcome the fear of, and even embrace, failure, and step back and let your workforce take the lead (the greatest agility in responding to COVID-19 appeared at the local, as opposed to the state or national, level).

After the crisis: Getting serious about economic resilience (Apr. 2011): Identify and close any gaps in your supply network and operations that came to light as the crisis unfolded; make “post-mortems” habitual.

Logistics at the speed of thought (almost) (Apr. 2014): Tightly coupled yet rapidly re-configurable systems (e.g., enterprises with scalable, cloud-based architectures) provided the best and fastest response. Think work/business/robotic process automation with humans-in-the-loop (i.e., governance). Now is the time to get rid of all the sluggishness not only in your supply web, but your entire operation.

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