The verdict is out! We can now be sure: change is an inevitable part of our lives. The reality is that few will argue with this fact. It is old news.

However, the current Black Swan scenario which has unfolded globally has made it clear that the nature of the change demanded from us – the scale of its impact, its tempo, and its magnitude and specific elements and characteristics – is what makes certain change scenario’s look overwhelming and seemingly impossible to navigate successfully.

In such cases, we find that we simply do not have the resources or clarity to adapt to the demands of the world around us and it is in these situations where a changing environment can result in crisis and great loss.

In order to be able to survive and thrive under such conditions, it is important to have a thorough understanding of how it impacts your own situation and immediate ecosystem, and then to understand what resources and strategies are available and can be used to first meet, adapt to, and then exploit such crisis scenarios.

Readers might notice that this blog, which is about technology and how it can greatly assist your business in the current context, actually makes very little mention of technology.
However, once the whole discussion is understood it will be evident that there are elements that are indispensable and intrinsically part of any technology, albeit that they do not live on a server or a hard drive somewhere.

Regrettably, no app on iOS or Android exists that will fully and completely equip an organisation or individual to adapt and live through change. This is true also in the enterprise solution world.

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

This well-known quote by Roosevelt is invaluable in the current context. When having to respond to and adapt to major change,
It is useful to have a theoretical framework to understand and analyse in an effective way.

It will therefore be helpful to think about what the current Covid-19 and lockdown scenario means by analysing it along certain structured dimensions to gain a good grasp of the current state. This will allow for a response plan which is sophisticated, comprehensive and robust enough to really be effective in bringing about the desired outcomes.

When a deep understanding of a problem or challenge is achieved, the heavy lifting for finding solutions is done and the “solutions” will seem much more evident. It therefore makes sense to invest a lot of energy and effort into first understanding the situation,
 then be able to rise above it and stay afloat by implementing the right plans and solutions.

A Framework for Analysing Situations

Borrowing in broad terms from Ecological Systems Theory provides a helpful framework to use in understanding the current context. To simply illustrate: our bodies are comprised of various systems, for example the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system, etc. Each of these in turn are made up of their own structures and organs.

When one of the structures or sub-structures are affected the result ripples out and impacts the whole system, together with the other systems that make up the body. For instance, if a structure in your endocrine system is somehow compromised the resultant chain of effects impacts many other systems in your body, culminating in the whole organism – you – being affected.

This can be taken a step further: once a person’s body is affected in such a way, they also cause a chain effect in other bodies – or people – with whom they share their life; they might have to receive medical care, impacting their role at home as a spouse or parent; they might have to take sick leave, impacting their work place and colleagues… the ripple effect of a structure in one of your systems, affects and changes all other systems that make up your greater ecosystem.

The inter-relatedness and interdependence of Systems Theory is useful to understand. In addition, it is useful to know how this happens and the role that boundaries of the various structures and systems all play a functional part and that a disruption in that boundary results in a chain of impacts.

Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, it is obvious that there is a plethora of impacts, many of which are obvious. However, in analysing to gain deep understanding, you might consider your organisation as a specific ecosystem which broadly has people, process, and technology elements.

Taking each of these, you can then understand the disruption independently to each of those systems, and in turn, the inter-related impacts on all of these together to understand the extent of the effect on the organisation as a whole – the ecosystem.

However, it is important to remember that each of these systems are also made up of various sub-systems, each with their own structures and functions. Each of these sub-components have their own specific role and boundaries and understanding the effect on each of these on the lower levels of the structure being considered, brings considerable insight.

For example, it is important to realise that your people-subsystem is impacted in many ways: functions and activities that are covertly performed but not remembered in such disruptions, are the things people also do as a collective system in the office. People work, but they also interact and share a social element.

This will include engaging in tasks as part of their role in that sub-structure in your business and it will be varied. Examples are friends and friendships being sharing and engaging in conversations and activities which support this happen; the office politics and the people who maintain this role; the individuals building relationships and engaging with clients and suppliers outside of the organisation, maintaining a support role with for instance a security guard in the building whom might receive some form of assistance or a sympathetic ear from a worker who arguing, working together as a team to perform certain work-related activities,  talk, argue, have meetings, etc.

With employees now working away from the office, they are performing tasks from within a different ecosystem: whilst being at home after work allows a parent to perform that role within the boundaries that have shaped and become familiar to everybody in the household, that mother now has to work from home and perform tasks not usually done in the home context.

However, the children and spouse are impacted and will need to understand and get used to mom being there, but not fulfilling the normal spouse and parent role that is the norm. That system has been impacted and all the people (or sub-components) have been concurrently affected and will be under pressure to adapt.

Likewise, tasks that are rooted in the office ecosystem for that worker, now have been impacted, like meetings where writing on a white board to share thoughts and brainstorm, is now not easy to do; the habit of sitting next to a friend or colleague in meetings for reasons of solidarity, support or friendship, can now not occur.

Whilst the examples are vast, the point is that any analysis of the impact of Covid-19 must be sympathetic to the extent of that impact on all of the systems and sub-systems that make up your organisational ecosystem – both the internal ones, as well as the ‘external’ systems that your shared components (in this case, your employees) belong to with the subsequent demands and expectations that those external roles place on your workers and their role in your business.

If your business does not take this into account and respond in a way that is commensurate with the extent of the impact, you will likely not have a comprehensive solution and the results will be disappointing. Simply having access to Zoom or Skype for meetings will not be enough to address all of this… where will the friendships and office politics happen now?

Moving forward and remote working therefore will require much more understanding to get to a sophisticated and useful solution, and simply adopting a new application is not likely to solve the problem on its own.

So, how does my business riposte to the change shock?

Blackboard has a different way of looking at providing solutions to businesses. What makes our approach so powerful and unique in many regards, is that our focus is not only on superior technology, on creating the best and most sophisticated tech solution, or on bringing novelty to distinguish us from the pack.

We have realised that thinking – really thinking – about our client’s needs and challenges, and then also thinking about what can be done – is what sets us apart. A suggested framework to respond and build superior solutions for demanding change might benefit from the following steps:

Ask: what is going on?

For each specific challenge, snag or complexity faced, try to consider what is causing it by using the insight that various systems are at play, and that one person can have different and sometimes conflicting roles to fulfil as a result of that change. Once more insight is gained by building up a tapestry of understandings for each specific problem faced, patterns and aggregations will be easier to see and solve for.

Ask: Why is it going on?

Leading from the above, try to understand the real drivers and causes for that specific problem. It is not helpful to have sweeping reasons such as saying it is because of Covid-19 that this problem exists; try to be specific, for instance understanding that the reason why an 8 o’clock video conference is problematic for some employees (whilst an 8 o’clock office meeting was not), is because their other impacted system at home is making it difficult for them to be the same role player in your ecosystem.

Define: What ought to be going on?

This requires not for the world pre-impact to be held up as the only allowable template to follow: seek to understand the principles of situations, goals or outputs that must be achieved. So, instead of insisting that an 8 o’clock video conference must happen, seek to understand what you wish to achieve by it and then hold that up as the desired outcome.

For instance, if critical information is shared at this meeting, find another method and time to ensure that it is made available and received; if your meeting is meant to create tasks and shape the work for the day, find a way where this can be done without forcing the old way of work as the only method.

In defining what ought to be going on, it is necessary to seek the actual organisational goals and purposes and hold these up as desired outcomes, and not the old ecosystem rules, habits and ways of work. KPI’s and measures must be re-aligned to support the real and significant outcomes that matter, not the familiar practices that we have grown comfortable with.
If there is concern over worker productivity, not being able to your employees behind their desks at the office does not provide any real information on the matter, and implementing measures to seek validation that remote workers are actually on their work laptops, using your business applications, will not give useful information either.

Other KPI’s will be needed to address and track productivity – but only once these have been crafted using the deep insight gained as described above.

How must we respond?

Coming up with valuable, valid and useful responses will only be possible if the problem or challenge is adequately understood. Impactful solutions are created from deep and thorough problem analysis.

The heavy lifting is done in the analysis and understanding phase, not in being highly energetic and creative in coming up with impressive and high-tech solutions, which may not actually be related to the actual specific contextual problem in the first place.

Real solutions, real value, real growth

We have made it our focus to ensure we have an exceptional ability to be able to bring a highly intelligent and uniquely penetrating skill to analyse and respond to the whole of our client’s need, within the client’s context.

We know it is not good enough to simply implement a workflow whilst our client has an expectation for a solution. Instead, we understand that it is the context that must be understood, and that the technology that we create and bring to our clients must be fully sympathetic and able to meet the real client demands and unique requirements that go with that for it to be a real solution.
Realising that people, processes and technology all need to be deeply understood as described earlier, we have designed our Workflow and Data solutions to be able to be incredibly flexible and adaptable to a client’s individual context.  

If a solution is not able to integrate and work in harmony with a client’s ecosystem, then it will not bring the expected value as an asset to a client. Solutions, if they are really going to work, must be sensitive to all of the complexities which gave rise to the challenge or problem in the first place.
It is in this regard that our applications are built in a way that they can mould to the client’s hand, but also interact with the client’s other tools and existing technologies, as well as with new technologies that might be in the market, and this allows for Blackboard to bring effective, targeted and real value to clients.

We make it our focus to understand each client, and our expertise benefits our clients because we do very thorough and useful analyses to inform and build client solution designs. We focus on all the relevant ecosystemic factors in the analysis phase.

These factors can be vast and also largely unique to every business, and can span facets such as the whole industry ecosystem, the current and past organisational culture, prevailing trends (both in your business and in your market), business and operational structures, your financial profile, leadership profile and character, your ways of work, your current tech asset (to name a few) – and many other highly relevant points.
Ultimately it is people that do business with other people. If that is not well understood and regarded as a core element of any organisation in solution technologies, no new solution will not be of much use. As a software development consultancy, Blackboard is an expert at understanding and factoring this in, which is why we believe we are able to bring unique and high levels of value, that really enable our clients, through our services and product offerings.

This is only at this point that a software application becomes an embedded asset for your business, leaving you with space for your organisation to transform, change and thrive in a dynamic, sometimes chaotic, and largely unpredictable world.

When we say ‘solution’, we really mean it.