Why businesses need to be Beta to grow quicker and behave bolder

09 April 2018 Consultancy.uk

London-based consultancy Adaptive Lab is one of the UK’s fastest growing consultancies – the firm’s sales have doubled every year for the past four years, and the consulting firm is aiming to increase revenues by 40% this year. “We help our clients build products, services and Beta businesses – businesses that launch faster, grow quicker, and behave bolder,” says James Haycock, Founder and Managing Director of the 50-strong team. 

In your own words, what is a Beta Business?

Business leaders the world over are looking up and realising that their market context is undergoing exponential change. Keeping up and winning in these fast moving times requires businesses to reinvent themselves and to do so continuously. Doing this successfully requires both a new mindset and a new way of working. The old model of change just isn’t fit for the new world we’re operating in.

A Beta Business is one that has adopted the new model that we think is essential for survival. At the heart of this model is a very simple idea which is that experimentation is the key to unlocking growth. So, we describe a Beta Business as one that finds growth through experimentation. 

The idea of experimentation is one that has grown increasingly popular, inspired by the world’s most valuable companies – technology firms like Amazon and Facebook. They’ve designed themselves to be brilliant at experiments, whether at the whole business unit level or at a feature level. Experiments are about learning, and given how fast things are moving, a company’s ability to learn, and to learn faster than its competitors, will be what makes it fit for the future.

Many companies have made attempts to become more agile and lean but a Beta Business is about more than this. It understands that the broader internal environment needs to be supportive of these modern ways of working and reconsiders how it funds initiatives, governs them, and how it organises itself to let these new approaches flourish.

Adaptive Labs - We build beta businesses

Can you share a recent example of a Beta Business you’ve launched for a client? And one you’ve seen launched outside of your business that you admire?

Smarty is an example of a Beta Business we launched in partnership with Three, the mobile operator. They’re pursuing a specific customer segment and were keen to establish a modern culture and way of working. We’re also working on one for a financial services company that should be live in the coming months, although I can’t say more about that one right now. 

Pret is an interesting example of a company that applies this mindset. They launched the Pret Vegetarian concept as a trial near our studio in Shoreditch and now, having iterated the concept, they’re rolling it out more broadly. Within their shop they’re also applying the same approach by trying out new products and ideas regularly. 

Hive, the British Gas smart home business, might be another example. They’ve experimented with organisational structure – being both inside and outside of British Gas and are now sat within the Centrica Group. Monzo, the digital challenger bank, is another. They’ve been great at getting their product into the market faster than their competitors which has enabled them to learn quicker and build a better product as a result. 

You talk about working with companies to ‘launch faster, grow quicker, and behave bolder’ but in reality, how do you do you manage to achieve this in an often complex, process driven corporate world?

It’s tough as you might imagine. We’d actually reframe the question though: can companies afford not to adopt this mindset?! If they don’t, will they still be around in 5 or 10 years’ time? The answer might well be no. 

Some companies we work with have created new governance processes to expedite the launch of new businesses. Others have or are considering spin-outs with a leaner governance, modern culture and team design. We’re actually working with an established brand at the moment to rethink their governance so they can launch innovative products quicker. 

Businesses need to reinvent themselves continuously, with experimentation key to unlocking growth

What are the advantages and disadvantages of launching a ‘beta’ startup-like business within an existing company?

The big advantage of the Beta Business model is that you accelerate your learning. Will your assumptions be proven to be correct? was your target market right? did your proposition land? was your onboarding journey right? Other advantages are that you can reduce the risk of your business plan, supporting it with real data. It can also be a great way to explore new business models, although sometimes to do this fully requires a spin-out as it might be cannibalistic. NowTV and Sky is a good example of this. 

Disadvantages? From our perspective I can’t think of any. From a client’s perspective if they understand it, they don’t see any but they will know it might be hard to really make it happen.

Are any other businesses offering a similar service to you? If not, why not?

There are some people who are similar to us in certain respects but might be focused on the strategy or the product development but not the whole process. I think the reason why there aren’t more yet is that many companies are newer to this way of working. Software consultancies are good at agile but not so great at innovation/design. And big consultancies have only recently started to offer these types of services. They’re still working out how best to bring the necessary disciplines together.

What one piece of advice would you give a business looking to launch a digital product or service in 2018?

Bring some kind of customer launch as early as you can. It’s only at this point that you’ll actually learn whether what you’re offering is something people will switch for/adopt/pay for. It needn’t be too many people which keeps the risk profile low but even if you are doing customer validation it’s difficult to know whether people will actually take it up.

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Four years after Bi-Modal IT - Is the model still relevant?

31 August 2018 Consultancy.uk

The term ‘Bi-modal IT’ was first coined by Gartner four years ago, but to what extent has this model been successfully implemented and is it still relevant? Experts at First Consulting reflect on the developments.

Gartner defined ‘Bi-modal IT’ as: The practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasising safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasising agility and speed.

In theory, the benefits of implementing a ‘Bi-modal’ approach are numerous. Primarily, being able to add a layer of change control and security on legacy systems that are often running business critical applications, whilst simultaneously enabling the rapid development and innovation associated with new digital technologies.

Working closely with our clients as they embark on their digital journeys, we have come across some common challenges as the businesses try and adapt to the new without compromising or risking their business operations. While theoretically separating platforms and applications into Systems of Records (Mode 1) and Systems of Engagement (Mode 2) may seem appropriate, in reality, the definitions of what constitutes each may be greyer than originally thought back in 2014.

IT Future is Now - Gartner, John-MacDorman

The problem is that in many of our client IT eco-systems, several of their new digital technologies are not standalone systems. Indeed, part of the benefits of adopting these new applications is their inter-operability and easy integrations with other systems. As an example, we help develop high productivity applications (web-based, mobile or both) with data visualisations retrieving information from an ERP system or other systems of records style application. 

How does the bi-modal approach apply considering that any changes on one system inevitably impacts the other? In this case working in two modes may cause more harm than good. From a conceptual point of view; creating two distinct IT units, may introduce more complexity in IT’s overall goal of helping the business. For example, the business may not understand why one team can deliver a new product in few weeks, when the other takes several weeks to implement a change. The business typically sees the IT systems that support their operations as the same in terms of how a change can be made, regardless as to whether they are the systems of records application or the new lightweight low-code application platform. Providing the business with two speeds to get change into the systems can cause communication challenges and friction when seemingly one team can achieve a change significantly faster. 

Additionally, what we have seen as a common but often neglected problem of Bi-modal IT is the psychological and organisational implications of a two mode approach. Ensuring that the team managing the system maintenance (mode 1) are kept motivated can be a challenge when they see their colleagues are working with the ‘latest and greatest’ technologies. 

But what are the possible solutions? After all, Bi-modal came into existence to solve a valid problem so simply dismissing it due to the issues we have seen thus far may be jumping to conclusions. 

“Bi-modal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility.” 

From our experience in aiding digital transformations with our clients, the key to success with adopting and implementing new digital technologies and shifting the organisational mindset to embrace these changes is to reduce the communication barrier between business and IT. Cross-organisational collaboration is integral for any successful digital project. There also needs to be leadership ownership around the move to digital, this ‘drive from the top’ will aid the transition to embrace new ways of working.  

From what we have seen, whether bi-modal can still be considered relevant depends entirely on where an organisation is on their digital journey. There is no one size fits all approach here in determining if it is the right path. For example, for those coming from a large systems of records based landscape and are considering a move to a more digital based capability then there may well be a cause to consider the bi-modal approach. This may give a safe way to test out a faster more agile way of working whilst retaining the stability around the process that keeps the core systems operating. Once the agile approach has landed well, then the approach can considered be scaled to the systems of records. 

At First Consulting, whenever we help clients in their digital journey; be it rapid low-code agile application development, process-mining and optimising or RPA for example, we pay close attention to the change aspects associated with this. Driving collaboration to dissolve the boundaries between the business, IT and the vendor landscape to eliminate delays and errors through transparent information. 

Related: First Consulting: Is RPA implementation going in the right direction?