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The eCommerce pioneer explains why agility is the ability to survive

As the world of fashion and retail are undergoing the biggest shift in modern times, we ask some of the tech industry’s leading visionaries and innovators about the road ahead. — In general, we’re on the right track to promoting agility through transparency and autonomy, says Finnish tech company Tieto’s principal consultant, Jaakko Hallavo.

Words: Konrad Olsson Photography: Pär Olofsson

The Oxford Dictionary defines the term Agility as ”the ability to move quickly and easily”. If you would ask Jaakko Hallavo, the principal consultant and eCommerce pioneer at Finnish tech company Tieto, you might as well define it as ”the ability to survive”.

Yes, it is that important.

In the tech community, Agile Software Development has been a buzzword for a couple of decades, outlining a method for developing a project through an evolutionary and collaborative approach. And while Jaakko Hallavo do subscribe to this ethos, he believes that the term agile can have a much wider use.

— I think we should move past the tech and talk about culture. If you only use agile methodologies to improve existing services you are missing the point. Then you are just running faster. Business agility is the ability to drive change, create true innovations and business renewal.

If you are not redefining yourself, you are not really geared up for change.

Many industries are going through major shifts at the moment, and retail may be the one under the biggest pressure. Jaakko pulls up the first slide of his recurring keynote presentation and it shows the old Charles Darwin quote: ”It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

— It’s almost a cliché, but it is so true, he says.

— For the past decade, the public discussion has been about chasing the next silver bullet. From eCommerce to analytics to AI, Voice commerce is probably next. These are all relevant areas, but we believe that creating a culture that embraces uncertainty makes companies better equipped for the future.

Jaakko admits that adapting to an agile mindset might be easier said than done.

— Even if everyone sees the benefits of agility, the change journey is challenging. Today, our role is less about convincing our customers about business agility, and more about providing them with concrete paths from team level and tech agility to business level agility and business renewal. As with any change, this does not happen overnight.

He doesn’t say it out loud, but you can sense he speaks form experience. Tieto is one of Europe’s largest IT companies, with 15 000 employees in 20 countries. It’s way bigger than his previous employer, the Finnish eCommerce specialist Smilehouse, which had around 100 employees when they were acquired by Tieto in 2015. Jaakko started working at Smilehouse when it was founded in 1999. The Finish upstart became specialists in creating customer-oriented digital experiences, and after the aquisition, Smilehouse became part of a Tieto wing called Customer Experience Management (CEM).

Throughout his career, Jaakko Hallavo, has seen that It often comes down to strong individuals.

— If you want to drive change, there is always the risk of failure. When I’m doing talks on this subject to our clients’, I always get a lot of nodding heads. But it’s not always implemented in our clients way of working. That’s why you need a team of individuals that have confidence and courage and the ability to lead.

How does Tieto implement agility?

— In general, Tieto is on the right track to promoting agility through transparency and autonomy. Within our CEM unit, we’ve had this mentality for a long time. But even for us driving this type of cultural change is not easy. Luckily, we have committed leaders who strongly support our journey. To this point, Tieto CEM has identified four core values that drive their way of working: 1. Systems over blueprints. 2. People and safety first. 3. Costumer needs to be in the center. 4. Experiment and learn constantly.

— It’s becoming more and more important that our clients share our values and beliefs.

When it comes to technology, allowing a decomposed ­architecture is key, according to Jaakko. But not as hardcore as it used to be.

— Five years ago, everyone wanted to be ultra agile and develop everything in a unique way. Today, it is more about picking the right pieces of software and adding it to your stack. This way you can remove redundant software and add the solutions that are on the frontline. That way you stay innovative.

In the end, it’s all about being able to change — and survive.

— It’s obvious that the companies that keep doing what they’ve always done will not win the game.

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