25 YEARS OF BUSINESS BREAKTHROUGHS North highland

A foreword from CEO Dan Reardon

As we reflect on the last 25 years, it’s impossible not to be in awe of all that has changed. Business has been fundamentally transformed by technology, globalization and more efficient ways of working – transformative breakthroughs that were mostly unfathomable when North Highland was founded in a humble attic office in 1992.

Yet for me, that awe is tempered by a reflection on all that has remained unchanged. Our fundamental, founding principles – of integrity, accountability and care – have held equal weight to our ability to help clients navigate new opportunities that have emerged from each year’s advancements in tools, processes and customer expectations. We’re proud this approach has enabled such tremendous growth – from 20 employees when I joined in 1997 to over 3,000 in more than 60 offices worldwide – allowing us to have more meaningful impact at scale.

So in this our 25th year of working alongside our clients, we reflect on the most impactful business advancements and breakthroughs of the last 25 years that have fueled our continued discipline and dedication to our clients’ success.

Regardless of what the next quarter century brings, we have the utmost confidence that our foundational principles leave us uniquely equipped to help our clients build business resiliency with the continued integrity, accountability and care as in our first 25 years.

When the corporation as we know it today was created around 1870, competition primarily took place within an industry. “By and large, it was obvious what the business of a given company was and what its markets were,” Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, argued in 2001. “Everybody took it for granted that every product or service had a specific application, and that for every application there was a specific product or material….In [the] future there will be not one kind of corporation but several different ones.”

Drucker’s prediction of large-scale management transformation has been realized with unexpected rapidity.

“Today, the only thing guaranteed in business is that what you achieve this year will not be enough the next,” said Tina Ehrig, Global Head of Performance Improvement. “Steeper performance curves demand new methods to outperform the competition, and your organization’s own best.”

The modern organization is driven by an imperative for exploration, experimentation and collaboration, with determined leaders in a wide variety of sectors. Companies and technologies are disrupting and transforming industries – and management practices – at a faster clip than ever before.

“Transformation, once slow-moving or reserved for the technology industry, is now a mandate for survival in every industry,” said Greg Bradley, Global Head of Transformation.

Since North Highland was founded 25 years ago, we have witnessed a redefining of the corporation. In just two and a half decades, we believe several key breakthroughs in ways of working, technology and customer experience have fundamentally altered how business leaders think, behave, and work to build business resiliency:

Breakthroughs: Ways of Working

The Birth of Agile

The development of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 and the subsequent advancement of DevOps practices shifted the tech industry’s focus from a waterfall delivery system to one of continuous improvement. Rather than concentrating on one-time releases of new applications or major upgrades, agile organizations can quickly sense and respond to changing conditions and needs.

The power of agile techniques have also permeated many other parts of organizations outside of software development, empowering teams to accelerate decision velocity and rapidly respond to market shifts.

Move Toward Self-Organizing – and Self-Directing – Teams

Gone are the days of the CEO as de facto royalty (think Jack Welch in the 1990s or the edgy, young CEOs flying high before the dotcom bubble burst); many of today’s enterprises are moving towards a workforce of small, project-focused teams with limited supervision. Rather than telling people what to do and how to do it, organizations are enabling groups, networks and ecosystems to work together towards common goals.

This form of self-management requires significant discipline – a complex set of interlocking structures and practices that empower the people with the expertise and resources needed.

Greater Collaboration

Innovations in open source development, the general public license and online collaboration tools have unified the efforts of geographically dispersed workers in unimagined ways. This trend is captured in the success of crowdsourcing, which now fuels idea generation and funding for every-one from app developers to NASA.

Even in more traditional workplaces, mobile devices and web conferencing have made telecommuting, remote work and virtual teams more common.

Breakthroughs: Customer Experience

Increasing Importance of the Human Experience

The digital age has empowered the consumer, and organizations can no longer focus exclusively on the bottom line. It has helped create a marketplace of consumers who value corporate conscience and a company’s ethics and ideals as much as cost, quality and customer service. Users increasingly expect experiences that are authentic, purpose-driven and singularly human.

The Rise of Social Connectedness

The ubiquity of social media has transformed communication, marketing and day-to-day business operations. Consumers have been presented with new experiences, discovered the power of their voices, and social technologies have magnified the reach and exposure of both individuals and organizations.

The Power of Customer Obsession

Amazon and Google, founded in 1994 and 1998 respectively, set a new bar for digital experiences, customer-centric design and customer expectations around access, availability, speed and ease of use. These organizations, and their popularity and resulting cultural acceptance, have effectively shown how true customer empathy can enable scalable personalization and customization.

“Customer experience is already moving from being a differentiator to a cost of entry,” said Rob Sherrell, Global Head of Customer Experience. “It has evolved from just thinking about the customer to bringing the customer into the experience design process through co-creation.”

Breakthroughs: Technology

Data-Driven Discoveries and Digitized Operations

The rise of Big Data and a move to digitized work systems has strengthened business’s ability to make strategic decisions in complex environments. Data has proven its ability to transform and strengthen across all industries and around the world – optimizing efficiency, guiding innovation and automating processes.

“Just less than 25 years ago Marc Andreessen started Netscape, bringing digital content to the masses,” said Ben Grinnell, Global Head of Technology & Digital. “Software started ‘eating the world’ at an exponential rate. Ever since, each mouthful seems to double the appetite and it’s increasingly difficult to predict even a few years forward. As digital interfaces continue to evolve from punch cards to keyboards to voice to thoughts, how will organizations keep up? What won’t be digital?”

The IoT

When it comes to business, the real value of the Internet lies in connecting things – databases, servers, devices and people. Cisco predicts that more than 50 billion devices will be linked through the internet by 2020. The volume of data points that these devices produce enables organizations to customize products and services to individual customer needs, further enhancing their effectiveness.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

Forrester predicts that cognitive technologies such as robots, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation will replace 7% of U.S jobs in less than a decade. Smart robots and systems will soon replace people in performing even cognitively sophisticated tasks; artificial intelligence is already in use in healthcare and other industries. AI and automation are no longer tools that make workers more efficient: They will replace the need for human labor completely.

As we look ahead, the increasingly global, automated and experience-driven business environment promises to further disrupt organizations. Building business resiliency is a necessity – as the next quarter century will surely hold equally as unpredictable opportunities and challenges as the last 25 years.

Contact us at info@northhighland.com.

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