Three Keys to Building an Agile Business to Beat the Competition

In this guest spotlight from Adobe, we examine the ways top enterprises are evolving their business into an agile operation that’s capable of keeping up with the very best.

Evolution is part of doing business. If, at the end of a fiscal year, business leaders realize they didn’t improve operations over the previous 12 months, they can be sure the competition did. And the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow the pace of business, it changed the game – challenging organizations of all sizes and across industries to become more agile, adapt to the digital-first reality to serve their customers, and stay ahead of competitors.

“We quickly realized that succeeding in a digital-first business required new skills. So we reskilled where we could and brought in new skills where we needed to – and a new mindset that is an amalgamation of creativity and data,” Ann Lewnes, Adobe CMO, wrote in The Future of Marketing is Agile for the Marketing Science Institute, about how our company approached the last year.

To that end, Adobe’s recent research with the London School of Economics reveals that one of the traits separating today’s thriving businesses from their trailing competitors is hands-on-leadership and a willingness to change. Together, these traits are the backbone of agile decision-making and a culture of continuous improvement.

As we near the midpoint of 2021 and companies plan for life after COVID-19, industry leaders are building their future strategies around three crucial pillars of business agility: people, processes and technology. These pillars aren’t new, but the way brands manage these core elements of their operation have evolved considerably in response to the pandemic, and all signs point to more innovation ahead.

Pillar #1: An Agile Workforce

When Shalini Rao took on the role of CMO at Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) in November of 2019, she had no way of knowing how quickly and extensively her leadership skills would be tested. Just a few months later, her team was racing to build a fully digitized passenger experience to help keep travelers at low risk for virus transmission and out of close contact with others, from the moment they park at the airport to boarding the plane. In roughly three weeks, Rao rolled out a digital transformation plan that mapped out the entire next year’s strategy, including distributing a short film via social media to demonstrate the extent of the safety precautions put in place. The video has since been viewed more than 6.4 million times and the increased customer engagement resulted in BIAL growing its subscriber base by 30 percent this year.

This agile approach to leadership and collaboration is the hallmark of successful businesses in today’s digital economy. Just ask John Rigas, the CEO of iconic British luxury retailer Asprey, who shifted his organization’s entire operation online in response to the pandemic, and galvanized his workforce to complete this bold transformation in a matter of months. Rigas is quick to admit that the organization, celebrating 240 years in business in 2021, wouldn’t have survived had he not taken that critical step which resulted in Asprey being able to connect its clientele with artisan craftspeople around the world for pre-eminent luxury goods in a personalized way.

Pillar #2: Agile Processes

For teams to be inspired, creative, and collaborative, they need to work with equally agile processes. Operational and data siloes between employees continue to stand in the way of progress for many businesses. Meanwhile, successful companies have made a point of breaking down these barriers, opening up the flow of information between teams and, as a result, improving the customer experience they provide.

Consider Amadeus, one of the world’s largest travel technology companies based in Spain. Thanks to a new integration with Adobe Experience Manager, Amadeus’s airline customers can move data more freely and safely between their internal teams, reducing the need for manual data entry and analysis so they can focus on innovation and creating the best experiences for their customers.

For large companies to pivot in the face of change is a major accomplishment. For an entire country to shed centuries-old traditions for the good of its economy is truly inspiring. The Japanese custom of using inkan or jitsuin seals to sign all official documents has been honored for nearly 2000 years. But with people unable to meet in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, business operations in Japan risked screeching to a standstill. Realizing they needed to adapt quickly, Japan’s government initiated a countrywide switch to e-signatures, following in the footsteps of innovative companies that had already made the move, like Sony Bank and At Home.

We quickly realized that succeeding in a digital-first business required new skills. So we reskilled where we could and brought in new skills where we needed to – and a new mindset that is an amalgamation of creativity and data.

Ann Lewnes, Adobe CMO
CMO, Adobe

Ann Lewnes, Adobe CMO-headshot

Pillar #3: Agile Technologies

Finally, businesses need the technologies and data-driven operating models required to empower their employees to work in a more nimble way. It’s often said that technology is simply a means to an end, and that is true, but the way companies use their IT and data today is integral to their transformation plans and ambitions for the future.

DHL was already the world’s biggest logistics company, but demand soared to new levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shipments nearly doubled from 5.3 million to roughly 9 million per day in Germany alone as the public adjusted to regional and global lockdown conditions. In response, DHL took on a data-driven approach to its customer experience and reimagined its digital offering to improve service across every touchpoint.

According to Konstantin Peris, DHL’s senior vice president of digital customer interactions, data-driven insight not only helped his organization to better serve customers, it also inspired more agile thinking in the boardroom. “Large companies often have an inside-out approach to strategy, but when it comes to what customers want, hard data trumps your preconceptions and feelings,” he says.

In other words, data-driven decisions are the key to long-term success, not business assumptions based on what may have worked in the past. This is precisely the thinking behind M&S’s ‘Never the Same Again’ transformation plan, an ambitious project to reshape the business and establish M&S as a digital-first retailer. Fueling its digital strategy are Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target, which are helping M&S’s marketing and IT teams to personalize the digital shopping experience and build the brand’s loyalty app for mobile customers.

Sometimes, an end-to-end technology implementation can be truly transformational. This is certainly the case for Lenovo’s B2B operation. Following a series of workshops with Adobe, the company realized it could “strengthen B2B engagement and improve campaigns by replacing existing solutions worldwide,” to quote Adobe global account director, Jason van Namen. That decision ultimately led to $11 million dollars in workflow efficiencies, and Lenovo continues to transform its operations with Adobe in more than 30 countries.

Agility Starts From the Top Down

Together, the stories above reveal an important truth about what it means to be agile. Agility is not altering who you are as a brand, it’s about being ready to adapt your products and services to the realities of a fast-changing world. The same goes for boardroom agility. Leaders must be receptive to change, and draw inspiration from new sources to build effective strategies for the future.

At Adobe, we make a point of seeking ways to become more agile and responsive to our customers’ needs.

That’s why we set up the first ever Adobe International Advisory Board in recognition of the significant challenges businesses face today, as well as the significant opportunities that lie ahead for those that set themselves up for success. By partnering with world-renowned leaders in business, economics and government, our teams are better-positioned to help our customers meet their industry-specific challenges head-on.

Businesses can and should learn from the past, but by questioning their approach to people, processes and technology they can take control of what matters most – their future.



Adobe is the global leader in digital marketing and digital media solutions. Our tools and services allow our customers to create digital content, deploy it across media and devices, measure and optimise it over time, and achieve greater business success. We help our customers make, manage, measure and monetise their content across every channel and screen.

For more information, visit