A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

2020 was quite literally the worst existential crisis business has faced in a generation. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, nearly 25% of UK businesses responding to its Business Impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) ceased trading or closed temporarily in April 2020. Figures from the London Gazette, the UK’s official public record for insolvencies, states that 50% more companies went bust in March this year than last.

It’s a grim picture. Yet many firms will endure it. History is littered with examples of brands that were once giants in their markets, disintegrating into nothing but memories. Equally, many firms will survive—and not only that, they will go on to thrive. Is this luck?

Look at Nokia. It began life in 1865 as a paper milling business, subsequently pivoting through the provision of cable products, rubber boots, tires, and televisions until its final iteration as the much-loved mobile phone brand. And even though the firm underestimated how popular the smartphone would become, it still lives today as a networking company. 

Royal Dutch Shell, formed in 1833, evolved from an importer of oriental seashells for the British interior design industry into an importer of oil during the industrial revolution. 

Sumitomo Corporation began life in the seventeenth century as a book and medicinal outlet. Today, it has interests in everything from minerals to media and transport.

These firms exhibit extraordinary longevity, but more interestingly, they also demonstrate an ability to adapt quickly to changing times. How is this possible? Do they share a set of common characteristics? I recently read a Financial Times article about a firm’s ability to evolve during times of profound change. They cite “The Living Company,” the work of Arie de Geus, a long-time employee (38 years) of Royal Dutch Shell. He proposed that long-lived companies have four key characteristics. The are:  

  • Sensitive to changes in the business environment and to society
  • Cohesive, with a strong sense of identity
  • Tolerant – not overly centralised and allow experiments and eccentricities amongst their staff
  • Conservative in their financing and ensure there is significant capital in their bank accounts

To me, this sensitivity to the business environment and a conservative approach to financing is key to the ability to be agile. Being attuned to what’s going on in your business landscape and the wider world gives you the intelligence required to make decisions about how to evolve. Having funds in place will allow you to invest in making those new plans a reality. 

However, when seismic change—the kind that is difficult to foresee—entirely shatters your world, I believe organisations also require one other characteristic that will dramatically improve their ability to be agile, but at speed: data fluidity.

Why? Data is the life force of modern organisations. Without democratic access to it, and without it being always-on and quickly transferable to different environments, firms won’t have the ability to change business models rapidly. Nor will they have the technology robustness to enable employees to work remotely for long periods of time. 

During this particular crisis, organisations have suffered from not being able to react quickly: everything from scaling to accommodating unprecedented changes in demand and supply to deploying analytics and AI to accelerate problem solving, and even developing new services.

If your data is inflexibly stored in legacy architectures, it won’t matter how sensitive you are to change or how much capital you have in the bank to reinvest for evolution: Your ability to move quickly will likely be inhibited. 

Consider this: Given that making your way to safe ground is so time-critical, can you really afford to waste it because your business is held back by complex, rigid data infrastructures?

If one thing is clear, it’s time to look at agility differently and ensure your organisation has all the modern characteristics that will enable it to achieve rapid agility as soon as the need arises. Pure Storage® technologies are freeing organisations from the constraints of legacy infrastructure and the uneconomical way it has been financed. 

Not only are we making data more fluid across your organisation, we’ve totally changed the way you pay for the infrastructure it needs. Everything is on a subscription basis, so you never pay for more than you need, and your organisation will never suffer downtime or complexity from forklift upgrades and data migrations. That’s a powerfully liberating change, both operationally and financially. But more important, in times of crisis and rapid change, Pure technology allows data to fulfill its strategic job of helping your organisation to survive now and to thrive in future.    

Find out more about how to achieve rapid agility.

[1] https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-8211067/Coronavirus-crisis-brings-50-jump-firms-going-bust-just-month.html