Let’s become an 'agile society'

When a ship carrying Syrian refugees sank off the coast of Lesbos on October 28, 2015, the world saw a desperate need and overwhelming sadness and tragedy. It was a mounting geopolitical crisis – and, if the many thousands of volunteers were any indicator, the world wanted to help.

Lesbos is a symbol of the opportunity and challenge in front of us today. On one hand, thanks to online news, people became immediately aware of the crisis unfolding, and many were spurred to action. On the other hand, not all of that potential help was realized. Government and charitable resources weren't activated to their fullest capacity, people's skills weren't adequately deployed, and the crisis continues to mount.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, often called Industry 4.0, is imminent. We are living through a pace of technology advances like never before, and in this new era, contextual machines and materials, powered by software that connected by application programming interfaces (APIs), will drive change at an unprecedented level. For a moment, let's consider a world in which all of that breakthrough technology is maximized. Where the skills of our diverse global population are used to their maximum efficiency. And where governments operate without friction.

In that world, Lesbos becomes a case study for how society can spring to action quickly, effectively, and yield results using all available resources efficiently.

The agile mindset that is changing software today also provides a transformational path to become that kind of society: an agile society.

The path to Agility

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By definition, "being agile" means being able to move and understand quickly and easily. It's a phrase that is particularly meaningful in the software development world, describing a culture of self-direction, cross-functional collaboration, continuous improvement and delivery of value and quality. The original "Agile Manifesto" presents a vision for work that is built around "early and continuous delivery," "motivated individuals," and ultimately, an output that is sustainable .

As technology changes at an unprecedented rate, society must reflect these agile principles in order to discern what is most important and take action quickly.

This means critically evaluating how organizations and institutions are run. Eschewing rules in favor of outcomes; responding to change instead of following a rigid plan; and encouraging participation and self-direction over an outdated hierarchy.

These shifts are not going to be easy, nor are they going to come overnight. As leaders of public and private organizations, it is our responsibility to lead the charge; we must begin taking steps to set in motion this shift to an agile society. I would recommend we start by examining and acting on three areas of critical importance:

1. Cut the Red Tape

Governing bodies need to operate with agility and adapt with speed and poise to the evolving needs of its citizens.

Often governments are regarded as slow to innovate when compared with the private sector. But those that embrace the concepts of agility, emphasize outcomes over process, and reward based on self-direction and merit are seeing tremendous gains in engagement of their teams and the public they serve.

One example in the United States is a nonprofit called Code for America. It's an organization committed to modernizing municipal government IT programs and making working in government fun and creative. One of their most compelling projects is empowering cities to develop an open-source web application to solve a citizen-selected civic problem. That application can then be used or adapted by any city government, and the results have been remarkable – simultaneously, officials and citizens have addressed local problems while also reducing public IT costs by enabling code sharing among government entities.

2. Empower a Diverse Workforce

The success of organizations of all types is directly proportionate to the empowerment and engagement of its people. Central to that is building an inclusive workforce that reflects the global population and draws upon a variety of skills, backgrounds and perspectives.

As the CEO of a global company, I look at this in two ways:

First, it's about ensuring the workforce you have feels comfortable expressing themselves both personally and professionally, and have access to a safe and secure work environment. It has to be about the ideas that drive innovation and rejection of any kind of discrimination. Good ideas and hard work are not the exclusive domain of one type of person. In my experience, more diversity constructively drives more robust solutions.

Second, it's about attracting future employees and one place that does not get enough attention in technology is gender equality. According to "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project ," the percentage of women in the global workforce has stagnated at about 55 percent, and new barriers continue to rise – for example, in developing countries, 200 million fewer women than men have access to online technology. I am passionate about increasing the number of women in the global workforce beginning by introducing girls to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education at a young age.

3. Unleash the Power of Tech

Software is the single most transformative force in today's global economy. According to a November 2015 global survey of 250 business leaders by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services , two-thirds (66 percent) say that their company's future depends on the quality of their software. This is as important for business as it is for society.

Software is fueling Industry 4.0 and is at the heart of production built around individuals. As Industry 4.0 evolves, APIs will take center stage, linking devices and production systems to one another and ushering in an incredible era of customization – for instance, allowing your failing mobile phone to alert the factory that a replacement is needed, outfitted with all of the custom settings you need, at precisely the moment you need it.

The key to rapid advancement will be to make technology more open and secure. Ever since the US Census made its data publicly available, thousands of businesses have accessed the rich demographic data for their own use. This had led to much better business decisions – from countless companies accessing the data to explore a potential market to new start-ups that are data laboratories intent on delivering insight from data mining.

The Time is Now

We're living in a remarkable time. In an application economy where people are connected with brands and one another like never before. On the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where customization will be key and where software will link the Internet of Things with Industry 4.0.

But we will only be able to maximize this technology if we prepare as a society. This needs to start with an overhaul of the way we govern, empower people and use the technology we're creating and consuming.

Let's take advantage of this remarkable time to transform ourselves into a truly agile society.

Michael Gregoire is chief executive at CA Technologies.