If the rest of the decade is anything like 2020, tech leaders are in for quite the ride. With an overnight forced migration to all things digital and virtual, projects that previously took two years were rolled out in two months — or even two weeks.

CIOs and their digital and business colleagues have been operating at a breakneck pace over the past months as organizations react to both a global pandemic — and the changes that came from consumers hunkering down, supply and demand disruptions, and workers going from zooming into the office to Zooming in from their kitchen.

Sure, things will get back to “normal” in 2021 (or 2022 . . .), but more uncertainty is on its way. With shifting consumer and business behaviors likely to stick even post-COVID-19, it’s clear that most old-style tech strategies are not up for the challenge — which is why it’s time for a new approach.

Changing Business Needs Require A Future-Proof — And Future Fit — Tech Strategy

Customer obsession (being customer-led, insights-driven, fast, and connected) provides the North Star for what Forrester calls a future fit tech strategy. We explore this approach in a new report I coauthored with Bobby Cameron.

This approach is tuned to insights we uncovered from looking at more than 10,000 consumer and employee survey responses, plus interviews we did with tech and digital leaders as they responded to early stages of the pandemic crisis.

What we heard from leading firms was a spirit of innovation, driven by pandemic-fueled focus and enabled by prior investments in digital technology and talent. Firms taking a customer-obsessed approach were able to quickly see shifting needs and reconfigure their capabilities to deliver new solutions to market. They were also quick to adjust how they funded and sourced solutions. In short, they had become not just more adaptive but also more creative and resilient, as well.

These three strategies are enabled at scale when embracing a future fit technology approach. They also have an amplifying effect. Adaptive firms that recognize emerging customer needs and have a flexible technology foundation and operating model grow more than three times faster than their industry average. And those that adapt by harvesting customer and market insights are also often first to market with more creative — and engaging — experiences, such as Domino’s app-powered delivery and carry-out model or Uber Connect.

But being adaptive also means identifying and mitigating risk and investing in planning, plus systems and processes that are both dependable and flexible. With growing systemic uncertainty, business resilience is no longer optional. Beyond continuity and preparedness, these efforts provide a foundation for fulfilling the firm’s brand promise, via new experiences that anticipate what the user needs, and offer a level of assurance that the essential item ordered online is actually in stock and will arrive when promised.

Yet how do you unlock this potential if you aren’t a digital first mover? Or are still challenged by tight budgets or mountains of tech debt? It starts by reimagining the classic “people-process-technology” approach to IT and digital strategies. Instead, firms will build around a new approach to platforms, practices, and partnerships.

Reimagined Platforms, Practices, And Partnerships Will Power Speed And Scale

Individual technologies for improving adaptivity, creativity, or resilience have already been on the market, of course, such as self-service business intelligence and low-code tools for being more adaptive or content and social marketing apps to be more creative. But going forward, firms will get a bigger boost from platforms that bundle technology and services preassembled to deliver specific customer experiences or a new business capability.

Leading-edge platforms include out-of-the-box capabilities for analytics and automation and enable quick customization by letting users configure rather than code while selecting add-ons from an app marketplace. The results: reduced complexity and time-to-value, plus an easier way to harness the power and efficiency of cloud services.

So if platforms change how firms get their technology, new (trust-based) practices, borrowed from the best of agile, design thinking, and techniques such as objectives and key results (OKRs), will change how tech projects are managed in the 2020s. Firms will deliver solutions iteratively and test as they go to discover progress toward desired outcomes. These practices become especially important as teams work from anywhere and include techies and creatives, as well as full-time and gig workers.

Moving from traditional IT-driven processes to an era of democratized development and alignment around common objectives will enable teams to move faster and quickly innovate by incorporating software-as-a-service building blocks and applying “agile at scale.”

Add in more engaged services partners who not only provide expertise but also potentially take a stake in newly launched digital experiences or products (think of how firms like BCG Digital Ventures operate), and the “3 Ps” of technology are poised to not only power future fit strategies but also reshape the tech ecosystem over the next decade.

Bobby and I will be presenting a keynote session on future fit strategies at Forrester’s upcoming Technology & Innovation Global event on November 4–6.