Technology investment provided the pathway through the disruption of the past year. Now, as Australian businesses look towards recovery and what lies ahead, an IDG Pulse Survey, commissioned by business nbn™, has found that the same investments have prepared them for the business climate ahead. According to the survey, two-thirds of business leaders (68 per cent) feel like they are now more agile and innovative than before the pandemic, thanks to the investments that they made in technology as a resilience measure.
But what are the implications of this rapid shift in innovation? McKinsey research suggests that businesses have “vaulted” five years forwards in IT investment in a single year. The question then becomes how can businesses adapt to such a rapid change in how things are done, and how can the enterprise remain focused on (if not enhance) the customer experience within this “new normal”?
The solution is to invest in a network environment that is resilient, stable and reliable, and can become the foundation for future innovation.
We asked a group of senior leaders from the CIO’s readership, and across several different business sectors, how they feel the disruption of the past year has changed their approach to IT, and what opportunities they believe that IT will offer their businesses ahead, as we start to emerge from the disruption.
Making the move to hybrid work
One of the key trends across Australian enterprises is that many of them already had the technology available to enable remote working. The challenge to overcome was being able to bring employees up to speed on how to best use the technology.
“Having already invested in WebEx/Jabber and SharePoint in prior years, overnight I saw a rise in adoption to almost 100 per cent,” said Therese Chakour-West, Head of IT at global power equipment manufacturer STIHL.
“Our people realised that to work effectively, albeit remotely, they needed to leverage the tools at their fingertips. We invested in creating short and sharp video tips and tricks to help our people use the tools to their fullest capability, and these were very well received.”
This shift does raise new IT risks and concerns for CIOs – when 100 per cent of the organisation relies on digital tools for communication, any downtime reduces the ability for the entire organisation to operate. Throughout the pandemic, enterprises have come to realise the benefit of resilient networks with exacting SLAs that only allow for a few minutes of downtime per month.
For other organisations, there was an upgrade process to establish a working remote communications environment, but, supported by Australia’s national broadband initiative, it was more a matter of stepping further along the path that they were already on, rather than making wholesale IT environment changes.
“We upgraded from Skype for Business to Teams, which provides a much more capable service for large video meetings,” said Paul Kennedy, Chief Information Officer at Craveable Brands.
“This was also the catalyst to migrate the last remnants of file storage from on-premises to OneDrive/SharePoint. Since we already hosted all our production infrastructure in Amazon Web Services, it was easy to operate remotely. WhatsApp provided quick and easy crisis messaging among our team.
“The majority of our line of business applications are already provided under Software-as-a-Service [agreements], so they did not need changes to operate remotely.”
Building better relationships with customers
In addition to finding new ways of working within the organisation, events of the past 18 months have also significantly disrupted the dynamic between businesses and their customers, but here, too, business leaders see opportunity.
“I think we’ve drawn closer to our clients and partners as well, due to the ‘we’re all in this together’ ethos that has been reinforced by the pandemic,” said Ari de Wit, General Manager of Corporate Services at Planet Innovation.
“We used new hardware and software to improve our ability to run interactive workshops remotely in a way that closely matches how they’d be run if we were all in the same room – this made it easier to keep existing projects moving in 2020 and to start new projects off strongly as well.”
In many cases, dealing with the disruption of the pandemic simply meant using technology to ensure that businesses had not “gone dark” on their customers. It was a trying, stressful time for the entire country, and keeping lines of communication open and services available was critical to allying fears and providing customers with confidence in the brands they were interacting with.
Here, too, the value of a robust and resilient national broadband initiative has helped to ensure that Australians have remote access to the businesses they interact with, whether that be in healthcare, finance, education, or simply for their entertainment.
“The use of technology played a major part in ensuring our processes and the way of working continued uninterrupted,” said Adam Buczko, Head of Enterprise Architecture and Cybersecurity at Service Stream.
“In some cases, new ways of working were invented – adding to this positive experience. It would not be possible if advanced technologies were not available.”
But none of this is to say that the experience was completely seamless or easy.
Neha Ralhan, Research Manager A/NZ at IDG Australia, said that while digital transformation for customer experiences was only accelerated through the pandemic (digital platforms and services have been on the horizon for some years), this acceleration also forced people on to these platforms.
She said helping the more resistant among the customer base manage that transition was the big strategic challenge that enterprises faced.
“Not every customer will be loyal apostles when they’re forced to accept change, and organisations must consider how best to retain the resistors,” Ralhan said.
“Technology, together with empathy, creativity, and new tools and platforms have been the bedrock of these changes. Organisations that have accelerated digital options to retain, as well as expand, their customer base and elicit staff loyalty this year are well-positioned to further build on these strong ties in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Looking ahead – accelerating IT investment
Australian enterprises are now very much focused on pushing forward. The IDG Pulse Survey found that for half of the respondents, this “forging ahead” includes plans to continue to accelerate IT investment and transformation looking forward.
“While resiliency of services and operations is a significant benefit, the levelling up of lagging technology systems and processes has been a welcome advantage,” Ralhan said.
“This is in addition to the reconfiguring, and often reimagining, of business models to better meet market needs and demands with technology underpinning offerings and operations. The largest changes made by organisations, including cultural shifts and digital buy-in, are the ones more likely to last in the longer term and deliver the greatest benefits.”
Craveable Brands’ Kennedy said that his organisation has seen a clearly defined benefit to both the work and culture of the organisation from these technology investments and as such there is little appetite to revert to how things were done previously.
“Some use of office space will return, and some in-person conferences will be re-established,” Kennedy said.
“We expect that flexible hybrid working between home and office will continue and will reshape our office spaces to better support collaboration and new usage patterns rather than individual desk space.”
”Our field operations teams and branch offices now feel more connected as a result of all staff working remotely, therefore leveling the playing field,” he added, highlighting the positive cultural shifts that technology has delivered to the enterprise.
Australian CIOs have every reason to be bullish at the opportunities that lie ahead. While the initial response to the pandemic was motivated purely by a desire to build resiliency into their organisations, those same technology investments that they have made, backed by a highly reliable and resilient network environment, now present them with new opportunities to deliver greater efficiencies within the organisation, and better interactions when reaching out to their customers.
As the rate of digitalisation continues, successful enterprises will continue to find new opportunities to deliver products and services over the network. To do that, they first need to ensure a network foundation that can provide reliable, scalable bandwidth to help meet their data needs.
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