Remote Workforce: How CIOs are accelerating digital transformation for the future of work

The Connected CIO virtual roundtable series, in association with Dell Technologies and VMware outlined the key enablers for maximizing a productive remote workforce and assessed the revised technology priorities of CIOs in ASEAN and India.

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Dell Technologies

Work from home is now a six-month-old norm for organizations across the globe. The pandemic led CIOs and IT teams across industries—irrespective of sizes—to adopt the new style of work and quickly shift their teams to virtual environments. 

This transformation required investment in PCs, services, and infrastructure to support data and work happening at the ‘edge’ which includes security and compute for new collaborative SaaS tools, and productivity as per their business type, IT budgets, and customer expectations.

After the initial shift to facilitate remote working, CIOs are reassessing priorities as technology, workforce enablement, and culture are now taking the center stage. 

Amit Midha, president (APJ) region and Global Digital Cities business for Dell Technologies agrees: “2020 has certainly been a year like no other with no playbook for what we’ve been through or for what lies ahead. Our teams and our customers are all trying to navigate this environment. Businesses are now shifting from doing it ‘light’ to ‘right’ – where organizations have made investments and what that means as they evaluate a global, connected workforce that will now look very different.”

This change from ‘doing it light’ to ‘doing it right’ requires a deep focus on technology, services, security, policies, and culture—placing CIOs at the center of accelerated transformation efforts.

An Indian CIO from a diversified conglomerate of infrastructure, power utilities, airport construction, and more said, “Manufacturing is a prime business where complete remote working isn’t possible. However the adoption of new technology was runaway success during March/April this year. As 500 remote collab users were scaled to 5000 plus within a week by our IT team.”

The work culture of companies has changed, however, management of many Indian sectors in insurance, infrastructure, and services expect most people to return to office gradually given the nature of business and IT support they need to provide their customers with. 

The IT leader of an education institute in Australia shares: “While staff and students adapted to online classes, we realised that primary and younger kids need the nurturing and supervision by teachers in a physical classroom. Also expecting our lower salaried staff to buy their own internet bandwidth/WFH kits was an ethical dilemma. We have set up dedicated online tools, IT helpdesk to help all our employees.”

The customer conversations during the pandemic accelerated the transition of legacy companies to digital companies said Duncan Hewett, senior vice president and general manager, VMware Asia Pacific & Japan.COVID-19 brought into sharp focus the need for organizations to have robust business continuity plans. Even so, the scale and impact of the pandemic were beyond anything most organizations could have ever imagined,” he added. 

Midha of Dell Technologies says, “Team members want the flexibility of staying remote—for that to be successful, need to ensure we eliminate key barriers for the productive global remote workforce – technology, workforce enablement, culture. That requires investments in the right platforms, tools for individual productivity, and team collaboration.”  

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Any App, Any Cloud, Any Device, with Intrinsic Security VMware can empower the global workforce while protecting critical systems and establishing a stronger and more agile foundation that minimizes the risk of future challenges

Duncan Hewett, senior vice president & general manager, VMware APJ

An IT leader of a Malaysian bank like many others has seen the emergence of cloud-based video conferencing as the norm with more than one-third of its employees in remote workforce mode. “However we do grapple with day to day challenge on the usage of apps and its rights access rights, and most importantly buying more bandwidth for seamless collaboration experience adds to IT costs,” he points out. 

Lessons Learnt 

An IT Leader from India’s leading insurance companies confesses, “We had invested in remote working technologies before pandemic but convincing the management about employee productivity was tough. Pandemic changed the mindset about remote work within a few days. IT team is building more processes, tools to measure productivity, and employees’ performance.”

Midha says, “All current challenges have driven this digital acceleration and increased investment in technologies that support widespread deployment and management of PCs, scalable and secure IT to support increased workloads across core data center, multiple public and private clouds and edge; ability to support VDI, SaaS workloads, online business, education...investment remote management and cloud apps.”

A CIO heading India IT operations of global knowledge and consulting firm said, “The transition of office users to WFH was quick as we had a fair amount of people in that mode and our well-etched technology framework allowed seamless transition. Almost 35% of (the) workforce in India will permanently work from anywhere as we have created 25000+ flexible workspace as hot desks that added more resiliency and business continuity.”

Remote working is expected to increase by 20% across all sectors irrespective of sizes which will lead to the increase in demand for more IT infra around 5G, AI, and processing power.

The new reality of uncertainty and budget constraints paradoxically requires investments in technology to protect business operations and fuel innovation, believes Hewett at VMware. “Access to cloud services from any provider, app modernization and the development of new apps and services for customers and employees will drive differentiation and growth, and match expenditures to operational needs with intrinsic flexibility.”  

Before COVID-19, Dell WFH was around 25% which will increase to over 50% post-COVID-19. “It is reasonable to believe that approximately 50% of the professional workforce will work remotely in the next 3-5 years post COVID-19 (up from below 20%. Our recent research is showing that the trend is heading towards 45% to 50%,” Midha reasons.

Digital-first has replaced digital transformation at organizational levels to align technology investments with business goals. The ability to respond quickly to a crisis, adapt to a new reality, and accelerate innovation is what we call being ‘Future-Ready’, says Hewett.

The Priority List

Productivity, collaboration, security – are the key pillars of the connected workforce experience. 

The digital operation head for a Singapore based diversified multinational says, “Creating the right balance of high innovation and fast RoI will be key for CIOs with respect to remote workforce and related tech investments. And keeping at center will be the customer experience for your digital business.” 

A CIO of Australia’s’ charitable organisation says, “Our services around health counselling and others encompass traditional workforce engaged in face-to-face interactions. They had to quickly pivot to devices, tablets, laptops as immediate react phase and then we had support phase of ensuring remote working security to bunch of devices. Now video collaboration and overall IT strategy for modern workplace is at centre stage as we invest in automation, bots to take cost out of overall expenses.”

A media conglomerate in India has been working on infra equipment for digital transformation since January 2020, but the only challenge was the lack of work from home culture in the company. “Some people, especially editors, used to work in legacy took time to move from audio calls to video collab platforms. And we have all the protocols like MFA, VPN from a security perspective, in place,” says the CIO of the company’s print business. 

Others echo the viewpoint on eliminating the dependency on humans on the client-side with more automation through bots, AI/ML-based tools, and other initiatives around RPA. As confidential client data is carried, a remote workforce is trained on cybersecurity awareness and social engineering threats. 

The IT team of an insurance company in India is working on developing its own video conferencing and collaboration tools to reduce its dependency on tools from OEMs to create digital trust amongst customers and lower the overall IT cost. 

Most CIOs across geography at the roundtable agree that collaboration is more of a human problem or culture issue than a tech problem.

Don’t be the passenger but be the driver to change the workforce culture, an IT leader said. 

According to Amit, cloud tools will continue to gain importance to help distributed teams collaborate and to measure performance via modernization/digitalization.

The CIO of an automotive company in India talks about the importance of productivity and collaboration, and their plan to reduce the bandwidth costs as video collaboration continues for at least a couple of quarters. “The senior leaders attend office periodically but we have video calls across the cabins or floors,” he points out on social distancing precautions as on date.

While 50% of the workforce will always work from home, the IT leader of an Indian BFSI entity expects a large part of its employees to come to the office – maybe once or twice a week– for the human to human peer connects imbibing the office environment.

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Businesses are now shifting from doing it “light” to “right” – where organizations have made investments and what that means as they evaluate a global, connected workforce that will now look very different.”

Amit Midha, President (APJ) region and Global Digital Cities business for Dell Technologies

Future of Work

As businesses think about returning to the site, teams are working cross-functionally—some from offices, some from home. 

“While these early virtual and mixed reality experiences are pretty basic as the systems, peripherals, interfaces, and apps have not really been optimized for this kind of interaction, in the future we will be bringing a lot more compute capacity to homes and remote settings to support more innovative, dynamic experiences,” says Midha.

Hewett spoke on the best practices from a digital workplace standpoint that will best position companies to the new normal. He said, companies need to be digital first that encompasses long term focus and ‘Top Line’ driver’s decisions. Importantly, it is imperative for them to return to stability, growth and innovation.

Security has been a key priority post-pandemic as revealed in the CIO India survey in April 2020 wherein almost 56% of the surveyed CIOs of India mentioned security as their topmost IT investment. 

The Head of IT of a digital media company based out of India says that adapting the zero trust security model in 2019 helped the shift to remote working without any security controls and authentication issues.  

For a CIO and its IT team of a diversified conglomerate in India, the corporate management wants the company to become a top-class cybersecurity organization. “We are exploring using robotics, bots, portals, and new customer engagement tools besides putting in extra security solutions for both office and remote workforce through our SOC as cyberattacks attempts saw a jump during lockdown at our organisation.”

“To support the hybrid approach, organizations will need to invest in Reliable remote infrastructure to support AR/VR, 5G - Edge computing will come to the home and augment the compute capacity of the devices that attach to that edge,” reasons Midha. 

Work-from-Anywhere is the new mantra for 2020 and beyond. 

“Pre pandemic, the customers’ demand of ‘anytime, anywhere’ services at their doorstep is now true as they want personalised interface not only on web or mobile but on WhatsApp and their preferred local language,” said a CIO of an insurance firm.

Midha adds, “We're investing in innovation and services that leverage full weight and capabilities of Dell Technologies to support customers’ end-to-end digital transformation with Dell Technologies Cloud, Power Portfolio, Client Portfolio, Unified Workspace...brings light to strength in the combination of Dell Technologies with VMware (Carbon Black, Pivotal), Secureworks.” 

“Any App, Any Cloud, Any Device, with Intrinsic Security VMware can empower the global workforce while protecting critical systems and establishing a stronger and more agile foundation that minimizes the risk of future challenges,” sums Hewett at VMware.

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