Avoid falling into the polarised technology trap

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My recent conversations with CIOs and IT Managers alike have revealed that some of the financial roadblocks that previously stood in the way of digitalisation strategies are lifting for the first time in recent memory.

Recent research from Gartner confirmed that CIOs across Southeast Asia are not only increasingly being called on to take organisations into the future, but that this has indeed risen since the height of the pandemic.

According to the analyst firm’s 2021 CIO Agenda report, 92 per cent of CIOs across the region saw an increase in the high-value and strategic IT requests they received from organisational leaders. Now, 95 per cent of CIOs are relied on to foster and change the culture around new technology platforms, and 85 per cent have seen increased strength in CIO-CEO relationships.

But, as with most things, challenges have evolved. Workforces across the region have contended with months in and out of lockdown, and leaders have shouldered the unique responsibility of managing a hybrid work model while supporting the wellbeing of employees and ensuring there is no compromise to customer service standards.

Historically, these hurdles were addressed with a polarised view to technology: most would either spend excessively on new systems, or completely tighten their purse strings and rely on outdated technologies.

However, you don’t actually need to splurge on new technologies, nor sweat your assets to the point of stagnant operations.

Depolarise digital decisions

Organisations have understandably invested in the latest products on the market to improve operational efficiencies and stay ahead of the curve. This has been especially pertinent since the onset of the pandemic, which has ramped up cloud spending to enable remote work and support the wellbeing of staff during a time of external stress.

But excessive adoption of technologies typically results in a commodity environment where investments are under-utilised, and the capabilities of existing solutions, including their potential for easing workloads and improving the overall experience, remains unlocked. Whenever off-the-shelf products are shoe-horned into environments to address scenarios and processes they were never designed to handle, the job completed is mediocre at best.

This approach can have a negative impact on employees, especially if they are required to switch between separate video conferencing, messaging, email and task management applications to complete their jobs, and by extension customers, who are subject to longer wait times. A recent study conducted by RMIT University found that leaders from both the private and public sectors attributed their recent digital overload to the amount of communication and collaboration tools they are required to use each day, which, on average, is nine.

On the other hand, expecting that outdated systems, or the stop-gap measures that were rolled out last year, will enable your employees to navigate the always-on digital economy and improve customer experiences is unrealistic.

It’s not just about productivity gains, either. Last year, 40 per cent of remote workers identified loneliness and a lack of communication and collaboration as their biggest struggles.

In the context of today’s broad range of challenges, the basic video tools that helped many through 2020 don’t cut the mustard in uncertain times.

Even the scales

It is critical to establish a balance between the two approaches. That starts with reviewing existing investments and optimising their use, then building a strategy for composable technology adoption; look at what’s already switched on, and what was left off in the past year to get the most out of your budget.

The rate at which you convert temporary measures into long-term, technology-led improvements will dictate how quickly employees stand to benefit, and ultimately how well your business will bounce back from the events of the last year and a half.

Once your organisation is capitalising on what’s in place, you can ease the load for your employees and create increased capacity by introducing the likes of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to handle time-consuming administrative tasks, such as the generation of meeting minutes.

Similarly, data analytics capabilities add further value by streamlining workflows and simultaneously supporting the wellbeing of individual employees. Presence indicators, for example, give the workforce control of their workdays by offering the option to disconnect with the virtual time-outs they choose, all based around their unique personal and professional circumstances.

With the end of the financial year behind us and our new budgets set, now is the time to realign workflows and processes using technology to enable your people and drive business outcomes. While polarising spending habits have been prevalent, supporting employees, customers and pockets amid today’s operational and economic conditions takes an even scaled approach. Determine what you want to achieve and assess whether your current systems can deliver these on goals to make new investments count.

Jeremy Paton is Team Engagement Solutions Lead for Asia-Pacific at Avaya, a communications and collaboration software company.

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