Almost two thirds received additional funding to accelerate initiatives…

Coeus Consulting, an award-winning independent IT advisory, today announced findings from its annual CIO and IT Leadership Survey 2021. The survey of senior IT leaders explored how they have had to urgently prioritise and accelerate programmes during the pandemic over the past 12 months. 

Remarkably, over half (53%) claimed they were able to implement a strategic shift of their entire business operations to digital and almost three quarters (68%) of respondents either strongly, or generally agreed, that acceleration helped them to digitalise more of their operations. 

Half of organisations were still amid their digital journeys or in the planning stages when they had to re-prioritise and pause non-urgent initiatives to focus on operational continuity during the pandemic. In fact, 70 per cent of organisations surveyed prioritised end user solutions (EUS) such as remote working, 52 per cent prioritised operational stability, closely followed by cost optimisation (50%).  

 “The proficiency that businesses have demonstrated in their prioritisation and acceleration of critical initiatives is a huge triumph. Being able to re-direct resources and cutting down their time to market in digitalising the organisation is no easy feat, particularly in the throes of a global pandemic” said Ben Barry, Director, Coeus Consulting.  

Despite this, the speed at which organisations were forced to adapt meant that short term and tactical business decisions had to be made, with over three-quarters (78%) of respondents stating they had implemented ‘quick fix’ solutions.                              

“Businesses will need to revisit these over the coming months to build on these capabilities with more permanent solutions for the future and ensure that all changes made in response to the pandemic are assessed to identify any tactical risks accepted and create a plan to mitigate, update or accept all of them” Barry continued.  

As a result of deploying ‘quick-fix’ solutions, organisations were confronted with operational, as well as strategic difficulties including agreeing priority changes, implementing the solution and post implementation, each of which encompassed numerous challenges.  

  • Challenges in agreeing the priorities for 2020 included security, which was key for over half of the respondents. This was followed by governance constraints (44%), business risk aversion (37%), employee reluctance/education (32%) and board level resistance (22%). 
  • Fifty per cent of respondents cited cost of implementation as the biggest challenge, followed by delivery of bandwidth (42%), integration difficulties (41%) and lack of skills and expertise (37%). 
  • Post implementation challenges included respondents experiencing negative process impacts (53%) and increased operating costs (45%). Customer and user perceptions were also adversely affected for almost 40 per cent as organisations tackled uncertainty and their own internal changes.  

These factors were likely exacerbated by the fact that business and IT leaders had to make these decisions rapidly and in a short time frame, having to balance risk with maintaining operational continuity.  

Additionally, 82 per cent agreed that business and IT leadership played a key role in improving ways of working and minimising disruption across the business. Furthermore, almost 70 per cent of respondents stated that IT leaders were crucial in accelerating large scale deployments in EUS and about a third prioritised initiatives in improving customer experience, increasing revenues and developing or changing products.  

Almost two-thirds of organisations noted they had received additional funding to help accelerate priority projects, but a large majority of those surveyed (63%) agreed that re-scoping, undoing projects, renegotiating and stalling contracts, as well as redeploying resources, will likely cause ongoing business impacts, and we would expect the cost of doing so to be significantly high.  

Despite challenges with costs, the IT budget expectations show that CIOs across all sectors are expecting their budgets to remain untouched (28.6%) or increase (22.1%) as businesses recognise that IT is a critical part of delivery in all sectors. 

Barry concluded – “As we move forward, organisations must reflect on these implementations, challenges and the role of IT as they look to establish a more permanent shift to a new hybrid workforce in the future. 

IT Leaders and their teams have had a great opportunity to show their value and will continue to drive the strategic agenda in 2021 and beyond. This increased visibility and the business’ dependence on IT has given them an opportunity to demonstrate that IT leads in terms of business transformation, and should be funded accordingly.” 

You can view the full report here

As the world slowly establishes a new normal, we reflect on some of the technologies which will contribute to a successful economic recovery

Technology thrives during times of need

Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention. According to Digital Information World, solutions created during desperate times endure, and drive economic growth long into the future. For example, The Great Depression birthed the electric razor and car radios, among other technological advances, while Microsoft and Apple got their start during the oil crisis recession in the 1970s. The current pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to change the way we live and operate, exposing weaknesses in systems we previously relied on and allowing us to make them better. People are searching for ways to adapt, and technology will always lead this march.

Increased investment in cyber security

According to the 2nd Global Business Barometer, teleconferencing platforms have, arguably, received the most attention as a tool for businesses to adapt to the changes brought on by COVID-19; however, for many businesses, the current focus is on security and risk. Forty-four per cent of respondents said cyber security would become ‘much more important’, followed by the related areas of data privacy at 42.5%, and risk management and cloud computing at 39.9% each.

Remote working

Businesses forced to either shut down or send their staff home to work during lockdown have been able to enjoy the silver lining of decreased costs of running their workplaces, giving them a little grace to ensure they survive and, hopefully, thrive as the economy reboots. Technologies such as video conferencing and project management software have meant that a lot of companies working from home have still managed to make a success of this time, and it’s highly unlikely that they won’t emerge from this with revised remote working policies in place. A Nowsourcing infographic states that as remote work, technology, and internet access continue to develop, workers will have the option to leave big cities, escaping the high cost of living and bolstering small town economies in the process.

Adoption of home technology

Whether it’s due to working from home, home schooling, a need to create alternative revenue streams or simply for the sake of socialising with friends and family, there has been a massive uptake in home technology – both hardware and software. The aforementioned infographic shows that sales and use of these technologies keeps growing: sales of Chromebooks have risen by 400%, webcams 179%, monitors 138%, headsets 134%, and keyboards 64%. Additionally, Zoom gained an extra 190 million new users in three months, and G Suite gained a million new paying businesses in February alone.

5G infrastructure

Despite bizarre conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19, it is still fully expected by experts to help boost post-pandemic recovery by introducing new possibilities for tech products. 5G isn’t an upgrade of 4G, as many people believe, but a brand new mobile system. For businesses, it will create increased speed and bandwidth, improved battery life for remote IoT devices, enhanced security, better WAN connections, 100 times the traffic capacity, and 100 times the network efficiency – among many, many other advantages. Rolling out across 2020 and 2021, 5G will be a huge boon in our post-COVID recovery.

An effective customer engagement strategy is critical for any successful business — regardless of product, service, or industry. But as this year has seen the transformation of consumers’ buying habits, companies are having to adopt a new approach to customer engagement to help them succeed in a changed world.

Regardless of which industry you operate in or the product or service your organisation provides, a major component of success depends on executing a strong customer engagement strategy. Yet doing this well in 2020 has proven difficult for many organisations due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic on consumer buying habits. By Mads Fosselius, CEO and Founder,Dixa

So, to succeed in this ‘new world’ firms must consider different ways to engage with customers that enable them to build more fruitful and profitable relationships.

This is crucial in the UK, especially when you consider that it is now in recession and consumer confidence is historically low. Therefore, to improve, businesses need to focus on what they can do to rebuild and repair in these final months of the year and beyond. Part of this involves focusing on relationship building with customers, in an effort to win back spend and loyalty.

This is where improving customer engagement has a powerful role to play: two-thirds of companies compete on the quality of their customer experience and 96% of consumers agree that customer service is key to their purchase decisions. Ramping up customer engagement, therefore, has the potential to pay dividends down the line.

But, how and where should organisations start as they strive to improve?   

Continuous and valuable interactions are key

Customer engagement can be defined as the continuous and valuable interactions between a business and its customers. Running a successful business is not only about attracting customers to your website, converting them with a stylish landing page, taking their money, and thanking them for their custom. That’s crucial for ongoing success, sure; but engaging customers and cultivating valuable relationships long-term takes entirely more finesse and should be the focus.

Businesses trying to make a major impact on their industry, or niche, must therefore understand their core audience, pain points, budgets, shopping habits, goals, the most appealing options available to them, etc. before they can start to really engage them.

A successful company focusing on customer engagement will use this data to anticipate buyer needs and position itself as the ideal solution in light of this information. Catering to these target consumers’ requirements and delivering a quality service can help secure shoppers’ loyalty too; as highly-engaged customers are likely to keep coming back, make repeat purchases and recommend the business to others. So how do you do it?

The key to engagement is empathy and automation

Anyone who’s ever called a support line and been greeted by a never-ending list of options, seemingly without an agent in sight or had to contend with an ineffective chatbot for that matter, will understand how frustrating ‘poor’ automated service can be — especially when you know exactly what you need, but can’t find a single person to ask.

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for a well-executed automation strategy, in fact, automating standard, repetitive tasks will promote speed, efficiency and effectiveness in your customer journey, as well as providing your agents with a better working experience. However, this automation must be introduced in a thoughtful way, with a clear strategy helping to shape its impact on your business.

The right customer service software can intelligently determine whether an inquiry can be handled with pure automation, if it needs the human touch, or if it can be done with a mix of the two. Contextual routing and sentiment analysis are just two of the features that can help you drive customer engagement and offer a superior customer experience. 

As with most things in life, balance is key, and a combination of automation and human-to-human connection is important to many customers, especially in times like these. And that’s where empathy comes in.

Knowing customers’ needs

To become empathetic, businesses must understand their target customers and recognise which problems they are experiencing. This is fundamental to ensuring they are catering to the right people and trying to solve the right issues.

Customers’ pain points and situations may have changed dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, and acknowledging this is important. Many customers might feel vulnerable at the moment with a future that seems less clear than ever before. So, companies must work hard to deliver the level of service customers need and deserve.  This means businesses must take a fresh look at their audience to identify any unmet needs and be more empathetic towards them as they adjust to a new way of life. This might mean slowing some processes to allow agents extra time to listen to customers on calls or live chats. Customers will appreciate this effort and it will benefit your business in the long run.

But, what about customer service agents themselves? Life may be more challenging for them, too. While more employees are returning to offices, working from home is still recommended whenever possible in many places. Customer support teams can make calls and take part in live chats in their own home; but it is likely to be a very different working environment than the office they’re used to. Businesses should be honest with customers about their new customer support set-up too and remind them that employees are doing their best in unusual circumstances; and thank them for their patience in advance.

The role of omnichannel personalisation

Customers interact with multiple companies on a regular basis. Embracing more personalisation in your customer engagement strategy will help your audience feel more valued as they deal with you. That’s why 44% of consumers are likely to become repeat buyers after a personalised service interaction and 39% will introduce their friends or relatives to the brand.

Fortunately, customer service software empowers brands to deliver a level of personalised service not previously possible. For example, by unifying communications across phone, email, chat and messaging, agents can instantly access the information they need, all in one place. This access to a customer’s interaction history enables an agent to understand their previous issues, what promises were made and what their preferred communication channel is. They’re not greeting the customer cold and asking them to provide previously shared info.

With customer recognition features in place to enable personalisation, support teams can also collaborate and solve problems together, thanks to easy transfer and listen-in options. This reduces the time wasted, and frustration caused, by bouncing customers from agent to agent.

Flexibility and adaptability lead to agility

COVID-19 has forced many businesses to pivot by making quick changes to their operations and processes. Routines that had become established over years (or decades) were transformed almost overnight, as companies learned to adapt to survive. For companies who had already embraced remote work, the transition may have been easier. But businesses with no experience with online collaboration or communication had to learn on-the-go. This increases the risk of delays and disruptions to services — including customer support.

Fortunately, flexibility and adaptability are the cornerstones of remote working, and  embracing the right software solution empowers teams with the freedom to work from any location in the world as long as it has an internet connection.

Agents still have access to all the analytics and customer insights they need to offer a personalised experience, engaging consumers with a service tailored to their needs and communication preferences. This creates a stable foundation to build an efficient, effective, successful customer service network upon — no matter where employees are located.

How intelligent routing manages workloads

Through these trying times there will, no doubt, be fluctuating workloads to manage. Quality customer service software helps agents to cope and to pay equal attention to every communication channel. Employees can monitor all relevant channels in one place rather than switching between them again and again. This reduces wasted time and boosts efficiency.

Additionally, as intelligent routing prioritises inquiries based on their importance, agents are unable to ignore more complex interactions in favour of more straightforward ones. As a result, customers won’t be left waiting for a response while “easier” issues get addressed sooner. There’s also less risk of making genuine mistakes that frustrate customers — even for remote agents.

Lastly, businesses can expand their customer support teams to accommodate an increase in demand in a more cost-effective and fast way. They can set new agents up and increase efficiency without trying to find more office space.

As we near the last quarter of 2020, there is no doubt that it continues to be a tough environment for businesses to operate in. To survive and thrive, organisations will need to focus on developing and delivering the right kinds of customer communication strategies that drive customer engagement and loyalty.

The strategies discussed, along with the right customer service software, can easily be incorporated into regular business processes and improve customer engagement, regardless of where customer service agents may be located. By Mads Fosselius, CEO and Founder,Dixa

Gobeyond Partners and Webhelp surveyed 500 respondents at director level and above across a range of industries about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses.

New research from Gobeyond Partners, the consulting firm focused on customer journey transformation, and Webhelp, Europe’s leading provider of outsourced customer engagement services, has today revealed that over 60% of business leaders are re-evaluating how much they will be investing in change and transformation since COVID-19, yet only a third of survey respondents are committing to a higher spend in this area.  

Gobeyond Partners and Webhelp surveyed 500 respondents at director level and above across a range of industries about the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses. By combining Webhelp’s expertise in customer engagement with Gobeyond Partners’ customer journey design and transformation capabilities, the two organisations were able to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 across a number of key areas and offer recommendations to businesses as they start to plan towards a post pandemic world. When it comes to the issue of transformation, the research highlights the value of an intelligent use of rightsourcing* which will be crucial for businesses to establish the most cost effective and relevant solutions to support the flexibility and speed needed during this transition period. 

Change and transformation are two of a number of data points highlighted in the joint research and accompanying report by Gobeyond Partners and Webhelp which explores how consumers arenow demanding more human experiences, even in digital environments, and why organisations must balance agility and adaptability against a clear focus on maximising value from investment in transformation.

Mark Palmer, CEO of Gobeyond Partners comments on the findings: “As the urgency for change and transformation intensifies in our new reality, it raises some pivotal questions. How different willservice look and feel in the future? How will businesses and their operations need to adapt? And how can employers engage and support their colleagues to deliver on new customer promises? The engineering of an authentic human experience in the digital world will need a delicate balance, and companies will need to work hard to create service transformation that satisfies both these needs. This may expose a lack of capability and flexibility inherent in many organisations, due to a lack of investment. For brands to survive, leaders can no longer pay lip service to digital transformation and digital must be fully integrated into the overall operating model.”

Other key findings from the joint research include:

  • 70% of businesses have seen a direct impact to their bottom line as a result of COVID-19, with more than half being negatively affected. 
  • These financial impacts are expected to last, with more than 80% of respondents believing they will be financially impacted for six months or more and 50% expecting their finances to be affected for more than a year. 
  • Companies that have been affected negatively by COVID-19 are twice as likely to expect cuts to their transformation budgets after the pandemic has subsided.

Craig Gibson, Chief Growth Officer at Webhelp Group continues: “Overall whilst budgets may reduce, spend on individual change and transformation programmes should not be reduced commensurately. Instead, the entire change portfolio should be reviewed and reprioritised. Now is the time to focus on and invest in a critical, clear and concise set of priorities, which the whole organisation can communicate and contribute to. This will ensure that the most critical agenda items will accelerate, without depleting vital cash reserves.”

G20 leaders have an opportunity to develop policy responses to the pandemic that immediately address women’s roles in healthcare, unpaid care and the workforce.

Amidst a COVID-19 pandemic that is expected to cause an unprecedented global economic downturn, UN Women, the UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, and Women 20 (W20), the official G20 engagement group on women, have called on G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to put women at the heart of recovery efforts. In a joint statement, both groups called on addressing women’s distinct economic roles, contributions and constraints, and seizing the opportunity to put women at the centre of investment design to realise sustainable recovery.

Women contribute 37% of the global GDP. Moreover, all types of women’s care work, including unpaid work, generate $11 trillion globally (nine per cent of global GDP). Enabling women’s potential fully and equally with men promotes sustainable, balanced, inclusive growth, improves the representation of women within institutions and inter-generational development outcomes, and is also crisis-cushioning.

Already encumbered by gendered labour-market disadvantages, women workers have been disproportionately affected by job loss, reduced working hours and bankruptcy due to the current pandemic. Also, health risks to health workers, paid and unpaid care work and violence against women have escalated with COVID-19 and lockdowns.

G20 economies have introduced a firepower support package of $8 trillion to cushion households and businesses and facilitate recovery. Despite evidence that the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are worse for women, it is unclear how much the sizeable G20 (or non-G20) economic packages have invested in women.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women said: “Women are drivers of economic recovery and resilience. G20’s sizeable investments in response to COVID-19 and beyond must be intentional about this and be designed with women at their centre in order to realise sustainable rebuilding.”

Dr. Thoraya Obaid, Women 20 Chair added: “While we work to recover from the damage caused by this global crisis, we have an opportunity to correct a historical fault regarding women and their role in the society. G20 leaders must grasp this opportunity to enable women’s potential fully and equally with men – this is critical to economic recovery now and for future crisis-cushioning.”

In their joint statement, UN Women and W20 called on G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to implement gender-responsive impact reviews of the crisis, recovery packages and plans worldwide, especially for the worst-affected women and girls, in order to guide investment priorities. They also appealed for greater fiscal space for countries of the Global South, including through debt relief or cancellation, and expansionary monetary policies that enhance credit availability for women-specific sectors via loan guarantees and other loan instruments as well as greater investment in gender-responsive budgeting.

The organisations also urge G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to promote inclusive governance and decision-making, sustainable employment and entrepreneurship, expanded, accessible social safety nets and inclusive, quality, sustainable health care systems and gender-based violence services.

UN Women and W20 concluded, G20 leaders have an opportunity to develop policy responses to the pandemic that immediately address women’s roles in healthcare, unpaid care and the workforce.

Spike in investments in medical testing, healthcare and children’s entertainment and education businesses in last three months

Tech-led businesses, whose models have been further validated by the Covid-19 crisis, have seen unprecedented demand from investors in the last three months, according to tax-efficient platform Wealth Club. Companies which have enjoyed particularly strong demand range from those involved in medical testing and healthcare, to those focused on education and entertainment for children.

Between 6th April and the end of June, £10.8 million was invested into young innovative, EIS qualifying businesses, through Wealth Club’s platform, compared with £4.9 million in the same period last year, an increase of 110%.

EIS deals which have seen strong demand since April through Wealth Club include:

  • Bond Healthcare – a digital platform for the medical testing industry. A £400,000 EIS fundraising round sold out in less than a minute after going live
  • Acamar – the production company behind the children’s series, Bing, successful both in the UK and abroad. As well as  being a global TV success, broadcast in over 120 territories, Bing is also an online phenomenon with 2.2 billion YouTube views and during lockdown were adding around 40 million a week. Acamar has raised £9.4 million through the Wealth Club platform. £1.8 million of this has been raised during the Covid crisis.
  • Azoomee – a global media company focusing on kids educational content that has 60 million users worldwide saw its subscriber numbers rise by 40% in March.
  • Gobsmack – a company delivering digital wallet technology to allow its blue-chip clients to engage and reward their customers. 
  • Visionable – a video collaboration platform for healthcare teams, billed as the ‘Zoom for medics’, now reportedly mulling a £100 million raise to help support growth in the UK and overseas.
  • Sofant – Edinburgh university spinout Sofant Technologies Limited is at an advanced stage of development of a patented 5G-ready smart antenna.

Alex Davies, CEO at Wealth Club, comments: “Covid has turned even the staunchest technology luddites into online shoppers, viewers and users, meaning demand for innovative businesses, where technology is at the heart of what they do, has rocketed.

“Current demand is largely for technology-led companies whose business models have been further validated by the crisis – such as those in healthcare, online education and entertainment, and e-commerce.

“Many of these businesses were growing rapidly before the crisis. The impact of the pandemic has simply turbocharged their business models. People are being forced to learn online, have meetings online, treat patients virtually and so on. The partial adopters and the uninitiated suddenly see this as a good experience, perhaps even better than face to face. As a result, investment opportunities in businesses that facilitate these things are much sought-after.

“Unlike in the US, where there are numerous listed technology businesses for investors to get their hands on, the UK indices are very under-exposed. The FTSE 100 for instance has just 0.26% exposure to the technology sector.

“However, for experienced investors who are prepared to take more risk and invest in earlier stage unquoted businesses, there are a plethora of fantastic opportunities and the chance to potentially find the next big thing.

“The good news is that many of these opportunities qualify for EIS relief. This magnifies returns when things go well and reduces the downside when they don’t. It also keeps any gains you make out of the taxman’s hands. And with taxes likely to increase, this will be a very important consideration for many.”

One World Express has commissioned an independent survey among over 900 decision-makers within UK businesses to explore how they are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

UK businesses are pivoting and seeking growth opportunities in international markets as they seek ways of overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, new research has found.
Logistics firm One World Express commissioned an independent survey among over 900 decision-makers within UK businesses. It found that 43% have pivoted their product or service since the pandemic began – this being particularly true of large businesses (57% among firms with over 250 employees).
A quarter (24%) of companies have also begun selling to new demographics of customers since the lockdown began in March.
One World Express’ research showed that, at present, 42% of UK businesses export their products or services globally. However, in light of the difficult trading conditions resulting from coronavirus, 57% are considering expansion into new international markets in the months ahead, with a further 44% saying Brexit has prompted them to explore new export opportunities outside of the Single Market.
Almost half (45%) of private sector organisations say the pandemic has made them realise they are overly reliant on one particular marketplace – this figure rises to 58% among large businesses (250+ employees)
A slim majority (51%) of decision-makers believe a lack of knowledge about international markets prevents their organisation from expanding outside the UK. Further, 43% feel the cost of doing so would be prohibitively high for them to make a profit from the move.
Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express, said: “At a time when the world has been turned upside down, it is unwise for business leaders to believe they can simply “keep calm and carry on”. So, it is positive to see many companies taking bold action in the midst of the pandemic.”
“Exporting globally could be the difference between life and death for businesses in 2020. After all, countries around the world have been affected by the virus’ spread in different ways, so any business that sells to a broader range of markets is giving itself the best possible chance to succeed.”
“Importantly, while many UK business believe expanding into international markets would be too complicated or costly, this is not the case. Selling products or services cross-border is both simple and affordable, as long as the prepares thoroughly and finds the right partners.” 

In his latest opinion piece Justin Augat, VP Product Marketing from iland discusses how COVID-19 has accelerated the move from a ‘cloud first’ to a ‘cloud now’ approach for organisations.

Recent market data from Synergy Research Group via CRN suggests 2019 was a milestone for IT and that for the first time ever, enterprises are spending more money annually on cloud infrastructure services than on data centre hardware and software.  For example, total spend on cloud infrastructure services reached $97 billion, up 38 percent year over year, whereas total spend on data centre hardware and software hit $93 billion in 2019, an increase of only 1 percent compared to 2018.  

This means that many companies that have historically owned, maintained, and managed their own IT operations in their own data centre are now evolving how they support their business operations by transforming their IT to cloud.   

Moreover, the cloud continues to be the foundation upon which most organisations’ digital transformation efforts are built, with more than eight out of ten businesses considering the cloud to be either important or crucial to their digital strategies. 

What are the key reasons underpinning this shift to cloud? Much of it is based on the modern organisation’s need for greater agility and flexibility. There has never been a better example of this demand than demonstrated during this COVID-19 pandemic, as companies have hastily decamped employees to home working.  

Likewise, employees today want the ability to work from anywhere and to collaborate with colleagues as easily as they would in person. Even before COVID-19 led to a new remote workforce springing up almost overnight, a growing number of business leaders understood the importance of flexible working. Globally, 50 percent of employees work outside of their main office headquarters for at least 2.5 days a week, with 85 percent saying that productivity has increased in their business as a result of greater flexibility. In addition, more than 16 percent of companies worldwide now only hire remote teams. The cloud enables this freedom to work remotely. 

However, until recently organisations have historically looked at only new application development and deployment for cloud, taking a ‘cloud first’ approach. But now, accelerated by the demands of the modern workforce combined with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, many are pivoting towards a ‘cloud now’ approach. In the months and years to come we will see more organisations embracing agile working and digital technologies, now they have seen a cloud-enabled workforce in action. 

What do we mean when we talk about ‘cloud now’?  

It means that companies are now looking at cloud for more than just new applications, they are considering cloud for all their applications, including existing ones.  

The reason for this is straightforward: companies are focused on reducing costs and eliminating the dependency on the physical data centre is a logical next step in the continuation of this long-term trend. For as long as customers have been buying technology to support business, they have been using it to reduce costs and speed up time-to-market inside the data centre. Technology capabilities including server and storage virtualisation have improved IT’s ability to respond quickly to lines of business. But, over time, the ability of new technology to further reduce costs and time-to-market is diminishing.  

This is a result of the growing customer demand for more application resources, better performance, and increasing frequency of administrative tasks such as patching various components, and planning for end of life or performance upgrades. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, with a global and increasingly remote workforce needing access to their applications from anywhere, this is also fuelling demand. As businesses have reached this inflexion point of diminishing returns, they have turned their strategy to the cloud as the next frontier of IT efficiency, leaving the data centre firmly behind in pursuit of their ‘cloud now’ strategy. 

But today there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cloud services available to organisations. In many cases, the capabilities of the service, adjusted for cost, are what matter most to the decision makers versus the infrastructure itself. As an example, the underlying infrastructure that supports common business software such as Salesforce, Microsoft Office 365, is rarely scrutinised, as the products are trusted solely based on the brand’s reputation.  

But in the case of organisations moving their existing applications to the cloud for production hosting (IaaS), backup (backup as a service) or Disaster Recovery (DRaaS) the underlying platform must be vetted to ensure the application needs will be met. To do this, organisations must examine the capabilities at the platform level. This is where the technology resources that have been purchased come together to deliver the application performance, security, compliance and connectivity, and more, of the selected service. Ultimately, it is these consumed resources that directly impact the cost of the service.  

In general, the main cloud platform types that are most popular and available to customers at scale are public cloud, private cloud, and bare-metal cloud. They all have their merits and downsides and choosing the right cloud will very much depend on the customer’s requirements, as different aspects of these multitude of cloud products will best meet particular application and organisational needs. 

Ultimately, as more customers embrace the cloud for more of their workloads, the varying requirements of these workloads can lead to trade-offs in cost versus performance, which defeats businesses’ main objectives when moving out of the data centre and into the cloud. As a result, customers need to understand a cloud provider’s overall capabilities early to avoid missed expectations in the future as it is clear that not all IaaS providers are the same.   

So, as organisations embark on their ‘cloud now’ approach, they should undertake due diligence upfront to thoroughly consider their own requirements and what type of cloud IaaS provider will best meet their needs both now and in the years to come. Without a doubt we will see more organisations embracing agile working and digital technologies, now that they’ve witnessed a cloud-enabled workforce in action during COVID-19. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witnessing an unprecedented increase in home working, which requires remote access for tools and communications to conduct our daily jobs. This disruption is putting IT infrastructures at risk, while validating much of the industry’s investment in business continuity, resilience, scalability, accessibility, data protection and security.

With a global at-home workforce now entirely in place, what can IT professionals and CIOs do to ensure their private and public clouds can keep up and remain safe? And what steps and tests should they take to support a protracted change in the way we work?  According to a recent Gartner survey, more than 74 percent of CFOs and business finance leaders expect at least five percent of their workforce will never return to their usual office workspace — becoming permanent work-from-home employees after the pandemic ends. 

Even in the face of a global pandemic, we continue to promote a culture that requires easy and instant access to our tools, information and each other over cloud collaboration tools like Slack, Google Drive, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, as well as in-house applications.   

This demand on IT requires private, public and hybrid clouds to have the agility, scalability and security to support entire workforces no matter where they are. IT leaders who have planned for this worst-case scenario are ready to scale at a moment’s notice.  Likewise, they’ve already considered the impact on licensing, vulnerability and added traffic from employees working at home over personal devices and unsecured networks.  

IT professionals who support an at-home workforce need to understand the difference between employees “running” applications and “accessing” applications. When technology is set up and configured correctly, it should be easy to access. That’s the whole idea of SaaS and cloud. The challenge is, how do you administer it? How do you run it?   

Organisations that maintain private clouds onsite, which might not be accessible during stay-at-home orders, need a plan to make repairs physically — like swapping hard drives, replacing switches or cables — when their employees are home.  

Likewise, whether at home or work, the end-user experience should be the same. If all apps and tools are optimal in an office environment, how do you make those adjustments ahead of time, so remote employees still have the same access and capabilities as if they’re working in the office? And how do you maintain your security and IT compliance obligations?    

Where and how to start? 

The easiest advice might be to avoid trying to boil the ocean all at once. If your applications and data aren’t on the cloud already, it’s possible to mobilise secure VPNs and encrypt applications for mobile devices. If you’re on the cloud already, you’re several steps ahead of others. But you still need to work with your cloud service provider to review your workloads, applications, and data requirements.  

At the same time you’re focusing on accessibility, remember to address your vulnerabilities. Right now, cybercriminals are stepping up their attacks to take advantage of remote employees. Phishing attacks are at an all-time high on small and large businesses, as well as public resources like hospitals and healthcare providers. 

Now’s the time to reinforce your organisation’s IT security and compliance guidelines, many of which include the relevance of when employees travel or occasionally work from home. This includes a refresher on password policies and how to identify and report phishing attempts. Help employees with securing their home networks, and all the other policies and guidelines they would typically follow at work to protect your company and customer data. This might also be an excellent time to train employees on document and data retention best practices. 

COVID-19 will create additional security threats as attackers attempt to take advantage of employees spending more time online while at home and working in unfamiliar circumstances. Some of the biggest threats associated with the pandemic include phishing emails, spear phishing attachments, cybercriminals masquerading fake VPNs, remote meeting software and mobile apps. 

Above all, you must have the same level of resilience and redundancy plans in place for home working as you do for onsite, even if you are 100 percent in the cloud. It is important to recognise that the same problems that happen on a day-to-day basis when you’re in the office can also occur when the office is vacant. 

Prepare for the new normal 

Going forward, all businesses should plan for an eventuality like COVID-19 happening again. This means understanding data security, business continuity, resilience, scalability, accessibility and so much more. For example, you may not need extra capacity and compute power now; but you need to know that within minutes you can get to that number. And, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of organisations have internal-only networks to manage power supply, fans, cooling and switches. What if you can’t get into the building? 

Futureproof and understand the boundaries between personal and company devices and assets. Understand what you need to put into place to protect your business and your employees.    

And finally, companies that are leveraging cloud services need to communicate frequently with their providers to address future needs and concerns. Make sure you know what they can do ahead of time to keep your remote workforce operating. Hopefully, these circumstances will be short-term, and life will return to some normality soon, but my advice is to always plan for every eventuality and what may now be the new normal. 

by Jeremy Smith, Managing Partner at procurement consultancy 4C Associates

Beyond the human side of the Covid-19 crisis, the immediate issues felt by organisations have mostly been caused by unprecedented changes in demand. Revenue has usually either fallen off a cliff (non-grocery brick and mortar retail, leisure and hospitality) or it has surged (grocery, PPE, online non-grocery) causing problems in the supply chain. Some of these issues were exacerbated by a lack of transparency in the structure of these supply chains. The main priorities in this interim period are to restructure your cost and margin base and to align your full supply chain, while developing critical skillsets.

Building a cost and margin structure allows the business to survive until the crisis begins to fade. Ideally, the outcome is a transition of existing supplier commitments into the New Normal (when it comes) and thereby manage cash and risks. However, that may not always be possible but the key to success here is to review every commitment on its own merits and then engage with your suppliers to work out the most appropriate transition agreements. While this will help reduce the cost of change, you need to have strong supplier relationships in order to be successful.

We sometimes encounter a belief that suppliers either like you or see you as an important partner because they supply you. While this can be true, the changes that need to be made to your cost and margin structure in the interim, require real and much deeper relationships founded on an alignment of objectives. If you are in a position where this has been achieved already, you stand a decent chance of suppliers supporting your changes through their approach and commercial model. If you are still working on achieving that level of relationship, you might struggle or take longer to implement these changes, with all the implications this longer timeline has on cash management. It is times like these where we truly see the benefits of continuous supplier relationship management (SRM).

The second item to look at in parallel is margin management in whichever form relevant to your business (EBITDA, Intake, Gross or Net). At a minimum, you should consider your responses and action plans to these 4 key margin management questions:

  1. How will your interim operating model and indirect cost base impact margin performance of your business?
  2. Is your current product and service range appropriate to fulfil demand and safeguard commercial requirements?
  3. If you have reduced headcount, either temporarily or permanently, are you more reliant on your supply chain? How does that flow through to your margins?
  4. Do you understand your supply chain in enough detail to have visibility of all possible margin-impacting bottlenecks and constraints?

Supply Chain analysis

Typically, businesses will need 70% to 90% percent visibility into their end-to-end supply chains to proactively address choke points that can affect revenue and costs. However, currently most businesses only have 20% visibility into their full supply chains.

Clearly, this is not a desirable position to be in and must be remedied as quickly as possible. Some of the most critical supply-chain related issues include:

· Small suppliers, beyond tier 2, integral to the operation of much larger supply chains are at risk of going bankrupt due to cashflow issues
· Supplier staff may be constrained and supplier IP specific to your business is lost temporarily, or even permanently
· Excessive international movements of materials throughout the supply chain

A prime example to illustrate many of the above points is the personal protective equipment (PPE) crisis. Political arguments around levels of stock and UK-internal logistics challenges apart, the issues with getting enough PPE into the country have been caused by the supply chain. In hindsight, the dependency on Chinese manufacture pre-crisis was too high. Factories were already at capacity before COVID-19 appeared and clearly this pandemic was not factored into any sourcing strategies.

First these factories were locked down, then a travel ban was imposed grounding 75% of passenger flights, which contribute a lot of cargo capacity and thereby agility in supply chains. This means that though by Easter manufacturing was increasing, the ability to get it from China directly or through intermediaries was constrained. Taking a European view, PPE distributors and wholesalers have now exhausted their stocks and lead times for new orders are counted in weeks using expensive air freight or months using sea freight.
The implications from this example are that commercial and procurement managers need to understand their supply chains in a level of detail that has historically only been required for the most strategic suppliers.

For every tier and level of your supply chain, commercial and procurement teams should understand the liquidity position of suppliers, criticality of the outputs to your businesses, relative power positions and cost structures of fixed vs. flexible costs. Armed with this knowledge throughout your supply chain will allow you to make the correct decisions and ensure the continuity of supply chains. Additionally, it gives you the insights needed to identify new supply opportunities as contingency plans.