Digital transformation has been a buzzword in many organizations in recent years. It has become part of the strategic plans of almost every enterprise in the world. Still, the process itself is often challenging.
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that companies need to be more flexible and agile. It is now or never to digitise every layer of your organisation. These tips will help you to get started.
The impact of COVID-19
Most business leaders believe their company has already taken its first steps in becoming more digital. However, a web shop or a mobile application may be nice to have for customers, but it is no true digital transformation. Many enterprises discovered this when COVID-19 started to spread and they had to adapt their operations to a new reality. They all feel the urge to transform their business, but usually have a lack of time, money, or other resources.
To survive in the post-corona era, digital transformation should be your top priority.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”, Winston Churchill once proclaimed. Do not wait and hope for the old times to return. The following tips will help you make your business future-proof.
1. Define what digital transformation means to your business
Each company is different and has specific needs and challenges. Therefore, you should start by looking at where your business is standing today. What are you doing right and what do you need to reach your future targets?
Always focus on the perspective of your customers. Digital transformation should be about bridging the gap between their expectations and what you are offering them now. Technology has changed our entire society and customers also engage with companies and brands in different ways. Think about how smartphones allow us to interact from anywhere and at any given moment.
Digital transformation should change interaction with your customers and enable you to accurately respond to questions in the blink of an eye. Your employees also need the tools to connect with each other and share information wherever they are.
To keep up with demands, your entire supply chain must be digital. Even your complete business model should be adapted to benefit from digital solutions in this amazing new world.
2. Train your people
Digital transformation is more than buying new technology. This won’t help you unless you also have the right people and processes. It is a new mindset that should be present in every department of your organisation. Even your management team will benefit from a tech-savvy leader who understands what business needs when decisions about budgets are made. You may even have to redefine certain roles and responsibilities to align the structure of your company with these new targets.
Of course, a digital world also requires new skills.
Some of these profiles – think about data scientists – will be hard to find as they are high in demand. Fortunately, many of these new responsibilities can be covered by training and re-educating your existing workforce. Make sure that your people have time and resources to acquire new skills. Part of their routine work can be solved by automated solutions. This will enable employees to focus on more challenging tasks that will bring more value to your organisation.
3. Evaluate the tools you are currently using
Your organisation can only become more efficient if you understand how your people are working today and what they would need to improve. What tools are they using to share information or to communicate with customers? They are probably using software, but is it still the best solution for your company? New technologies can sometimes offer much better support. Identifying internal and external inefficiencies allows you to optimise the experience of both your employees and your customers.
Of course, do not fall into the trap of over-provisioning. Many organisations pay too much for software, tools and storage space. In this new world, consumption-based IT models offer you fast access to new technology and you only pay for what you actually use. HPE GreenLake is a great example of a solution that simplifies your IT operations by delivering on-demand capacity and planning. It combines the agility and economics of the public cloud for all workloads that cannot be transferred to a public cloud solution.
4. Don’t be afraid to take risks
Change never happens unless you are willing to take risks. Most organisations operate with standard procedures that never seem to fail. However, it also makes them very rigid to deal with unexpected events or trends. The most successful brands are the ones that can predict these trends before they actually occur. Create a safe environment that allows for experimentation, even when success is not guaranteed.
Failure offers organisations the most valuable insights about the future. This is another reason why you need an innovative spirit in your management team.
Your main concern as a business leader is making sure that the numbers are right to keep your shareholders happy, but you also need people who are capable of asking questions about the way you are handling things. Stimulate this mindset among your employees by showing them the value and benefits of new technology.
5. Optimise operations and evaluate
Once you have a clear vision and a digital road-map, you can start optimising your operations. This is where the value of data comes in. All enterprises own a lot of information that could improve their operations and services. You need analytical models that use the data to provide insights that lead to fast and efficient decision-making.
Remember that digital transformation is never really finished. Each new strategy should be monitored and adjusted to ensure that it still works. A model that can predict trends today will not necessarily be effective one year from now. By then, your company could have grown and even your entire industry might have evolved. Consistent evaluation is the key ingredient to long-term success.
This way, you can also ensure that your employees are using the best tools to do their jobs.
6. Find the right partner to guide you on your digital journey
Digital transformation is a difficult challenge for many organisations, but it should not be so hard. You don’t have to embark on this journey all by yourself. Most business leaders have enough work to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on their organisation. This is why you could reach out to an IT partner that has the expertise to find the best solutions.
The focus of such a company is to make your own organisation more successful. They understand your business, challenges and needs, and know how to make your company future-proof.
Computacenter is the loyal IT partner of many organisations. One solution we can deploy in your company is HPE GreenLake. This is a consumption-based IT model that gives you fast access to the technology you need for your digital transformation. It enables cloud-like benefits for on-premise infrastructure and you only pay for what you really use.
Want to know more?
Download our free e-book about upcoming IT challenges or visit our website to discover how we can accelerate digital transformation in your business.
If like me you have been working remotely in the wake of the corona-virus lock-down, it will no doubt have increased your need to connect and collaborate more with your friends and colleagues.
Your work days will probably include lots of team meetings, webinars, wind-down quizzes and virtual pub sessions. Exploitation of tools such as Microsoft Teams or other popular video conferencing software will have likely fuelled this adaptation to your working ways.
Whilst these tools are great for plugging the obvious need to connect and collaborate, I have always felt there is more we could do to do to emulate the physical and co-working collaboration we were so used to before.
Seeking to find a richer experience, some companies have taken it to another level. Looking to other technologies such as Virtual Reality when video calling just does not cut it.
Virtual Reality (VR) has promised for many years to deliver that richer and more connected experience for employees and business to collaborate. However, VR to date has mainly been perceived as a consumer entertainment technology.
With the emergence of better and more usable devices and platforms, using VR for business is becoming ever more serious. Early business use cases are providing the ability to enable a rich consumer experience allowing business to market its products and services in new and exciting ways.
VR is intended to be an immersive experience giving you the ability to experience three dimensional environments in a contained space. Many of the early use cases have focused on training and enablement of employees. However, several innovative vendors such as “The Wild” and “Spatial” are pushing the boundaries further and expanding into providing virtual collaboration and co-working solutions that seek to expand the overall employee experience from our current two dimensional plane to an experience that mirrors some of our real-world collaboration experiences and brings people together no matter where there located.
The Next Computing Platform…
Several industry leaders have stated that VR is the next computing platform. And whilst it’s difficult to predict if this is going to be true, like most disruptive technologies it’s not so much about the technicalities and the platform, it’s more about the use cases. Planning how to use VR to change how we live and do business will determine the true success of VR.
So, if VR is to become the next computing platform what else needs to fall into place? Well like most new technologies hype often exceeds reality, VR is no exception to this rule. Many have touted VR to be big for many years now. But only recently has the technology started to evolve to a point where the expectation starts to meet reality.
Companies such as Facebook and the Oculus product are providing the technology and platforms that allows consumers and business to exploit the potential of VR. However, whilst companies like Facebook have made significant strides in the past few years there are still many mountains to climb. Comparisons to other past/current technologies such as the smartphone will give you a view of how much there is to do and what will make VR a success.
For the Future Look to the Past…
If you can remember what the first smartphone looked like, it was costly, bulky and lacked some killer content and features, and was only used by a handful of early adopters. Fast forward to today and it has become mainstream across the consumer and enterprise, its technologies and capabilities have drastically evolved, putting it firmly into that “I can’t live without this” technology bracket.
Alike the smartphone market, VR will also need to evolve, with development of lighter more powerful devices with improved connectivity and access to engaging content and applications.
If VR is to be the next big platform, then we are likely to be in a world where we no longer look at our smartphones, but rather look into a device to visualise the content in front of our eyes and interact with this device through, voice, visual recognition or hand gestures.
It’s quite hard to imagine that the smartphone as we know it could be significantly diminished in this new future, but then that’s the inevitability of technology it either evolves or dies.
What is evident is that VR is one of the fastest developing technologies of our generation. This is no passing fad. VR promises to deliver our need to learn through experience and touch, rather than through reading and clicking. It’s not quite delivered on the promise that the film “Ready Player One” paints yet, however we’re on the journey and its fast becoming a reality.
Over the last two months many if not all of us have experienced some of the most drastic changes to all our lives and working patterns. We have had to deal with huge shifts and adaptions in where and how we work and, in some cases, if we could work at all.
As we are all starting to embark on getting back to work or adjusting how we work its important we take time to reflect and factor whats happened, and what we need to do for the future to make the “Return to Next Normal” work for both companies and its employees.
React and Respond…
During this period large numbers of IT providers were the early responders as the corona-virus crisis unfolded. Pulling out all the stops to enable companies and their employees to continue to function. New ways of working were quickly implemented to keep us all working.
However not all decisions that were made were based on long term thinking and rationale thought. This does mean some of these decisions will require a review for their longer-term implications.
This enforced event however has given us all an opportunity to experience change at a rate we were unlikely to experience at any other time. Whilst this has no doubt been disruptive, it has provided companies and their employees with a view of what the future might look like for us all.
The Big Reset….
We have had some time now to be able to evaluate and reflect, and get a sense of things that have worked and things that don’t quite work for us. This provides us all with a unique opportunity to hit the reset button on our old ways of working. Now is the time for companies to review their employee workstyles and patterns, evaluate the policies and actions that were taken during the crisis and review their methods and technologies to see what works and what needs to change for the future.
Key to making the return to ‘next normal’ work effectively is to ensure the needs of the employees are considered: –
- How will your employees return to work, what is the next normal for them?
- Will the office work environment be different?
- Will remote work continue? Will it be for selected groups?
- Do you have the right technology for remote workers?
- Is the right network, secure and capable for our employees to work remotely?
- Do we need to consider how we enforce social distancing at work?
None of these questions have obvious answers and for some employees’ and their workstyles this will likely be a divisive moment.
Companies must also not ignore the affect this situation has had on its people both emotionally and physically. Factoring in their health and well-being into this review is paramount.
It’s difficult to predict when we will finally emerge from this crisis and what the future of work may become. But what is certain, is we are quite likely to find ourselves in a world that is significantly different from the one before this crisis. It’s very likely that our employees’ workstyles, patterns and behaviours will have changed, and hopefully for some its permanent.
Adapt and Evolve…
The huge shift in employee work patterns we have experienced needs careful consideration on how we are to adapt and evolve how were going to work in the future. Companies need to start now in re-imaging the future of work, use these lessons learned and take the opportunity to adapt and embrace totally new ways of working.
Gaining the buy-in of your employees will be key to making the return phase and beyond work for all. Companies and leaders should be empathetic and demonstrate an understanding that their employees need to come to terms with this new and changing experience.
Giving them the time to adapt to new ways of working is key. Employees coming back after furlough or a period of remote work may find the physical layout of their workplace changed and their routine adapted. For office workers, returning to a workplace may require a mindset shift for those who’ve adjusted to working remotely. In order to navigate these changes, leaders should make sure employees understand what’s being asked of them and what steps the company is taking to protect them. Companies need to allow employees the chance to voice their views and concerns and be part of the identification of potential problems with their return plans.
Engaging in open trusted communication, is the only way both employees and companies will get through this next phase of the crisis. And hopefully in time provide an opportunity to increase overall employee engagement and boost their productivity.
NOW is the time to work together to get this right, let’s not waste it….
This is a blog by Senior Lead Consultant Kevin Sandberg for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, taking place May 18th – May 24th. In a time where looking after our mental health is more important than ever, Computacenter are proud to be supporting this initiative and spreading the message that #KindnessMatters.
I’ve almost been working for Computacenter’s TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence for five years. In reality, it should be closer to 7.
Back in 2013, I took a dream trip. I was celebrating my 33rd birthday and I found myself sitting in a pool in Orlando, Florida. Beer in one hand, floating on an inflatable. I was relaxing before going out for a meal with my wife and parents-in-law at the Hard Rock Café. It was everything I could ask for in a holiday, but I was sad.
Hiding the symptoms
This wasn’t the typical birthday blues. I felt down. If I couldn’t be happy in this scenario when could I be? Later that month, I opened up to my wife about it. At first, she was upset as she hadn’t realised anything was wrong. That wasn’t her fault though; I’d been very good at hiding it.
I realised that I was feeling isolated and started looking for a new job. My reasoning was that maybe I would be better off in an office-based role with more day to day interaction with other people.
I didn’t feel good enough to do my job. I didn’t feel up to it and I felt like I was going to be caught out at any minute. Every day was like treading water. I was exhausted and I felt like an imposter.
Later that year, I was approached by a former colleague who wanted me to join her team. I knew a couple of people who worked at her company already, we had all worked together at the NHS.
I thought it would sort everything out. But of course, it didn’t.
New challenge, same me
After an initial bout of feeling good about myself, I quickly reverted to how I was when I was working at home for the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence. I was up and down – more down, though, if I’m being honest.
It was great being with my former colleagues again and I loved managing the team I had. I will always be proud of what they achieved but I wasn’t enjoying my new job.
I missed working with ServiceNow and I felt restricted in what I was doing. I couldn’t seem to achieve what I wanted to.
Coupled with the imposter feeling that I still carried with me, I now felt frustrated that I couldn’t easily do for my team what I could have done if I had different tools.
When life gives you a Volvo
When I took the role there was a possibility the new company would be implementing ServiceNow. They actually went with another vendor and all of a sudden, I felt like someone had swapped the keys to a Ferrari and given me keys to a second hand Volvo; functional, but lacking.
After a particularly ranty social media post on my part, a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague reached out and said to me, ‘You know Kev, we would love to have you back.’
I thought about it long and hard.
I knew quite soon into the new job that this wasn’t the quick fix I had hoped it would be in terms of my general mood. Logically, coming back to the TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence was the best choice for my career.
I would make the working from home work.
I missed that ‘family feeling’ that I had lost when moving to a larger organisation and felt less involved.
It was also nice to feel wanted. I was in the middle of a major project and had to work a 3 month notice period.
So, even though the then TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence MD asked if I could shorten my notice period as they were keen to get me back, it was important to me that I didn’t let down my new team or my colleague who had offered me the opportunity.
Time for honesty: I suffer from mental health issues
So here goes, full disclosure – I have now realised that I have struggled with mental health issues for years and probably long before I even joined TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence in 2013.
I have good days, I have bad days. I can have good weeks and I can have bad weeks.
Lately, I have learnt how to manage it better. It’s still hard to talk about. It’s hard to convey what I am feeling as I don’t fully understand it myself, but I deal with it better than I used to. Sometimes. Some days it takes all the effort I can muster to get out of bed and face the day.
My biggest issue at first was that I didn’t know why I felt this way. I had a good job, a good career, lovely colleagues, great friends, great family and a gorgeous loving wife who I adore. I know I had a life a lot of people would give their right arm for, but I still felt really low and unbelievably sad at times.
I told a former TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence colleague about my issues and she couldn’t have been more understanding. Eventually, I opened up to more of my colleagues, including my current line manager.
Getting mental health support from my employer
A couple of years ago, I referred myself to NHS Talking Therapy sessions. I was lucky and got an appointment quite quickly. I began to have a weekly 30 minute session, before being referred and having 60 minute sessions each week.
The TU ServiceNow Centre of Excellence have been fantastic, giving me the time off to go and have these sessions in work time.
I couldn’t have gone otherwise, and although I tried not to let it affect my work, I could come out of those sessions on a Friday physically and emotionally drained. I had to sit in the car for a good 10 minutes after one session before I was even up to driving away.
I learned a lot about myself. I also had an event in my life happen at this time which wasn’t nice and that didn’t help, but the support and understanding from people did. I tried anti-depressants to see if they would help.
The side-effects didn’t outweigh the benefits and eventually, I made the decision to come off them after trying a number of different types. I am aware people have found medication to be a massive help but I have found talking to be the best therapy, and now most of the people I am close to are aware of the struggles I have had.
I call them my ‘fluffy’ periods.
Reaching out and overcoming a reluctance to talk
I understand the reluctance to talk about mental health. I was brought up in the North East of England in a working-class area where you don’t show weakness. Especially the men. It’s a sign that you’re not tough enough.
You definitely don’t talk about it even though that’s the worst thing you could do. And this is what I had been doing for years.
I guess if there is a message in this blog, is that if you can relate to anything that I’ve said and want to talk about it. Reach out.
Reach out to somebody you are comfortable talking to about it. Some people would rather talk to someone they don’t know that well, others want to talk to someone they are close to.
Mental health: An ongoing journey
I am not going to sit here and say I am 100% better now. I have finished my therapy sessions, and I deal with things better. I don’t bottle things up anymore. I’ve learned to reach out if I’m struggling and for me, that’s major progress in itself.
I still feel like I am an imposter at times, that I’m going to get found out at any moment. I’m rubbish at receiving praise and I can tend to focus on the negative. I worry about things I can’t control, and some days I do want to hide away – but I am aware of it now – and I try to manage it and deal with it as best I can.
I went back to Florida with my wife last year, I was in the exact same pool that I had been back in 2013 with a beer and I can honestly say, it was two of the happiest weeks of my life.
If you are struggling please don’t suffer in silence. Please do reach out to someone you feel comfortable with, and if someone reaches out to you, you don’t need to have all the answers – just listen.
You’ll be doing more good than you’ll ever know.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and for support regarding mental health issues, visit the Mental Health Foundation website.
It’s anybody’s guess what the new normal will look like either post lock-down or post corona-virus. The only thing that is certain is that it’s bound to be different from how it was before. The crisis is already pushing the U.K economy into recession and Its certain it will leave a big mark on how consumers live and how they spend their money.
Retailers in the U.K are facing many different challenges. Some are struggling to scale and keep up with the increased demand as they see their sales rise beyond their capacity; some are taking to limiting sales and customer volume; whilst some are seeing sales suddenly drop off a cliff.
These opposing challenges force very different responses, whilst one is looking at reducing costs and outgoings others are trying to deal with technical scaling and logistics issues. Never has there been such opposing issues within either the same companies or sector. You might argue that having a scaling issue is a nice problem to have. However, you must have one eye on the future and consider what you might do with all this extra capacity once things return to some level of normality, can you just turn the taps off, is this going to be the same now and in the future?
Customers are in part creating these opposites by doing things they have never done before, the obvious rise in online shopping has had a large effect on how we shop, however what we are buying and the volume of it has also changed.
There are the predictable shifts of using online grocery shopping during this period, but other more bizarre growths in things like garden furniture for instance due to lock-down, and things like gifting-wrapping services due to the fact we cannot do this easily via traditional methods.
Coping and Adapting…
The focus for many retailers now is drifting towards what do I need to think about or do once were back to some level of normality.
This raises an interesting point on what normal might look like. Whilst is difficult to predict the future, it’s quite likely that retailers will need to consider how this has affected their customers’ shopping patterns. Changes in customer behaviours are not likely to one hundred percent be reversed once our situation changes.
Science indicates that it takes something like two months for a behaviour change to become automatic. Something that is likely to influence us all as the situation continues.
I know from personal experience that my family will be continuing their online grocery shopping post this as they have overcome their initial fears and barriers and now see the upsides on this approach. Predictions are that at least 25% of customers will not return to what they did when we get to new normal.
Being close to your customers and understanding their needs has never been more important and will become paramount to succeeding during the new normal. Providing the services, they need, how they want, with minimal disruption and going the extra mile is likely to retain your customers. Focusing on what kind of experience you want to create for your customers, being personal and knowing what they want, giving an opinion and making it memorable.
Many retailers will also have to ask themselves “Can I operate at sub-scale?”, if not what do I need to do to adapt. Retailers will need to understand what new normal means for them, do I need to increase my prices to factor in reduced volume in customers or work out how I can significantly reduce my operating costs. Likely answer might include a bit of both.
The new normal whatever that is…
Retailers are likely to experience a paradigm shift in customers buying patterns and behaviours post lock-down. New normal is going to look significantly different from old normal. Factoring in that customers are going to be fearful of infection and that significant numbers of customers are likely to have less money to spend due furlough or redundancy. Combined with learning new ways to shop from new channels then any expectation that a return to old normal levels of customer behaviours and levels of business seems very unlikely.
Retailers need to be innovative during this period, “How are you going to be different from anybody else?” Providing customers with a better experience, giving them something they can’t get from either your competitors or online needs to be considered.
If you have a large brick and mortar estate, use it to your advantage, create personal experiences that will encourage your customers to make the effort to visit. Being different and providing services that others don’t is likely to be the factor that keeps one company going vs your competition.
There is also a view that there will be a resurgence of whole localisation of shopping, the traditional high-street if you will. Personally, I’m sure there is place for big outlets and local shopping to co-exist but changes in behaviour driven by the corona-virus to shop more locally and find those local agents could engender a change in our behaviours which will stick and grow in new normal.
As those customers who have adjusted during this period are likely to stick doing what they are doing either for some time or permanently. They will have shifted into other places or channels. This does make it harder to understand what the future state will look like. All we can say is that it won’t be the same as it was.
It’s has been just over a month since our family, social, business and societal worlds changed to an unrecognisable degree and in a manner that may never return to its previous state. This isn’t the time to describe or discuss the broader implications of the outbreak, but it is the right forum to highlight the role of Information technology and the impact on everything we previously knew plus the greatly increased importance of IT in the “new normal”
There were no instant answers for the questions posed to both society and business when news of the crisis broke. Business disaster planning and continuity systems and processes previously effective in testing were initial challenged based on a new area of concern of an unexpected kind. Businesses stalling on mass and societies in turmoil was not an option but prompt action from corporates, government and society as a whole, working in a quickly amassed concert stabilised proceedings and signposted “the new normal”.
The societal and business road to full recovery is set to be a long one. However, one thing is certain, information technology has not only proved its worth to date, it continues to be a shining light through this crisis
Observations to date have highlight a number of waves.
- The first wave was for both families and organisations to ensure people remained calm and safe. It was more about human well-being, increasing levels of understanding and taking steps to protect people in the midst of unprecedented change. With cashless monetary ideals increasing, pervasive financial services organisations underpinned by IT platforms continued to function and deliver payments. Supplementary payments for income and the stability of financial systems helped instil confidence. Continuation of communication via any means necessary was imperative with the global IT networks delivering well under the strain of increased demand for home media, voice, instant messenger, voice and video engagement.
- The second wave was critical to success and drove the corporate agenda to ensure end user, client devices were available to employees at home in the shortest possible time frame. This delivered a layer of “known” by allowing work related activities to continue but from a different location – HOME. Local Wi-Fi network connectivity, performance, reliability underpinned the success of this wave with the broad consensus corporate networking and security teams plus carrier WANs, fared well at the start of a previously unthinkable event. Many lessons were learned from a device deployment and user on-boarding perspective, with knowledge continuing to evolve that may drive new architectures for user access and security in the future.
- The third wave that is easy to call the “collaboration wave” was the overnight acceptance of digital, visual collaboration tools as the new conversational engagement normal. It has surprised many the speed and validation across the board of video conferencing as a digital face-to-face engagement mode on par with human face to face or person to person face-to-face. This has been helped greatly by the vastly improved local broadband and Wi-FI network connectivity available in many homes (speaking about the UK) previously used for home media and social activities but now ideally positioned for “home working” connectivity.
- The fourth wave was to continue and where possible, increase the flow of validated information for all, available in any format where the population may choose to consume it. Daily TV briefings (at least in the UK), mobile devices, social media platforms, broad-line media outlets on the internet and paper based newsprint have continued to circulate up to the moment updates to communicate and increase understanding. Technology has helped to create and transport the continued stream of information and news to help everyone remain informed thus helping to reduce fear, deliver social and health guidance and to ensure the population remains safe.
- The fifth wave, potentially the current state and but definitely not the final wave, has been the increased importance of intentionally securing user and business outcomes for now and next. This statement doesn’t infer security was not inherent in the previous four waves but with the sheer speed required to shift people, organisations and social systems to a remote working at times a minimum layer of security was implemented to accelerate time to user benefit. Now is the time to evolve user and organisational information security to learn from the current normal and rethink the security for the new age.
Information Technology stood up to the plate and delivered at a time when humanity required a positive intervention of the magnitude far greater than anything previously considered. End to end IT platforms from user & client devices, through Wi-Fi & LANs, WANs, satellite networks¸ cloud computing to deliver on demand processing of workloads and storage for the mass of information created daily continue to deliver “country & world” impacting services every minute of every day. And we can’t forget information security is the mandatory thread running through every IT activity and outcome ensuring everything “remains “intentionally secure”.
There have been a number of IT solutions that have flipped the script, real game changing products and services that have delivered so well that they have reset any previous perceptions of value. The importance and resonance of client and end user devices, whether smartphones, tablets, laptops, internet enabled TVs cannot be overstated. Video conferencing isn’t only a norm for now, it is set to underpin a fundamental shift from work as an activity based on location to work as an “output” possible anywhere (within reason). The importance of the network as the digital umbilical cord for all cannot be higher with connectivity key to the success of the recent home working initiatives. Cloud platform and application delivery has come of age with organisations capitalising on the speed of access to “as a service” applications with the ability to deliver cloud resource based operational environments in vastly reduced timeframes. This is set to continue and grow.
End user security awareness most notably email hygiene and phishing services are proving their worth daily as the volume of cyber attacks targeted at home working personas spirals upwards. The new wave of cyber-attacks is driving a rethink of cyber breach remediation services in a remote user dominated world. Network visibility and assurance services with the capability to determine state, manage and affect connectivity in remote, WAN and datacenter situations may be next on the operational IT deployment list if the current dynamic working mode is set to continue indefinitely. And lastly UEBA (user entity behavioural analysis) may rise from the ashes as a must have security control set as organisations try to understand security anomalies and user behavioural unknowns across a remote user landscape as early indicators of attack or compromise.
We are in the midst of a state of global and societal flux of the scale few of us ever believed we would experience in our lifetimes. The loss of life is truly heart-breaking and sadly is set to continue. Information Technology has shifted from a passive role to an assertively active agent of positive change at a time of unprecedented crisis for humanity. With a lifetime career in IT to date it has been highly rewarding to see this amazing technology industry play such an important role at a time of global need with business, humanitarian and societal impacts at time that are truly humbling to witness.
Until next time.
Be safe, stay safe.
Business Line CTO Networking and Security – Computacenter UK
Computacenter Blogs (note the views within are my own and cannot be deemed a Computacenter view or perspective): https://computacenterblogs.com/author/colinwilliamscc/
Does anybody remember the 23rd March 2020? Will that date become so profound in the future that we recall it with the same significance that we feel it now? Clearly that was the date the UK officially entered “lockdown”, 31 days ago. How has it felt for you?
My last post on 26th March spoke a lot about the personal (and to some extent my personal) impact of transitioning to a work from home “steady state”. Over the past 4 weeks I’ve had the opportunity to observe my own organisation’s response to this situation, alongside many of our customers and partners as we come to terms with huge disruption to our businesses. Even the most optimistic of us probably didn’t expect the lockdown to last just 3 weeks, but what has become apparent recently is that we are likely to be in this situation (or something very similar to it!) for the long haul. We now talk of social distancing as the new normal, with all the implications this holds for our lives and our work.
Whilst I spoke a lot about user and user experience impacts in my last blog post, followed by a post from Ashley, our Workplace CTO who addressed collaboration and security best practices. I wanted now to take the opportunity to share some wider observations.
From Workplace Enablement to Workplace Optimisation
Initially we saw a wave of activity as organisations looked to procure laptops, desktops, whatever they could get their hands on in order to assure themselves that they could equip their user for home working.
As this initial momentum has settled, the dynamic has changed. Beyond initial device provision, when you’re working from a fixed position 5 days a week, your desire or need for a premium device soon becomes secondary to: the need for an external mouse or keyboard for health and safety/RSI needs, the need for a quality headset to supress background noise and enable you to engage in video call and the need for an external display to provide access to a larger screen.
We are seeing these elements of the workplace environment become critical to supporting user performance and user health and wellbeing. In summary, for the short term, working at home on a laptop is fine . For the medium or long term you need to really think about your work space – technically and ergonomically and how you create a sustainable working environment.
Enhancing the Infrastructure Underpinnings
“There’s a problem with the network”
Everybody always says that! – Whether it’s the network’s fault or not, the network gets blamed. Its same with the internet at home when your favourite app won’t reload.
By the way, we’re all now dependant on the internet as the network – its our lifeline to the video calls we spend our working days on, our connectivity to corporate systems and in many instances to our customers.
The point I am making relates to my second trend. Once we’ve enabled people able to work, i.e. with a device in hand, we need to ensure that they can work. By this we need to ensure that the infrastructure that runs these services is online, available, performant and scaled for the new demands it faces.
Many of these infrastructures simply weren’t designed for this, and quick adaptations have been required to increase capacity. Whether it is Virtual Desktop platforms, storage infrastructure, or platforms for online services, everything has needed to be assessed, underpinned tactically, and then a more considered decision made as to how to scale these services for future needs.
Whether you are an end-user within an organisation, or a consumer of an organisation’s services, we know that patience and tolerance for poor performance is low, and therefore ensuring that platforms are performant and available is the current challenge. We’ve seen, anecdotally, huge pressures on public cloud platforms in response to this situation – as demand and consumption has scaled beyond any sort of projections of what was possible in such a short time period.
Evolving the Support Model
Technology, People and Process are the 3 classic dimensions of impact. I’ve spoken a lot about the technology dynamics, so the final area to cover blends People and Process.
When we step back and think about what has happened – thousands of people who typically work in an office IT environment have been asked to work from their homes. Distanced from both the peer and IT support they depend on to be effective in their roles and to resolve their issues – they’re now left to “fend for themselves” in an isolated environment. Service desk contacts have grown significantly as users come to terms with the new technology, a new “friction” they didn’t ask for.
This is the new normal. We need to provide innovative and flexible ways to support users, and augment the support capability to cater for “unknowns” in the home setup – home printing, spurious WiFi setups etc. We’ve adapted to provide home deployment services for users and have introduced virtual support services so that we can provide the “Tech Bar” experience that users were becoming accustomed to in the office, now over Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom. We always spoke of a “future workplace” where people worked more remotely, and now we’ve been forced to deliver that promise – it’s now our reality and we must re-gear our services to cater to users wherever they are – literally!
I’ve touched on 3 major trends and dynamics I have observed. There’s far more detail than be covered in a single blog post. The situation will continue to evolve – and its important that IT continues to adapt to cater for the needs of users and optimise the services to enable businesses to continue.
But equally, look at what has been achieved in the past few weeks. A product of circumstance, of a “can-do” attitude and a rapid acceleration of digital strategies. There’s lots more to come over the coming weeks and months to ensure we stay ahead and support users and leverage technology to help guide businesses through these unprecedented times.
Take care of yourselves and your families,
As we find ourselves in lockdown and for those for whom it’s possible working from home, the use of communication and collaboration tools have become invaluable in enabling us to do our jobs successfully. In fact, for many who are not used to working this way, it may have been and maybe still is a learning curve. Both as individuals and organisations we have had to enable at pace; enable our people to do their best work in difficult circumstances, enable our infrastructure to support increased demand and enable our business to support both employees and customers alike.
With this enabling at pace comes the inevitability of increased vulnerability, and the need to secure the wider workplace as this extends into the home. More than ever before with services and solutions being extended, increased, adapted or adopted; ensuring that security is not forgotten is key.
Supporting your people
As an organisation, it is understandable that enabling your users to communicate and collaborate and access information and data securely is of utmost importance. The number and scale of collaboration tools being downloaded and used across multiple device types has increased exponentially in the last few weeks. As such, the number of those who wish to exploit any vulnerabilities in such platforms has increased also.
Enabling at pace should not negate the requirement of choosing the right platform(s) and solutions, from an operational, useability and security perspective, nor should it be an excuse for people to eschew company policy and procedures. I encourage both individuals and organisations to examine the privacy and security policies of any platform or solution you are considering using, especially if it isn’t one you have used before.
Good practice and user training are also key to ensuring that your workforce can work productively and securely whilst working from home or other remote locations. These should be an extension or adaption of any existing remote working policies previously employed. Given that for some, this way of working may be new to them, ensuring they have support of those more adept at using these platforms is paramount.
As an example, we host 30-minute drop in sessions several times per week remotely, to ensure that others have the opportunity and safe environment to ask questions or watch demonstrations of productive and secure methods of working. In addition to this, we have created a network of champions, that via multi-channel engagement methods, across several business lines are always able to support those who require it.
To a more personal note, there is much as individuals we can do to keep ourselves, our data and our businesses safe and secure at this time, here are a few tips that might help:
- If you are creating an online meeting for others to connect to, ensure that you make use of the security functions available to you. As an example, if a meeting gives you the option of using a password to secure the meeting, use this function. If you are inviting people outside of your organisation, turn on the lobby feature. This will keep people in a virtual holding room in which you have to allow them in. This will prevent people from simply obtaining a link to your meeting and joining. If the person you are inviting is external make sure you know who the person is that you are admitting, and if the person isn’t who you were expecting and without good reason, remove them from the meeting.
- If the tool you are using allows you to restrict certain options such as people unmuting themselves, or people sharing their screen (and the context is one where you are presenting rather than collaborating) enable these restrictions to reduce interruptions or possible subversive behaviour.
- Be wary of sharing information of a sensitive nature across collaboration platforms, especially with external participants. Information can be screen captured in an online meeting without your knowledge. If you wouldn’t hand out this information to the people on the call in a real face-to-face meeting, then don’t share it in an online meeting.
- If you are sharing documents, ensure that you apply the necessary protections. As an example, you might be able to make the document read-only, or only accessible by people within your company, or even prevent download. Always share only what is necessary, especially to those outside the organisation
Most importantly, read and become familiar with the security and acceptable use policies that your organisation provides, these are put in place to protect you and the company, and adherence to these will help you work in a safe, productive manner. If you are unsure of what you should do, which given the extraordinary situation we find ourselves in is a distinct possibility; reach out for help within your organisation to ensure you protect yourselves, your family and the company that you work for.
There are of course many other ways to enable at pace whilst securing the workspace, and I’d love to hear how you are supporting your friends, family, your businesses and each other in these unprecedented times. Feel free to reach out if I can help or support in any way.
Up until about 3 weeks ago, the conversation about productivity and effectiveness in our home and work lives were discreet, but inevitably connected topics. The events of the past few weeks has involved many HUGE changes, thrusting swathes of workers for whom “normal”, was to go to work and interact with people, to now have to operate in a completely remote manner. If that were not difficult enough for many people, the broader circumstances of school closures and being “locked down” have made this a very challenging period.
There have been monumental efforts of IT departments, service providers and of course users that has enabled this to happen in such a dramatic and rapid fashion. It is a credit to those involved that so many people are now able to work effectively during this time. When we look at organisations up and across the country (and world), their offices – tangible icons of a company’s power and presence are deserted. Teams and departments are now operating in a fundamentally different virtual mode of operation – and this will persist, it seems, for a foreseeable period.
My focus is on the impact of this change, and what it will mean to users in the coming weeks. Many organisations have implemented the shift, and users are now working at home and those that haven’t yet, soon will. The initial frantic activity to equip and enabling users to access resources remotely will die down, and we should divert our attentions to focus on the impacts that this shift will have on users.
Working from home used to be a privilege for many, but it can be and always was difficult to do effectively. Many people have learnt the lessons and can apply these in the current situation we find ourselves in. But for many, this is a whole new world. Some observations and “watch points” for your users and teams to potentially consider:
- We are not used to working in this way: Fairly obvious, but these are challenging and uncertain times for many people. People are now isolated within their own homes, and from their teams and other support networks. Its important to consider after the initial melee of getting users set up for work, how they’re feeling and ensuring they are connected and engaged with work. Over the next few months as we continue to adapt to this new normal, that will no doubt become more difficult as the novelty of virtualised social activities potentially starts to wear off.
- We need to strike a balance between home and work: This is incredibly difficult now. Many people are unprepared for long stints of working from home, so potentially don’t have the equipment and physical space to have a designated “work zone”. Add to this the complexity of children being at home, and I imagine the challenge becomes exponentially worse. If we can’t achieve demarcation through the space in the home, then it’s important to try to do this through time. It’s easy to work a little earlier or later and just finish that “one more thing”, but this just makes it harder to take the break and focus the mind on other topics, allowing you to do both work and life with a freshness and energy required
- We cant be “always on calls”: The collaboration technologies that are enabling us to work this way are a huge bonus. I think had this situation occurred 5/10 years ago when we only had email and phone – what that would have meant for viability of this working model and the engagement of people in these circumstances. But the calls/meetings can be relentless. Its easy (I’ve done it) to sit for 6/7 hours a day without particularly stopping for a break, venturing outside for fresh air or taking a proper meal break. I’ve suffered head-ache, back-ache to name just two impacts of how I’m working today – and I’m lucky with a good home office set up to accommodate this. The individual needs to manage this – take more breaks than usual, create specific working or planning time to give you time to do the important stuff and achieve objectives
- It feels like Groundhog Day: I am not sure how you’re finding it, but I typically knew where in the week it was because if it was Monday or Friday I’d probably be working at home. Now everyday blends into all the others, and without the natural variety of work travel, different types of meetings – the days can feel very “samey”. I’d encourage people to think about different “events” in their week that they can use to anchor a sense of time – maybe the run you do on a Tuesday before work? Or the virtual social you do once a week with the team – just to get some context
We need to consider this as a journey. Whilst it’s been difficult so far, equipping users is just step one, and a onetime event. The next challenge is more enduring to supporting users as they adapt to this situation and become effective – for however long it lasts. This could be in the provision of new tools and functionality, training on new features, or more pastoral or health and well-being support to ensure users are able to be productive. And when we are out of this, and we again redefine what “normal” is, how do we optimise to take the best of what we’ve learnt and implemented – from technology platforms to user behaviour and re-strike a balance that better supports and enables people to work wherever and however they choose.
As we get closer to getting out of this, more answers on what to take and learn from this will become much clearer, giving us a window of opportunity to act and make changes that could benefit users and businesses moving forwards.
Take care of yourselves and your families,
It’s time to act different to get different. Outside of the core fundamentals of life I value KNOWLEDGE and TIME higher than most things. Remaining knowledge hungry ensures the world is forever a captivating and interesting place to be. Optimum use of time ensures both essential and desirable socio-personal and business outcomes can be achieved with metronome like consistency and efficiency.
Home or remote working can deliver a mass of advantages including the removal of time lost to commuting, the potential to maximise time available for non-work activities, the chance for services to remain available through times of crisis and the potential to offer work opportunities to different demographics. However, it requires a rethink of work behaviour or meeting etiquette to ensure the remote collaboration or meeting experience is beneficial to all. Web and video remote conferencing services used effectively have the potential to “change the game”.
The points below are a handful of ideas to optimise and unlock measurable value from the use of remote web or conferencing platforms. Many are well known and common sense practices, but at this challenging time should be applied with increased levels of consistency:
Prepare the remote working space and web collaboration tools in advance of the remote meeting. Clear background clutter in the room if broadcasting yourself or your environment using video or web conferencing. At its most basic, move your seating position into a hallway with a blank wall behind you if you don’t want family pictures or your home environment on display.
If you do or don’t not want to use video during the remote web conferencing meeting, explain to all participants the need or benefits of using video (ability to see and interpret body language, etc). Video within a conferencing platform can be selectively used with participants either interacting via voice, video or both. Unless company policy forces the use of video, engage in a manner that feels most comfortable for all participants and if that means no video for the individual participant, it should be their choice.
Web remote conference meeting recording is a very important issue to address at the start of any meeting. The meeting host must convey their desire for the meeting to be recorded or not. If a participant for legal, privacy or other reason explains they do not want the session recorded the recording option must be turned off or the participant must leave the remote meeting. Background recording of a session by stealth contravenes all privacy guidelines and statutes.
Check to ensure the web conference remote access device (laptop, smartphones, tablet) is working and connects successfully at least 15 minutes before the call. It stops all parties losing the first 10 minutes of the call due to connection issues.
Send any pre read content for the remote meeting participants by Email 24 hours before the meeting or at least an hour if it’s a last minute request. Explain in the email the importance of the pre read email content to be absorbed ahead of the remote session to deliver context and additional insight. This will save 15 to 20 mins at the start of the session ensuring all participants are at the same knowledge level.
Circulate, ideally in the same email as the pre read content, the need for the remote meeting, the outcomes of the actual remote conferencing session (what does good look like at the end), a few bullet points to consider as topics for “discussion” or topics for “decision”. This ensures the remote conferencing meeting participants attend the meeting with views already formed to be discussed and tangible outcomes in mind.
If the main speaker will be occupied answering questions during the meeting from the start, appoint an alternative meeting chair to keep the meeting flowing, stop a single point or person dominating the meeting or to keep referring back to the meeting objectives and outcomes highlighted in the pre read email.
And lastly consider the impact of the duration of remote conferencing meetings. One hour is a time frame all can accommodate with enthusiasm and energy. One to two hours should also deliver valuable remote conferencing meeting outcomes applying the meeting etiquette techniques previously mentioned. Longer than two hours may be challenging for all parties based on keeping all participants fully engaged without human, person to person, proximity based energy. Longer remote conferencing or collaboration meetings are possible prepared and managed well but shorter, direct remote engagement seems to be effective.
I hope the content above is useful as we all expand the well-known and effective remote web conferencing approach and flip it for the short to medium term into the primary organisational, societal and personal user engagement platform.
Used well remote web conferencing (audio and video) will help to maximise the value of that golden component of life, “TIME”. Remote collaboration and conferencing tools used as the norm, in primary engagement mode have the potential to change the way we interact and work forever. But as people we need to re-calibrate our remote or home working engagement expectations first because the platform is only a vehicle or channel to achieve that engagement.
Until next time.
Business Line CTO UK (Networking & Security)