Digitalisation has made work simultaneously easier and more difficult – easier in that it consistently reduces manual processes and frees people up for more value-added work, more difficult in that it requires an entire, separate set of investments and skills to implement and maintain. And the last two years of pandemic-driven digital acceleration only emphasised these diametrically opposite impacts on how organisations operate.
In today's economic landscape, digitalisation is taken for granted. There is no way to effectively compete otherwise. But now that the crisis has subsided, the way organisations digitalise is changing. It's no longer about nice-to-haves or keeping up with the Joneses. Companies in the business of providing tech services say that the current uncertainty has led to a much more strategic approach: some scaling back, some consolidation, emphasis on certain well-chosen priorities.
“What we are observing is not a total return to business-as-usual for our customers across the board,” said Sandeep Bhargava, Managing Director APJ for cloud solutions provider Rackspace Technology. “Fears of recessions, personnel crunches, inflation, and supply chain issues, are just some of the factors that contribute to an unpredictable economic outlook.”
A common theme now seems to be that tech implementation has moved into a review and optimisation phase, with business and IT leaders now much more cognisant of what meets their specific needs.
Unsurprisingly, many companies have one eye trained on the bottom line. Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager for Asia Pacific and Japan at collaboration software firm GoTo, told People Matters: “At a time when analysts, economists, and investors around the world are predicting a market downturn in the not-too-distant future, businesses must further optimise their tech stack with cost efficiencies and prudent IT budget management in mind.”
Selectiveness is the new rule
In the aftermath of the first rush to remote, many organisations have ended up with a surfeit of tools and platforms, not all of which meet their specific needs. And what's happening now, according to tech providers, is an extended review of whether a tool is relevant to the organisation and, if so, whether it can be made more useful; or if not, what can replace it or whether its use should be discontinued entirely.
Sami Ammous, Vice President Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) at communications solutions provider Avaya, described organisations' current approach as “deliberate experimentation” to match their IT strategy to the business strategy – and, he suspects, there is considerable existing disconnect between the two that companies are now trying to fix.
“Users are not always getting what they need from the current IT strategy,” he remarked during a conversation with People Matters in Singapore. “Sometimes they have multiple platforms each with only one functionality. Sometimes a platform has 700 functions and people use only 10 of these. Tools and platforms almost always need to be simplified. The question is, which of these functions is useful for a company's specific needs?”
Consolidation has in fact emerged as a major priority for a large number of organisations. In one study conducted by Frost & Sullivan on behalf of GoTo, 62% of business and IT leaders indicated that the consolidation of their communication, collaboration, and IT management tools is a priority this year, and 95% said it is already underway in their organisation.
“IT Workloads over the past two years have increased with one of the key challenges being identified as software that people are using for their work isn’t always up to the job,” said Brown.
“This has led to a demand for solutions that are fit for purpose; that can interoperate with an organisation’s existing tech stack; that can scale as the organisation grows; that are user friendly so it is quick to implement and adopt which increases time to value, and that offer good value for money.”
Agility and ease of use are high on the agenda
Given the uncertain market outlook, organisations need their tech infrastructure to be easily scalable – in both directions – and adaptable, especially with the lessons of the pandemic still fresh in mind. For instance, cloud adoption shot up in 2020 and 2021 as businesses tried to find digital alternatives to on-site services; the trend is still going strong simply because of the flexibility it allows.
Ease of management is an adjunct to that: the initial hiccups in 2020 were learning points around tech introduction and change management for many organisations, and in today's market, the preference leans toward tools that can be more smoothly introduced.
“With the new devices and platforms employers are introducing to the workplace, they want to make sure there is flexibility to change, systems are secure and easy to manage. This is all because COVID has taught us that the workplace needs to remain agile and keep up with a dynamic work environment when the need calls for it,” commented Jacques Bertrand, Executive Vice President of collaboration tech firm Crestron Asia.
Flexibility and agility are not confined to the technology itself, though. The scalability of the IT team has become equally critical, especially at a time when tech talent is scarce and going for huge premiums in many markets. Some recent studies suggest that when it comes to IT, organisations would rather outsource their personnel needs alongside their infrastructure needs, both for the sake of efficiency and as a cost-saving measure.
Agreeing, Rackspace's Bhargava said: “An extension of the economic uncertainty we are seeing involves organisations embracing external teams from managed service providers (MSPs) as a proponent of their internal IT teams. The battle for world-class talent is lengthy and expensive, and our customers don’t wish to put their cloud journeys on hold for costly recruitment drives."
"Dedicated third-party support from MSPs who are exceptionally familiar with their partner’s businesses is a rising trend as we see a drought of professional talent globally.”
Finally, cybersecurity continues to be a consideration, and most organisations by now have an ongoing awareness of it which manifests either in tech implementations – as shown by one Rackspace study earlier this year which found that security is now companies' greatest concern when moving their operations to the cloud – or in active investment. PwC’s Global Digital Trust Insights report for 2022, for instance, predicts that nearly 70% of organisations will spend more on cybersecurity this year.
What should companies keep an eye out for next?
Jiabin Fabian Huang, global managing partner of China-based RPA solution provider Cyclone Robotics, told People Matters about four trends that he believes are worth paying attention to.
1. Experience-driven solutions: research by Gartner indicates that by 2026, 60% of large enterprises will use the concept of “Total Experience” to transform their business models to achieve world-class customer and employee advocacy levels.
2. Data and insight-driven solutions: with today's automation technologies, organisations have the ability to gather and evaluate data that can be employed for analytical purposes for better decision-making, on the micro as well as macro levels. “Data has always been one of the most valuable assets to an organisation,” commented Huang.
3. Automation and AI-powered solutions: in the future, automation solutions are likely to be critical enablers for business. Citing research from the World Economic Forum that forecasts that as early as 2025, work is likely to be split 50/50 between humans and machines, Huang said: “The paradigm of adopting digital tools which empower employee productivity and efficiency, whilst granting them the flexibility needed to adapt and grow in their own environments, is expected to evolve. Cyclone Robotics expects the future workforce to become champions at driving human-hybrid entrenchment.”
4. Solutions that support adaptive/composable enterprises: modularity and composable solutions will be key to supporting more agile delivery by helping organisations adapt more rapidly to changing demands, Huang predicted. “This allows an enterprise to reduce the time for the deployment and ultimately contributes to productivity,” he added.
Finally, while it may not be possible to forecast the exact needs of the future given the current uncertain environment, surveys do indicate what other businesses are generally doing right now. GoTo's Lindsay Brown shared a few of the insights from the company's research in partnership with Frost & Sullivan, revealing that the top selection criteria organisations use when choosing new IT software include support for IT process automation, ensuring performance and reliability, improving employee productivity, and of course, having state of the art security solutions.
And Crestron's Jacques Bertrand offered a couple of examples of how to gauge whether a particular solution will fit smoothly into an organisation's operations: “When people get together to share information and collaborate, they want the technology to work for them always in a consistent manner,” he remarked. For example: “10 seconds is all it should take from the time they step into a collaboration space to the time the meeting begins.”