As we’ve all experienced, 2020 has been an unprecedented year for business. In a short matter of days entire sectors shut down and teams, where possible, were sent home. A global industry, fine-tuned on just-in-time supply chain management, international collaboration and office culture, had to adapt. And whilst the scale of the disruption has yet to be quantified, it is also understood that many business leaders see the rapid response and reflexive muscles of even the largest of companies as a positive example of just how quickly teams can move.
What would have taken years has in fact taken days. And that has clear implications for how we innovate in the next normal—even if that is still an unpredictable future.
Kim Bybjerg, VP Europe for Tata Communications is one such leader.
“What we’ve seen in our company and in our customers’ is that transformation has accelerated significantly,” he said, “and has meant we are far more amenable to remote working than before. Now will be the advent of the digital workspace—whether at home or work.”
The work experience has indeed shifted. What many had deemed impossible just a couple of years ago is now our reality, that most white-collar workers would be able to not just get through working remotely but oftentimes thrive. And although it is true to say not every team or individual enjoys remote working as fully as we would all like, innovation in 2021 will be directed to those challenges. Bybjerg agreed.
“The digital experiment still requires solving. We see security, for example, as being a bigger issue than before because of remote working and having those endpoints still connected to your company’s infrastructure.”
“I agree—and we’ve actually seen an uptick of phishing attacks,” replied Jat Sahi, Fujitsu UK’s Retail Digital Transformation Lead, “because some people are using this as an opportunity to attack.”
His team runs global delivery centers that support essential services in the UK, such as governmental, retail and healthcare. Around 23,000 staff had to shift to remote working in 10 days and the process, he reported, was “seamless”.
“The great thing was that the crisis has taught us that we could act quickly and I suspect a number of our customers felt the same relief.
“But the crisis also gave us the clarity of our purpose, which allowed us to make decisions fast.”
Ingredients of innovation
When considering the ingredients of innovation, purpose is a relatively new agent. Beyond the obvious scope of technologies, people and processes, the crucible of change needs a focus to direct one’s energies and attention. On a day-to-day basis customer experience can be that focus; the desire to help them reach their goals inspires businesses to keep improving their services or products. But longer term change requires something more.
“The most innovative parts of business lie in collaboration,” said Velji Naran, CIO of Subsea 7. “People working from home are disparate and, knowing that in collaboration is when ideas come together, we are losing some of the flavour of innovation.”
He went on to say that solutions such as virtual whiteboards are vitally important to making the home experience beneficial to innovation as will social engineering to encourage adaptation.
Royal Mail’s Head of Data is also fascinated by the role of culture in innovation.
“Technology is part of the puzzle but understanding how employees interact with tools and how they work is imperative,” said Paul Davison. “I’m now interested in how to maintain culture in a virtual environment because culture relies on frequent interactions in informal settings; spontaneous actions are born there and from an innovative perspective, that’s where ideas come through.
“Best practice will be to enable those interactions to happen virtually.”
Andy Bellamy, a former CIO and now advisor for RWJ Resources, also believes that organizations had steep learning curves this year but “the most important has been re-engineering team meetings to be faster and more effective, and encourage more one-to-one calls.”
He concluded: “I’ve met people whose mantra is now ‘have two unstructured conversations per day’ because that’s where innovation comes from.”
This interview is brought to you in partnership with Tata Communications, a Digital Ecosystem Enabler, helping teams stay connected, productive and focused on driving secure customer experiences.