Digital Acceleration and the Next Normal

We have seen incredible and rapid change in recent times. The idea of “digital transformation” for instance has seen its definition shift dramatically.

For a long time, most of us accepted that the concept involved a long-term strategy to adopt new technologies that would help us to modernize business processes, achieve greater efficiency and in an ideal world cut costs. But the moment the global health crisis struck the entire world stopped and so did just about every digital transformation project.

At first, the response to COVID-19 called for steps that felt less like long-term change than immediate actions to enable the continuity and stability to ensure organizations could continue to operate and people could work safely.

Then, the need to reduce cost and risk took precedence as organizations large and small looked to optimize their environments and entered what could be considered an “efficiency phase.”

Now, as we embark on the earliest stages of a recovery, the idea of digital transformation has re-emerged as an initiative that encompasses the process of defining, designing and delivering on the “next normal.” We understand that many things will never be the same. Some of the ways we live, work, and do business will require a re-model. Others will need a new model altogether.

Accelerating to the Next Normal

How the next normal looks will vary by industry, region and organization but two things we know are: 1) it will be digital-first and 2) it will move faster than ever.

Today, modernization is no longer an IT aspiration – it’s an operational necessity.  Consider the following:

  • An online consumer is 4 times more likely to switch to a competitor if they experience service-related problems (Source: Glance)
  • As many as 78% of consumers have backed out of an online purchase because of bad user experience (Source: Glance)
  • When it comes to adopting a new technology or process, cultural resistance can persist for up to 24 months, making the need to begin the process of change more urgent than ever (Source: Gartner)

Now, to compete and grow, organizations will need to harness this state of digital acceleration, a dedicated effort to rapidly modernize by:

  • Embracing an agile business model: Using modernized applications and infrastructure platforms that support the new requirements of doing business and ensure the ideal customer experience to drive revenue growth.
  • Rethinking the future of work: Re-imagining the workforce and enabling them with secure workspaces and collaboration platforms.

Let’s examine these two vital considerations for technology leaders as they begin to accelerate on the road to recovery.

Embracing an Agile Business Model

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, clothing retailer Zara reported losing over $465 million as 88% of its mall locations closed due to public health and safety measures. In the same period, however, the company’s online sales grew 95%.

As a result, Zara plans to invest $3 billion in developing its online shopping experiences [1].

In the next normal, an inability to adapt to change or innovate at or faster than the pace of the competition will put many organizations at risk of falling behind.

Embracing agile business is about seizing an opportunity to modernize the way you do business and – most important – to differentiate the way you interact with and serve your customers.

This is no easy task.

Some of the organizations we work with have told us, “We have legacy applications and systems we can’t change as fast as we need to.” In fact, organizations today spend 60 to 80% of their IT budgets on maintaining and operating traditional systems, leaving less time and resources for modernization initiatives. [2] Furthermore, 50% of IT leaders say the need to maintain traditional systems is impeding their efforts to transform. [3]

Others asked, “Our competitor’s digital strategy is taking our client base – what technologies should we consider?” Even with a modern, agile approach, Gartner finds 90% of organizations have said the need for skills in cloud infrastructure and emerging technologies outstrips demand.

How can your organization achieve a state of digital acceleration as an agile business?

  • Divest from infrastructure that doesn’t differentiate you: Avoid the burden of managing infrastructure that doesn’t drive a modern and streamlined customer or employee experience by embracing cloud technologies.
  • Focus on building a culture of rapid innovation: Pinpoint and remove barriers to adoption for agile methodologies, DevOps and automation to bring differentiated products and services to market faster.
  • Extend existing on-premises assets where required: Use modern cloud platforms to extend the traditional data center and modernize applications with less complexity and risk.

Rethinking the Future of Work

Over the past several months, employees everywhere have experienced the kind of transformation expected to take years in a matter of weeks – or even days. Where remote work was once considered a perk by some, it’s become a reality for many, perhaps indefinitely.

The immediate response to COVID-19 required IT leaders, along with their business and human resources counterparts, to provide for what their users needed right away: To be able to resume business as usual, safely and securely, with the same quality of experience.

To this end, many organizations needed to implement or drive adoption of new solutions for collaboration, security, remote access and virtual desktops.  As an example, between March 18 and April 29, Microsoft Teams saw 43 million new daily users, a growth of 134% in just over a month. This kind of application adoption has had a considerable impact on IT management and end-user enablement as organizations had to figure out how to deploy, manage and educate remotely.

And many organizations are still adapting to these changes.

Being ready for the future of work involves not only adapting to what the user needs today but also re-imagining the workplace to provide what they need to be successful in the next normal.

This calls for IT leaders to remove the barriers between the physical and digital workplace and break down silos around IT to connect the people, processes, and technologies to support growth and innovation.

How can your organization improve its readiness for the future of work?

  • Remove the barriers between the physical and digital workplace: Bring everyone together with a simple experience via modern working environments that run on cloud-based applications.
  • Empower IT to deliver a great employee experience: Onboard the right management and security solutions to make the employee experience easy to deploy, manage and protect.
  • Build the best employee experience for your organization: Design and deliver an end-to-end productivity and collaboration solution customized for your end-user requirements.
  • Get the most from your investments by ensuring adoption: Leverage strategic partnerships to drive structured on-boarding and usage of new tools and provide ongoing training and IT mentorship.

How Softchoice Will Continue to Help

The road to recovery from the global pandemic will look different for every organization.

From adapting to new challenges to defining your own next normal, Softchoice is here to help you make the right decisions to sustain momentum out of the crisis and thrive in recovery.

 

Are you ready to re-imagine your digital transformation journey?

Explore Softchoice services for Cloud and Enabling End Users.

What You Do Now Defines Your Recovery

Events of the past few months have forced organizations to make technology changes and investments that they weren’t expecting or that were planned for further in the future. In short order, new priorities supplanted existing plans, with long-term transformation projects paused in favor of immediate actions to adjust to new operating environments and  ensure business continuity.

The reality for your workforce, customers and partners has already undergone lasting change. There is likely more change to come. How you respond now will define your recovery from the crisis. But the question isn’t “What will our organization look like after the recovery?” but rather “What do we want it to look like?”

With the right approach and the right guidance, what you do now will not only help you recover but also compete and thrive post-recovery.

It’s important that business and IT leaders keep this in mind and continue to build momentum as they work through the phases of response and recovery:

  1. Enabling remote work capabilities
  2. Ensuring security and performance for core IT services
  3. Reducing costs and increasing ROI on existing assets
  4. Translating change into competitive advantage

Below, we explore the ways technology leaders can leverage this moment of change to drive innovation and establish a model for revenue growth once on the path to recovery.

 

Adapting to Change and Stabilizing a New Environment

When the implications of COVID-19 became apparent, organizations were singularly focused on adapting to fast-changing conditions and short-term needs as business continuity plans were defined and activated. Even for those who were somewhat prepared, the shift to all-remote work was jarring, as IT departments had to deploy or update the applications and the infrastructure they ran on. For those less prepared, it placed crisis on-top of crisis.

There just wasn’t enough time to lay the groundwork for a fully-fledged, secure and connected remote work strategy. Users may have been asked to adopt an unfamiliar working scenario or tools they weren’t used to overnight. After the initial deployment, challenges around use and support arose.

Next came the need to support a stable, workable employee experience in the new all-remote environment. This produced its own challenges as networks came under unusual stress, people learned how to work in the new reality and cyber criminals wasted no time exploiting the confusion.

The silver lining: The journey from business-as-usual to all-remote work at the outset has already started either to rapidly define or push forward a digital workplace strategy.

If you weren’t transforming through technology six weeks ago, you likely are now.

The roll out of modern collaboration, remote access and the accompanying security and network changes has equipped your organization to be more flexible, more secure and less tied to the core office environment and the proverbial walled garden.

The pandemic has also prompted many businesses to ask the question, “is it what we’re selling or how we’re selling?” For example, take a brick-and-mortar butcher that has embraced digital ordering and curbside pickup to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Already, the owner reports higher satisfaction from customers as they pick up purchases rather than wait in long lines the way they had pre-crisis. Meanwhile, selling through digital pre-order means the owners keep less inventory on-hand and dramatically reduced waste.

In short, transforming through technology, albeit quickly and out of necessity, has improved the customer experience while making the business more efficient.

If you’ve been through this kind of change, you already have more flexibility around the digital workplace, where and how you recruit talent and deliver products and services to your customers.

Security and Stability to Reduced Cost and Risk

The economic impact of the pandemic is ongoing and cost management has become urgent for organizations in every vertical. IT departments have or are about to enter an “efficiency phase” aimed at reducing costs and increasing return on existing investments.

Many organizations are now embarking on the process of rationalizing software, infrastructure (and in some unfortunate cases, personnel). At this stage, it’s important to stay focused on gains in stability as you look for ways to reduce short-term cost and risk.

It’s also important to keep in mind that recovery will begin eventually. Steps taken toward cost efficiency now should aim at streamlining for faster growth and innovation in that recovery stage. Simply put, you can come out of this an “optimized” organization.

Meanwhile, IT departments may have to find ways to support this new environment with fewer resources than they had before. The need to establish a zero-trust security posture hasn’t gone away, but options for doing so may be more limited. Every organization has its own financial needs and pressures that impact technology spending and many will be looking at new models of subscription, financing and leasing.

The streamlining of IT operations and infrastructure, while difficult today, will set up efficiencies that support a strong recovery.

There is no financial solution that fits every situation. For example, while shifting to subscription or OPEX (operational expenditure) models may work for some, this doesn’t suit organizations with cash flow or debt covenant issues. Considering the right financial options to meet your specific budget and technology needs will be paramount.

Nonetheless, rightsizing the data center or a broader use of public cloud to optimize efficiency, rationalizing licenses and augmenting your own resources with cost-efficient solutions will set you up for agility later. As another upside, many CIOs and IT leaders have received long overdue support for business continuity planning (BCP), modern collaboration and other transformation initiatives.

Driving Efficiency to Thriving in Recovery  

The journey out of finding efficiencies and into recovery will build on the lessons learned in enabling remote work and streamlining costs. In this phase, the steps you took to ensure you got to recovery, done the right way, will help you gain a competitive advantage and thrive once there. In some cases, the crisis has put transformative projects into higher gear, by highlighting the urgent need for modern, agile IT tools and infrastructure.

The PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey in April found that half of those surveyed intend to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow. Meanwhile, 40% said that COVID-19 has prompted them to explore the use of technology to enable automation and new ways of working.

This includes redefining the way you work and collaborate through IT automation, analytics and governance. It also includes innovating new ways to connect with and support customers for continued revenue growth. Sticking to this goal as you drive your decision-making in response to the pandemic will help ensure you thrive. To this end, organizations should re-evaluate their digital transformation agenda with the following changes in mind.

Most if not all the workforce is working remotely today – to what extent will this become permanent? What lessons about remote work can you apply on a lasting basis?

When the time comes, returning to work safely will require a holistic strategy that pulls together technology, facilities and human resources groups as well as senior leaders.

Your approach to engaging with employees and customers may have changed out of necessity. But that process of innovation should continue to have a positive impact during recovery and beyond.

How Softchoice Will Continue to Help

The response to the global pandemic has not been easy on any organization, but the hard work they are doing today has the potential to help them come back stronger and more competitive than before.

From adapting to change and ensuring business continuity to driving efficiency and setting the stage for future growth, Softchoice can help you make the right choices to build and sustain momentum out of the crisis and into recovery.

Are you ready to re-imagine your digital transformation journey?

Explore Rapid Response services.

Testing Our Business Continuity Plan for All-Remote Work

This past week, organizations and IT departments across the world crossed a new frontier: remote work for everyone.  

While business continuity planning has always been part of an IT department’s mandate, organizations and their people have not seen disruption to business-as-usual on this scale before. Preparing to adapt to a fast-changing scenario like the one surrounding COVID-19 is a major advantage. However, being ready for anything doesn’t happen overnight.  

The need to support all-remote work has also highlighted the need for IT leaders to integrate the human factor into their business continuity thinking along with traditional concerns around data and infrastructure. 

On Thursday, March 12th, Softchoice conducted a company-wide test of our remote work capabilities involving more than 2,000 users across the US and Canada, who depend on 24/7 access to applications hosted in our hybrid data center and SaaS applications in the cloud.  

We met (remotely) with Jeff Reis, Sr. Vice President – Information Technology, and Lester Moniz, Director of IT Infrastructure, to discuss what went into preparations to meet this unprecedented need and how others could benefit from what we’ve learned.  

Laying the Groundwork 

Softchoice has always had a business continuity plan in place as part of our responsibility to customers. However, the last several years has seen the IT organization lay the groundwork for remote work with a focus on people, process and technology.  

The underpinnings of native business continuity at Softchoice came out of a strategic decision to outfit every employee for flexible work. About three years ago, Jeff explained, the company made a switch from deskbound technology to software-enabled tools. 

“In terms of the process, equipping everyone with a laptop, camera, headset and a suite of collaboration software – is by design when they start at Softchoice,” said Jeff. “Part of our business continuity plan is the toolkit we give them.”  

More than just hardware, the broader technology strategy touched a host of software and infrastructure areas. For instance, support for remote VPN connection required network and data center upgrades.  

There was also a major security component, including the adoption of TLS 1.2 – the highest standard for encryption protocols, without deprecating support for older protocols needed to support partners and customers. Planning for an all-remote work scenario included mitigating the risk of loss of assets as well as data loss. For the past two years, all employee laptops have shipped with builtin firmware allowing the IT team to track and manage anywhere in the world regardless of OS build.  

Measures like multifactor authentication and device encryption also played a key part in providing employees with a secure way to work remotely. A single-sign-on (SSO) portal model helped ensure ease of access to applications for remote users – tying together all the components needed to native business continuity.   

All these efforts were done “with the notion of any time, anywhere and on any device” in mind.

We applied this thinking to our Network Operations Center as well to provide continuous support to our Managed Services Customers. Even with all the components to support a remote workforce in place, however, Softchoice had never fully tested these capabilities for a scenario requiring remote work for the entire organization.  

They warned that rolling out all-remote work doesn’t happen overnight. “By and large, we did have this in mind – but not in a perfect way,” said Jeff.   

Putting AllRemote Work to the Test 

On test day, the biggest concern for the IT team was the stability of the VPN infrastructure. This had never been tested for the load about to be put on it. While VPN connection is not necessary to access all work applications, this would be the area where strain would be most visible.  

We felt good about what we had designed on paper and implemented, but as is often said, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’” said Lester.  

The good news: The all-remote work test went as planned with few surprises.  

At peak time, Softchoice had 60% of our users with an open VPN connection and their total utilization did not load the VPN infrastructure beyond 20%. At the same time, the ticket dashboard revealed a ticket volume and issue type dispersal consistent with a typical Thursday.  

Relief and confidence were the words – that our people were able to work without challenges,” said Jeff.  

Softchoice planned its remote work test on March 12th with the intent to capture and incorporate any lessons learned before shifting to all-remote across the company.  

Circumstances moved the timetable forward.  

 “The COVID-19 situation evolved so fast – we thought we’d have a week or two,” said Jeff. Because the results were so positive, however, the executive leadership team was confident enough to go ahead with all-remote work for Softchoice employees beginning the following Monday.  

An Integrated Approach 

Jeff and Lester attribute the success of the business continuity plan, to people and process, then technology. They described the approach as “very collaborative,” involving many departments outside IT, including Human Resources, OperationsRisk Management, Facilities and Communications.  

Decisions needed to be made and were guided by our company values. Keeping our employees well informed was paramount. Ensuring customer experience and our ability to deliver uninterrupted services was equally important.  Enabling managers to lead remote teams and planning for upstream and downstream impacts to the supply chain were also key focus areas for our business continuity planning. 

They agreed that the cultural shift toward flexible work also played a key part in the test day looking like business-as-usual from an operational standpoint.  

Applying Lessons Learned  

Jeff and Lester acknowledged that there are likely some organizations living their lessons learned around remote work right now. Some may be wishing they’d had a few months to prepare for this situation.  

Their advice? “Keep challenging yourself on the what-ifs,” said Jeff. They agreed that there is a responsibility for certain leaders in an organization to consider different scenarios and make the right decisions and investments to be ready to react.  

At the same time, Lester explained, the shift to cloud-based tools at Softchoice played a key part in reducing the stress on known potential failure points in the infrastructure.  

Furthermore, they advanced the notion that being able to work anywhere, anytime and on any device extends well beyond emergency preparedness. “It’s a cultural work shift and expectation of younger people entering the workplace today,” explained Lester.  

“I think if organizations start to think that way, it will open the possibility of reducing their dependency on a single physical work space.”

Where to Start with Remote Work 

In an unexpected event, complexity and confusion threaten to impede the return to business-as-usual. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you identify, deploy and adopt the right approach to support your users for all-remote work.   

The Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop is a structured workshop addressing the most common end-user enablement challenges organizations might face during times of work interruption.  The session assesses your readiness to support remote work, pinpoints gaps and identifies requirements. Each workshop is facilitated by an End User Productivity Journey Architect, a highly tenured expert in helping organizations to define and enable modern collaboration and workplace strategies. 

Explore the Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop