How businesses can plan for what comes next
The COVID-19 pandemic unsettled business as usual for many industries, and it forced a rethink of what it means to be agile and prepared to meet unexpected challenges.
Ways of working changed overnight, and this was followed closely by shifts in customer behaviours and stakeholder expectations.
Now, almost a year after a pandemic was declared, businesses are getting a chance to evaluate the change that was forced upon them and make a positive plan for their future.
The problem is: many things don’t work like they used to, and nobody knows exactly what the future of business will look like.
As Max Howe, General Manager Enterprise Engagement at nbn, said: “Whatever the playbook was on how to be a successful business – it’s gone out the window.”
“There’s now no one singular way of doing things, and businesses have had to adapt on the fly to the changes they were seeing in their industry, with their customer base and market shifts,” he added.
“Now that things have stabilised a bit, it’s an opportunity to ask if we want things to go back to the way they were.”
If that’s the case, what can businesses do now to help them better prepare for the uncertainty ahead?
A focus on future connectivity
Digital transformation is not a new concept, but it has historically been hard for some businesses to gain momentum behind their efforts.
A 2018 Capgemini study found that it takes most companies (59 per cent) longer than two years to realise the benefits of their digital transformation. The past year has helped change that, with business leaders, employees, stakeholders, customers and clients all embracing digital change and new ways of working.
Although there are many factors that supported the acceleration to virtual environments, companies with digital transformation strategies supported by flexible, resilient, high-capacity digital infrastructure were in some ways better able to cope with the sudden shift. This strong foundation could also see some businesses better prepared to harness new trends to their advantage.
The digital and physical worlds are further merging, and this is causing the boundaries between different types of businesses and industries to be less clearly delineated.
Remote work is no longer an exception, and digital twins – virtual replicas of physical things – are becoming commonplace. Predictive analytics and access to real-time data are helping businesses better keep pace with sudden swings in demand or supply chain disruptions.
As the Australian business community begins to think through what these changes mean for the future, more and more companies will need to explore how they can continue to use technology to connect to the market, their customers and their teams in a more compelling, authentic and engaging way.
Although the next few years will be characterised by uncertainty, there are several considerations that businesses can leverage for a better chance of success.
Flexible working will be a competitive advantage
For future businesses, remote working will no longer be a ‘nice to have’.
A survey from Boston Consulting Group found two-thirds of people want a hybrid workplace; however, the same survey found many companies aren’t confident in their ability to meet this demand.
Companies that work to offer a seamless flexible working experience through enhanced remote access, easy-to-use remote tools and an inclusive working culture might find it easier to attract and retain talent.
To achieve this, businesses will need to think about how they can invest in building greater flexibility, scalability and – ultimately – resilience into their network strategy.
“The pandemic didn’t necessarily bring that on, but it definitely accelerated this need,” says Max.
“What’s going to be crucial for businesses going forward is how they enable this.”
Implementing technologies like software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), which can help facilitate more simplified, agile and scalable business network environments, have already helped some companies through this transition period, Max added.
“It’s much more empowering for organisations because they have more control over their network environment.”
Competition among digital vendors has intensified
With the initial network rollout complete^, and a fibre-based connection now accessible to the majority of Australian businesses, the nbn™ network has helped to democratise high-speed digital connectivity.
This becomes incredibly important as businesses look to access the best services and applications to support their digital transformation agendas, says Max.
“Historical behaviour has been to procure all of your capabilities from the least number of providers.
“Now, many providers can utilise the democratised fibre access network. That in itself opens up who can provide your security, who can provide the software-defined networking components, data management and more. It moves further into an as-a-service model."
This means more businesses can pick and choose a suite of vendors that exactly suit their needs, rather than sticking to the one or few that, while not the right fit, are easy due to economies of scale.
Security will be crucial
The pandemic highlighted some of the security gaps in companies’ digital infrastructure, says Max, especially as businesses rapidly switched to all-remote workforces and more consumer behaviour shifted to online.
Cybersecurity is already a significant part of most companies’ IT spend, and this will continue to rise as digital plays an even more central role in the way businesses operate.
Now, security is going through its own transformation, says Max, and businesses are rethinking their approach to measures like Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to facilitate an anywhere, anytime workforce.
“This will be a pretty exciting space and a hot topic for organisations of all sizes going forward.”
Preparing for post-COVID uncertainty
While the pandemic has rapidly accelerated trends that were already underway, it has also been the catalyst for new ideas and new ways of working.
There might still be many surprises as this pandemic plays out, but it’s becoming clear that digital will be critical to the future success of many businesses.
To be well positioned for change and smooth the path through future uncertainty, companies need to consider how they can leverage a future ready network foundation to help enable the agility and flexibility required to stay responsive to what comes next.