Disruption: In business, disruption is an innovation that creates a new market by providing a different set of values, which overtakes or displaces an existing market.
Over the past decade we have witnessed technology-driven disruption in many sectors of industry across the globe, from the early disruptors such as Netflix, AirBnB, and Uber to more recent customer-centric, nimble digital or neo-banks (Up, Judo, Volt) who have truly disrupted conservative banking institutions. In the past few years many enterprises have responded by beginning their own unique journeys of digital business transformation in order to regain market share, create new customer-centric digital channels or, minimally, to avoid further competitive erosion.
Today we are faced with a different type of industry disruption – a global, social-economic disruption stemming from the Coronavirus pandemic (CV-19), an event we have not experienced in our lifetimes.
The economic impact of CV-19 can be likened to that of the GFC of 2008-2009, which it may surpass. While the GFC was caused by severe economic failure that led to global social disruption, CV-19 has disrupted the fabric of our social structure, cascading into the economic crisis facing the world today.
This article examines our recent norms of digital business, how these have changed, and what the critical success factors are to ensure continued productivity and innovation in today’s New Remote Ways of Working (NRWOW). It also questions how these practices may influence a new norm after CV-19.
It is not an easy or conscience-free paper to write when looking at CV-19 statistics of more than two million cases, billions enduring a global lockdown, and fatalities surpassing 100,000. However, people and business must come out of the other side of this crisis better prepared and eager to contribute to a strong individual, socially collective, overall industry recovery.
Topics include people and culture, infrastructure and technology, security and data privacy, business processes, and the important cultural changes that nearly overnight required a pivot in business priorities and operational processes to adapt to New Remote Ways of Working (NRWOW) in order to remain competitively significant.
Has the CV-19 pandemic really changed these previously disruptive digital strategies? Have businesses reassessed risks to validate their priorities for digital initiatives, and have already pivoted to this new ‘norm’ in today’s markets and economies? For most business probably, if not definitely.
Like many global businesses, Planit has not been immune to CV-19 impacts. However, with a diversified client, cross-industry base and a tested, proven Business Continuity Plan (BCP), the impact has been less severe than it might otherwise have been. This is not an article on BCP solutions. Businesses that had them fared better than those who did not; some businesses did not survive. Perhaps post-CV19, when a sense of normalcy returns would be a more appropriate time to discuss if and how Planit could help.
We can, however, draw some preliminary conclusions about digital trends and practices since the outbreak. Preliminary because while the CV-19 curves appear to be flattening in many countries, it is reasonably certain there will be no ‘V’ shaped rebound and fast return to prior normalcy. Instead predictions point to an elongated ‘U’ timeline, the length and breadth of the return to be determined, which will vary by geography and industry.
Disruption & New Ways of Working (pre-CV19)
The digital business transformation period saw the introduction of many agile methods (SAFe, NWOW), test automation frameworks, continuous delivery toolchains, cloud adoption, DevOps practices, and continuous flow processes. These collective components drove digital success, to deliver faster, higher quality software and provide for a more frequent, powerful customer experience.
Innovations such as intelligent automation, AI, RPA and big data have not only contributed to these speed and value to market goals but also provided timely and accurate data for extensive business analytics. These analytics have, in turn, enabled digital channels to move faster and to quickly pivot in response to market dynamics, customer trends, feedback and purchasing patterns.
Simultaneously, many organisations have embraced an omni-channel approach, providing a consistent and timely customer experience across online, in-store, and call centre support channels. Benefits realised include improved brand reputation, customer loyalty and retention.
Retail and other industries with the foresight to execute their digital journeys, in many cases held or gained market share despite reduced bricks and mortar revenue caused by CV-19. Moreover, companies ahead of the digital business curve have further disrupted those who lacked the agility to quickly pivot and adjust to the additional impacts caused by CV-19.
In Australia, perhaps no retailer exhibits some of these digital success traits more than JB Hi-Fi. Similar to Bunnings, who also established a strong and successful digital and physical sales delivery model, JB Hi-Fi built on its distinctive logo, brand recognition and focus on a positive customer experience due to well-trained, product-savvy staff. It then leveraged technology to boost its engagement with customers and build a successful digital online platform. Myer, an icon better associated with a positive in-store experience clearly had very disappointing sales for the first half 2020 reporting, yet digital online revenue grew by more than 25%.
New digital transformation initiatives embraced people and culture through new ways of working, implementing new technologies, and succeeding through fast feedback loops and feedback from system and customer metrics. Additionally, optimised business systems and processes contributed to increasing speed and value delivered to the customer. Elements of these new ways of working to achieve successful digital solutions and business transformation are summarised below.
Agile methods and frameworks, SAFe practices and new ways of working brought significant cultural change, enabling business to build omni digital channels or to undertake enterprise-wide transformation. Small, multi-disciplined teams were program-funded to prioritise and drive customer- and value-focused features and digital capabilities for an enhanced UX.
Accelerated software delivery was achieved through test automation frameworks. Adoption of shift-left strategies to embed non-functional requirements such as security and performance earlier into the development lifecycle further reduced the cost of quality caused by rework and remediation later in the lifecycle or post-production. Quality assurance and testing practices also matured, with the adoption of BDD and TDD methods to validate business and technical accuracy early in the development cycle.
DevOps practices were often embraced to optimise developer workflows and automation to support continuous build, test, and deployment through integrated end-to-end toolchains. DevOps practices were adopted to reduce technical debt and waste, improve performance monitoring to capture metrics for analysis of the customer experience, and bring operational requirements and technical readiness into the digital value streams.
Digital speed was also bolstered by increased adoption of open toolsets and cloud technologies that removed many of the legacy constraints of commercial tools and the wait times associated with on-prem server provisioning. Open tools and self-service cloud provisioning also provided a cost-effective, on-demand capability and elasticity to scale-up or down cloud components.
However, many industries also needed to support larger, back-end ERP systems of record. Digital initiatives led to rapid adoption of API’s to support new systems of engagement, removing many of the legacy constraints of ERP customisation and maintenance. Greenfield projects unencumbered with back-end systems jumped straight into open toolsets, microservices, containers and cloud.
Disruption & New Remote Ways of Working (NRWOW)
CV-19 has clearly impacted, if not devastated, industries such as travel, hospitality, retail, restaurants and leisure. Meanwhile banking, financial services, insurance, telcos, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, supply chains, and to an extent government have, in general, fared better.
For many industries, digital and transformation initiatives may have stalled or proceeded more cautiously under NRWOW operating models. Alternative digital approaches include descoping less value features to maintain delivery dates, or pivoting to more flexible capabilities of service providers for digital quality assurance services, offshore resourcing and Crowd testing solutions, which can be used in bounded sprints and turned on and off at a business discretion.
NRWOW introduced several new paradigms to the prior normal way of working. It clearly had to address topics of people and culture and be enabled by infrastructure and technology.
Security, compliance, and data privacy have become priority elements for business continuity in a NRWOW state, as remote access is required for systems, customer data and intellectual property (IP), outside of normal on-premise firewalls and control policies.
Infrastructure, software, bandwidth, device availability and enhanced business processes are equal priorities to effectively move in-office or at-client people to a remote work-from-home state. A well-tested BCP and associated communication channels can enable the rapid and seamless transition of a global workforce.
NRWOW requires organisations to implement a workforce policy governing compliance and data privacy for every employee’s understanding and acknowledgement. Automation is required to audit devices and activities, including review for accidental downloads, email activity and unauthorised usage. Although somewhat invasive it is of utmost importance for NRWOW operations. Multi-factor authentication technology should be in place to strengthen security, particularly to protect internal IP.
These elements have become the new normal in NRWOW. They help in maintaining productivity, strengthening security, and ensuring data privacy, thereby minimising business risk and preventing issues before they occur.
Many organisations who had not adopted lean, agile, SAFe and mature quality engineering practices prior to CV-19 experienced increased disruption, adding complexity to the adjustments necessary for NRWOW operating practices and continuity of digital initiatives. While these challenges already existed, they were magnified by the events following CV-19.
The success factors for digital business have not changed. However, people and cultural aspects certainly change in a NRWOW state, as well as the priority that must be given to technology enablement.
Culturally, we must recognise that when removed from an office environment people lose a sense of team camaraderie and bonding. As time passes in a NRWOW state, these changes can have a detrimental effect on both physical and mental well-being and productivity.
Effective infrastructure and technology has enabled our New Remote Ways of Working. Our experiences and learnings to date from secure video conferencing have revealed the healthy love people have for animals, the attention that children crave during stand-up calls, and many enjoyable meeting distractions to trace household background noises. While minor events, they have helped bring our people even closer to their teammates.
Of course, downsides do exist. Some home environments are not as conducive to remote working. Some individuals thrive more in a close working environment. Parents and students competing for bandwidth can also cause unforeseen conflicts.
Made easier with mature agile practices, NRWOW requires short team stand-up calls each morning and evening to ensure everyone is aligned with team and project goals and tasks, discuss work planned, potential impediments, and to request assistance as needed.
Frequent executive communication is particularly important, which should include topics of personal understanding, business status and health, company news around CV-19 developments and NRWOW guidance. Daily phone calls from regional managers generate positivity, not possible through emails or ‘team chat’. Video social hours and online team games across time zones also contribute to well-being for individuals and teams.
Finally, these New Remote Ways of Working provide businesses with the opportunity to take a breath and review investment in new digital or other initiatives, such as building new products and solutions that would strengthen and contribute to better market positioning on the other side of CV-19. This is something that we took on-board, establishing the Planit Global Hub, pooling our skilled global resources to focus on new innovations and development of quality engineering accelerators, assets and solutions to complement existing services.
What will our way of working look like after CV-19 restrictions are gradually lifted? Will some of the benefits and lessons learned from NRWOW be advantageous in defining a ‘new normal’? Answers to those questions and countless others are already being pondered by scientists, industry leaders and behavioural experts across the globe.
Global digital initiatives must and will continue for business in practically all industries. The business gains made in revenue, market share and customer retention are substantial and proven. Leveraging the benefits from NRWOW practices will serve as an additional foundation to build on, over and above the prior ways of working.
As an Agile organisation, we were well positioned to pivot to the meet the market, mobilising our workforce and enabling fully remote delivery of our services and training. While many aspects of this paper were based on market research, much has also been derived from our experience at Planit. I would encourage anyone who is facing challenges with adapting their operations to these New Remote Ways of Working to get in touch.