COVID-19 is easily one of the most disruptive events the world has seen in years short of economic bubble busts. Businesses in Singapore have had to adjust to the circuit-breaker policies and cope with workforces suddenly having to work from home.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is by no means over at the time of writing, organizations have at least managed to adjust to the reality of operating in an environment where social distancing and working from home are the new normal and we’re always one cluster away from another lockdown. Which raises the obvious question: how confident are they in their ability to cope with next COVID-level disruption?
A new survey commissioned by Fujitsu in partnership with Jicara Media (the publisher of SMEhorizon) put that question to Singapore organizations across a wide range of industries, and the answer is: pretty confident. The survey results were shared in conjunction with Fujitsu ActivateNow, Fujitsu’s first ever global flagship thought-leadership digital event.
Mr Motohiko Uno, President, Fujitsu Asia said: “The Government’s Smart Nation drive over the years has injected confidence among businesses to remain relatively unruffled in the face of one of the world’s biggest crises. The pandemic spotlighted DX’s role as a necessity to help organisations stay resilient in the face of major disruptions, and the importance of safe-guarding the security aspect of data, network and cloud platforms. Yet the future-proofing of businesses goes far beyond protocols and technology – organisations need to transform in ways that ensure that both employees and customers trust the outcome, a key pillar in successful DX strategies.”
According to the survey – which asked respondents to tell us how prepared they were for the next big disruption on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being “very prepared”) – 84% rated their preparedness level at 6 or above, which expresses at least a modicum of confidence in their readiness. Close to half of respondents (47%) rated their preparedness between 8 and 10.
Much of that confidence has to do with the fact they had just survived a trial by fire, and the lessons learned from COVID-19 will undoubtedly inform their preparations for the next big disruption. However, the survey also found that while COVID-19 had the greatest impact on daily operations, other aspects of businesses remained largely unruffled – particularly when it came to digital transformation (DX) initiatives. Priorities and IT/DX budgets were readjusted, and things like collaboration and remote working were bumped to the forefront of BCP plans. But organizations struggling to keep their businesses operational didn’t do so at the expense of their DX goals.
DX initiatives: stirred but not shaken
The majority of respondents (63%) said their approach to DX hasn’t changed at all since COVID-19 kicked in, whether they’ve been relying on third-party vendors and outsourcing, or in-sourcing most of their DX initiatives. Only 24% said they were increasing their in-house initiatives, while 13% said they were using more third-party vendors.
In fact, COVID-19 only affected DX initiatives in two key ways: priorities and budget.
Actually, the top IT/DX priorities for Singapore organizationsbefore and after the arrival of COVID-19 only shifted in one key aspect: remote working. Prior to COVID-19, the top three DX priorities were security, cloud and data analytics. Afterwards, security remains the top priority – and in fact ranks slightly higher than it did pre-COVID. However, remote working leaped into the second spot, bumping cloud and data analytics down one notch each to the third and the fourth spots.
As for budgets, about one in three respondents reported no change in their IT/DX budget. For the rest, the answers are across the board – almost 27% said their budget had been reallocated, while 22% saw a decrease in budget and 17% reported an increase. For the most part, few organizations are cutting back funding for IT/DX, but some are rethinking how to allocate it.
While most of the organizations we surveyed have managed to stay on track with their DX strategies (with minor adjustments) amid the pandemic, COVID-19 has of course hit them hard in other areas. Ironically, one result was the painful but useful benefit of working out which parts of their businesses were more vulnerable – and actually served as a proof-of-concept of why DX is worth the investment in the first place.
According to our survey, in terms of resilience, various businesses placed high priority on two key areas: minimizing downtime to maintain maximum customer availability, and adapting their business model to the reality of the circuit-breaker measures. Yet they also reported that some departments were impacted more than others – 45% of respondents cited business operations as the department most severely impacted in terms of operational disruption. Lines of business was a fairly distant second (22%), followed by sales and marketing (21%). For back-office departments like IT, HR, procurement and accounting & finance, the impact has been relatively negligible.
However, while IT departments weren’t severely impacted, IT managers certainly had their work cut out for them. The most commonly cited IT challenge was collaboration (26%) as businesses found themselves in need of remote workforces. By no coincidence, security was a close second (23%), as security is one of the key challenges for setting up and maintaining a remote workforce, especially for employees that need to access sensitive company data from the office LAN.
Complexity makes resilience harder
We asked organizations to tell us the three biggest challenges they face in building resilience into their business, and the answers were intriguing because the challenges most commonly cited are the challenges that DX initiatives are designed to solve.
Over half of respondents (almost 53%) said workflow and process complexity was their top challenge. Notably, security concerns ranked a very close second at 49%, which reflects the reality that these two challenges are interconnected.
Legacy technology was the third most popular challenge to resiliency (37%), which is related to the top two challenges in that legacy tech is often a key contributor to that complexity. Whether it’s because some employees are too used to the old systems and processes, or because it’s cheaper to leave it there rather than rip everything out and upgrade it, many organizations are often stuck with legacy gear that has to be incorporated with whatever new IT is added later.
Other common challenges to resilience include business continuity protocols (33%), company culture (32%), HR and people issues (32%) and vision / foresight of leadership (29%). Each of these are also (or should be) key to any decent DX strategy. Agility isn’t just about digital platforms in the cloud – it’s about the employees and the corporate culture in which they are expected to perform, as well as the ability of leadership to encourage their transformation.
All of this suggests that the organizations expressing confidence in their ability to handle the next big disruption are doing so at least in part because they have managed to stay on track with their DX initiatives. COVID-19 has shown in no uncertain terms that agility and flexibility are key survival skills well beyond having to compete with digital-first upstarts.
However, as noted above, COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a role in reshuffling priorities and identifying opportunities to a degree – particularly remote working, which is now much higher on the DX ‘to-do’ list. It’s also a key pillar in many resilience strategies moving forward.
We asked respondents to name their top three priorities in future-proofing themselves against the next COVID-level disruption – working from home (WFH) is of the highest priority (55%), lending credence to theories that WFH will be the ‘new normal’ for many companies – perhaps not all the time for every employee, but it will be a more common option for employees than it was before.
Better business continuity planning ranks second (41%), followed closely by collaboration (almost 40%).
Staying on track with DX initiatives will certainly help in the long run. COVID-19 has demonstrated that the flexibility and agility enabled by DX are necessary survival skills to weather major business disruptions, whether they come from global pandemics or digital upstarts taking a wrecking ball to your business paradigm.