As the business climate begins to show signs of recovery moving into 2021, experts share their insights on where companies can focus their attention in order to leverage the momentum of the new year.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance for businesses to digitalise, whether to build resilience in their existing processes, weather shocks brought on by unforeseen circumstances, or seize the new opportunities that arise.
Says Ho Chye Soon, Singapore country manager, Nutanix, “Regardless of how far they lagged behind pre-COVID-19, countries and businesses alike will be pushed to a new level of digitization in the coming 12 months. Every organization will have to rethink their model – even if we snapped back to how things were (which we won’t), our environment and peoples’ expectations have changed.
“To cope, even the most brittle organizations will need to embrace agility,” he emphasises, highlighting that Singapore has increased FY2020 ICT spend by 30%, with a focus on modernizing government ICT infrastructure and accelerating the adoption of data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors within the public sector.
The importance of digitalisation will change the nature of roles within a company, particularly that of the CIO. Says Ho, “previously, digitization was the priority of the CIO but not given then same level of attention by the CEO or the rest of the C-Suite. This changed rapidly with the onset of the pandemic when finally, the enabling power of digital transformation was recognized across the business. It will remain a top priority throughout 2021, when having the right level of digital ability will continue to be vital for business agility and survival.
“As a result, the CIO will become more prominent in business decisioning and leadership, with their tech investments having been validated in a big way. The shift of IT from a cost center to a key business driver will accelerate. Every business is now a technology business, even if they don’t realize it yet.”
For companies thinking about where to start, Ng Li Lian, HSBC Singapore’s Head of Business Banking, highlights the possibilities in digital banking and payments. “Singapore has made a concerted effort to encourage digital payment adoption and many businesses have taken the leap to digitally transition from taking businesses online and establish digital payments,” she says.
“This has given rise to benefits including to provide significant cost savings in automating treasury functions, improving the customer experience, providing a better overview of cash flow and working capital as well as improving security. Through the Navigator report, it was found that SMEs will have to inevitably continue embracing digitalisation for business resilience, in order to reap benefits such as better overview and management of cash flow along with improved customer experience and security.”
In an increasingly interconnected global economy, resilient companies are those that will survive crises from any quarter. Ng highlights how the COVID-19 crisis has driven changes in how SMEs manage their supply change. “26% of SMEs cited making changes to their supply chains to make it more resilient, along with 29% citing increasing collaboration with industry partners and peers as a strategy to take to benefit from growth drivers,” she says.
“SMEs should be thinking about the longer term and where possible, take the opportunity to secure supply chain efficiencies to lower operational costs, free up working capital and allow for better connections with suppliers, customers and employees.”
At the same time, this would be a good opportunity to ensure sustainability in these supply chains, as the world becomes more environmentally conscious. Says Ng “As consumers and multinational businesses alike become more conscious of their environmental impact, there is more emphasis on transparency in sourcing policies and developing sustainable supply chains.
“Many SMEs have sought to improve sustainability to boost productivity and cost savings for suppliers and also drive business growth by accessing alternative finance such as HSBC’s green loans.”
Ho also discusses resilience but in terms of long term strategizing. “Organizations will learn to take the long-term view and avoid being locked into something that next quarter might not work, if the world suddenly looks completely different.”
“If there’s one thing organizations should take from 2020 and apply to their 2021 strategies, it’s this: Disruptive change is inevitable. Flexibility and adaptability need to be core to business thinking,” he concludes.
As digitalisation and resilience push companies towards technological solutions, cybersecurity remains a pertinent concern. According to Rick McElroy, Principal Cybersecurity Strategist, VMware Carbon Black, mobile devices are likely to be highly targeted in the future.
“Cybercriminals for the last few years generally worked to infiltrate an organization’s network. This is because once they were able to gain access inside they could easily execute a ransomware attack that affected the entire network, causing downtime and eventually a surrender and ransomware pay-out. With that said, the art of penetrating into these secure networks takes time, resources and expertise, which hackers continue to prove they have.
“But, with a remote workforce comes new challenges as employees use personal devices to review sensitive information and work. At no fault of their own, employees that are working remotely open up an organization to major vulnerabilities because these mobile devices are much easier for attackers to exploit.
In 2021, we will see cybercriminals become more sophisticated in how they attack our mobile devices, ultimately executing an island-hopping scenario. If hackers can get into your Android or iPhone, they’ll then be able to enter your work network whether it’s deactivating VPNs or breaking down firewalls,” he warns.
Discussing how companies will respond, McElroy suggests that companies will roll out new mobile device policies and infrastructure to allow workers to continue working remotely but with greater awareness of the risks these devices pose and how to protect themselves and the organization at large.
“Additionally, a large part of these policies will center around software updates and patches, ensuring that all personal devices are up to date in order to fend off attackers who have already figured out how to hack into previous software versions.”
However, while there are new threats in this technological landscape, the COVID-19 crisis has helped strengthen defender confidence. Continues McElroy, “In 2020, COVID-19 put organizations’ security posture to the test and exposed areas of weakness that can be attributed to the overnight digital transformation many organizations had to make.
“But while many are quick to point out the doomsday scenarios some companies faced, there wasn’t enough emphasis on the fact that security tools and processes are working. Defender technology, whether geared towards endpoint, network or the application layer, is doing the job it is designed to do, and that’s no small feat.
“In 2021, we’ll continue to see security teams being empowered and working closely with leaders in the organization. As IT and security continue to work together to enable business continuity, we’ll see the negative and stereotypical narrative around the two teams working poorly together quickly fade into the background.
“More tools geared towards end-users will come to light, also contributing to less friction between security and IT departments,” he concludes.