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Five Tech Strategies In An Inflationary Environment

Simon Edwards is Chief Financial Officer for ServiceMax

UK Government turmoil, warnings from the IMF, rising inflation, the war in Ukraine and spiralling energy costs continue to have a big impact on the global economic outlook, compounding an already difficult overhang created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, central banks are scrambling to reverse the impact of over a decade of of fiscal stimulus, while talent shortages and logistics constraints are disrupting supply chains, resulting in multi-year inflation highs.

Gartner’s recent forecast shows CFOs believe technology is at the very heart of competitiveness and viability, with 78% planning to maintain or increase technology spend – even if inflation persists through 2023. Admittedly, it can be tempting to cut tech spend in the face of global retraction. Yet scaling back on digital transformation initiatives in the face of inflation is the wrong approach. Leading digital organisations have a lower cost of doing business and thus a significant competitive advantage in the current inflationary environment. There’s a strong argument that now is the time to invest in technology as it helps businesses to do more with less.

Technology is now so fundamental to enterprises that how CFOs and CIOs manage tech spend and implementation over the next year could significantly impact success or failure.

As the CFO remit expands, we can and should do more than simply keep the lights on in the face of current inflationary trends. I’ve outlined five key technology strategies below from the CFO perspective.

Workforce Empowerment and Enablement

More traditional CFOs may feel a little uneasy about the post-pandemic trend of hybrid working but the reality is that talent models are evolving quickly. Skills gaps in increasingly digital organisations can lead to inefficiencies and poor productivity. Understanding that a workforce, now attracting older, tech-savvy Gen Zers has a different view on how they want to work and how they use technology at work.

Every organisation will need to navigate working flexibility and empowerment, to address shortages but also to drive performance. Collaboration tools, remote access, cyber security and centralised customer and product data capabilities will be crucial to enabling employees regardless of location and role.

As McKinsey said recently in a blog; “successful organizations deliberately create a flexible culture by developing leaders who foster outcome-oriented performance, trust and togetherness, and team engagement and problem solving.” Insisting employees are physically in the office and working strict office hours runs counter to the realities of today’s reality.

Data Creation and Retention

Data is crucial to enterprise costs, value creation and staff retention. Whether it’s structured or unstructured, it is essential for understanding customers, managing supply chains and inventory and providing intelligence on the business and its key markets. Smart use of data models can lead to increased operational efficiencies, personalization of products and services and opportunities to unlock growth.

The challenge for CFOs is to understand where to focus. As futurist Bernard Marr suggests, every organisation needs to evaluate its data use through different lenses. Does your data help your firm improve evidence-based decision-making, understand your customers and markets better, enable smarter products and services, improve internal processes and add additional revenue by monetising data?

It’s also worth noting that for many CFOs, data problems lurk beneath the surface. Accuracy and compatibility Are paramount when it comes to measuring performance across different departments and sources. It’s a common problem and needs addressing before it does material harm to the business.

Scale the Cloud

As the cost of capital rises, increasingly CFOs want to be able to point to a near-term payback for net new investments. Organisations need to look to retire on-premises environments and scale their cloud operations based on demand to reduce capital expenditure burden and also to ensure the most bang for their buck.

The trend towards cloud infrastructure is well documented – research firm Forrester claims over half of European IT decision makers see cloud modernisation as a top priority – and the cost benefits, although occasionally criticised due to rising monthly costs, still outweigh the capital investment required for physical internal infrastructures. In short, scaling cloud investment makes a lot of sense for growing businesses or those looking to enable a more distributed workforce.

Software-as-a-Service is a Must

As McKinsey says in a recent article, “there’s a lot to like about SaaS. For one thing, the asset-light nature of SaaS means it has lower overhead and logistical costs than physical products. Second, it frees traditional companies from doing some of the most complicated technical work by themselves—they can partner with major cloud service providers. And third, since software at its core is a series of 1s and 0s, it’s easy to scale, especially when combined with the cloud’s extensibility and elasticity.”

Of course, it’s even better if that software is actually built for use in the cloud. Cloud-native applications can take full advantage of the scale, resiliency and flexibility the cloud provides. For CFOs looking to maximise impact for minimum outlay, that is surely a must.

Back-office Automation

It makes sense for any organisation, if not doing so already, to explore how automating some functions in the back office can help improve processes, cover skills gaps and increase efficiencies. Using technologies, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI-enabled data analytics will provide enterprises with more intelligence for forecasting and planning, more efficient and transparent transactions and more effective use of employee skills and time. It should enable employees to focus on creating more business value.

Gartner’s Finance practice cites automation of back-office workflows as being key to achieving efficiency gains across finance areas, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable and internal IT services, such as helpdesk support. When margins are under pressure in a cash-constrained environment, the urgency to improve productivity in these areas is heightened even more.

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Business

Five Enterprise Storage Trends for 2023: Vendors must rise to the challenge

Author: Eric Herzog, Chief Marketing Officer at Infinidat

Looking ahead, 2023 will be a very exciting year for enterprise storage, here are 5 trends we see emerging. In each case vendors will need to respond quickly with the right solutions, but do they have the right foundations in place to do so?

#1: Convergence of cybersecurity and storage as a cornerstone of an enterprise IT strategy

CIOs and CISOs continue to increasingly realise that, if they don’t combine storage with cybersecurity, they’re leaving a gap in their corporate cybersecurity strategy. IT leaders are accustomed to protecting the network and endpoints, deploying firewalls and looking at the application layer. However, all of their data ends up on storage. The great awakening in the enterprise market, heading into the new year, is that, if an enterprise storage solution does not have the capabilities to help combat a cyberattack, the C-suite and the IT team are leaving the organisation severely exposed. The trend emerging is for storage that is buoyed by cyber resilience to be part of the overall comprehensive cybersecurity strategy in every large organisation.

This means vendors must – if they don’t already – offer storage solutions that perfectly align with cybersecurity solutions and strategies commonly used to protect enterprises, as well as cloud hosting providers, managed hosting providers and managed service providers. It will require a vendor and its partners to work closely with CIOs and CISOs, along with other IT leaders and administrators, to make cyber resilient storage a key part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, plugging vulnerable gaps and securing the data against cyberattacks.

#2: Boosting the ability to make a near-instantaneous recovery from a cyberattack with the highest level of trust in the data

The question is not “if” your organisation is going to be hit with a cyberattack; it’s a question of “when” and “how often.” Your organisation will get attacked, and it could get attacked multiple times. At that point, it’s a matter of how you respond to that attack. Cyber resilience is among the most important and highly demanded requirements of enterprises today to combat cyberattacks across the entire storage estate and data infrastructure.

Even if your endpoint or your network security keeps the cyber criminals out once or twice, there will surely be times when they get through. When that happens, one of the critical things for an IT team is to get a known good copy of the data and make a speedy recovery. It’s crucial to use an immutable snapshot of the data to ensure that the data has not been compromised. In other words, the data can be trusted. Finding a known good copy is done by curating the potential candidates to restore in a fenced forensic environment. The last thing you want to do is just start restoring data that has malware or ransomware infiltrated within it.

Vendors will need to offer solutions that combine immutable snapshots of data, a fenced forensic environment, logical air gapping, and virtually instantaneous data recovery – ideally with a rock-solid cyber storage guaranteed SLA. Once a cybercriminal gets through an enterprise’s line of defense, it’s all about resilience and recoverability of the data, building on a known good copy of the data. A cyber resilient storage infrastructure helps you more easily identify threats with automation and put data into a safe, fenced forensic environment. The cyberattack is nullified.

#3: Harnessing the capability of anomalous pattern detection to do cyber scanning on secondary storage

We’re seeing a trend emerging more broadly in 2023 around cyber scanning with the ability to do anomalous pattern detection, particularly on secondary storage. In the longer term, we see an expansion onto primary storage over the next 2-3 years. This cyber scanning is another tool in the storage admin’s tool bag, along with cyber resilience, to be proactively strengthening the data infrastructure to handle the ever-increasing sophistication and deceptiveness of cyberattacks. Whether for money, power or perverse entertainment, these attacks are designed to take down your business.

Vendors will need to provide anomalous pattern detection capability, possibly through partnerships with backup vendors as part of a wider ecosystem. This is an evolving area of technology and it gives customers the ability to do scanning on secondary storage, adding further value for enterprise customers and partners.

#4: Growing demand for ease of deploying cyber storage, resilience, and advanced security technologies

Enterprises and service providers are increasingly seeking easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use solutions that meet their needs for cyber storage resilience and integrated security technologies. They want not only automation, but also the next level up with autonomous automation. End-users don’t want complex set-ups anymore. They want to be able to quickly and efficiently access forensic environments, and when it comes to recovery of data, they expect two or three clicks, and then be done with it.

Vendors will need to respond with a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ approach to cyber storage, offering advanced technology that is also easy to deploy and use.

#5: Cyber resilience is being recognized as necessary for both primary and secondary storage as a safeguard against cyberattacks and internal threats

People often think that cyber storage resilience is only about backing up data. That’s not true. Cyber storage resilience is more than backup. This is an important distinction that speaks to a trend for the next year because smart cyber criminals won’t only attack your secondary datasets, like backup, but also attack your primary datasets. In recognition of this reality, enterprises and service providers are heading into the new year injecting new levels of cyber storage resilience into both their primary and secondary storage environments. There is a shift in the enterprise market starting to happen from being reactive – waiting for the cyber criminals to attack and then doing something about it – to proactively prepare for recovery, likened to disaster recovery. Companies usually have elaborate disaster recovery plans and business continuity measures. There is a growing awareness that “cyber disaster plans” need to be put in place with the right set of capabilities to initiate and execute rapid recovery.

Vendors need to help customers rethink their approaches to cyber storage resilience, shifting approach reactive to proactive. Cyber storage resilience enables an enterprise to nullify a ransomware attack, as if the attack didn’t even happen. No ransom, no disruption and full protection against attacks.

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Business

The power of a proactive customer service

Source: Finance Derivative

By Delia Pedersoli, COO, MultiPay

2023 is shaping up to be another challenging period for B2C businesses. While the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has for now largely disappeared, new challenges like the cost-of-living crisis have arrived. As economic uncertainty impacts every consumer business from retail to travel and leisure experiences, service providers and suppliers must double down on their customer service to help clients through these challenging times. One area of customer service that is particularly important – and often overlooked – is proactivity.

A move to a more proactive customer service approach should not come at the expense of reactive measures. Regardless of how well-prepared customer service teams are and how detailed processes are, there will always be unforeseen and unexpected issues that need to be addressed. But by working in tandem, B2B service providers can deliver the service that customers now expect.

In recent years, the landscape has changed. Customers expect proactivity and for suppliers to understand what they want. Data from Salesforce that covered both consumers and business customers identified that two-thirds of respondents expect the suppliers they buy from to understand their needs and expectations. Not only this, but those that do take a proactive approach to customer service see a full point increase in their NPS.

Delivering a first-class proactive customer service is therefore a key requirement for businesses wanting to build and develop long-term relationships with their customers. However, for many businesses, it can be hard to know what to focus on and improve to attain the proactivity required. At MultiPay we have made proactivity a core part of our customer service, which has allowed us to identify several important factors.

A proactive process

The first area to focus on is getting close to customers. The more you know about a customer, how their business works, what the goals are and where there are challenges all helps in identifying areas to support with a proactive customer service. A good method to structure these insights is to conduct a SWOT analysis. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities of a client helps identify areas that may need support soon. On top of this, it is important to invest time in speaking with clients. Not only will this help with the SWOT, but it can also highlight areas for operational improvements. Speaking with people from across the business allows you to truly get under its skin.

Knowledge is power when it comes to enhancing the proactivity of customer service. In addition to getting under the skin of a business, it is also important to understand its industry inside and out. Staying on top of key trends, themes, and issues affecting a client’s industry and sector helps with remaining on the front foot. Recently at MultiPay, we experienced a scenario that brought this home, working with one of Europe’s largest tourism operators, The Travel Corporation (TTC) which needed to bounce back quickly following the Covid-19 pandemic. With consumers excited to travel again, TTC needed a customer service and payments solution that could quickly scale and support its on-the-move workforce of travel directors. Working closely with TTC’s team along with monitoring the news and industry trends like the lifting of travel restrictions we were able to be proactive in scaling up operations in anticipation of key markets reopening. Staying ahead of the curve meant we were prepared to deliver new or replacement payment terminals at very short notice to travel directors anywhere in Europe. As a result, we eliminated the risk of downtime and loss of earnings that TTC could have suffered if there had been delays.

Planning for success

In addition to knowing a client’s business and their sector inside and out, it is also important to remember that no two businesses are ever the same. While some tactics and strategies may work for one, they may not translate to another. By getting to know clients, customer service can be tailored to them and their unique needs. Working with TTC for example, we learnt that its travel directors when out in the field, often lack an internet connection. Consequently, they needed to be highly self-sufficient. To achieve this, we developed a bespoke handbook that provided a step-by-step guide to setting up payment devices and solving common issues. On top of this, a dedicated hotline was launched, allowing travel directors to quickly gain help if needed when they did have connectivity. Taking the time to develop tailor-made services specific to TTC and its travel directors, helped provide the agility the business needed and removed pressure from TTC’s internal team.

Of course, before developing a user guide or establishing a hotline a plan needs to be created. Taking the time to meticulously map out the strategy and tactics to support a business is key. Factoring known events or challenges into a plan is vital in getting ahead of them. For instance, as well as navigating the reopening of travel destinations, our work with TTC also meant we had to work around the global chip shortage causing delays in device deliveries. To plan around this, we purposefully pre-ordered additional handsets that could be kept on standby. Then when a request for a new terminal came in, we didn’t have to let the client experience the delays caused by the chip shortage. In doing so we could ensure a smooth flow of devices to travel directors.

With so much uncertainty in the world currently, there has never been more of a need for proactive customer services from B2B suppliers. By building up a knowledge basis of a client’s business, their industry, and then planning and tailoring approaches accordingly, B2B suppliers can help their customers thrive in 2023 while also emerging as true partners. When uncertainty hits as much as we are now seeing, planning, and proactively become more important than ever.

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Business

Using consumer technology in business should be a thing of the past – and here’s why

By Joanna Jagiello, head of marketing at The Barcode Warehouse 

Who hasn’t had that heart-stopping moment when your phone slips neatly out of your hand, bounces three times and lands screen-side down on the concrete? Or what about the time you were balancing your tablet atop your pile of paperwork and an errant elbow sent it hurtling towards the corner of the desk, and on to the floor? While these are costly and frustrating accidents to have with personal devices, these mistakes are having an impact on businesses too.  

With a sharp increase in the number of workers operating across hybrid environments and, therefore, requiring more devices in order to stay connected and successfully complete their work, a businesses’ device estate has grown significantly. With this comes a number of new challenges. 

Not only do organisations need to consider, with greater detail, the range of equipment required by their employees such as headphones and headsets, keyboards, mice, and charging devices, but managers have also been forced to think about the physical durability of their chosen tech. 

Safeguarding their investments from any adverse working conditions and tough environments will only serve to maintain, and even improve on, productivity by reducing the downtime in the break/fix cycle. 

As a business, if you’re considering a refresh of your device estate, then weighing up the cost/benefit of investing in more appropriate technology, such as rugged devices. In this article, we discuss the differences between existing consumer-grade, and rugged devices, along with the advantages and disadvantages of investing in new technology. 

What’s the difference between consumer and rugged technology?

Firstly, both rugged and consumer devices cover items including smartphones, desktops, tablets and laptops that employees use to complete their work. 

Consumer-grade devices can be purchased off-the-shelf and are often used both in a personal and professional capacity. Simply adding a hardened or rugged case does not ‘ruggedise’ a device though; such devices have been built and designed to withstand harsh environments and the more rigorous demands of commercial use. Rugged equipment protects internal components too and often has additional built-in protection against dust, moisture, and extreme hot and cold temperatures. They can also have additional features built-in such as barcode scanners and longer-lasting batteries. 

There are three grades of rugged device; semi-rugged, fully rugged and ultra-rugged, with the latter being close to indestructible. Different businesses will require different levels of ‘toughness’ depending on the severity of the environment that they will be used in. For example, someone working in sales that often finds themselves working in the field would benefit from a semi-rugged device, whereas construction workers would benefit from fully rugged or ultra-rugged devices. 

So, why is now the time to consider investing in new technology? 

Equipping employees with appropriate technology improves productivity 

Research by Microsoft Surface, conducted with YouGov, found that 66% of employees with a work-related, company-owned laptop or tablet have been working with the same device since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, with the figure increasing to 71% for frontline workers. The same research suggested that older devices could be impacting productivity after 33% of employees who received new tech devices reported an increase in productivity. 

When thinking about the most important features of a new device, 58% of employees reported that reliability was their number one most desired feature, closely followed by responsiveness when working (56%), battery life (45%), screen size (43%), and start-up speed (36%). 

This statistic may be because businesses are demanding more from their employees’ devices than ever before. With the increasing usage of cloud applications, big data, AI and the Internet of Things, organisations need to ensure that the devices they are supplying to their employees are suitable, and have the capability to deal with these more significant data sets, workloads and environments. 

Why choose rugged devices over consumer-grade? 

When considering the devices to equip their workers with, businesses have to take into consideration a myriad of factors ranging from cost to functionality, and operating systems to device types. However, despite the heavier workloads required from devices, many organisations continue to use consumer-grade technology, which may be proving a false economy. 

Key considerations

If your business is still using consumer-grade technology then you are exposing your team, and your organisation, to unnecessary vulnerability. Let’s discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of choosing rugged devices. 

Cost efficiency 

While updating your device estate may seem like an initial outlay your business is hesitant to make, continuing to use consumer-grade technology may prove to be a false economy.

Businesses considering rugged technology are often looking to maximise efficiency, improve productivity and reduce the cost of maintaining, repairing and replacing their device estate over time. When you consider how rigorous the physical testing that rugged devices are put through is, it’s easy to see how they would outlast consumer devices. This leads us in to our second consideration – durability.  

Durability

From shock-mounted hard drives and floating system components to high IP rated dust and moisture protection and all-magnesium casings, rugged technology is designed to withstand harsh environments and bounce back from drops, slips, and temperatures that would otherwise render consumer devices useless. 

By investing in technology that can operate efficiently in all-terrain environments, you are ensuring that profitability and productivity can be maintained – no matter where your employees may find themselves. Time spent adjusting elements like screen brightness due to poor visibility, or waiting for devices to come up (or down) to operational temperature is all time, and money, lost.

In addition to this, while one-off repairs or maintenance tasks for consumer-grade devices certainly won’t break the bank, it’s another expense that can build up over time. With more devices waiting for repair, the more downtime your business will experience; so while investing in rugged devices may seem more expensive in the beginning, the reduction in downtime due to enhanced durability and the option to introduce buffer and repair management to your estate means that repairs, maintenance and replacements take much less time, and money, out of your day! 

Business future-proofing

If you’ve missed the roll out of 5G, where have you been? The new superfast network started rolling out in the UK back in 2019, with full deployment by 2023 which will see the 3.5GHz, 5G, network cover 68% of the population, and 12 % of the geographical area in the UK, according to Statista. With 5G set on becoming the standard in mobile connectivity, so too will the number of manufacturers supplying 5G compatible devices.

In order to keep up, businesses will need to think forward to what the state of technology looks like. If firms continue to invest in consumer tech, they are already committing to making further purchases, and increasing costs. Investing in rugged technology, on the other hand, is most likely to deliver improved return on investment due to its increasing popularity and ability to help workers stay better connected and, therefore, more productive. 

Final thoughts

Aside from being cost-efficient, rugged devices can be implemented seamlessly into your work environment. With functionality and accessories that accentuate the abilities of the device, and your workers, they are a worthwhile investment that will save you money in downtime while providing a more reliable, long-term solution to your tech needs.

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