Digital transformation is not a single leap; it’s an ongoing journey

Posted on: 24/06/2022

Connect CTO Martin Cross explains why the remote working solutions we relied on during the pandemic should be just part of an ongoing change journey.

It’s become an industry truism that the first six months of the pandemic delivered more IT change than the previous six years. COVID-19 turned companies inside out, moving activity and IT demand from a central location to myriad dispersed ones. And as thousands of companies and individuals can testify, the shift to home working was a real success.

Remote working technology was ready and waiting; it just needed the culture to shift. As soon as it did, business leaders finally recognised that many, if not most, of their teams could be just as productive and effective without being in the office.

For many people – particularly, I’d note,  more senior staff with long commutes and large homes offering plenty of working space – this transformation also provided significant gains in quality of life.

From home to hybrid

It’s no surprise therefore that now offices have reopened, many are in no rush to return to their old ways. Instead, it appears that most organisations are likely to adopt some form of hybrid, where working  regularly from home remains an option.

That means the office space must evolve. Instead of being the place where people work – contact clients, process paperwork, write up reports and bids – we see it as  increasingly becoming the place  where people collaborate. Where we can bounce ideas off colleagues, solve complex problems together and have the conversations that simply work better face to face.

The office of tomorrow  must accommodate these activities. But at the same time, it can’t just become a series of meeting rooms. While there are plenty who thrive working from home, others find it a struggle, whether for practical or personal reasons. To support these team members, there has to be some conventional office space.

At Connect, like many other companies, this is a key aspect of our future approach. We’re not mandating where our people work, but instead enabling them to fulfil their roles effectively wherever they prefer to work from. Our offices will remain an integral part of that.

Focus on the infrastructure

But as the role of the office changes, so must technology. The user tools that enabled home working could form part of a long-term solution, but the underlying infrastructure almost certainly cannot.

A traditional model, which places processing power and access control at the centre, becomes a barrier to productivity when the majority are working elsewhere. But a fully dispersed architecture is also inappropriate for a hybrid working environment.

The effortless employee experience

The goal must be an effortless employee experience; one that empowers your team to work effectively wherever they are.

That doesn’t simply mean giving everyone high speed remote access to all the resources they’d have in the office. Instead, there may well need to be restrictions, that are person-, role- and location-specific.

The effortless element means those controls should be built into the network, rather than requiring constant logins and passwords.

Aside from the technical challenges this presents, there is also a cultural one. Even among those who enthusiastically embraced the shift to home working, there is a palpable sense of transformation exhaustion. Making people adopt more new apps and hardware will be difficult; so much better if this round of change is almost invisible to users, who can simply walk into a meeting space with their trusty laptop and connect, using the same trusty tech as they do when working from home.

What digital transformation really means

Some commentators have called this rapid evolution of our working habits – and working technology – a digital transformation.

It’s a slightly different transformation to the one that was being talked about a couple of years back, which focused more on the external customer experience and optimising digital channels. But at heart, the same principles are involved: using digital technology to make processes and tasks more efficient, then convincing a majority to use the digital versions.

In that sense, the move to home working was a digital transformation, but organisations that believe they’re now digitally transformed are in for a rude awakening.

A journey, not a step

Transformation is not a single leap; it’s an ongoing journey. The next step may be hybrid, but even that will only be part of the story.

That’s because it’s only about part of the workforce. So much of the talk about the future of work has focused on knowledge workers and where they will be. Yet this fails to take account the millions we now recognise as key workers – for whom working at home isn’t an option.

Looking beyond knowledge workers

For me, one of the most exciting digital transformations, both from a technical and commercial perspective, will be using digital technology to transform these roles. This will require more imagination, but potentially result in a far deeper transformation.

A really simple example of digital transformation for key workers can be seen in our work a few years back with MIB, the Motor Insurance Bureau. It provides a service for police officers in the field to check whether vehicles are insured. For years, this was delivered purely by phone. But making calls at the side of a busy dual carriageway is not practical. So we worked out how to deliver the service by SMS instead – making it more accurate and less time-consuming, for MIB and the police.

Now, perhaps we’d look at apps or portals to do something similar. But the aim is the same as with the transformation to hybrid working: to make it effortless for those involved.

That for me is the ethos that should be applied to not only transforming the world of knowledge workers but also key workers. Get it right, and we really can talk about the business being digitally transformed… and then, of course, it will be time for the next thing!