The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the world of work, rapidly accelerating Digital Transformation strategies and placing additional pressure on CIOs. Glyn Yates, Country Manager, IMEA region, Matrix42, tells us how CIOs can look to adopt a platform over product approach to achieve cost efficiencies and enhanced productivity.
For context, tell us how the world of work looks today
We’re living in unusual times. I recently read somewhere that is the most common phrase seen on social media but it’s absolutely true.
Across the whole working landscape, I think the best way to describe the current environment is dynamic. Guidelines are moving daily, with changing policies driven by governments, which vary dependent on the stage of lockdown or easing of the restrictions. And I think everyone has been affected.
We all work for organisations; we all have customers and suppliers who are across multiple geographies and locations. However, I also believe there is a great opportunity.
The age of Digital Transformation has been spoken about for so long but now it’s actually being forced upon us and we can take this as one of the positives out of an otherwise strange environment.
How far are organisations looking to digital tools to help them survive and thrive during these strange times?
Interestingly, most CIOs did already have a Digital Transformation roadmap – a carefully considered one with various stages. I think what’s happened now, since March, is that these timelines have been completely thrown out of the window and Digital Transformation delivery has accelerated at an unprecedented pace.
There is also now the added kicker of a distributed workforce. It’s no longer the case that everyone is sat nicely behind the firewalls of the office environment. Employees are everywhere and working on any device. Technology has actually been a great enabler to respond to COVID-19 and forced Digital Transformation.
Initially the priority was Business Continuity – enabling the remote workforce – and then it was a realisation that the endpoints needed to be secured.
So there was a lot of focus on endpoint security and endpoint management and data loss prevention, to not only protect the employee who is remote working, but also to protect the business.
I think we are now transitioning to the third stage. One thing we’ve noticed is that the number of webinars that we are invited to on a daily basis is tens if not hundreds and that also creates an issue for the CIO.
Which vendors do we need to use? What information do I need to get? There’s just so much noise that sometimes making the right decision is challenging.
What budgetary pressures are organisations facing across the region and what is the impact on CIOs?
We all know COVID-19 has driven a global economic downturn, which has been unprecedented and the recovery will take years.
If you look at the Middle East, key sectors like oil and gas, aviation, retail, hospitality and leisure, have been impacted tremendously.
Budgets for organisations, and across functions, have been reallocated and squeezed. This has had a definite impact on the CIO who, more than anyone else, has been asked to do more for the business now than any time before, yet with these budgetary restrictions.
Wants and ‘nice-to-have’ projects have been shelved and all focus has been directed towards the ‘need to have’ projects. To use a sporting analogy, all winning teams need a good defence, a good attack and the ability to change tactics throughout the period.
And if we equate that to business, we can say the same. Defence would be cost optimisation and cost cutting, attack would be increased productivity in these critical times, while changing tactics equates to business agility. We see that the market has changed and shifted, almost daily, and the ability for a business to be able to respond and react with agility is key and critical to business success.
What recommendation would you give to under-pressure CIOs looking for a simpler and more cost-effective approach?
CIOs are navigating through the distinct stages of their organisation’s COVID-19 response – first, continuity, second, security and now we are in the stage of cost optimisation, both from a CAPEX and an OPEX perspective.
The pressures on CIOs are raised. However, they are in a great position to look at the big picture, not take siloed decisions on individual requirements, and be supported by the business like never before.
When we speak to CIOs, one of the key challenges and opportunities is to look at an underlying architecture, or the foundations of the technology systems, rather than individual technologies and vendors.
We know that silo technologies can be great on their own but there are strong dependencies on interoperability and integration with multiple other systems required to make the business work.
This not only has an impact from a cost perspective but also from an internal resource allocation perspective.
Lots of vendors means lots of people to manage those systems, in terms of design, maintenance management, reporting and transparency.
So, like never before there is an opportunity for a CIO to either look at what they have today and to plan where they want to go tomorrow, or to start from a blank piece of paper to say ‘well, if this was a Greenfield site, what do I want my business systems to look like?’.
And from that, then work backwards and transition new technologies into the vision of what that business’ underlying operating system looks like.
What are some of the key benefits of taking a platform over product approach?
If we look at what a product is, it’s simply a point in time – a silo solution.
Now, within any organisation, you will have multiple points inside a silo solution so the key issue and challenge here is interoperability and integration.
Any changes to one of those products, one of those solutions or one of those systems can have implications across the business.
This increases the testing that you need to do. It can restrict the ability of one of the solutions and it can delay time to value or time to market of new solutions, which can have an ultimate impact on the business.
A platform is exactly that. It’s a foundation to build upon – interoperability integration is seamless. You have reduced contracts and you have still ever-increasing technologies and capabilities to add on to a platform, rather than implement a new product.
How can CIOs adopt this strategy?
There are predominantly two ways you can approach this. One is a patchwork approach, which is to have a look at the systems and applications and technologies they have today, map out what they are wanting to get to in terms of their vision and create an upgrade path or transition plan to get them to where they need to be, using the technologies and augmenting them.
This does not overcome the fact of having multiple siloed products and it certainly does increase the need for interoperability and integration. It’s a bit like sticking a plaster over a wound – it will do the job but it’s not the best way to move forward.
Another option is the blank piece of paper approach – to really sit down and look at what the business needs today and tomorrow.
One of the great strengths regarding a platform is that you can start deploying it at the next opportunity, whatever that may be.
That may be an anniversary for a technology you have in place, it may be the need for an upgrade path, it may be a new requirement or to implement that platform today.
Over time, you will have new requirements or new anniversaries and renewals. And you can take the decision at that time to bring that technology from the silo into the platform. As you increase the capabilities, you’re actually also increasing your operational efficiency and reducing the strain on your internal resources.
And you’re also reducing the strain on your budget, because cost efficiencies also come hand in hand with operational efficiencies.
The blank piece of paper approach is a little bit harder. It takes a little bit more time because you are potentially starting from scratch. But it will enhance and align to your vision better and, at the end of the day, you will have a much more robust platform, greatly improved operational efficiency, increased cost efficiency and better business productivity.
Are there any other trends of which CIOs should be aware?
I think the trend has been driven by what people are having to do at the current moment.
When we do get to some level of normality, I think there will be a much more hybrid approach to the working and business environment.
I think the positives that we will take out of COVID-19 will not only be from a technological perspective but also from a business culture perspective in terms of more of an acceptance around flexible and work from home capabilities, along with the advances that technology has allowed in terms of collaboration.
I think Digital Transformation and technological collaboration was previously deemed to be in the ballpark of ‘the large’ – the enterprises, the wealthy and those with a lot of resources. But now I believe it’s being brought across to all manner of organisations, from small businesses to enterprises to the super brands and also government and federal.
So, in terms of the trends, cost efficiencies and cost optimisation within the near and mid-term, during the recovery from COVID-19, will be critical.
As an example, we recently did an exercise for a CIO, where we looked at the five or six different silo products running across the organisation.
Using the Matrix42 platform, we were able to condense and consolidate these into one platform, meeting all the criteria across the previous products, really streamlining the upgrade operations, increasing the efficiency and productivity, while vastly reducing the expenditure to be able to deploy, maintain and manage all those various technologies.