Digital Reality Episode #16: Goodbye 2020, Looking forward to 2021 | Blog

In this podcast, we share the top 5 themes that we believe will shape the nature of weapons-grade digital transformation efforts in 2021. We unpack the next-generation of work from anywhere, anytime, connected ecosystems, the scaled agile organization, digital-first engagement models, and hyper-automation.  

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Jimit Arora:

Welcome to the 16th episode. And guess what? It’s the last episode of the 2020 series of Digital Reality. It gives me a lot of joy to talk about how this very interesting year is coming to an end. But again, I get overjoyed by the prospect, but anyways, Digital Reality is our monthly podcast that moves beyond theory and beyond technology to discuss the realities of doing business in a digital-first world. I’m Jimit Arora.

Cecilia Edwards:

And I’m Cecilia Edwards. Each month, we’ll bring you a discussion that digs into the details of what it means fundamentally to execute a digital transformation that creates real business results. As Jimit said, we’re towards the end of 2020.

JA:

Woo hoo.

CE:

It has certainly been a year for the history books. So as this year draws to a close, we thought we’d take some time to reflect not backwards, but on some of the things that we can look forward to in 2021. So besides a vaccine, whose widespread distribution will allow us all to visit in real-time, real-life, instead of in Zoom and give all of our loved ones that don’t live with us in our homes hugs…besides that there are a number of business shifts related to digital that are likely to become part of our reality for 2021. So, what we’re going to do in this episode is take a look at five of our favorite ones. So Jimit, why don’t you start us out with the first one?

JA:

This was a hard list. We debated a fair bit about it. I also wanted to acknowledge – before I moved to the top five – to three of the honorable mentions. The first one is cloud. Yes, we’re going to talk about cloud. It’s going to be the underpinning strategy, but we think it’s assumed in the operating models of the future. So, you won’t hear us talking a lot about cloud. Same way, and you won’t hear us talking a lot about automation because again, been there, really core, but not foundational.

The one that almost made the list, and I know we debated this a fair bit, is continuous simplification. There’s been a lot of focus on how do you drive continuous innovation, continuous improvement. Well, we think one of the things that’s going to really drive success for it in the future is continuous simplification. This whole mindset to simplify and keep simplifying. We again think that this idea is not yet mainstream. There’s still some more complexity we need to add next year before we go to simplify, but watch this space for more discourse on that.

So, having addressed the runner-ups, let me go to theme one. Despite the excitement that we have around the vaccine, and the fact that we’ve spoken about the next generation of work-from-home, we think that the first theme that really is going to stay with us in 2021 and beyond is this next generation of work from anywhere and anytime.

CE:

So Jimit, is that an acknowledgement that perhaps I won that debate on whether or not work from home was going to be here to stay?

JA:

No. No. As you can see, you did not because our debate was about work from home. I’m talking about work from anytime, anywhere.

CE:

Oh, okay. Okay.

JA:

Words matter. I am not conceding! Sorry. I promise not to go there. But anyways, I still think that we’re still some ways off in knowing with certainty how prevalent this trend will be in the long term. What we are entering is this next iteration of IT that supports working from anywhere, anytime. We go back to 7 to 10 years ago, when mobile proliferation was taking hold, IT departments were asked to provide the capabilities to work anywhere at any time. This gave us BYOD. Then we saw a lot of the trends and the need for mobile versions of applications. However, this was applicable only to a small portion of the workforce that were believed to have a need to perform their jobs with stakeholders that got away from the office. Think of sales. Think of the executive teams. This also created a new set of security protocols for mobile devices.

As we look forward, and we think about the next iteration, it’s a much more expanded version that we think extends to all employees, and in some ways, removes the requirement for on-premises work. Yes, there are companies that will be looking to have a portion of their employees back in the big campuses. Collaboration is a big piece that we’ve spoken about, but as this takes hold, the workarounds that were put in place to enable more of an emergency shift to remote work will start to become a lot more formalized. As we formalize that, as we remove some of the barriers, we’ll start to see an improved employee experience. We’ve seen some examples of this with the evolution of the collaborative tools. Think of our beloved Zoom meetings, and Teams meetings. The feature of the year for me was virtual backgrounds, to be honest…

CE:

Love it.

JA:

…but I think that’s changing. Think of it as the always-on VPN infrastructures, that don’t necessitate that the need to remember to log into VPN, sacrifice the bandwidth, etc. So, I think all of the changes that we are progressing towards take this approach that was considered temporary and make it mainstream. So, I think that’s going to be a big development for the network and security teams.

Then, speaking of security, a lot of the protocols that were related to physical measures will now need to be addressed to technology or software to truly eliminate all barriers to work from anywhere.

CE:

Yeah. So Jimit, regardless of where you come out on that debate around whether long term everybody’s going to work from home and we’re eliminating the need for on-prem, I think what’s going to be important, and what we have the opportunity to look forward to in 2021, is the option. That enterprises are going to have more mature options where they’re not having to make the sacrifice if they choose or if something comes up, and they need to have people work remotely – it’s not going to be those patched together solutions, and the employee experience doesn’t have to be eroded.

JA:

Yep.

CE:

So, I’ll take number two, which is really thinking about a bit of a more connected world. So, for several years now, fact-based decision-making in the enterprise has really been on the rise. Consumers and business users alike are becoming increasingly comfortable with, and even expecting, that large amounts of data will be available to help them with all manner of decision-making. In other words, we want our things to be connected so that we can use our data to make decisions. We’ve got the increase in 5G and other advanced high-speed networks that are really enabling real-time data feeds to be available anytime and anywhere. You’ve got IOT and telematics that are growing in popularity with their sensors that are being put on more devices to collect large and small amounts of data. Our comfort level with artificial intelligence is growing.

So, a consumer example of this is related to how we work out and manage our health. So, I’m a bit of a tech geek, a data geek. I’ll share my data-rich fitness approach. First, I have an Oura ring that I wear at night, and this measures how well I’ve slept. It gives me an indication of how hard I should work out for the day. So it looks at my average sleep patterns, what my heart rate has been, what my temperature is, how much I tossed and turned, and it calculates a recovery index and gives me a sense whether or not it’s a go-for-it kind of day, or you’d be better off in the long run doing a recovery type of workout taking it a little bit easier.

The scale that I step on in the morning automatically sends my weight to the health apps that are on my phone. So I can actually track any trends that happen in my weight fluctuation. Then I start to work out on my Tonal, which is kind of the digital weight system, so eliminating the need for free weights – I’ve got a digital version of it. I let my watch know that I’m starting the workout, and that it is a weightlifting workout so we can keep track of what’s going on. Then I turn my heart monitor on.

I have my heart monitor on because Tonal keeps track of what’s going on in my heart rate, and it shows me that trend. I can see how fit I’m getting by what’s going on with my heart rate or whether or not I’m working out hard enough if I happen to be doing something that’s supposed to be high intensity. Tonal keeps track of my strength and performance score on each exercise and uses AI to adjust the weights when it senses that I can handle more.

I just learned that my treadmill will soon be able to adjust the intensity of my workout based on a targeted heart rate zone that I put in. So, for a data junkie like me, this is pure heaven that happens all before 7:00 AM in the morning.

JA:

Yeah. I knew there was a reason that I wasn’t looking forward to this recording. It’s like, you’re just making all the fuss. I take a very precise data-based approach to all of this, but I don’t need any information to not do any exercise.

Just kidding. No, but I think these are great consumer stories. Disclaimer: none of the companies mentioned in this podcast have compensated us in any way. But for those of you who are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, here’s a pro tip: Connect with Cecilia to make sure that you can succeed by taking a very data-centric approach to fitness and health.

CE:

Data-rich. Exactly. Here’s the funny part. Why do I do all of that? Because I only like to work out for 45 minutes. That’s it. I’m not going to be in the gym for two hours. So how do you get the most efficient and effective workout? I set my goals and use the data to help me get there. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to see more of these types of use cases, both on the consumer side and in the business world, in 2021.

JA:

Awesome. I say that begrudgingly. Anyways, let’s move to topic number three. We’ve spoken about agility for a fair bit. We think that the whole concept of agile is going to become a lot more pronounced. As we think about it, this agile organization concept is going to manifest itself in a variety of ways. Not only in the context of software development, where I think one of the big changes that 2020 taught us was that the proximity thesis that agile is best done when done in small co-located teams, just didn’t work. So, I think people have gotten more comfortable with the compromise; I still tend to think of it as a bit of a compromise, but it still works. So, people have gotten used to that compromise of distributed agile, and we see that scaling.

Then most companies today are fairly comfortable with the ideas of running scrums, maintaining backlogs, releasing new functionality every few weeks. But what we’ve really seen is that it’s not just that agile is being applied to the software development world. The whole concept is one where we are moving towards an agile organization. We are embracing other thesis around agile project management, agile funding vehicles. In our previous podcast, we spoke about how you really do agile planning exercises.

CE:

That’s right.

JA:

For companies that have been frustrated because 2020 was the year where they started to experiment with agile, we believe that there’s a lot of hope. You should have something to look forward to in 2021 because we’ve seen this work out in a variety of ways. Cecilia, I think you called the entire concept one of strategic agility.

CE:

That’s right.

JA:

So, we think that going into next year, agility as a concept will become a lot more mainstream within the IT departments beyond just software development. In some ways, the organizations are going to find ways to mature their capabilities, to listen to the market, rapidly address short-term needs, while simultaneously building towards a longer-term resilient strategy. In fact, we believe that agile is going to become a way of doing business, not just IT.

CE:

Yeah. I think that’s spot on. I think we were talking previously about demand. Nobody knows what demand is going to be in any real fashion. We’re going, “What’s going to happen with the demand for cars? The demand for pants that aren’t stretchy? The demand for coats when nobody’s going outside?”

JA:

Stretchy pants are going to be always in demand, I think more so than ever before.

CE:

I think so for quite a while, but how do you predict? Again, just bridging this to a consumer example, people have been home for months, and talking about pants, nobody was buying pants that weren’t stretchy. Just tops. Well, the retailers have said that people are getting fatigued and now are starting to buy shoes, and purses are two of the big things that people are buying more of. They’re starting to get dressed at home just because they’re tired of being bums. So how do you predict when there will be this shift in demand for clothes? How do you figure out if you’re Uber or Lyft, when people will want to a ride somewhere? All of those things, there will be surges. There will be shifts, and they will come rapidly. So, definitely agile is a way of doing business, but it’s also going to be the way that you survive.

JA:

Absolutely.

CE:

Let’s talk about digital-first engagement models. One thing 2020 has taught us is that boomers can be digital too. Not only can they be digital, but this pandemic has forced them to become digital. I remember working with a client at the beginning of the year, and we were having a conversation around their digital transformation strategy, and how they were thinking about it. They said, “Boy, our salespeople are really a bit more old school, and they like to go visit the customers. They like everything to be done face-to-face. They use paper. There’s no way that their population of customers is going to do things digitally. They have to have paper and have somebody hand-hold it.” Well, that company didn’t go out of business over the last eight months. So miraculously, all of those boomers, all of those seniors, figured out how to get digital.

As you think about the fact that you no longer have to reserve digital for a small group of the population, this actually creates a trend that we can look forward to that should be a relief to a lot of IT organizations. Digital-first engagement models are going to be important to the entire customer base. So, you don’t have to do as much segmentation, and it’s not going to be important to just Gen Y and Gen Z. Nobody talks about the Xers. I don’t know what they think our generation did, but it’s just not going to be about Gen Y and Gen Z.

So, all of these plans that you had to have before, allowing paper and manual processes and face-to-face models to remain dominant while somehow preparing for the next generation who will tolerate both things. The war between those two business models is really going to go away. So enterprises will be able to get rid of those analog-only approaches and they can double down on omni-channel digital models that allow for chat, that allow for AI assistance, and that allow for voice engagements when support is needed beyond the digital channels, because everybody in their customer base has figured out how to get digital.

JA:

I think, Cecilia, you make great points. So, what’s the right channel for the right audience at the right time and the right context? All of these become really important issues to solve for. Error time and experience are key.

CE:

Exactly. So, Jimit, you want to bring us through our fifth and final trend that we want to look forward to for next year?

JA:

If I just think about the four that we spoke about earlier, a lot of it is rooted in terms of how we do business, where we operate from, the kind of technology we use, the kind of data we use to drive high-intensity personal fitness goal that makes most of us feel something. But I think the one that we keep coming back to…so, at the end of the day, technology groups to get successful in their digital strategies need to create the right organization, the right culture. I think 2021 is also going to be a year where we start to truly embrace the concepts of purpose. I think that’s a conversation that’s becoming true across the board where you start thinking about what’s really the purpose of the organization beyond profit. Some of those initiatives – be it around green, be it around sustainability – are becoming a core charter as we see a lot of IT organizations and a lot of CEOs, they are thinking about the re-pivot on that talent side.

There’s a lot of emphasis on that purpose. What it’s also causing, thankfully, is a very strong dialogue about how do you really create a culture that embraces diversity, that embraces the fact that you’re going to have multiple cohorts of people. You’re going to have Gen Z, yes, but you’re also going to have the Ys and the Xs.

CE:

Thank you.

JA:

All of these different generations together. Aligning them to a shared purpose is going to be key to be able to deliver against the goals for a sustainable future for a sustainable business. So, I know it seems a bit disconnected or disjointed from some of the other technological aspects that we spoke about, but we see that shift coming. Most of the large banks, large consumer companies, have already pivoted in that direction. If the company’s mission statement involves a purpose beyond profit, it’s only natural that technology needs to embrace that purpose as well.

CE:

Thank you for that. So, if you choose to look on the bright side of things, 2020 has forced the advancement or the maturation of much of the digital agenda, even without full-scale digital transformation. Because, if you notice in the conversation today and for the past several months, Jimit and I have not really been talking about a full-scale, big-bang, digital transformations. We’ve been really talking about continuing to use digital to advance business situations and address challenges. So, we’re rapidly approaching the point of digital being a routine manner in which business gets done. Pretty soon, we’re going to need to drop the word digital from this because it’s just how business is. So, during this final podcast of the year, we will leave you with the following digital reality checkpoints. They’re a little more philosophical than usual, but appropriate as we look to the end of this year.

The first one: The challenges of 2020 have provided an opportunity for businesses to accelerate aspects of their longer-term roadmaps. Develop a plan for 2021 to mature those capabilities within your organization. Second, revisit your first principles and build your execution plans from there. Focus on meeting customer needs, and that will guide so many of the strategic decisions that you need for 2021. Lastly, forget about a return to times past, because it’s hard to imagine that the market will revert back to pre-COVID norms. Instead, look forward to all the opportunities for re-imagining and transforming your business that 2021 will present.

JA:

Excellent. Thank you so much, Cecilia. I think those were great points to reflect on. To all of you who’ve been part of this journey, we wanted to take an opportunity to wish you very happy and healthy holidays. Take some time off. Come back into the new year with new hope and rejuvenation, and for a brand new series of our Digital Reality podcast. You can check us out at everestgrp.com. Follow us on LinkedIn @JimitArora and @CeciliaEdwards. If you have a story about how you want to transform digital and how you want to transform your reality in 2021, reach out to us at [email protected]. Happy holidays!

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