Young people are missing the office – here’s how they can thrive in a post-pandemic workplace
When asked about the government’s position on remote working in the long-term, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak recently said that young people in particular would benefit from physically being in the office. “It was really beneficial to me,” he said in the interview with LinkedIn News, “when I was starting out in my career.” Referring to mentors he met then, to whom he still talks now, he said he doubted he would have met them had he done his first internship over chat and Zoom. This was widely reported as a warning that remote working may hurt nascent careers.
Young people, as Sunak rightly points out, have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, with 88per cent of job losses affecting employees under 35 years old. Their experiences of remote working have borne important differences to workers older than them too.
Since July 2020, we have been collecting survey and case-study data from UK-based individuals, law firms and local authorities, to gauge the impact of lockdown on white-collar jobs. These represent one in seven of all UK jobs. In the first stage of our research in late 2020, our analysis was based on 1,085 survey responses and 38 qualitative interviews.
We have found that lockdown has, in many ways, built more mature workforces. It has challenged the logic of why workplaces are organised in particular ways and accelerated conversations about how to improve them that could otherwise have taken decades. Businesses need to take heed of these lessons - and listen to their employees, young and old, alike - if their Covid-recovery plans are to be successful.
Our research has found that during lockdown, young people in particular missed workplace connections. They have keenly felt the absence of friendships and networks, as well as the mentorships and training. Many are keen to get back to offices, particularly those who moved to cities for jobs away from friends and families, or those who have not had suitable home working spaces.
They have naturally been concerned, too, about how extended working from home might damage their careers in comparison to older colleagues who are more embedded into workforces.
Equally, though, many young people have thrived in more autonomous working conditions. And arguably, their youth has better equipped them to adapt to the digital communication needed to make a success out of working from home.
This is not just an issue about whether people are based in or out of offices. One of our key findings is that, as you might expect, people’s management experiences amid lockdown-induced working from home have been very mixed.
Some managers have risen impressively to the challenge, learning quickly how to manage complicated workforces in nuanced ways and foster productivity. They have enabled parents to work more flexible hours and developed real-time learning experiences for trainees.
Other managers, meanwhile, have overlooked the extra support that employees needed amid the complicated circumstances of lockdown.
We cannot really talk about what is best for young people’s careers without considering how they are managed. And we cannot plan for young people’s return to the office without thinking about who needs to be in offices at the same time as them.
There is now overwhelming support from both employees and employers for a hybrid model which plays to the strengths of both home and workplace-based spaces of work. The Institute of Directors’ recent survey found that over 60 per cent of its members anticipated moving to hybrid forms of working.
On equity grounds, there is a strong argument for giving young people priority access to office spaces where they are requesting this. The return to offices is likely to be most successful where managers listen to employees and respond accordingly, interweaving individual, team and business needs.
Our research has gathered evidence on huge gains that have been made in terms of managers trusting their teams working from home. Organisations have seen hard evidence that employees have managed their time well and remained productive. In a worker wellbeing survey, we conducted late in 2020 nine out of ten respondents reported feeling that they got at least as much, if not more, done at home as in the office.
The trust invested in employees works both ways, providing a shift in the employment contract. It will be essential that choice is not lost in decisions about staffing location. There is little to be gained from managers returning to a more directive approach when being flexible has served organisations so well during lockdown.
One of our primary insights has been just how valued learning is at the start of careers in terms of building professional confidence and competence. As workforces adapt to more hybrid organisational structures - part-remote, part-in-office - we have a huge opportunity to build this kind of learning into new patterns of working.
Of course businesses will always want to make themselves stand out. Goldman Sachs, for example, has been keen to position itself as an office-based company. As a former analyst at the investment bank, it makes sense that Sunak would align himself with this approach.
Conversely, digital companies like Twitter and Google have been vocal in establishing themselves as remote-working proponents. As ever, traditional and innovative styles of working will coexist in the future. But broadly speaking, in a competitive market for the most talented staff, employers are increasingly recognising that one size no longer fits all.
If the UK government is serious about not harming young people’s labour-market prospects, now is the time to invest in measures to counter the career-scarring potential of the pandemic. Meaningful training for those at the start of careers along with policy that ensures more secure employment is key.
The blockchain start-up that’s revolutionising cancer research
Patient healthcare data is the answer to curing the deadliest cancers. This app helps them to share that data securely.
Cancer is one of the biggest unsolved medical mysteries of our time. Breakthroughs in personalised medicine and huge steps in prevention may suggest we are moving in the right direction, but the numbers say otherwise. The International Agency for Research on Cancer predicts that by 2040 the cases of cancer in UN countries could increase by as much at 47 per cent from 2020. As the incidence of cancer increases globally, we need to ask ourselves what can be done to reduce the unnecessary deaths caused by this complex set of diseases.
For a disease with more than 200 types and sub-types, the answer was never going to be simple. But billions of euros funneled into cancer research annually is uncovering new paths for research into individual cancer types and stages. Over the past ten years, the number of oncological trials being initiated per year has grown by 60 per cent, from 2,500 in 2007 to nearly 4,000 in 2017 (National Institute of Health). However, for oncology therapies tested in clinical trials, the likelihood of success is only around 5 per cent (Thomas et al.) – meaning the real impact of this research on the advancement of therapy options for patients is minimal.
A necessary shift from traditional R&D
This calls for a shift in cancer research. There are fatal flaws in the traditional process of research and development (R&D). For example, when generating hypothesis, researchers scope manually through thousands of papers to identify promising new molecules or combinations. Furthermore, the availability of data is poor, due to the number of clinical trials which never get published. Insights from failed trials often never reach researchers, creating inefficiency through repeating the same mistakes.
New methods of conducting this research include using AI. One company, Innoplexus, uses AI to search terabytes of data from across the published and unpublished research world, filter it for reliable sources related to life sciences, and organise it for researchers. This way, the process of hypothesis generation for clinical trials is accelerated.
However, AI alone is not always enough. Despite offering a huge benefit over classical R&D, there are research gaps that only real-world data (RWD) can fill. RWD comes directly from patients, most commonly used for reviewing post-market safety and efficacy of therapies. However, by integrating RWD at different stages in the clinical trial process, we can significantly speed up and improve the likelihood of success of therapies from the outset.
How do we collect this data? Haven’t those who have been through cancer had enough of hospital visits and scans? CURIA by OncoCoin is setting out to answer these questions, making the collection of RWD to drive forward cancer research easier for patients and researchers.
Revolutionising patient participation
The CURIA app aims to create a new world of possibilities for patient participation and research. At its core it is designed to provide patients with vital information to help them manage their disease and make the important decisions about their treatment journey. Patients also have access to services such as a second opinion, the ability to be matched with the most similar patient in the app to share experiences, and other in-app offerings.
Now comes the crux of how this patient ecosystem can revolutionise cancer research. Researchers can submit studies, surveys or questionnaires to the app, in which patients can choose to participate. Information collected may include blood reports, pathology reports, doctor’s letter, or researchers may be looking to ask more qualitative questions – for example, regarding quality of life. The data patients share is licensed out to researchers securely over blockchain, meaning patients always remain in control. Furthermore, patients are rewarded for their contribution with OncoCoin tokens, which increase in value as the value to the data comes to fruition.
Projects such as this empower patients to own their own data and by more involved in their cancer journey. Statistics show that patients who feel empowered during their cancer journey report a better standard of care and are even shown to have improved clinical outcomes (Bailo et al 2019). With more empowered patients who take control of their cancer journey, and participating in clinical research, the status quo of cancer has a positive future.
AI and blockchain are unlikely to disrupt the healthcare space fully without working in parallel with patients. The more we can do to make technologies more accessible to patients, offering them hope to change the course of their cancer journey while contributing to cancer research, the closer we will come to curing this deadly set of diseases.
To learn more about OncoCoin and the new revolution to transform cancer research, visit www.oncocoin.ai
by Dr Gunjan Bhardwaj, CEO Innoplexus AG and Chairman, OncoCoin AG
INDUSTRY VIEW FROM ONCOCOIN
Covid-19 accelerates digital business in 2021
The global pandemic has prompted organisations to double down on digital transformation.
Forrester’s latest research on digital business maturity shows that business leaders now consider accelerating the shift to digital business to be the most critical priority in 2021.
Yet it should come as no surprise that Covid-19 has widened the digital business gap, separating digitally advanced firms from those that were caught off guard by the pandemic. Less obvious are differences between how advanced firms operate compared with their less advanced counterparts. It’s clear from our research that advanced firms are more future-fit, which means they use their digital capabilities to help their businesses be adaptable, creative, and resilient.
Our maturity research divides firms into three categories of digital business maturity: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Historically, advanced firms make up less than twenty percent of all organisations, and the same holds true in our latest data. This means that, despite an increased focus on digital transformation in the past 12 months, beginner and intermediate firms have been unable to catch up to digitally advanced firms.
Advanced firms double down on digital business
Our data shows that advanced firms are much more likely to be increasing their investments in digital transformation compared with beginner firms. These investments help advanced firms build and maintain a lead in the technology race that is a digital business.
However, one of the key differences in our data highlighted the ability of more established firms to take advantage of collaborations with services partners. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents in advanced firms told us that they relied more on services partners during the pandemic compared with just 19 per cent of beginner firms. Many services partners worked with clients to accelerate their digital response to support employees in remote work and new digitally enabled distribution models.
This type of partnership is a key driver of any future-fit tech strategy, as it helps to deliver resilience to unexpected conditions, while also accelerating adaptability and creativity.
Revenue growth versus cost reduction
We found that advanced firms are more likely to use digital transformation to drive revenue growth compared with beginners, where the greater focus is on reducing costs. This is an important shift, as leading companies focus more on effectiveness and resulting outcomes instead of efficiency and output.
We also found that advanced firms are focusing more on improving IT capabilities to promote agility and innovation. This reflects the increasing importance of fixing underlying operating systems to get to the next level of digital business transformation. Agility and innovation are cornerstones in the adaptive and creative capabilities that companies need to deliver a future-fit tech strategy.
How to survive and thrive in the digital economy
The biggest obstacle to overcome is a legacy (analogue) strategic mindset. This is especially true when your business seems to be successful – after all, why change what appears to be working?
Digital leaders help to shift the leadership team to think about business opportunities from a technological perspective. That means a mindset that explores how they can use technology to create new sources of customer value. As businesses learn to use software and technology as a competitive differentiator, new challenges will surface. There will be questions to answer and decisions to make, such as where to fit digital products into the organisational structure.
Thus, the survival of each organisation will increasingly depend upon how well it learns to create value for customers through software. This is what it means to become a truly digital business.
For further insight and the latest research, please visit www.forrester.com
by Nigel Fenwick, VP, Principal Analyst, Forrester
The network transformation journey can lead to diverse destinations
Read about telecommunications these days, and you’ll find no shortage of predictions of the amazing things communication service providers (CSPs) can do with network transformation. Smart factories, remote surgery, drone-based delivery, a “metaverse” of augmented reality (AR) experiences… the list goes on. All these innovations, and many others, are legitimate possibilities. And the business models they represent are very much in play for operators building new cloud, edge and 5G capabilities into their networks.
At the same time, the sci-fi future these use-cases represent tells just one side of the story. You don’t have to live on the cutting edge to benefit from modern telco cloud innovations. In fact, plenty of service providers use these tools to deliver solutions that might not show up on Star Trek, but that drive tremendous value for CSPs and their customers today.
Let’s explore the transformation journeys of two CSPs: Airtel Africa and KDDI. I sat down recently with these service providers, which operate in very different markets, serving different types of customers. And while their goals and strategies couldn’t be more different, both report major benefits from network transformation.
KDDI – building new experiences with 5G edge innovation
If you want examples of the more cutting-edge possibilities of network transformation, look no further than KDDI, one of Japan’s premier mobile operators. KDDI leads the pack in telco cloud and edge innovation, and should be among the first places we look to when contemplating possibilities for 5G.
The broader telecom industry has been talking about digital transformation for years; KDDI has actually done it. It has adopted agile software methodologies and DevOps to quickly develop, test and bring to market new services on its cloud-based network platform. In fact, KDDI has become so expert in agile software that it now offers services to help with customers’ own digital transformations.
Building on new edge investments, KDDI also now offers a public cloud-connected edge compute service for enterprise customers. And it has launched multiple proof-of-concepts to show what enterprises can do with edge cloud capabilities, including some of the most advanced AR applications you’ll find deployed.
KDDI has shown even greater leadership, however, in advancing 5G innovation. KDDI leaders don’t claim to know exactly what the future holds for 5G or which use-cases will prove most valuable. But rather than using that as an excuse for stagnation, KDDI is working directly with third-party innovators and customers to find out. The company has established the 5G Business Co-Creation Alliance, complete with a 5G co-innovation lab. KDDI invites technology partners creating new 5G applications, and enterprises interested in using them, to work together to develop new ideas using their 5G and edge infrastructure. When those ideas prove successful, KDDI and its partners can jointly bring them to market as new service offerings. For example, one joint effort is now a live service that one enterprise customer uses to control automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) on its factory floors, over public 5G networks.
Airtel Africa: overcoming market challenges with edge cloud transformation
KDDI is blazing an exciting trail in telco innovation, but its path is far from the only one. Consider an operator working with a very different set of circumstances: Airtel Africa.
Airtel Africa stands at a different place in its network transformation journey. Its customers have less interest in exploring new 5G possibilities – and indeed, Airtel Africa’s 5G plans are still several years out. African enterprise and consumer customers care very much, however, about getting reliable, always-on data services everywhere they need them. Given the unique challenges of the African continent – vast distances to cover, extreme geographic and weather variation, lack of power grid availability in many places – delivering that is no simple task. At the same time, those challenges create opportunities to use new telco cloud and virtualisation technologies in innovative ways.
In many African markets, mobile handsets serve as the primary gateway for consumers to access the digital world. As a result, Africa has become a natural testbed for mobile-first innovations, such as mobile money, which is more advanced there than in most European markets. African enterprises are also hungry for new options for secure, reliable data connectivity – especially in mining, where companies operate billion-dollar operations in hard-to-reach locations far from traditional IT infrastructure.
Airtel Africa aims to lead the market in meeting these needs, and others, with new cloud and virtualised data centre capabilities that it’s building at the network edge. These network enhancements enable Airtel Africa to position content close to consumers to provide a better digital experience, while delivering highly available data services to enterprises. Airtel Africa can scale edge services up and down with demand, while managing its multinational footprint from a centralised operations centre. And, as the edge cloud infrastructure grows, Airtel Africa can use new edge computing capabilities to offer fully-featured IT services to mining sites and other remote enterprise locations.
All of these advances draw on modern telco cloud and virtualisation technologies, which help Airtel Africa overcome the unique challenges of its market. The ability to virtualise core network functions, for example, means it can extend reliable network coverage and new digital capabilities to more places, quicker, and inexpensively. This is critical, as it would be enormously costly to deploy and maintain specialised hardware in many parts of the market, if it’s even possible at all.
Airtel Africa also uses extensive network automation – including sophisticated AI- and machine learning-driven self-healing capabilities – to fix network issues that previously took hours in minutes. In other markets, that level of automation might be a useful cost-saving exercise. For Airtel Africa, which struggles to hire skilled engineering personnel, it’s a fundamental requirement for meeting customer needs.
Where will your network transformation take you?
KDDI and Airtel Africa are clearly following very different paths on their transformation journeys. So which approach is best? Both are, because the “right” network transformation strategy is the one that solves your unique business problems and benefits your customers.
That’s the great thing about embracing cloud, edge and overall network transformation. Whatever your business strategy, you now have a versatile platform to execute it quicker, reliably, and at a lower cost. And, unlike yesterday’s networks, this platform is built to continually change and evolve. So, no matter where you’re starting your transformation journey, you can continually build on your investments to bring new possibilities to your customers.
For more information please click here
by Stephen Spellicy, VP Product Marketing, VMware
Why modern CRM can be the key to delighting your customers and scaling your business
The business world is undergoing the most dramatic transformation we have seen in decades, hastening the pivot to digital exponentially and leaving some businesses unprepared. At the same time, the customer experience (CX) bar has been raised and buyers increasingly expect businesses to be easy to buy from, engage with and get service from.
The question customers have is: if a business I was interacting with provided a great digital experience during the lockdown, why wouldn’t they be able to maintain it in a post-pandemic world? For them, being delighted isn’t an added value to their experience as your customer; it’s the inner foundation your relationship is built on.
The focus on the digital experience has led the most disrupting companies to see unparalleled growth; however, there are potentially devastating risks for those companies that are not willing to reconsider their digital experiences.
The survival mindset of 2020 led to processes and operations not suitable for scale. As CX has grown more complex, most companies have brought in a patchwork of disparate technologies from different sources, each with a completely different underlying tech stack: a CRM to manage customer data, a customer management system (CMS) to build a website and marketing automation to scale the efforts. When two completely different systems are cobbled together, the burden of making them work as one is foisted onto the customer. This route is holding companies back, slowing them down and depriving them of having a complete customer view.
To scale without adding complexity, businesses need better data that gives insights into each customer’s experience and leads to actionable insights for a seamless and contextual experience across all touchpoints. But how do you accomplish this? You may think of CRM, but probably not as you know it today.
According to HubSpot, the leading CRM platform for scaling businesses, today’s businesses need a powerful and easy-to-use CRM platform that enables customer-facing teams to have access to a “single point of customer truth” they can all feed into – and crucially, pull from – removing friction in customer interactions, giving insight into their unique journey and leading to actionable insights for a seamless experience. HubSpot also urges businesses to start thinking about CMS as part of CRM because of how strongly linked customer experience is to websites today. If the customer experience bar has risen, so too must their digital experience.
However, there seems to be a tremendous gap between businesses’ aspirations to delight today’s demanding customers and the tech stack they have at their fingertips. According to HubSpot research, 50 per cent of business leaders say their CRM is difficult to use and 76 per cent report their team doesn’t use the majority of their CRM tools. What’s even more alarming is that 47 per cent believe their software is incapable of helping them meet their business goals over the next three years. What’s the point of having a “strong” CRM if you aren’t fully leveraging its benefits?
On this front, HubSpot has made a conscious decision to invest in its own product team, having created a modern CRM platform that is fundamentally built with customer experience in mind so its customers benefit from software that’s cohesive, customisable and empowering. HubSpot’s powerful and easy-to-use CRM platform is carefully crafted in-house, complemented with hundreds of apps and tools that can be integrated out of the box and that seamlessly work together as the building blocks of the user experience. From small start-ups to iconic brands such as Revolut, Skyscanner, TikTok and WWF, HubSpot helps front office teams deepen relationships with prospects and customers and provide a best-in-class experience.
We all know that having a good product is no longer enough. Today, you need to build a customer experience that is 10 times better than the competition. People buy from companies that create incredible end-to-end experiences not just incredible products. Brands need to prove they can truly enrich their customers’ digital experiences amid a juncture in history where ease of comfort is ever more important to our day-to-day lives.
If your business is looking to kickstart its post-pandemic life, getting on board with HubSpot CRM could be just what you need.
The metaverse: the new digital economy?
The importance of building the metaverse in an open and decentralised manner.
Imagine a virtual world in which you spend most of your working hours. A world in which you go to work, do your shopping, watch movies, play games, learn, travel, date and live out all the shared experiences you would typically have in a physical world. A persistent, immersive, comprehensive space in which everything and everyone is present.
The metaverse, in one form or another, has long been a staple of science fiction. Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash gets the credit for the name, and its most well-known definition, although related concepts had been around ever since the 80s in a wide variety of media, ranging from novels to videogames. The technology required was too futuristic back then but, with accelerating development in the relevant fields, a path towards the metaverse finally seems to be forming. The choices we make over the next decade may impact the future of society and technology in ways that are at least comparable to the advent of the internet or smartphones.
It is hard to predict, at this point, how we will interface with this world and whether it will truly present as one instance or a collection thereof. What is clear is that realising this idea is not possible in a world of silos and walled gardens. Metcalfe’s law, which states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of its user count, is critical in this context – there is little point in living in a void.
The challenges underlying the metaverse are immense. Human-computer interaction technology is far from ready, with the metaverse potentially being accessible on existing devices but benefiting from improved and more seamless virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, and potentially brain-computer interaction. The storage, networking and computational requirements may be orders of magnitude above anything today. Security will be critical, as will privacy and intellectual property.
For several of these challenges, the Web 3.0 movement may hold the solution. As philosophical as it is technical, its members have been creating tools for building an open, decentralised and democratic internet for the last decade. Can these tools be used to create a more participatory economy, empowering users to go from mere consumers to purveyors of services and goods in a truly globalised world not subject to country borders and geographical disadvantages?
Is a digital economy in sight?
Blockchain networks, whose defining characteristics are the lack of a central authority, may provide a neutral ledger underlying payment and financial services denominated in a panoply of virtual currencies. Smart contracts may mediate transactions and encode appropriate incentive mechanisms. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), whose market slumped after a Q2 peak in crypto-art transactions, may find their killer application as the metaverse property registry. Tools for decentralised file storage, computation and self-sovereign identity management are already available and undergoing constant improvement.
In parallel, several groups are working on related standards. The adoption of open standards is essential in ensuring that developers can plug their applications into the metaverse, that virtual asset formats can be universally interpreted, and that users can choose which access interface they use.
A fully realised metaverse won’t just be a part of the digital economy – it will be its own worldwide and quasi-independent economy, whose implications may end up reweaving the fabric of society. We must strive to make the metaverse a force for global equality and inclusivity – in doing so, we will also be working towards a better reality.
Cloud misconfigurations on the rise: 2021 Cloud Security Report
Insufficient access restrictions, permissive storage policies and publicly exposed assets are only a few of the mistakes companies make when configuring their cloud infrastructure. The scale of the problem is mind-blowing, with 90 per cent of organisations vulnerable to security breaches due to cloud misconfigurations. Aqua’s Cloud Security Report sheds light on the most common cloud configuration issues in real production environments.
Uncovering cloud configuration risks
With cloud adoption accelerating at a rapid pace, organisations are overwhelmed with the sheer number of configurations to take care of. Even one service will involve users, roles and permissions, as well as varying default connections with other services that can be turned on or off. Each of those configurations will come with certain consequences to an organisation’s overall security posture.
The complexity of the environment is constantly intensifying, too – companies are expanding their cloud footprint, going hybrid and multi-cloud, and adopting newly released services.
Over 12 months, our research team analysed anonymised cloud infrastructure data from real production environments across hundreds of organisations. The 2021 Cloud Security Report: Cloud Configuration Risks Exposed provides insights to help organisations better understand the risks that come with the move to multi-cloud environments as well as recommendations on best practices to mitigate them.
So, what are the key takeaways from the report?
Organisations need to fix security issues faster
The majority of organisations fail to fix cloud misconfiguration issues in a timely manner. With the growing cloud footprint, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the endless number of security issues being identified – especially if you’re a large enterprise. In our research, small and medium-sized businesses averaged about 75 days to remediate or resolve their configuration issues after discovery, compared to an average of 88 days for larger organisations:
Storage misconfigurations are still a major problem
Cloud storage buckets continue to attract a lot of attention due to high-profile breaches hitting headlines on a regular basis. Usually, this happens when the administrator managing the service misconfigured some security settings, leaving it open to the public. Of the environments examined, 82 per cent had “open to the internet” issues, making the organisations susceptible to breaches.
Credential hygiene requires more attention
While malicious actors are constantly reinventing their techniques to obtain cloud credentials, 74 per cent of organisations analysed aren’t practising credentials rotation and most of them had at least one issue with unused credentials.
Widespread cloud misconfiguration issues also affect Docker containers and Kubernetes
Adversaries are increasingly looking to exploit vulnerable container-related services in order to get initial access to your environment.
The report finds more than 40 per cent of users had at least one misconfigured Docker application programming interface (API) that took, on average, 65 days to remediate. On the Kubernetes front, a few users with ACL or network policy issues were found. Most of those issues were remediated within 65 days on average.
Cloud infrastructure is complex and difficult to configure properly, and a single misconfiguration of cloud settings can lead to serious problems. The good news is that 84 per cent of users reported that they were able to detect and remediate misconfiguration issues using a Cloud Security Posture Management solution, which automates the tracking and fixing of security risks across multiple clouds.
For complete findings and best practices on cloud configurations, download the 2021 Cloud Security Report.
High-street strategy: recovery will take more than street parties and more bins
The markers the government has used to determine declining high-street performance – falling sales, vacant retail units, fewer shoppers, attractions and activities – are not new. In 2010, when the government appointed retailer and broadcaster Mary Portas to solve the high street problem, in the wake of the global recession, she focused on supporting retailers.
But retail is only part of it. As Scotland’s 2012-13 national review of town centres showed, high streets are places embedded in, and reflective of, local communities. The health of the high street mirrors the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the people it serves.
While COVID has seen a dramatic rise in online sales, local stores gained sales too during lockdown as consumers explored their local areas. Food retail, in particular, mopped up trade from the closed hospitality sector.
Non-essential retail, however, was badly hit. This negatively affected high streets and town centres.
With restrictions easing, the trends have begun to reverse. High streets have opened up once again and consumer spending is on the rise. However, and despite what the headlines might suggest, the high-street picture is just as patchy as it was before the pandemic.
Major government investment has been channelled into English high streets, but not without controversy. The perceived politicisation of the allocations has led to accusations that the funding has been directed to Conservative constituency towns and not based on identified need.
The government’s new “build back better” high street strategy lays out five priorities: breathe new life into empty buildings, support high street businesses, improve the public realm, create safe and clean spaces, and celebrate pride in local communities.
It is hard to discern what is new in all this and what the government’s real commitments are. For a strategy aimed at, as it states on page three, “clearing away pointless red tape”, it is heavy on reviews to be undertaken and guidelines, codes and manuals to be adhered to. Requesting local communities come together on what it calls a National High Streets Day to “clean up their high street” seems unlikely to be widely embraced.
The strategy does contain some welcome elements. It focuses on tackling empty buildings and freeing up space on pavements and roads for cafes and restaurants to add vibrancy. It highlights the need for more green space and increased investment in historic buildings.
Conversely, it has very little to say on the fundamental issues consistently highlighted since the Portas review: business rates and operational costs; the inequality of car parking charges between town centres and out-of-town developments; the costs related to other modes of transport and access.
It does not address ownership models for retail spaces, or the wider costs and logistics of operating on the high street. And it does not mention support for the local, independent businesses hit by the pandemic.
Instead, it lays out controversial ways in which the government is relaxing (and seeking to further relax) planning and building-use regulations. This risks encouraging substandard, purely profit-driven developments and squeezing out smaller businesses.
Will it work?
The strategy gives little detail about how its recommendations should be implemented. Providing money to local authorities does not necessarily empower communities. Beyond noting the need for an emotional connection between people and place, however, the plan is silent about how to include and engage those communities.
Research has highlighted several crucial needs: focused spending on local businesses; tackling problematic behaviour by corporations and absentee landlords; a rethink of how development and operational and fiscal systems might encourage – and not penalise – high-street activity.
By not considering the retail high street in the context of the people it serves, and in omitting these crucial needs, this strategy appears mostly a cosmetic one. It revolves around short-term lets for buildings, cleaner spaces (more bins) and street parties. We know recovery – and a sustainable high street future – requires much more than that.
Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies and Deputy Principal, University of Stirling
Managing your next digital transformation
John Pocknell, Senior Market Strategist, Quest Software
By leveraging data intelligence, companies can enable data-focused executives to mitigate risk, unleash more value and drive growth
The market is aggressively embracing digital transformation to make faster, better-informed decisions to drive corporate strategy and help grow business, increase operational efficiency and profitability, and improve security and customer satisfaction.
According to Gartner, 91 per cent of organisations are already involved in some sort of digital initiative, and by 2023, IDC predicts that 52 per cent of worldwide GDP will come from products and services delivered by digitally transformed enterprises. Drivers of digital transformation include COVID-19 and working from home, cloud adoption, application modernisation and IoT.
Although digital transformation is defined as the transformation of the digital operations of an organisation, it reaches beyond IT to all its major functional departments.
Data lies at the heart of all digital transformation projects with companies looking to extract more value from their data and reduce its time-to-value. By gaining intelligence from their data, companies can realise the ultimate goal of data empowerment where all employees have simplified, secure levels of access to the high-quality data they need to do their jobs.
Companies need the capability to implement digital transformation in a controlled way and, at Quest, we believe they are looking for three key things:
It’s only through the implementation of data governance, data operations and data protection that companies can establish the necessary data intelligence about their enterprise architecture, its processes, people and data to enable data-focused executives to mitigate risk, unleash more value and differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Communications service providers are opening service innovation floodgates
When was the last time you talked to your service provider? If it’s been a while, it might be time to check in. Over the past few years, the world’s leading communication service providers (CSPs) have been modernising their networks – from the core to the edge – to reimagine their businesses. And it’s all in the service of one goal: bringing life-changing new applications and services to enterprises and consumers.
Today’s CSP is much more than just a connectivity provider. They’re a sophisticated IT partner that uses the latest cloud architectures and IT software models to deliver digital capabilities businesses can’t get anywhere else: ultra-low-latency edge services to power augmented reality, telemedicine, smart factories, mass-scale secure access service edge solutions, and private 5G and LTE networks. And that’s just the beginning.
There’s a common theme behind these innovations, and it goes deeper than the expanded flexibility and agility of modern CSP networks: openness. For the first time, operators have embraced open architectures and ecosystems, so they can engage with partners and customers in new ways. Today, CSPs can mix and match best-of-breed network functions to give enterprises more customisation and choice. They can unify resources from multiple public cloud providers within a single, consistent framework. They can partner with leading application providers to use their unique network and edge capabilities in new ways and jointly create new possibilities for businesses.
The best part: this transformation isn’t something you have to wait for. It’s happening right now, all over the world. Following are just a few examples:
BT: building an open and flexible core
BT – one of the world’s biggest providers of fixed and mobile services – is using open ecosystems to reimagine its core network. BT can now assemble best-of-breed networking and security services from multiple vendors, package them within a single offering and deliver them as a fully managed service – practically anywhere, on demand.
These capabilities are fuelled by an open, flexible core network and a dynamic ecosystem of third-party network function providers building solutions. BT can mix and match more than 200 third-party network functions that have been prequalified for its network to create tailored enterprise offerings. And, through partnerships with 225 ISPs worldwide, they can distribute those next-generation services anywhere.
Bottom line: BT can give enterprises more choice and flexibility to create positive business outcomes. By working with best-of-breed providers across multiple technology areas, they can jointly bring to market innovative, exciting new concepts and differentiated customer experiences. And they can do all of it on an open, flexible, cloud-based digital platform. BT’s enterprise customers gain a choice of management, commercial flexibility, and the ability to link their systems directly into BT in powerful hybrid cloud architectures that they can control.
NTT DOCOMO: unlocking massive scale at the edge with Open RAN
Operators around the globe are opening up their radio access networks (RAN) to enable more choice and flexibility and more efficiently handle the huge increase in radio traffic that comes with 5G. At the top of the list for Open RAN (O-RAN) innovation is NTT DOCOMO, Japan’s premier mobile carrier.
NTT has not just opened up its own environment to third-party RAN vendors and open radio interfaces. Its created the 5G Open RAN Ecosystem, where network vendors, third-party solution providers, enterprises and even other operators can test and validate new Open RAN technologies.
With the lab initiative, NTT is demonstrating the viability of open, disaggregated radio networks in a test bed that mirrors one of the world’s most demanding environments: the Tokyo metropolitan airport region. NTT is now working with other service providers – including smaller operators, who could never create this kind of test environment on their own – to validate new multi-vendor RAN solutions.
Through this effort, NTT is accelerating the development of new enterprise solutions that will capitalise on the huge improvements in capacity, performance and latencies that come with tomorrow’s 5G RAN to empower a new breed of consumer and enterprise services.
Telefonica: bringing fluid, flexible edge services to enterprises
In Spain, one of the world’s largest multinational mobile network operators, Telefonica, is reinventing the edge. It transformed its global networks to employ open, cloud-native, disaggregated network components. As a result, it now runs a modular, multi-vendor, software-defined architecture to deliver customisable fixed-line and mobile offerings to enterprise customers.
For example, Telefonica can combine fixed and mobile connectivity, SD-WAN, and web and endpoint security into a single offering, using whichever vendors their customers prefer. At the same time, because these services are based on modular, cloud-native components, enterprises can manage and control them using the same IT tools and processes they use in other parts of their business.
That’s just the beginning. Telefonica is currently deploying new cloud-native edge nodes across its footprint and shifting to open, standards-based O-RAN that will bring powerful new real-time processing capabilities to the edge. Initially, enterprises can take advantage of Telefonica’s own edge cloud services. But those new edge nodes also provide an ideal starting point to deploy external workloads.
In the next few years, businesses will begin consuming next-generation enterprise services that take advantage of Telefonica’s edge computing and 5G capabilities over both public and private networks. Telefonica is already partnering with third-party application providers and enterprises to co-create high-value use cases in areas like augmented reality for tourism, using digital twin applications to optimise manufacturing via real-time models of smart factories, industrial traffic management and many others.
The future is bright – and wide open
After years of CSP transformations, it’s exciting to see the results making it to market and changing the way people work, live and play. The next step in the transformation, the part we’ll most excited about at VMware, is when nearly all of the network is multi-cloud, multi-vendor and cloud-native. It will connect and enable people, companies and machines in new ways that were never possible before.
by Stephen Spellicy is VP Product Marketing and Solutions at VMware
How the pandemic has created manufacturing’s future leaders
GAMBICA is a membership organisation that takes great pride in the work of its members to champion UK manufacturing. As the pandemic hit last year, two of them – Siemens and Manchester Metropolitan University – teamed up to tackle a major challenge the NHS faced at the time: a lack of ventilators. Statistics showed that only around 8,000 ventilators were available when, based on predictions, an estimated 18,000 would be needed within two months.
To address this, a large group of companies came together under the Ventilator UK Challenge, with Siemens being one of the key consortium partners.
Demonstrating the power of teamwork, engineering and digital tools, the collaborative helped design and build a factory from scratch, and scale production from 10 ventilators to 1,500 per week, within four weeks, a process that normally takes more than 12 months. The historic effort met the brief, saved lives and helped ensure the NHS did not run out of ventilators during the pandemic.
Manchester Metropolitan University is focused on bridging the digital skills gap through its focus on Industry 4.0 and industrial digitalisation, and to that end, it is one of the founding university partners in the Connected Curriculum.
Connected Curriculum brings partner universities together with Siemens and German automation company Festo, to ensure that academia and industry are aligned and that students are gaining the skills and knowledge industries are looking for in the new digital world. It bundles industrial hardware and software with simulation environments, data, curriculum examples, case studies and real-life problem-solving tutorials.
Similar to the situation the Ventilator UK Challenge consortium faced, universities had to meet the challenge to shift to fully online learning and create new content suitable for a digital environment that was still engaging.
A team of academics at Manchester Metropolitan University, led by Aris Alexoulis and Gary Dougil, worked with the Siemens Connected Curriculum team, engineers and apprentices to develop a challenge for students based on the Ventilator Challenge, and which could be embedded into the curriculum. The challenge was embedded in the second-year group engineering project unit, where teams of students from different engineering disciplines are formed to address industry-led challenges. Because of the pandemic, the university switched to a block delivery approach and units were delivered in six-week blocks.
This is a great example of the dynamic culture within the university, and the willingness to engage with industry and move at pace to implement new initiatives. The Department of Engineering has very strong links with industry and has a particularly active industrial advisory board, with collaboration happening on numerous fronts to help students develop skills for their future careers.
The ventilator challenge project was very popular among students, with the demand to join the project exceeding capacity. Participants were asked to design a manufacturing process that would produce more than 10,000 ventilators within a 12-week period: at their disposal were the Medtronic Open Source Ventilator design, a budget of £50 million, and an option of two assembly locations. Medtronic made the design of its ventilator freely available online during the pandemic so that ventilators could be produced to help save lives.
The students were also provided with access to Siemens Tecnomatix, Siemens’s in-house plant simulation software, which they had not used before. They also had access to Siemens training content for Tecnomatix through Siemens Xcelerator Academy, and support from the academic team at Manchester Met and Siemens engineers and apprentices.
All groups were successful in designing manufacturing processes that met the requirements of the brief. To do this, the students had to firstly calculate the process times using the Methods Time Movement – Universal Analyzing System (MTM-UAS) by breaking down the instructions for station operators in the manufacturing documents provided by Medtronic to individual movements. Once process times have been obtained a calculation of the talk time was performed.
Various shift patterns were considered, all in compliance with current UK regulations. Subsequently, an iterative simulation process was carried out using Tecnomatix for the assembly process to meet the desired takt time, while also producing a realistic model. Examples of additional considerations were workstation design, plant location selection and layout, Covid-secure measures (such as social distancing) and full product costing.
The groups of students worked together remotely, most of them never meeting physically during the entire project. They developed new skills that are in high demand in industry, such as being able to create a digital twin of a shopfloor environment and virtual commissioning.
This alliance is just one of many examples that demonstrate how UK industries, when called upon, can work together to conquer unforeseen obstacles. This has led to some students pursuing careers in manufacturing. These are our future leaders of the industry, and they will be the champions that drive the digitalisation of manufacturing.
Telling the story of your digital transformation
We are currently in a dynamic new era of digital transformation. But have you ensured this change is sustainable, and that no one will be left behind?
Never mind that hazy future on the far horizon – you know by now that your organisation’s digital journey has already begun. Your business is living it at this very moment; a transformation accelerated by the pandemic, thrillingly fluid, limitless in potential but also racing towards an uncertain destination.
Are people engaged in the new processes and ways of working you have implemented? Is your transformation sustainable? Are you telling a compelling story about the need for this change, a story that unites colleagues, customers and communities behind a meaningful common purpose?
A recent McKinsey & Company study discovered that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by seven years. Fifty-eight per cent of all customer interactions are now digital – an extraordinary rise from just 36 per cent in 2019. Well over half of products or services are either partially or fully digitised. More than 60 per cent of the study’s respondents believe that changes in consumer behaviour are here to stay; over half are convinced that remote and collaborative working represents a permanent shift in human resource patterns.
These digital transformations are already so integrated into our work and home lives that they have become second nature to us – from the powerful insights available via data analysis to the communication tools that make the transfer of knowledge and ideas effortless and instantaneous. It’s easy to assume everyone is comfortable with these changes: they were necessary, we have seen how well they function and they are now embedded in our lives. The world of work has embraced a crisis-centric, pandemic-driven resilience – a communal determination to weather this storm and make use of everything at our digital disposal to get through it together.
So what’s your north star as an organisation? Now the transformation has accelerated, are you as a leader listening to the voices of those who have resolutely adapted to huge changes to the structure of their lives, but who now crave a return to previous ways of working? As technology rapidly evolves, propelled by a decade of innovation compressed into less than two years, are you upskilling current employees and acquiring new capabilities to underpin future success? Are you supporting people to deal with change fatigue and ongoing uncertainty, and guarding your culture against apathy and resistance?
You can unite people at every level of an organisation with a clear and compelling story that sets out the future vision and journey you are on as a business – inspiring every colleague to play their part.
A story is a mechanism to connect people – a framework for a conversation, dialogue and decision-making. It is a tool for leaders to translate what the transformation journey means for people in their part of the business, putting it at the heart of all they do. A story can highlight opportunities for ongoing learning and capability-building for employees, creating cross-functional team communities that innovate and share and support one another.
Leaders must be authentic and visible role models, confidently championing the transformation story as an exciting opportunity for shared growth and success. This will increase understanding of the “why” behind the transformation and foster a new spirit of positivity, pride and hope.
After one of the UK’s largest banks made a technology-driven £2 billion investment to revolutionise its operations, it struggled to engage people in the journey. By creating an emotive story that connected people with the future vision, we delivered a story-driven programme which helped teams to understand their role in transforming customer service. During the programme, employee engagement increased by 20 per cent, and 97 per cent of employees believed they could make a difference to the future success of the business.
A story can be used to emphasise your commitment to clear communication channels and unlock the productive possibility of digital collaboration tools. The power of a co-created story is inclusive and uplifting, providing a platform to inspire people in an exhilarating age of digital transformation – one not to be feared, but welcomed and embraced, and which is capable of having a wide-reaching impact, both internally and externally, for customers, communities and stakeholders.
Never mind the future, the story of digital transformation for every organisation is well underway. You have the power to build belief, shift mindsets and accelerate this – what story will you be telling in your organisation?
The Storytellers are global leaders in transforming businesses through inspiring, impactful narrative methodology. They’ve worked with over 180 large organisations worldwide. Find out more at thestorytellers.com.
by Hannah Moyo, Head of Consulting UK, The Storytellers
Why we need to hear more voices on what work should look like post-Covid
For many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented shift towards full-time working at home. The suddenness and scale of this shift saw it being referred to it as a “mass experiment”. But the real experimentation is still to come. The systems and processes that were rapidly improvised to work around Covid restrictions were not designed for a post-pandemic world of hybrid (or blended) working that incorporates aspects of working remotely.
As organisations begin to envisage what the future of work might look like, concerns have been expressed about the potential creation of a two-tier workforce, with some denied the possibilities of flexibility. Even for those who can access flexible, hybrid working, there has been very little discussion around what day-to-day working lives might look like, how the benefits of flexibility might be successfully realised and what the longer-term challenges might be.
Contesting the future of work
Since May 2020 our research has used surveys and interviews to study the experiences of home-based workers across the UK in depth. It is clear that there is much about working from home that both employees and employers would like to keep as we emerge from the pandemic.
However, what employers want to retain (increased productivity, adaptability, decreased costs) and what employees want to retain (connecting with family and community, flexibility, lack of a commute) may not always be compatible. The forms of home-based working that have been adopted during the pandemic are those suited to heavily restricted lives outside the home and, in some cases, accepted by those in fear of losing their jobs. Working hours, working patterns and levels of productivity may not be sustainable post-pandemic.
The UK has a widely discussed productivity problem and there are indications that people are more productive when hybrid working. But the degree to which working from home has benefited employees – or will do so in the future – is open to question.
There are costs to employees working from home, and our study found that only half of people felt they had been adequately supported by their employers in this additional outlay. Still, if working from home is framed as a benefit for employees, then the costs will be skewed towards them. The additional costs become the price for their opportunity to take advantage of these benefits.
For example, a report from Deutsche Bank suggested additional taxes on the incomes of home-based workers to support the large number of people unable to work remotely. This is one way of tackling some of the dangers of creating a two-tier workforce.
But there is a very different framing from less prominent voices suggesting that employers have effectively “requisitioned” the homes of their remote workers. While the Deutsche Bank report sought to spark debate, subsequent discussions did not focus on taxing the businesses that directly benefit from cuts to their costs, increased productivity and other financial gains.
The benefits of flexibility – for example to employees with caring responsibilities – have not yet fully materialised and will need significant work to achieve. Accommodating flexibility, especially among teams, is not simple and will require measures such as a “right to disconnect” to create clearer boundaries between home and work.
Post-pandemic, when some colleagues are in the office and others are working remotely, this will create very different dynamics from those that developed during lockdown. Studies of home-based working have found a significant negative impact on promotion rates compared to office-based colleagues.
This may be reflected, for example, in the disadvantages of being the one member of a team working remotely when colleagues are working together in the office. It is easy to inadvertently exclude people when the Zoom call has ended and workers on-site continue their conversations. These kind of issues may begin to create pressure on some team members to limit their flexibility so they do not limit their careers.
What do we actually want?
An employee sitting at home, using their own electricity, working at a personal laptop to collaborate with colleagues they have never met, for an employer they have limited engagement with beyond performance monitoring, might start to feel like a contracted freelancer. As some employers seek to reduce costs by radical changes in the amount of office space required, changes in employment rights could represent the next big cost savings.
If workers have been separated, isolated and subjected to new forms of precarity and insecurity, these new ways of remote working could have an impact on workers’ rights, in the same way that Uber drivers have experienced. For example, workers classified as “independent contractors” have seen their pay, pensions and right to unionise all affected. We have spoken to employees whose feelings of insecurity are heightened by a sense that, separated from the office and physical interaction with colleagues, their roles could easily be outsourced or moved offshore.
While it is vital to identify the challenges of remote working, it is also important to examine the opportunities and the benefits of remote working. Public debate needs to move beyond abstract notions of flexibility and consider the future of work that not just employers, but employees want to develop too.
Hybrid working will look very different when it is not conducted under Covid conditions. The issues that will affect people’s day-to-day working lives and how these will be contested have largely been ignored. We need to debate what we want from our working lives – and more widely our homes and our communities – and we need to do it now.
Oliver Mallett, Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Stirling; Abigail Marks, Professor of the Future of Work, Newcastle University; Danny Zschomler, Research Assistant Management, Work and Organisation, University of Stirling, and Lila Skountridaki, Lecturer in Work and Organisation Studies, University of Edinburgh