Ecosystm Predicts: The Top Cities of the Future Trends for 2021

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Public sector organisations are looking at 2021 as the year where they either hobble back to normalcy or implement their successful pilots (that were honed under tremendous pressure). Ecosystm research finds that 60% of government agencies are looking at 2021 as the year they make a recovery to normal – or the normal that finally emerges. The path to recovery will be technology-driven, and this time they will look at scalability and data-driven intelligence.

Ecosystm Advisors Alan Hesketh, Mike Zamora and Sash Mukherjee present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Cities of the Future in 2021. This is a summary of our Cities of the Future predictions – the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.

The Top 5 Cities of the Future Trends for 2021

#1 Cities Will Re-start Their Transformation Journey by Taking Stock

In 2021 the first thing that cities will do is introspect and reassess. There have been a lot of abrupt policy shifts, people changes, and technology deployments. Most have been ad-hoc, without the benefit of strategy planning, but many of the services that cities provide have been transformed completely. Government agencies in cities have seen rapid tech adoption, changes in their business processes and in the mindset of how their employees – many who were at the frontline of the crisis – provide citizen services. 

Technology investments, in most cases, took on an unexpected trajectory and agencies will find that they have digressed from their technology and transformation roadmap. This also provides an opportunity, as many solutions would have gone through an initial ‘proof-of-concept’ without the formal rigours and protocols. Many of these will be adopted for longer term applications. In 2021, they will retain the same technology priorities as 2020, but consolidate and strengthen on their spend.  

#2 Cities Will be Instrumented Using Intelligent Edge Devices

The capabilities of edge devices continue to increase dramatically, while costs decline. This reduces the barriers to entry for cities to collect and analyse significantly more data about the city and its people. Edge devices move computational power and data storage as close to the point of usage as possible to provide good performance. Devices range from battery powered IoT devices for data collection through to devices such as smart CCTV cameras with embedded pattern recognition software.

Cities will develop many use cases for intelligent edge devices. These uses will range from enhancing old assets using newer approaches to data collection – through to accelerating the speed and quality of the build of a new asset. The move to data-driven maintenance and decision-making will improve outcomes. 

#3 COVID-19 Will Impact City Design

The world has received a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of densely populated cities, and the importance of planning and regulating public health. COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on city design in 2021.  

A critical activity in controlling the pandemic in this environment is the test-and-trace capabilities of the local public health authorities. Technology to provide automated, accurate, contact tracing to replace manual efforts is now available. Scanning of QR codes at locations visited is proving to be the most widely adopted approach. The willingness of citizens to track their travels will be a crucial aid in managing the spread of COVID-19.  

Early detection of new disease outbreaks, or other high-risk environmental events, is essential to minimise harm. Intelligent edge devices that detect the presence of viruses will become crucial tools in a city’s defence.

Intelligent edge devices will also play a role in managing building ventilation. Well-ventilated spaces are an important factor in controlling virus transmission. But a limited number of buildings have ventilation systems that are capable of meeting those requirements. Property owners will begin to refit their facilities to provide better air movement.  

#4 Technology Vendors Will Emerge as the Conductors of Cities of the Future

The built environment comprises not only of the physical building, but also the space around the buildings and building operations. The real estate developer/investor owns the building – the urban fabric, the relationship of buildings to each other, the common space and the common services provided to the city, is owned by the City. The question is who will coordinate the players, e.g. business, citizens, government and the built environment. Ideally the government should be the conductor. However, they may not have sufficient experience or knowledge to properly implement this role. This means a capable and knowledgeable neutral consultant will at least initially fill this role. There is an opportunity for a technology vendor to fill that consulting role and impact the city fabric. This enhanced city environment will be requested by the Citizen, driven by the City, and guided by Technology Vendors. 2021 will see leading technology vendors working very closely with cities.

#5 Compliance Will be at the Core of Citizen Engagement Initiatives

Many Smart Cities have long focused on online services – over the last couple of years mobile apps have further improved citizen services. In 2020, the pandemic challenged government agencies to continue to provide services to citizens who were housebound and had become more digital savvy almost overnight. And many cities were able to scale up to fulfill citizen expectations.

However, in 2021 there will be a need to re-evaluate measures that were implemented this year – and one area that will be top priority for public sector agencies is compliance, security and privacy.

The key drivers for this renewed focus on security and privacy are:

  • The need to temper the focus of ‘service delivery at any cost’ and further remind agencies and employees that security and privacy must comply with standard to allow the use of government data.
  • The rise of cyberattacks that target not only essential infrastructure, but also individual citizens and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
  • The rise of app adoption by city agencies – many that have been developed by third parties. It will become essential to evaluate their compliance to security and privacy requirements.

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Policy Making in a Pandemic: Use of AI in SupTech

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming embedded in financial services across consumer interactions and core business processes, including the use of chatbots and natural language processing (NLP) for KYC/AML risk assessment.

But what does AI mean for financial regulators? They are also consuming increasing amounts of data and are now using AI to gain new insights and inform policy decisions. 

The efficiencies that AI offers can be harnessed in support of compliance within both financial regulation (RegTech) and financial supervision (SupTech). Authorities and regulated institutions have both turned to AI to help them manage the increased regulatory requirements that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Ecosystm research finds that compliance is key to financial institutions (Figure 1).

Drivers for Cybersecurity and Regulatory Investments

SupTech is maturing with more robust safeguards and frameworks, enabling the necessary advancements in technology implementation for AI and Machine Learning (ML) to be used for regulatory supervision. The Bank of England and the UK Financial Conduct Authority surveyed the industry in March 2019 to understand how and where AI and ML are being used, and their results indicated 80% of survey respondents were using ML. The most common application of SupTech is ML techniques, and more specifically NLP to create more efficient and effective supervisory processes.

Let us focus on the use of NLP, specifically on how it has been used by banking authorities for policy decision making during the COVID-19 crisis. AI has the potential to read and comprehend significant details from text. NLP, which is an important subset of AI, can be seen to have supported operations to stay updated with the compliance and regulatory policy shifts during this challenging period.

Use of NLP in Policy Making During COVID-19

The Financial Stability Board (FSB) coordinates at the international level, the work of national financial authorities and international standard-setting bodies in order to develop and promote the implementation of effective regulatory, supervisory and other financial sector policies. A recent FSB report delivered to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors for their virtual meeting in October 2020 highlighted a number of AI use cases in national institutions.

We illustrate several use cases from their October report to show how NLP has been deployed specifically for the COVID-19 situation. These cases demonstrate AI aiding supervisory team in banks and in automating information extraction from regulatory documents using NLP.

De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB)

The DNB is developing an interactive reporting dashboard to provide insight for supervisors on COVID-19 related risks. The dashboard that is in development, enables supervisors to have different data views as needed (e.g. over time, by bank). Planned SupTech improvements include incorporating public COVID-19 information and/or analysing comment fields with text analysis.

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)

MAS deployed automation tools using NLP to gather international news and stay abreast of COVID-19 related developments. MAS also used NLP to analyse consumer feedback on COVID-19 issues, and monitor vulnerabilities in the different customer and product segments. MAS also collected weekly data from regulated institutions to track the take-up of credit relief measures as the pandemic unfolded. Data aggregation and transformation were automated and visualised for monitoring.

US Federal Reserve Bank Board of Governors

One of the Federal Reserve Banks in the US is currently working on a project to develop an NLP tool used to analyse public websites of supervised regulated institutions to identify information on “work with your customer” programs, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Bank of England

The Bank developed a Policy Response Tracker using web scraping (targeted at the English versions of each authority/government website) and NLP for the extraction of key words, topics and actions taken in each jurisdiction. The tracker pulls information daily from the official COVID-19 response pages then runs it through specific criteria (e.g.  user-defined keywords, metrics and risks) to sift and present a summary of the information to supervisors.

Market Implications

Even with its enhanced efficiencies, NLP in SupTech is still an aid to decision making and cannot replace the need for human judgement. NLP in policy decision is performing clearly defined information gathering tasks with greater efficiency and speed. But NLP cannot change the quality of the data provided, so data selection and choice are still critical to effective policy making.  

For authorities, the use of SupTech could improve oversight, surveillance, and analytical capabilities. These efficiency gains and possible improvement in quality arising from automation of previously manual processes could be consideration for adoption.

Attention will be paid in 2021 to focusing on automation of processes using AI (Figure 2).

Digital Focus for 2021 in Financial Services

Based on a survey done by the FSB of its members (Figure 3), the majority of their respondents had a SupTech innovation or data strategy in place, with the use of such strategies growing significantly since 2016.

Summary

For more mainstream adoption, data standards and use of effective governance frameworks will be important. As seen from the FSB survey, SupTech applications are now used in reporting, data management and virtual assistance. But institutions still send the transaction data history in different reporting formats which results in a slower process of data analysing and data gathering. AI, using NLP, can help with this by streamlining data collection and data analytics. While time and cost savings are obvious benefits, the ability to identify key information (the proverbial needle in the haystack) can be a significant efficiency advantage.


Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit

For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics tied to creating infrastructure for a digital economy; and RegTech and SupTech policies to drive innovation and efficiencies in a co-Covid-19 world.

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Ecosystm Predicts: The Top 5 Cybersecurity & Compliance Trends for 2021

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Ecosystm research finds that 47% of organisations re-evaluated cybersecurity risks and management making it the biggest measure undertaken by IT Teams when COVID-19 hit. There is no denying any more that cybersecurity is a key business enabler. This year witnessed cybercrime escalating in all parts of the world and several governments issued advisories warning enterprises and citizens of the increase in the threat landscape, during and post COVID-19. Against this backdrop, Ecosystm Advisors, Alex Woerndle, Andrew Milroy, Carl Woerndle and Claus Mortensen present the top 5 Ecosystm predictions for Cybersecurity & Compliance in 2021.

This is a summary of the predictions, the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.

The Top 5 Cybersecurity & Compliance Trends for 2021

  1. There will be Further Expansion of M&A Activities Through 2021 and Beyond

As predicted last year, the market is set to witness mergers and acquisitions (M&As) to consolidate the market. The pandemic has slowed down M&A activities in 2020. However, the market remains fragmented and there is a demand for consolidation. As the cyber market continues to mature, we expect M&A activities to ramp up over the next couple of years especially once we emerge from COVID-19.  Some organisations that understand the full impact of the shift to remote working and the threats it creates have embraced the opportunity to acquire, based on perceived value due to COVID-19. The recent acquisition of Asavie by Akamai Technologies is a case in point. Asavie’s platform is expected to strengthen Akamai’s IoT and mobile device security and management services.

  1. After a Year of Pandemic Leniency, Regulators will Get Stricter in 2021

The regulators in the EU appear to have gone through a period of relative leniency or less activity during the first few months of the pandemic and have started to increase their efforts after the summer break. Expect regulators – even outside the EU – to step up their enforcement activities in 2021 and seek larger penalties for breaches.

Governments continue to evolve their Compliance policies across broader sectors, which will impact all industries. As an example, in Australia, the Federal Government has made changes to its definition of critical infrastructure, which brings mandates to many more organisations. Governments have shown an acute awareness of the rise in cyber-attacks highlighted by several high-profile breaches reported in mainstream media. Insider threats – highlighted by Tesla, where an employee raised the allegations of bribery by unknown third parties in exchange for exfiltrating corporate information – will also lead regulators to double down on their enforcement activities.

  1. The Zero Trust Model Will Gain Momentum

Remote working has challenged the traditional network security perimeter model. The use of personal and corporate devices to access the network via public networks and third-party clouds is creating more opportunity for attackers. Organisations have started turning to a Zero Trust security model to mitigate the risk, applying advanced authentication and continuous monitoring. We expect the adoption of the Zero Trust model to gain momentum through 2021. This will also see an increase in managed services around active security monitoring such as Threat Detection & Response and the increased adoption of authentication technologies. With an eye on the future, especially around quantum computing, authentication technologies will need to continually evolve.

  1. The Endpoint Will be the Weakest Link

The attack surface continues to grow exponentially, with the increase in remote working, IoT devices and multicloud environments. Remote endpoints require the same, if not higher levels of security than assets that sit within corporate firewalls, and it will become very clear to organisations that endpoints are the most vulnerable. Remote workers are often using unsecure home Wi-Fi connections and unpatched VPNs, and are increasingly vulnerable to phishing attacks. IoT device passwords are often so weak that brute-force attackers can enter networks in milliseconds.

Although endpoint security can be dealt with through strict policies together with hardware or software authentication, the difficult part is to adopt an approach that retains a relatively high level of security without having a too negative an impact on the employee experience. Experience shows that if the security measures are too cumbersome, employees will find ways to circumvent them.

  1. Hackers Will Turn the Table on AI Security

Cybersecurity vendors are increasingly offering solutions that leverage AI to identify and stop cyber-attacks with less human intervention than is typically expected or needed with traditional security approaches. AI can enhance cybersecurity by better predicting attacks enabling more proactive countermeasures, shortening response times, and potentially saving cybersecurity investment costs. The problem is that the exact same thing applies to the hackers. By leveraging AI, the costs and efforts needed to launch and coordinate large hacker attacks will also go down. Hackers can automate their attacks well beyond the use of botnets, target and customise their attacks with more granularity than before and can effectively target the biggest weakness of any IT security system – people.

Already, phishing attacks account for many of the breaches we see today typically by employees being tricked into sharing their IT credentials via email or over the phone. As we move forward, these types of attacks will become much more sophisticated. Many of the deepfake videos we see have been made using cheap or free AI-enabled apps that are easy enough for even a child to use. As we move into 2021, this ability to manipulate both video and audio will increasingly enable attackers to accurately impersonate individuals.


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Woolworths Australia Automates Dark Store

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The Retail industry has had to pivot fast this year – having faced early supply chain disruptions, social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19, uncertain demand and falling margins. But the biggest challenge faced was the evolved consumer buying behaviour. Customers were forced to go online, and eCommerce platforms thrived even through the difficult times. Retailers have to continue to cater to this shift in buyer behaviour.   

As retailers continue to evolve their capabilities, Woolworths, the Australian chain of grocery stores, recently announced that it has launched new micro automation technology for one of its eCommerce facilities located in Melbourne to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders. In 2019 Woolworths had partnered with a US based eGrocery startup, Takeoff Technologies.

Woolworths Automates Dark Store

Woolworths eCommerce floor space spanning across 2,400 sqm is equipped with micro automation technology that allows it to segregate and move groceries from automated storage units that can hold an inventory of 10,000 products and bring them directly to those you pick the orders. The innovative model is designed to make the inventory storage space compact and move high-volume online grocery products to consumers with greater speed, efficiency and accuracy. While grocery products will be picked from automated units, perishables such as fruits, vegetables and meat will continue to be picked up by shop floor workers. Woolworths has employed 50 new employees to fulfil online orders and is expected to fill 100 more vacancies.

“It appears that Woolworths is continuing to use New Zealand to test new technology before introducing it into their much larger Australian market. They are extending the introduction of the technology they first announced for use in their New Zealand online fulfilment centres – the Auckland dark store in November 2019 with a second in Christchurch announced in January 2020,” says Ecosystm Principal Advisor Alan Hesketh. “The Carrum Downs, Melbourne, store will be the first implementation of automation in Australia. Woolworths has announced a third dark store for Wellington in late September 2020 – it would be surprising it was not automated as well.”

Talking about the increase in the use of dark stores, Hesketh sayss, “The challenge with the current model of online stores is the use of expensive retail floor space for picking orders that cannot be used to serve physical customers. With the increase in online sales, accelerated by COVID-19, the volumes are now sufficient in urban areas to make these dark stores profitable. This allows the use of lower-cost, centralised, distribution central space for the dark stores.”

An Example of how Retailers are Pivoting Successfully

Woolworths has been constantly developing their capabilities to improve customer experience and process efficiency.  The demand for online products and groceries skyrocketed during COVID-19 which resulted in a temporary shortage of online products and Woolworths had to temporarily stop online ‘Pick up’ and ‘Delivery Now’ orders nationally. To ensure smoother delivery services, they partnered with Sherpa, Drive Yellow, and Uber. Earlier this month, Woolworths announced that six stores in Australia would go completely cashless. Woolworths has around 1,050 stores in Australia which operates on a mix of cash and e-payments.

To keep pace with the online growth, Woolworths automated dark stores will be a potential game changer as they are expected to be able to dispatch online orders five times faster, compared to a standard Woolworths store.

“This increased capacity also means Woolworths’ online offer is less likely to be overwhelmed in the event of another COVID-19 lockdown. This improved access to groceries will be an important benefit to vulnerable members of communities, as well as those customers wary of visiting physical stores,” says Hesketh.

“For their physical stores that support home delivery, Woolworths will now be able to repurpose or release the space used by the pick-and-pack operations. In-store customers will get a better experience without the Woolworths personnel picking orders in the aisles.”


More insights on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and technology areas that will see transformation post COVID, as organisations get into the recovery phase, can be found in the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal Study

Ecosystm COVID-19 Research Data

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Human-centric Future of Work

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The Future of Work is here, now. Organisations faced unprecedented challenges of coping with the work-from-home model, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year. Many organisations managed the pivot successfully – but all organisations were impacted in some way.

The COVID-19 crisis has required major resets in how organisations function – across industries and economies. In this environment of intense changes, businesses that have been agile in their operations and their mindsets and were better digitally enabled have thrived, while others have struggled.

Our 360o Future of Work practice focuses on Business, People, Technology and Work Environment. All four are required to work together to enable companies to meet future challenges. The Future of Work enables companies to Pivot, Adapt and Thrive.

Ecosystm Future of Work Framework

The People practice within the Future of Work helps organisations adapt their People strategies in conjunction with the other areas to drive a holistic approach in the Future of Work strategies. 

The Need for Human-centricity

Talent has always been a key company asset that brings product and service offerings to life. HR teams have retained a constant focus on attracting and retaining talent. HR teams have come into sharp focus as the pandemic rages across the world. With the closure of offices and borders, and distancing measures, companies have had to focus their energy on their people and the work infrastructure – almost overnight.

With every passing week, the situation keeps evolving – and so do the ways of managing and engaging with employees and customers. As countries and businesses slowly reopen and modify their distancing protocols the People strategies will have to evolve rapidly.

Every organisation is now grappling with the decision of whether to “reopen” and go back to how things were; or think of alternatives and opportunities that they can capitalise on to strengthen their businesses.

The 4Es of People: Experience Journeys

The cornerstone of the People practice within the Future of Work is to align the Customer Experience and the Employee Journey.

It is not just about finetuning the employee process or employee life cycle in isolation. That is a consequence of the tweaks to the overall journey.

Depending on the phase of the company that you are in (Pivot, Adapt and Thrive) the changes to the employee experience would vary. The 4Es of People is designed to help you make that happen.

Experiment.  HR leaders are increasingly being asked to “orchestrate” companywide experiments to help figure out the way forward. An Experimentation Mindset is crucial to finding the right solutions fast. This needs to be done in a small and holistic way – some examples include thinking of different workforce models, working contracts and benefits, working archetypes, technology and data enablers and workplace models.  

Enable. Two main areas of enablement that need to be looked at are:  the human elements of talent, capability, leadership and culture to align to the business strategy pivots; and  the associated elements of technology, workspace and analytics.

Energize. Key HR competencies of empathy and collaboration are increasingly becoming crucial to ensure that the organisation is staying well, motivated and focused through these demanding times.

Embed. The ability to learn from the experiments, finetune the overall system within and outside the company, and support the changes over the longer term are crucial to help companies scale the models and gain sustained competitive advantage over the mid-term.

The 4Es of People can be effective in adding the right elements and outcomes to support the changes. These are intended to enable HR to help organisation establish their Future of Work strategies and implement them effectively. This will help them to be prepared for whatever model of work becomes prevalent in the future.

Schedule a time to speak with us on Future of Work

Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Work Environment) provide a holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.

We enable businesses to adapt, pivot and thrive in their ecosystem; provide holistic access to data and insight across People, Technology and Work Environment; help businesses transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands.

Contact us through the platform, or over email at info@ecosystm360.com


Ecosystm 360⁰ Future of Work

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Singtel and Starhub Evolve their 5G Roadmaps

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In June, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) awarded 5G licenses to Singtel and JVCo (formed by Starhub and M1), after they completed the required regulatory processes – including the selection of their preferred frequency spectrums, vendor partners and other technical matters such as performance, coverage, resilience, and cybersecurity. They will be required to provide coverage for at least half of Singapore by end-2022, scaling up to nationwide coverage by end 2025. While Singtel and JVCo were allocated radio frequency spectrum to deploy nationwide 5G networks, other mobile operators, including MVNOs, can access these network services through a wholesale arrangement. The networks will also be supplemented by TPG who has been allocated the remaining mmWave spectrum and will be allowed to roll out localised 5G networks.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Shamir Amanullah says, “Singapore, along with Thailand, leads 5G adoption in Southeast Asia and major telecom operators Singtel and StarHub launched trials which gives customers an opportunity to experience 5G speeds and potential new services.”

Singtel’s Journey Forward

Earlier this month Singtel launched its 5G NSA infrastructure on a 3-month trial promising speeds of 1Gbps by use of 3.5GHz frequency coupled with the existing 2100 MHz spectrum. It has made it free for the first 20,000 customers with 5G-compatible smartphones. While the 5G signals initially cover certain central and southern parts of Singapore, the coverage is expected to increase over the trial period. Singtel is also working on the development of other 5G services and integrating its network with technologies such as AI, IoT, Cloud, AR and data technologies, in line with the Government’s vision for 5G.  

Last week, Singtel unveiled a 24×7 unmanned 5G powered stall to transform and reshape the retail experience. Labelled as 5G NOW @ UNBOXED, the hyper-connected store is designed to provide a first-hand experience of 5G services and possibilities to retailers and consumers. The store aims to offer seamless service experience to visitors looking for services such as SIM card replacements, and device collection through self-service kiosks. To create a more personalised experience for visitors, a 5G virtual assistant Stella is deployed at the store, integrated with facial recognition and emotion reading capabilities which will work in tandem with UNBOXED’s 5G rover Stanley. The rover is connected with the kiosk’s security system and will manage the contactless experience for visitors through temperature checks and maintaining social distancing measures. The 5G service with wireless connectivity and high speeds makes the store movable in a sort of hybrid online and offline retail model.

Amanullah says, “Singtel has ramped up its digitalisation efforts and increased adoption of digital channels and services to improve their customer experience. The 5G NOW @ UNBOXED phygital experience is cutting edge and brings the physical and digital experience in a seamless fashion for its customers. Singtel will be able to integrate physical and digital marketing efforts which should increase sales opportunity. In a recent report, Singtel announced that more than 70% of customer service transactions are online while only 30% of sales are transacted online. The unmanned 5G powered phygital experience should see online sales rising.”

The 5G powered pop-up store follows the launch of Singtel’s 5G non-standalone (NSA) network in the 3.5 GHz frequency as well as existing 2.1 GHz spectrum integrating technologies such as dual connectivity. The trial based 5G network offers Singtel customers a sense of 5G services such as high-speed internet of more than 1Gbps, video streaming, cloud gaming, AR/VR and other consumer use-cases.

JVCo’s 5G Initiatives

JVCo has also launched its 5G connectivity services using the NSA 5G architecture in the country in partnership with Nokia. StarHub launched its trials in August 2020 which will end on 16 February 2021. The trial runs on an NSA 5G infrastructure on the 2100 MHz spectrum with the SA 5G infrastructure operating on the 3.5 GHz expected to be ready in mid-2021. The StarHub Mobile+ or Biz+ mobile plans, allows customers to automatically experience some early 5G benefits using compatible mobile devices. The 6-month, free trial is a lead up to the full commercial launch of 5G standalone services next year. The telecom operator has a planned investment of USD 146.4 million in 5G infrastructure over a five-year period.

Meanwhile, M1 is working closely with IMDA and is expected to roll out 5G trial services, soon.

Amanullah says, “In the challenging financial times due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has impacted roaming, prepaid segment, equipment sales among others, it is impressive that the leading operators in Singapore are bringing cutting-edge connectivity services which should drive digitalisation of consumers and enterprises.”


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Thoughts & Predictions of a Long-Term Mobile & Remote Worker

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COVID has delivered to many companies around the world a knock-out punch which has put them on the mat. They aren’t knocked out; just dazed, as any experienced fighter would be when caught off guard with a hard blow.

One way companies have dealt with the hard blow is in their Work Environment. At the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses simply sent office workers home. Some had corporate guidance and IT support; others simply were told to “make it work”. Post COVID, there will be a New Natural State of Equilibrium in the Work Environment and the business world. In this blog, I will talk more about the Work Environment.  

First let me explain my interest in the subject. I have been a full-time mobile and part-time remote worker for over 13 years with a global technology company. I have designed many mobile office environments throughout Asia, working with business units to understand their needs and to educate them on the changes required and the change management process. For over 10 years I have taught this subject around the world to fellow professionals – across industries – in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and the USA. I was based in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS outbreak. These experiences have given me a keen understanding and perspective on what happened in the early days of COVID-19, and insights on what the future could look like for many businesses.

Let’s look at some basic Work Environment facts:

  • It costs a company an average of over US$10,000/year per employee for their physical space.
  • Remote working happened very quickly at the start of COVID-19, almost overnight for some companies and employees.
  • There are many venues available to conduct work from, over the long term: Office, Home, the 3rd Space (coffee shops, etc) and other venues.

I recently read the Harvard Business School (HBS) working paper titled, What Jobs are Being Done at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis? Evidence from Firm Level Surveys. Key findings from the report include:

  • While overall levels of remote work are high, there is considerable variation across industries.
  • Remote work is much more common in industries with better educated and better paid workers.
  • Employers think that there has been less productivity loss from remote working in better educated and higher paid industries.
  • More than one-third of firms that had employees switch to remote work believe that it will remain more common at their company even after the COVID crisis ends.

The Emergence of the Future of Work

Mobile & Remote Work. The cost of housing a worker in an office environment has always been a concern for senior management. The cost quickly adds up, even for a small or medium-sized firm. The physical cost of the office is typically the second largest expense for a company, after employees’ salaries. This is one reason that “densification” has occurred in the office environment over the past 10 years or so. It is also a reason remote working (working outside the office – from home, coffee shop, hotel, airport lounge, etc.) has been attractive to companies. If the office environment is designed with multiple work-type spaces (e.g. collaborative, non-collaborative, quiet, etc.), a permanently designated workspace is not required for a worker. This type of Work Environment is known as a mobile environment. Both of these Work Environments – remote and mobile – have been the trend for many companies (especially technology and financial firms).  

Co-working. Beginning a few years ago, another Work Environment emerged: Co-working. One of the early market leaders was WeWork. Co-working is very similar to the mobile environment. It has the added benefit of not requiring any capital cost for the fit-out (tenant improvements). The company or individual rents a desk or space in a co-working environment and just pays the monthly fee. There is no delay to find the space, sign the lease, design, or construct the space, and no capital required for the construction cost. It is a “plug and play” space.

Blended Model. Given the selection, worker typology, and flexibility of space, all these alternatives will be used in some capacity in the Future of Work (FoW). The Work Environment will be a blend of these environments. Some have predicted the death of the office building. Ecosystm research finds that only 16% of organisations are looking to reduce their commercial office space, going into 2021. People are social creatures and need interaction with others, either for effective work collaboration or just to socialise.

The Future of the Work Environment

 Figure 1 shows a compilation of the various type of Work Environments which office workers use and how they came about.

Corporate Real-Estate- The New Ecosystem

Each company, especially post-COVID, will have to look at their business strategy and determine how they will best solution their Work Environment to get the maximum benefits. These are the main questions each company has to ask and answer at a strategic level:

  • What is the best workspace solution for my company and employees?
  • Do employees want the corporate leased space? Does it help make them more productive?
  • How is the marketplace (landlords) responding to this demand if a company is leasing space?

Role-dependent Remote Workers. Returning to the larger topic of the Work Environment, the HBS paper states there are different rates of remoteness across industries. I would assert that in addition there are different rates of remoteness among the types of workers. A salesperson needs to interact differently with fellow company employees compared to an accountant or an administrative person. Workers in the Banking industry interact differently compared to workers in the Technology industry. The article also points out that a better educated and better paid worker – or a knowledge worker – can more easily be a remote worker. For those of us who have been working in the mobile/remote Work Environment for many years, we know and understand this. Knowledge workers are not employed for their physical skills. For example, an assembly line worker in an auto factory cannot be remote.

Determining Work Typology. The paper also states that remote working will be more common in the companies that have not experienced a dramatic decrease in productivity from remote working. This has been asserted and demonstrated by us, the professionals in the corporate Real Estate industry. The industry has been experiencing increased productivity for many years. We have also conducted in-house studies of the various business groups that have experienced remote working. We have even gone so far as to provide work typologies for the various types of workers. Each typology uses the office Work Environment differently and has varying levels of remote abilities.

Need for Change Management. A critical component of remote work effectiveness is the mindset shift by both the employee and the manager. The managers have to modify their style to more of a “management by performance”, versus just walking around and checking whether people are busy. Similarly, employees have to understand they are being trusted to work unsupervised but will have to accomplish the required work and be held responsible. The manager and employee relationship will require new performance measures to hold people accountable and determine whether they are being effective and productive in their remote environment. All of this requires a change management program to educate both without compromising the corporate culture.

When the pendulum finally comes to rest in the near future at what will be the New Normal, the Work Environment will be modified. But, more importantly, the mindset of employees and managers will have to be adjusted. This new mindset will be required so each company can be more agile to meet the new challenges that will be awaiting every company and industry throughout the world. This will enable a company to not only survive but thrive in the next wave of quantum shifts. And yes, there will be another wave of quantum shifts in the future, lest we forget the examples of the past (eg. the 2007 Global Financial Crisis, 2003 SARS, etc.).

This article has focused on the Work Environment. The Work Environment is one of the four components of the 360o Future of Work practice at Ecosystm. The other three components are: People, Technology, and Business. All four are required to be in balance to enable companies to meet future challenges, competitors, and unknown black swans.  


Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Infrastructure & Offices) provided holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.
Ecosystm Engage Future of Work

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The Future of Work – Implications for Business Leaders & HR

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The COVID-19 crisis has required major resets in how organisations function – across industries and economies. In this environment of intense changes, businesses that have been agile in their operations and were better digitally enabled have thrived, while others have struggled. Irrespective of whether an organisation has been able to pivot fast to thrive or struggled to cope, it is very clear that the Future of Work is here now. Every organisation has had to make some changes to their People and work practices. It is time to (re) focus on employee experience holistically so that organisations can be ready for whatever model of work becomes prevalent in the future. I have recently published a report offering guidance to business leaders and HR Teams on how to make holistic workplace shifts, with inputs from Ecosystm Principal Advisors, Tim Sheedy and Audrey William.

Employee Experience at the Core of Customer Strategies

It has become increasingly clear that customer experience (CX) is not just about good sales skills or customer service. It is about the overall experience of the customer from start to post-purchase. Customers are focused on not just what they are buying but also on how they are treated along their entire journey. Good CX has consistently shown to help increase price premium, impulse buying, and loyalty. Consequently, one bad experience can drive a customer away forever. Customers pay for your products or services, but it is your people who can really deliver the experience.

Audrey says, “As it becomes clear that we are headed for a hybrid/blended model of work, employee experience (EX) has to be a key focus area for organisations. Organisations will have to support remote work and simultaneously evolve their physical workplaces so that employees have the choice to come into work. But business leaders and HR will definitely have to come together to re-evaluate their policies around employees and improving EX – irrespective of where they choose to work from.”  

The Role of Productivity in the Digital Workplace

Productivity has been at the core of an organisation’s desire to be a digital workplace. Tim says, “A digital workplace is one that has the capability to support any employee to access the process, information or system they need on their device of choice, in their moment and location of need. In the wake of the pandemic, the digital workplace went from being a ‘good idea’ to an ‘absolute necessity’ – and the seeds were sown to build true digital workplaces, years ahead of plan.”

This is the time to retain that focus on productivity. A lot of energy is being spent in defining and measuring productivity. The focus seems to have shifted to how to get the best out of the remote/hybrid workforce. It is time for business leaders and HR to go back to the drawing board to re-define what productivity means to their organisations.

Tim says, “The focus should be on enabling productivity rather than on monitoring activity. Productivity is an outcome, not a process. So, measure the outcome, improve the process. Productivity will be driven at an organisational level through removing friction from overall operational processes, to make things more streamlined and effective to create more value.”

The True Implication of Flexibility

There has been a rapid shift in practices around working from home and flexibility. But it is time now for organisations to create a framework (policy, performance expectation and management) to manage these practices. Many companies do not really understand the implications of flexible working to their business. In fact, they may be unaware of shifts in work patterns that have taken place in the last few months and the impact these shifts are having on the business.

Framework around flexible working should be backed by data and an understanding of the feasibility of such practices. If your employee has to work on her compulsory day off, then you do not have a truly flexible work practice. This will have a negative impact on employee experience and ultimately on your business.

 The Evolution of Employee Engagement

Audrey says,One of the areas that business leaders and HR will have to bear in mind is that despite flexible working hours, employees might be overworked – it is emerging as a common problem with working from home. It is common that many employees are working longer hours.”

Ecosystm research finds that some organisations have been evolving their HR practices, since the start of this crisis (Figure 1).

Key HR Measures to Empower a Future of Work, Remote Set-up

But more needs to be done. Organisations have to work really hard to replicate their employee engagement and social hours in the virtual world. It is critical that organisations design mechanisms of keeping employees connected – to each other, as well as to the organisation. “Virtual social groups” not only provide this connection, it can also be a rich source of input for HR and wellness teams to quickly adapt their programs to meet the changing needs of employees.

Shift in Managerial Styles

Performance management has been traditionally done through annual cycles, and by monitoring and tracking. In the Future of Work, organisations will have to increasingly give their employees the choice of working from home. Meetings, check-ins, 1:1 and team huddles for close monitoring will not work in this remote/hybrid model.

It is time to stop close monitoring and really focus on outcome-based management. And this will have to start with re-skilling people managers. Training should be provided on softer skills such as emotional intelligence, being able to sense across boundaries and digital spaces, and being able to be responsive to employees’ needs. The people manager must evolve into being a coach and a mentor – internal coaching and mentoring networks will have to be established. Line managers, business leaders and HR teams will need to collaborate more to ensure that these skills are developed and that the right support system is in place. 


For more insights on how organisations should evolve their Future of work Work practices to strengthen their agility and market competitiveness, read the report.
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Industry Spotlight for August – Future of Work

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The Future of Work is here, now. Organisations were faced with unprecedented challenges of coping with the work-from-home model, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year. Many organisations managed the pivot very successfully, but all organisations were impacted in some way. Various trends have emerged over the last few months, that are likely to persist long after the immediate COVID-19 measures are removed by countries. In the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study, we find that organisations will continue to cater for remote employees (Figure 1) and keep a firm eye on employee experience (EX).

Organisations will continue to Enable Remote working 2020-21

August has seen these clear trends in the Future of Work

#1 Tech companies leading from the front in embracing the Future of Work

As the pandemic continued to spread across the globe, various companies adopted the work from home model at a scale never seen before. While it is still unclear how the work model will look like, many companies continue to extend their remote working policies for the remaining year, and some are even thinking of making it a permanent move.

Tech companies appear to be the most proactive in extending remote working. Google, Microsoft, and AWS have all extended their work from home model till the end of the year or till the middle of next year.  Earlier in the month Facebook extended its work from home program until mid-2021 and are also giving employees USD 1,000 to equip their home offices. This appears to be a long-term policy, with the company announcing in May that in the next 5-10 years, they expect 50% of their employees to be remote. Similarly, Salesforce and Uber also announced that they would be extending remote working till the mid-next year, and are providing funding for employees to set up the right work environment.

In Australia, Atlassian has made work from home a permanent option for their employees. They will continue to operate their physical offices but have given employees the option to choose where they want to work from.

Some organisations have gone beyond announcing these measures. Slack has talked about how they are evolving their corporate culture. For example, they have evolved their hiring policies and most new roles are open to remote candidates. Going forward, they are evaluating a more asynchronous work environment where employees can work the hours that make sense for them. In their communique, they are open about the fluid nature of the work environment and the challenges that employees and organisations might face as their shift their work models.

Organisations will have to evaluate multiple factors before coming up with the right model that suits their corporate culture and nature of work, but it appears that tech companies are showing the industry how it can be done.

#2 Tech companies evolve their capabilities to enable the Future of Work

Right from the start of the crisis, we have seen organisations make technology-led pivots. Technology providers are responding – and fast – to the changing environment and are evolving their capabilities to help their customers embrace the digital Future of Work.

Many of these responses have included strengthening their ecosystems and collaborating with other technology providers. Wipro and Intel announced a collaboration between Wipro’s LIVE Workspace digital workspace solution and the Intel vPro platform to enable remote IT support and solution. The solution provides enhanced protection and security against firmware-level attacks. Slack and Atlassian strengthened their alliance with app integrations and an account ‘passport’ in a joint go-to-market move, to reduce the time spent logging into separate services and products. This will enable both vendors to focus on their strengths in remote working tools and provide seamless services to their customers.

Tech companies have also announced product enhancements and new capabilities. CBTS has evolved their cloud-based unified communications, collaboration and networking solutions, with an AI-powered Secure Remote Collaboration solution, powered by Cisco Webex. With seamless integration of Cisco Webex software, Cisco Security software, and endpoints that combine high-definition cameras, microphones, and speakers, with automatic noise reduction, the solution now offers features such real-time transcription, closed captioning, and recording for post-meeting transcripts. 

Communication and Collaboration tools have been in the limelight since the start of the crisis with providers such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack introducing new features throughout. In August Microsoft enhanced the capabilities of Teams and introduced a range of new features to the Teams Business Communications System. It now offers the option to host calls of up to 20,000 participants with a limit to 1,000 for interactive meetings, after which the call automatically shifts to a “view only” mode.  With the possibility of remote working becoming a reality even after the crisis is over, Microsoft is looking to make Teams relevant for a range of meeting needs – from one-on-one meetings up to large events and conferences. In the near future, the solution will also allow organisations to add corporate branding, starting with branded meeting lobbies, followed by branded meeting experiences.

While many of these solutions are aimed at large enterprises, tech providers are also aware that they are now receiving a lot of business from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), struggling to make changes to their technology environment with limited resources. Juniper has expanded their WiFi 6 access points to include 4 new access points aimed at outdoor environments, SMEs, retail sites, K-12 schools, medical clinics and even the individual remote worker. While WiFi 6 is designed for high-density public or private environments, it is also designed for IoT deployments and in workplaces that use videoconferencing and other applications that require high bandwidth.

#3 The Future of Work is driving up hardware sales

Ecosystm research shows that at the start of the crisis, 76% of organisations increased investments in hardware – including PCs, devices, headsets, and conferencing units – and 67% of organisations expect their hardware spending to go up in 2020-21. Remote working remains a reality across enterprises. Despite the huge increase in demand, it became difficult for hardware providers to fulfil orders initially, with a disrupted supply chain, store closures and a rapid shift to eCommerce channels. This quarter has seen a steady rise in hardware sales, as providers overcome some of their initial challenges.

Apart from enterprise sales, there has been a surge in the consumer demand for PCs and devices. While remote working is a key contributor, online education and entertainment are mostly prompting homebound people to invest more in hardware. Even accessories such as joysticks are in short supply – a trend that seems to have been accelerated by the Microsoft Flight Simulator launch earlier this month.

The demand for both iPad and Mac saw double-digit growth in this quarter. Around half of the customers purchasing these devices were new to the product. Apple sees the rise in demand from remote workers and students. Lenovo reported a 31% increase in Q1 net profits with demand surges in China, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

 #4 The impact on Real Estate is beginning to show

The demand for prime real estate has been hit by remote working and organisations not renewing leases or downsizing – both because most employees are working remotely and because of operational cost optimisation during the crisis. This is going to have a longer-term impact on the market, as organisations re-evaluate their need for physical office space. Some organisations will reduce office space, and many will re-design their offices to cater to virtual interactions (Figure 1). While now, Ecosystm research shows that only 16% of enterprises are expecting a reduction of commercial space, this might well change over the months to come. Organisations might even feel the need to have multiple offices in suburbs to make it convenient for their hybrid workers to commute to work on the days they have to. Amazon is offering employees additional choices for smaller offices outside the city of Seattle.

But the Future of Work and the rise of a distributed workforce is beginning to show an initial impact on the real estate industry. Last week saw Pinterest cancel a large office lease at a building to be constructed near its headquarters in San Francisco. The company felt that it might not be the right time to go ahead with the deal, as they are re-evaluating where employees would like to work from in the future. Even the termination fees of USD 89.5 million did not discourage them. They will continue to maintain their existing work premises but do not see feel that it is the right time to make additional real estate investments, as they re-evaluate where employees would like to work from in the future.  

There is a need for organisations to prepare themselves for the Future of Work – now! Ecosystm has launched a new 360o Future of Work practice, leveraging real-time market data from our platform combined with insights from our industry practitioners and experienced analysts, to guide organisations as they shift and define their new workplace strategies.   


Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Infrastructure & Offices) provided holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.
Ecosystm Engage Future of Work

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