Building Resilient Future-Proof Cities

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In this Ecosystm Insight, our guest author Randeep Sudan shares his views on how Cities of the Future can leverage technology for future resilience and sustainability. “Technology is not the only aspect of Smart City initiatives. Besides technology, we need to revisit organisational and institutional structures, prioritise goals, and design and deploy an architecture with data as its foundation.”

Randeep Sudan, Former Leader World Bank, Founder Multivrez, Board member Ecosystm

Earlier this year, Sudan participated in a panel discussion organised by Microsoft where he shared his views on building resilient and sustainable Cities of the Future. Here are his key messages for policymakers and funding agencies that he shared in that session.   

“Think ahead, Think across, and Think again! Strategic futures and predictive analytics is essential for cities and is critical for thinking ahead. It is also important to think across through data unification and creating data platforms. And the whole paradigm of innovation is thinking again.”

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Does Your Cloud Provider Develop Talent?

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Digital and IT organisations are going through some dramatic changes as they adopt cloud and as-a-service capabilities. In this post, I want to write about two of these – one that is very much a consequence of the other.

Contract Numbers are Exploding 

We’re seeing an explosion in the number of IT suppliers to a typical organisation.

Pre-cloud, the typical organisation probably had five to ten contracts that covered most of the external services that were in use. With suppliers increasingly providing niche functionality and the increased use of credit cards to buy external services, it is often difficult to determine exactly how many contracts are in place. Or, indeed, have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions of each of these contracts.

Where once an organisation might have had contracts for an on-premises ERP and CRM system, a typical organisation will still have those contracts as well as a supply chain forecasting service, a marketing email management tool, not to mention online spreadsheets and task management capabilities.

So with many more contracts in place, the complexity of managing these contracts and understanding the technical, legal and business risks encapsulated in these contracts has become dramatically more difficult.

I’ll return to this point in a later post, as most organisations struggle with this increasing complexity.

What Is Happening to Your People?

The existence of these contracts means that you are increasingly becoming dependent on the people employed by these external organisations. But when you sign up for these contracts, do you investigate how these suppliers develop their talent?

The New Zealand Herald recently carried an interesting article on one organisation that has developed a paid intern program. Something very rare in the industry.

The article prompted me to think through some of the implications of using cloud services. Tech buyer organisations will have less need for technical capabilities as increasingly these are delivered by the cloud suppliers.

But the growth in demand for digital and IT skills just continues to increase as more and more industries digitalise. In the past, tech buyer organisations would have invested (at least the good employers did!) in the development of their people. The cloud suppliers are increasingly doing this talent development.

Most contract negotiations are based on cost, quality and customer service. A significant proportion of cloud contracts are now boilerplate – you pay with a credit card for a monthly service and have little or no ability to negotiate terms and conditions.

The trade-off is required to get a short commitment term and a variable cost profile. No tech vendor can afford to negotiate bespoke contracts for this type of commercial arrangement.

This situation leaves the question of how tech buyers can influence tech vendors to develop their people’s talent appropriately. Some would say that the tech vendors will do this as a matter of course, but the statistics, as highlighted in the Ecosystm research data in Figure 1, show that we are not bringing people in at the rate the industry requires.

Cloud Skills Management

Advice for Tech Buyers

I recommend you look closely at using two tactics with the tech vendors that you are working with:

  • First, look to consolidate as much workload as practical under a single contract with the supplier. This is not a new recommendation for contracts – but with the increasing use of boilerplate contracts, it is one of the few ways an organisation can increase its value and importance to a tech vendor.
  • Second, start finding those tech vendors that are developing new and existing talent in practical ways and favour these organisations in any purchase decision.

Most organisations, individually, do not have the commercial power to dictate terms to the cloud providers. Still, if enough tech buyers adopt this critical criterion, the cloud providers may see the value in investing in the industry’s talent development in meaningful ways.

The downside? Talent development does not come free. Tech buyers may need to pay a higher fee to encourage the suppliers but paying a low-cost provider who does not develop their talent sounds like a recipe for poor quality service.

If you would like to discuss any of these thoughts or issues further, please feel free to reach out and contact me. This is an industry issue and one for our broader society, so I would be interested in hearing how your organisations are addressing this challenge.

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DBS and AWS Collaborate to Upskill Employees

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Organisations are on a fast track to digitalisation. The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study finds that 60% of organisations anticipate increased use of digital technologies for process automation, even after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. One of the key challenges that these organisations will face is the lack of internal digital skills – especially in emerging technologies. One of the success metrics of any technology adoption is employee uptake. Without the necessary skills or understanding of the benefits of emerging technology, employees will largely shy away from digital offerings, even the ones that will make their work more efficient and their lives easier.

Organisations are realising the value of making their workforce future ready.

DBS Instilling Company-Wide Digital Culture

Far-sighted companies are collaborating with technology vendors and professional training providers to promote tech awareness and education to futureproof their workforce. DBS Bank in Singapore has collaborated with AWS to train and upskill 3,000 employees – including the leadership team – with AI and machine learning skills through gamification in a DBS x AWS DeepRacer League.

The AWS DeepRacer Leagues have been previously organised in several parts of the world, but the DBS x AWS DeepRacer will be the first to be organised at this scale. The league will enable DBS employees to get their hands-on AI and machine learning tutorials online. They will then have the opportunity to test out their new skills in programming a 3D racing simulator and iteratively fine-tune their models and compete with each other. The learning program is entirely cloud-based and aims to ingrain digital skills in the workforce.

DBS has won several accolades for their digital transformation and innovation initiatives, and they continue to experiment with emerging technologies. In 2019, DBS digitalised and simplified end-to-end credit processing, setting the foundation for advanced credit risk management using data analytics and machine learning. They have also deployed an AI-powered engine for self-service digital options to its retail banking customers. Taking their employees along with them on this journey is a wise move.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “With the increasing use of automation, AI and machine learning, the nature of work and businesses is transforming rapidly. This is creating opportunities for processes to be automated and increasing the use of AI and Deep Learning into the business processes of the organisation. Industry value chains are transforming – AI and machine learning is adding automation, analytics and predictive intelligence to the portfolio. The recent news of DBS and AWS partnering to upskill the bank’s workforce underscores the value of creating a future ready workforce.”  

“Such upskilling efforts add industry-specific context to make them more effective. BCG refers to this as ‘Human + AI’. A recent study from BCG and MIT shows that 18% of companies in the world that are pioneering AI are making money with it. Those companies focus 80% of their AI initiatives on effectiveness and growth, taking better decisions – not replacing humans with AI to save costs.” 

Government Focus on Digital Skills Upgrade

This week, Singapore also saw another initiative to bridge digital skills gaps – this time from the public sector. In 2018, the Government launched its Smart Nation Scholarship program to attract and nurture talent, and later involve them in various departments to drive Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives. The most recent Smart Nation Scholarship program 2020 attracted 723 applicants (17% more than the previous year). This is a slightly different approach, aimed at attracting digital native employees and mentoring them for digital leadership. After completing their studies, the 15 scholarship recipients are set to join public sector agencies such as Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), Government Technology Agency (GovTech), and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), to give the younger generation an opportunity to co-create the country’s Smart Nation vision.   

Bhagaraju says, “Both private and government institutions are working to enhance workforce skills, improve marketability and making the workforce future ready. Industry 4.0 and the digital revolution have created the need to address the skill gaps that have arisen. Government programs such as the Skills Future program in Singapore, Malaysia’s HRD upskilling program, and the EU-28 European Digital initiative are all making a sustained effort to promote lifelong learning and acquisition/upgrading of skills for their respective citizens with quite successful results, that will have long-term impacts.”


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

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