Anirban Mukherjee has more than 25 years of experience in operations excellence and technology consulting across the globe, having led transformations in Energy, Engineering, and Automotive majors. Over the last decade, he has focused on Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 solutions that integrate cutting-edge digital into existing operations.
It will be a fine balance. But the good news is that the technology is not only available to address these areas but is also mature enough to be cost-effective. Of course, this will require the organisation to view technology as a strategic investment.
Another aspect of technology-led transformation that will benefit BPO organisations is the transparency that technology can provide and the opportunity to build better trust. This will be driven by full visibility of what is actually happening and the ability to provide real-time progress reports on issues raised. This means that quarterly site visits by clients to “show and tell” can be avoided. The discussions can be about specific points of interest and improvement rather than the “feel good factors” that these visits usually provide.
So, in many ways COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of the “New Age BPO sector” and the intersection of this wave with the digital transformation wave will have a positive long-term impact on the BPO sectors in popular destinations such as India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and others across the world.
Without this transformation, BPO organisations will keep pushing themselves into a tight corner and eventually be replaced by nimble and technology-savvy competitors that are focused on process and industry differentiation.
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.
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.
The Need to enable Foundational Shifts. The younger generation is more aware of environmental, social and governance issues that the world continues to face. Many of the countries in the region are emerging economies, where these issues become more apparent. COVID-19 has also inculcated an empathy in people and they are thinking of future success in terms of impact. The desire to enable foundational shifts is giving direction to the transformation journey in the region. The wonderful new paradigm that is the Digital Economy allows us to cut across all segments; and technology and its advancements has immense potential to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for the world.
Realising the Power of Momentum. The pandemic has caused major disruptions in the region. But every crisis also presents an opportunity to perhaps re-imagine a brighter world through a digital lens.The other thing that the pandemic has done is made people and organisations realise that to succeed they need to be open to change – and that momentum is important. As organisations had to pivot fast, they realised what I have been saying for years – we shouldn’t “let perfect get in the way of better”. This adaptability and the readiness to fail fast and learn from the mistakes early for eventual success, is leading to faster and more agile transformation journeys.
Where are we seeing the most impact?
Industries are Transforming. There are industries such as Healthcare and Education that had to transform out of a necessity and urgency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a greater impetus for change and optimism in these industries. These industries will continue to transform as governments focus significantly on creating “Social Safety Nets” and technology plays a key role in enabling critical services across Health, Education and Food Security. Then there are industries, such as the Financial Services and Retail, that had a strong customer focus and were well on their digital journeys before the pandemic. The pandemic boosted these efforts.
But these are not the only industries that are transforming. There are industries that have been impacted more than others. There are several instances of how organisations in these industries are demonstrating not only resilience but innovation. The Travel & Hospitality industry has had several such instances. As business models evolve the industry will see significant changes in digital channels to market, booking engines, corporate service offerings and others, as the overall Digital Strategy is overhauled.
Technologies are Evolving. Organisations depended on their tech partners to help them make the fast pivot required to survive and succeed in the last year – and tech companies have not disappointed. They have evolved their capabilities and continue to offer innovative solutions that can solve many of the ongoing business challenges that organisations face in their innovation journey. More and more technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics, and digital twins are getting enmeshed together to offer better options for business growth, process efficiency and customer engagement. And the 5G rollouts will only accelerate that. The initial benefits being realized from early adoption of 5G has been for consumers. But there is a much bigger impact that is waiting to be realised as 5G empowers governments and businesses to make critical decisions at the edge.
Tech Start-ups are Flourishing. There are immense opportunities for technology start-ups to grow their market presence through innovative products and services. To succeed these companies need to have a strong investment roadmap; maintain a strong focus on customer engagement; and offer technology solutions that can fulfil the global needs of their customers. Technologies that promote efficiency and eliminate mundane tasks for humans are the need of the hour. However, as the reliance on technology-led transformation increases, tech vendors are becoming acutely aware that they cannot be best-in-class across the different technologies that an organisation will require to transform. Here is where having a robust partner ecosystem helps. Partnerships are bringing innovation to scale in Asia.
We can expect Asia to emerge as a powerhouse as businesses continue to innovate, embed technology in their product and service offerings – and as tech start-ups continue to support their innovation journeys.
Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta gets face to face with Garrett Ilg, President Asia Pacific & Japan, Oracle to discuss the rise of the Asia Digital economies, the impact of the growing middle class on consumerism and the spirit of innovation across the region.
And the situation gets even more complicated when external events impact your business. Ecosystm research unearths the impact of COVID-19: over 90% of respondents changed their planned Digital Transformation in some way (Figure 1). These changes will inevitably mean that the anticipated behaviour changes from their teams no longer apply. Getting the affected people re-engaged with the new initiatives will not be a simple task.
For example, when an organisation I worked at integrated an information-as-a-service capability, we found that our most experienced people did not use the new capability! They preferred to stick with their paper sources as they were very good at finding what they needed.
So nothing is achieved unless someone acts differently. We can change the technology, and we can change the process, but unless the people who need to change do change, we will waste everything else we do.
The scale of the change really doesn’t matter. If people are not in a mindset where they are looking to improve, we waste our time.
In the example I mentioned earlier, our store teams used catalogues to look up parts and equipment for customers. Our most experienced people were amazing – they knew which of the myriad of catalogues was going to give them the best part. We had not convinced them that the real-time system, which the supplier updated constantly, was better for them than the last paper version they had received.
So, on the Digital Value Journey, travellers need to remain very aware of the state of mind of the people whose behaviour they expect to change. Getting and keeping these people engaged is essential to the change.
People’s Resistance to Change
But why do people resist (or just plain ignore) change? How clear are you on what is in it for them?
Recent research on people’s motivation by psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman highlights that people fear loss much more than they look forward to success. To overcome this loss aversion, we need to help people understand why their lives will be better once we’ve completed the change and specifically address their concerns.
When we were looking at replacing the paper catalogues, we told the store teams that they would be able to quickly and easily search across all the catalogues available to them to give the customer the best deal. We didn’t consider that the ability to find the right part was a source of pride for some of the team. It was a skill that our experienced team members had developed over the years, and they felt we were devaluing their expertise.
We need to help those affected by the change recognise the purpose of the change and what is in it for them. If there is nothing, then why change?
And leaving people behind on the change journey is never going to lead to success. Their clear understanding of the purpose of the change is essential to getting the anticipated benefits.
I’ve seen change activities launch with a hiss and a roar, but as the pressure comes on during the delivery stages, communication and collaboration drop away. Listening carefully and responding authentically is a necessary part of the journey right through implementation until our teams have fully adopted the changes. A change doesn’t end at the implementation of a capability.
And that catalogue replacement? The delivery team kept listening to the store teams and made some great changes that were asked for. Some of the changes we didn’t understand, but the store teams were adamant. And the development paid for itself in less than six months through increased and better quality sales.
How do digital leaders shift from providing a cost-focused to a value-focused service? At the CXO Digital Leaders Dialogue series, together with Best Case Scenario, we will be in discussion with leaders who will share their experiences on navigating their digital journey.
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Woolworths has committed to invest AUD 50 million in upskilling and reskilling their employees in areas such as digital, data analytics, machine learning and robotics over the next three years. The move comes as a response to the way the Retail industry has been disrupted and the need to futureproof to stay relevant and successful. The training will be provided through online platforms and through collaborations with key learning institutions.
The supermarket giant is one of Australia’s largest private employers with more than 200,000 employees. Under Woolworths’ ‘Future of Work Fund’ their staff will be trained across supply chain, store operations, and support functions to enhance delivery and decision-making processes. The retailer will also create an online learning platform that will be accessible by Woolworths employees as well as by other retail and service companies to support the ecosystem. Woolworths has plans to upskill their staff in customer service abilities, leadership skills and agile ways of working.
Woolworths’ upskilling program will also support employees who were impacted by Woolworths planned closures of Minchinbury, Yennora, and Mulgrave distribution centres due in 2025.
Woolworths’ Tech Focus
Woolworths has been ramping up their technology investments and having tech-savvy employees will be key to their future success. In October 2020, Woolworths deployed micro automation technology to revamp their eCommerce facility in Melbourne to speed up the fulfilment of online grocery orders, and front and back-end operations. Woolworths also partnered with Dell Technologies in November 2020 to bring together their private and public cloud onto a single platform to improve mission-critical processes, applications and support inventory management operations across its retail stores.
Future of Work
For many years, Ecosystm has been advising our clients to invest more in the skills of the business. Every business will be using more cloud next year than they are this year; they will suffer more cybersecurity incidents; they will use more AI and machine learning; they will automate more processes than are automated today. More of their customer engagements will be digital, and more insight will be required to drive better outcomes for customers and employees. This all needs new skills – or more people trained on skills that some in the business already understand. But too many businesses don’t train in advance – instead waiting for the need and paying external consultants or expensive new hires for their skills. Empowered businesses – ones that are creating a future-ready, agile business – invest in their people, work environment, business processes and technology to create an environment where innovation, transformation and business change are accepted and encouraged (Figure 2).
Empowered businesses can adapt to new challenges, new market conditions and respond to new competitive threats. By taking these steps to upskill and empower their employees, Woolworths is building towards empowering their own business for long term success.
Transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands in 2021. Download Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021.