So, it’s official. We are in a recession. But some experts say investment in digital transformation during a recession should remain steady.
The National Bureau of Economic Research declared on June 8 that the recession began in February. It’s an unusual recession, by all standards — one not caused by macroeconomic financial mechanisms as in 2008 with the housing market collapse or in 1981 on the heels of tight monetary policy and an energy crisis. No, this recession has less to do with financial triggers and can be attributed largely to an unprecedented global pandemic.
It’s left the business community to make some tough decisions. Where can we cut costs? How should we shift resources?
From an IT perspective, while remote work efforts may in some cases increase the adoption of digital technology, investments in tough economic times are often approached with a more cautious mindset.
The Impact of a Recession on the Digital Transformation of Organizations Globally
In October and November 2019, executives worldwide seemed to state that should a recession occur in 2020, investments in digital transformation would either increase or remain the same – with very few saying that would decrease — this according to research from Business Insider Intelligence (BII).
If there was an economic recession in the next 12 months, how do you think your company would change spending in each of the following areas?
It would definitely be interesting to see whether their answers held true in today’s climate. In any case, many experts suggest that defunding digital transformation during a recession might not be a wise idea. At a 2019 Gartner IT Symposium keynote, Gartner Senior Vice President Val Sribar posed the question, “Globally, many economists and CFOs believe we are heading towards another set of economic downturns. If they’re right, how would you respond?”
According to Gartner and IT executives that were interviewed, the answer is for CIOs to prime their organizations for uncertainty, driving forward with digital initiatives while remaining agile and flexible enough to adapt to major changes — either in the direction of the economy or the marketplace.
Sribar continued by drawing an analogy to race car drivers that must learn to accelerate and brake around the same time — meaning that CIOs must figure out how to cut costs and invest simultaneously in the midst of an economic downturn. He added, “You have to analyze and execute, cut and grow.”
The crisis could even serve as an “accelerant” for IT initiatives. Firms that are on their own digital journey — whether that’s investments in robotic process automation or cloud-based information management technology — are persisting in those efforts, according to Bhushan Sethi, Global People & Organization Leader at PwC. Sethi said, “The focus remains on productivity and tying investments back to a business case, but new spend is harder to get approval for.”
But not all organizations are heeding the call.
E-Consultancy and Marketing Week conducted a survey of more than 2,200 marketers, which discovered that the majority believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has already heavily impacted business operations in areas like R&D and digital transformation.
Despite most agreeing that there is a sharp increase in demand for online and digital services, many are pulling digital transformation investments, when they should perhaps be investing in digital transformation, which serves to future-proof businesses. Transformation allows companies to focus on improving the customer experience, bolster digital offerings and develop brand equity.
Information Management as a Key Facet of Digital Transformation Built to Withstand an Economic Downturn
We can attest anecdotally to the fact that our customers — those that had intelligent information management as a core piece of their tech stack — fared well when it came time to send knowledge workers home to work. They had the same access to business-critical information remotely as they had at the office and thus continuity, productivity and efficiency did not suffer. Greg Fulk of Valeo Financial Advisors explains:
Ultimately, the key to minimizing the risk that disruption inherently poses is in future-proofing the organization. And one way to guard against disruption risk is with information management technology that, even in a recession, allows businesses to:
Streamline projects, engagements and client interactions
When all is said and done, the earth will continue to spin, the pandemic will pass, and the economy will recover. The question is: Will you be ready, better equipped, and wiser? Will you use this time to plan and prepare, priming your business to face the future?
It’s no secret that remote work or telecommuting was gaining popularity in the United States over the past decade. According to one recent study, about 4.3 million people work remotely at least half the time — a number equivalent to about 3.2% of the entire workforce. All told, the number of people who work from home in some capacity has increased by an impressive 140% since 2005 alone — a trend that showed absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Based on all of the above, it’s safe to say that it was already established that remote work played an important role in the future of business. Few people probably realized that “the future” would arrive quite as quickly as it did.
At one point during the Coronavirus pandemic, more people were in lockdown in the United States than were alive during World War II. Many employees were working remotely for the first time and countless organizations had to find ways to adapt to the brave new world we found ourselves in.
These same organizations are now trying to figure out the best strategy to accommodate these newly remote, flexible workers. Believe it or not, the most important component of that strategy is still the one that far too many people are overlooking.
Why Information Management Matters Most of All
There are a number of important components that are necessary to make any remote employee strategy truly work. Obviously, you need video conferencing and chat tools so that people can communicate and collaborate with one another. These workers need not only reliable Internet connections of their own, but a secure way to access a business’ network so that they can continue to share data and be as productive as possible.
But while these elements are important… they’re not the most important component that should be at the heart of your strategy.
By far, the number one most important part of any successful remote, flexible work strategy has to do with a true information platform at the heart of it all. At its core, an information management system is exactly what it sounds like — a solution designed to enable not only the storage of critical data, but also the organization and retrieval of that same information.
Think about it like this. Your average business is creating an enormous amount of data on a daily basis pertaining to not only the work of its employees but also its products, its services and its customers. But without a way to share that information and make it easy for anyone to access from anywhere, the actionable intelligence and insight it contains remains trapped inside. At that point, the data is essentially meaningless — it’s little more than a bunch of 1s and 0s sitting on a hard drive somewhere.
During a period where more people are working remotely than ever, the problem of information sprawl actually gets worse, not better. Data is being created from so many difference sources that are essentially siloed off from one another that communication, collaboration AND productivity are harmed in ways that you simply cannot afford.
By having the right information management software at the heart of your remote, flexible work strategy, on the other hand, you accomplish a number of important goals — essentially all at the exact same time.
Give your employees a solution that gives them anywhere, anytime access to all of the critical data they need to do their jobs in the most effective way possible.
You also have an overarching strategy that applies not just to the sharing of information, but that also works in accordance with all of the principles of governance, compliance and security.
So, you’re not just providing your employees access to the tools necessary to do their jobs. You’re doing so in a way that gives you better visibility into who is accessing what information and from where, which ensures compliance with rules and regulations you must adhere to. You’re also adding yet another layer of security, thus protecting your employees, your customers and the very business you’ve already worked so hard to build.
But the major reason why this is so important right now is that sooner rather than later, COVID-19 will be officially behind us. However, the businesses that we’re about to return to will likely barely resemble the ones we left in mid-March. Remote, flexible work is absolutely here to stay and by putting this critical component in place as an organic part of your remote, flexible work strategy today, you’ll be able to reap benefits that will continue to pay dividends long after COVID-19 is finally gone.
If you’d like to find out more about why an information management solution is the number one most important part of any remote, flexible work strategy, or if you just have any additional questions you’d like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, we’re here to be a resource for you and your team.
According to figures, before COVID, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had access to a “flexible workplace” benefit or telework. Now, 64% of US employees are working from home now, according to research conducted by SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index.
This swelling of remote work is spurring many organizations to reevaluate their suite of business applications and tech solutions. In a TechRepublic article this year, Mike Vance, VP of IT at KSM Consulting says:
“It means evaluating what systems you have and how you can potentially migrate to the cloud, even in this [remote] environment. Your IT professionals still have the access that they need to do that work. Streamlining their tech stack is also aligned with what your core business function is, the systems that support that, and ensuring they are resilient and ready to function as they need it to.”
Vance continues to lay out a simple process for IT organizations to right-size their tech stacks in these strange and unprecedented times — a process certainly worth recapping.
Step 1: Conduct an Audit of Your Tech Stack
The first suggestion and natural starting point is to assess which constituents of your tech stack are actually needed. Vance suggests deploying employee surveys to assess which solutions are most useful and most utilized.
“I’d be doing them probably the first couple of weeks… I would analyze the results, figure out what you need to dive into deeper to make sure they’re fully productive. Then move that to biweekly for a month and then monthly until we get out of this window,” Vance says. “You could uncover a lot of things in regard to preparedness in organizations that they didn’t know before.”
Step 2: Develop a Feasibility Matrix
The next step is to collect qualitative data from the IT staff and use that data to put together a feasibility matrix — which analyzes responses from the employee surveys to determine which tech solutions are critical. From there, define which of those are feasible to continue using in a remote work environment.
Again, Vance guides us to the most critical consideration in assessing software solutions in a remote work environment:
What is the feasibility and how does it balance with the ROI of that solution?
In other words… “What’s the return I get out of making this investment during this time? How hard is it to get it? Is it even feasible to have this while being remote?”
Vance goes on to highlight the importance of collaboration and communication solutions to a remote work tech stack, while balancing them with diligent information security practices to minimize the risk brought on by remote work.
Step 3: Eliminate Redundant, Unnecessary Applications and SaaS Licenses
An organization’s tech stack is an ever-evolving organism. Many organizations keep adding to their suite of tech solutions — which naturally means a bloating of data stores and information repositories. It also means that there are SaaS solutions that aren’t being used much anymore and licenses which can be cut from the budget.
With an audit and resulting feasibility matrix in tow, IT departments can start to execute on that information and retool their tech stacks, trimming the applications that are unnecessary and cutting down on redundant SaaS licenses.
The Glue that Binds the Enterprise Tech Stack: Information Management
As mentioned a moment ago, as the tech stack grows, so too does the amount of information, data, files and documents that are a natural by-product of doing business. Not only does the amount of information grow, usually the number of repositories grows, as well.
Think about it. If an organization standardizes and adds a communication tool, a collaboration tool, and a project management tool, for example, that’s three more silos where information will be housed.
To combat this information sprawl, organizations should consider an intelligent information management platform like M-Files. With M-Files, information and files can live wherever they need to live. M-Files connects to existing repositories, presenting information to users based on what it is, not where it is. It allows users to perform Google-like searches for critical information across the entire information ecosystem.
M-Files also helps enforce companywide information security and governance protocols, even in a remote work environment. By layering M-Files as an umbrella over the entire tech stack, compliance is preserved, and only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information.
Ultimately, intelligent information management underpins the enterprise tech stack and can be scaled along with it as companies right-size that tech stack.
In July, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published a policy brief with some tremendous evidence-based information on potential productivity gains from teleworking in the post-COVID-19 era.
TL;DR Worker efficiency improves with low levels of telework but decreases with ‘excessive telework’, implying a ‘sweet spot’ where worker efficiency – and thus productivity – is maximized at intermediate levels of telework.
First, four key themes from the piece — supported by data and evidence — are:
Remote work may be a permanent fixture after COVID-19.
Remote work varies substantially across countries, sectors, occupations and firms.
In the long run, remote work has the potential to improve productivity and worker well-being but carries some ambiguity and risk in its overall impact.
To minimize risk of harming long-term innovation and worker well-being, remote work should be a choice and not “overdone”.
We wanted to take a moment to give you an abbreviated synopsis of some of the more interesting, actionable findings.
Remote Work Affects Productivity in These 2 Main Channels
Perhaps one of the most compelling sections of the report, it lays out the two main factors that shape the impact of telework on firms and staff.
Telework can improve or hamper firm performance, with its overall effect depending importantly on two main channels:
A direct channel affects firm performance through changing the efficiency, motivation, and knowledge creation of the workforce.
An indirect channel is for telework to facilitate cost reductions that free up resources for productivity enhancing innovation and reorganization.
The path to productivity gains is laid out in this model:
Will Remote Work Improve or Harm Your Firm? These are the 4 Determining Factors
According to the model above, there are four main factors that will determine whether remote work will help or hurt your firm’s productivity:
1 | Worker Satisfaction
This one can break two different ways. “Telework can improve firm performance by raising worker satisfaction and thus worker efficiency, e.g. through better work-life balance, less commuting or fewer distractions leading to more focused work or less absenteeism. It is, however, also possible that worker satisfaction decreases with telework, e.g. due to solitude, hidden overtime and a fusing of private and work life, or an inappropriate working environment at home.”
Thus, it is important to give workers the choice to work remotely and offer a flexible work environment where employees can choose what’s best for themselves.
2 | Cost Reductions
Telework can also improve firm performance through facilitating cost reductions. A few ways this happens:
Lower capital costs by reducing office space and equipment required by the company
Labor costs can be reduced as telework enlarges the pool of workers firms can choose from
Hiring costs may decrease if higher worker satisfaction reduces voluntary quits and turnover
Potentially attract workers at lower wages than would otherwise be the case – in particular if combined with other measures that improve work-life-balance such as flexible hours – to the extent workers are willing to give up a higher salary in return for these amenities
3 | Communication
The report points out that the reduction in in-person interactions — and communication quality, in general — can hamper productivity. “A wide range of evidence supports the notion that personal meetings allow for more effective communication than more remote forms such as emails, chat, or phone calls. For instance, personal communication has been shown to be more convincing, to attract more attention, or to better allow observing social clues. Disruptive forms of communication may surge to compensate for the lack of personal communication, e.g. increased email traffic or virtual meetings.”
4 | Knowledge Flows
This factor is near and dear to us here at M-Files. The lack of personal interaction can decrease knowledge flows among employees. At M-Files, a few cornerstones of our information management solution are:
The ability to share information easily with colleagues
Improving the discoverability of critical, helpful information
The flow of information between individuals, departments, business units and external parties
Workers learn from in-person encounters with colleagues — water cooler chats, dropping by a teammate’s office — and that interaction cannot be understated. The report says: “Innovation depends importantly on the sharing of knowledge: ‘What each individual knows is less important. What counts is collective knowledge.’”
To compensate in a remote work environment, firms should realign their digitization efforts to promote knowledge sharing in the absence of interpersonal engagement. And to that end, information management tools like M-Files are absolutely critical to ensure a healthy knowledge flow.
In Remote Work Environments, there is a Point of Diminishing Returns
The report goes on to explain that there is indeed a point of diminishing returns with teleworking. In summary, worker satisfaction increases in a remote work environment — enough to offset potentially negative effects on communication, knowledge flows and managerial oversight.
“The relative strength of these channels in turn is likely to depend on the intensity of telework: the negative effect due to the lack of personal interactions likely becomes stronger with telework intensity, as opportunities for in-person communication diminish, while worker satisfaction improves with low levels of telework but may suffer from ‘excessive’ teleworking, e.g. due to solitude or a fusing of private and professional life.”
Thus, there is a sweet spot for maximizing productivity. Not offering remote work is bad. Too much remote work is bad, also.
Ultimately, firms must ascertain for themselves where that point of diminishing returns is and aim to create a more flexible workplace where employees have the option to choose whichever volume of remote work suits them best.
And to maintain productivity, they need to be equipped with digital solutions like communication, collaboration and information management — at the very minimum.
What Exactly is Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)?
“Information lifecycle management (ILM) is the effort to oversee data, from creation through retirement, in order to optimize its utility, lower costs, as well as minimize the legal and compliance risks that may be introduced through that data.
“ILM involves storage optimization as well as strategies to improve data quality and security. Finally, a strong information lifecycle management practice will proactively control data retention and disposal in accordance with business policy.”
Why is Information Lifecycle Management Important?
Most organizations don’t leverage their information effectively. There are varied statistics out there but one assessment says that 60-73% of company data goes unused. It lies dormant in some repository, forgotten about, taking up space that costs money and may even violate compliance requirements.
Ultimately, the information your organization creates is one of its most important assets. A good strategy must carefully manage and protect that information, particularly when customers have entrusted it to you. The past decade has seen the advent of evolving regulatory compliance and privacy requirements — like GDPR and CCPA — which now sit at a crossroads with an upsurge in digital data volume.
Companies must sustain good governance policies over rapidly increasing quantities of information. This is not an effort that can be delayed. The most prosperous businesses of the next decade will be those that can locate, categorize, and enforce control over their information.
The consequences of doing nothing (or very little) can have vast and amplified effects on the organization at-large over time. When it comes to enterprise information, they need to secure it, deduplicate it, and dispose of it at the proper time. Serious consequences include:
Legal and regulatory exposure. Many regulations specify how long data must be kept. There’s no benefit to keeping it longer and, in fact, could present risk if sensitive information is still discoverable past its useful lifetime.
Cost. A Veritas study estimated that poor information governance will create 1 billion of avoidable storage and management costs worldwide by 2020. Unnecessary data storage costs money.
Access. Obsolete or irrelevant information mixed in with critical information slows down access and creates the potential for confusion and errors.
Information Lifecycle Management Visualized
Our friends at Iron Mountain published an infographic which succinctly lays out a 5-step information lifecycle management path. Businesses are creating a massive volume of information, but what happens to those documents? Are they handled appropriately? Are the disposed of or taking up costly space on a server somewhere?
Take a look at the infographic and follow the path:
The concept that Iron Mountain visualized is that documents and information should have a defined lifecycle with five steps — encompassed by awareness of compliance measures.
Create. Create information and classify it with metadata according to organizational standards.
Use. Make information available to certain individuals and applications in support of organizational goals and obligations.
Retain. Protect information by storing it in secure repositories according to retention policy.
Preserve. Safeguard information to meet legal, regulatory, operational and archival requirements.
Dispose. Destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life according to formal procedure.
Simplifying Information Lifecycle Management
Regrettably, many organizations — even large ones — depend on manual processes for information lifecycle management and that makes the process slow and inaccurate. M-Files can automate much of the process to free up staff time to work on more strategic projects. It can also save time and headaches in the event of a discovery demand or regulatory request.
The M-Files intelligent information management platform has a role in all five phases of the information lifecycle, simplifying every process, and here’s how:
At the inception point of a document, it can be classified with metadata — even with the help of built-in AI — and governance rules can be applied with workflow rules to flag that information for proper archival after its useful lifetime.
With customizable, dynamic permissions, access rights are controlled tightly, and usage policy is inherently well-defined.
M-Files offers a cloud, on-premise or hybrid deployment allowing for flexibility and security in data storage — aligned with any compliance or governance policies.
If information needs to be retained in accordance with regulatory requirements, M-Files can safeguard that information for any specified length of time.
A simple governance workflow can automatically destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life — or notify an information manager to act on that data.
If you’re a student of sales and/or marketing, then you know that you must provide value to your customers. And you must do it in terms of how your customers think about value and not how your company thinks about value. What you think are the greatest features and best use cases are nearly irrelevant. So, when we think about our bread and butter sectors here at M-Files, where our document managementsolution has significant impact, professional services and specifically, business consulting rises to the top. We sought to answer the question: Why do business consulting companies love information management technology?
And so, to frame the answer in terms of value, it’s important to consider value from the business consultancy’s point of view and not ours. A cool prompt for that angle comes from Bob Apollo at Inflexion Point. He presented at an M-Files Sales Kickoff and I always remember the slide he put up on the screen about how customers think about value.
Solutions like information management technology must answer a few of the following questions for buyers:
How will this help me to increase revenues?
How will this help me to reduce expenditure?
How will this help me to avoid risks?
How will this help me save time?
How will this help me achieve my goals?
For business consulting companies we’ve worked with — like advisory firm Horne — the answers are not difficult to ascertain.
How will information management technology help me to increase revenues?
Buyers want a collaborative relationship where information is readily available about their engagement. M-Files turns client engagements for business consulting firms into streamlined experiences.
How will information management technology help me to reduce expenditure?
M-Files reduces expenditure at just about every juncture — respond to audits 5x faster, secure cloud storage versus expensive on-premises storage, and reduction in resources needed for information governance, just to name a few.
How will information management technology help me save time?
According to research, 46% of workers say it’s challenging and time-consuming to find needed information. M-Files drastically reduces the time spent searching for documents by providing a 360-degree view of needed information across disparate repositories.
How will information management technology help me to avoid risks?
Consulting companies have data littered in multiple, disconnected systems — ERP, CRM, laptops, network folders. A multi-repository information ecosystem increases risk, as it compounds the challenge of ensuring that information doesn’t leak out or fall into the wrong hands. Information management technology solves this problem.
How will information management technology help me achieve my goals?
Information management helps business consulting companies reach their goals by allowing them to do more with less by reallocating resources to high-value work, like serving customers or developing new products.
There is way more story to tell on just how information management technology impacts business consulting companies and addresses these five questions.