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.
Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it is no longer business-as-usual, and most businesses are having to adapt and learn new ways of operating. For some, this means implementing advanced infection control measures in an effort to maintain status-quo production levels. Others are ramping up production or rapidly retooling to meet increased demand. While others still are turning down production or completely shutting down.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, there are ways your CMMS can help support these new ways of working.
Virtual communication is more important than ever before
We’ve all previously operated under the assumption that nothing beats face-to-face communication. However, during this time of social distancing and high rates of absenteeism, in-person communication is no longer feasible for many situations. Therefore, we all have to embrace virtual communication methods and determine which are the most effective for us.
Your CMMS allows critical information to be communicated with:
Maintenance coordinators and managers working remotely
Contractors and vendors who can no longer access your site
Workers from different departments or on staggered shift changes
CMMS features — like adding asset images, identifying equipment with QR or barcodes, adding files and media to workorders, reporting and shared dashboards — can all enhance your ability to virtually communicate important information.
Communicating new or evolving information quickly
Our collective knowledge of the coronavirus is evolving daily, as are the recommended precautions and impacts to our businesses. Therefore, it is important that business leaders have a way of quickly communicating these changes to workers to maintain their safety.
In Fiix, the task groups feature lets you quickly communicate changes to:
Highlight updated PPE required for tasks per advanced infection control measures along with instructions on wearing, inspecting, cleaning, and storage.
Make changes to sanitation procedures or frequency.
Increase ventilation rates and frequency of air filter changes.
Ensure detailed procedures and manuals are accessible on each work order in the event of the need to cross-train workers.
Install new engineered controls such as physical barriers.
In addition, using the available notifications options, you can configure how active and inactive users are automatically notified of changes and new work orders.
Discouraging the use of shared tools
A good workaround here is getting your team to use their mobile CMMS app on their own personal device, instead of relying on shared terminals. The Fiix app even facilitates access to your CMMS when the internet connection is unstable or unavailable.
Determining what is essential
By searching and tagging open work orders with the highest priority, you can quickly obtain a hit-list of the essential maintenance items for your facility. This critical information can be shared with business leaders to inform staffing adjustments and highlight any anticipated supply chain issues. This sort of itemized and prioritized communication with management demonstrates the critical role maintenance teams play in overall business continuity planning. In Fiix, you can build scheduled reports to automatically send an updated essential work order list to the appropriate people at whatever interval you want.
Taking the time now, to be faster later
Even if you’re working in a facility where production is currently slowing or shutting down, this may be a good opportunity to take time to sharpen the saw, as the old saying goes, to come back with the ability to cut down the tree much faster.
Reviewing backlogged maintenance tasks, brushing up on your own professional development, or implementing those additional CMMS modules you’ve been meaning to get to are all great ways to set yourself up for success down the road. Beyond the features we mentioned above, here is a great checklist to ensure you’re ready for when your plant starts operating again.
Lean on your Fiix community
We know that these are challenging times for many of our customers, partners, and community in production environments, and that adapting to uncertainty can be complicated. That being said, there is tremendous maintenance expertise within our growing Fiix community, so do not hesitate to reach out to explain other situations you are struggling with. We’re here to help you through.
The world has been forced into remote work. Each country has instituted its own brand of lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve and a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article presented data on which nations were and weren’t prepared to deploy a remote workforce.
Researchers scored the social distance and remote operability of 42 countries across the globe. Scoring was based on three factors:
Robustness of key platforms — technology-mediated remote work, e-commerce, digital media and the country’s digital foundations — key to business continuity
Proliferation and resilience of digital payments options to facilitate transactions
Resilience of the internet infrastructure to traffic surges
Check out the results below. Note that higher scores represent better performance along each index.
Digital transformation has been the centERPiece of discussions in tech circles for years. But the coronavirus crisis really transformed “digital transformation” from just an overused buzzword. It became a real-life application of remote work tools. In 2018, 70% of companies had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one, and this unprecedented situation exposed just how far along companies — and in this case, countries — are in their digital transformation journey.
The author of the HBR article pointed out several key takeaways from the data:
“There is a divide between the resilient and the fragile: Advanced economies, at the top of the graph have more robust digital platforms, making them better prepared for the pivot to online work than developing economies in the bottom.”
“The United States is ready, but not ready enough: Despite some concerns, the United States is well poised for business continuity, with robust digital platforms and digital payment infrastructure. But with businesses asking employees to work from home, surges in digital traffic have stressed the internet infrastructure.”
“Much of Europe, with some exceptions, suffers from middling robustness of the platforms and vulnerable internet infrastructure. Speeds in much of Europe are much lower than in the U.S. overall, and the infrastructure is older.”
“Some Asian countries have proven to be innovative — and forced reconsideration of long-held assumptions: Being proximate to the origins of the outbreak, some have taken a markedly different approach to using digital technology. South Korea presents an interesting benchmark. Its internet resilience is among the best in the world, as is its use of digital payments, and its platforms are robust.”
How did your homeland fare?
Again, it’s interesting to see the data plotted, as it presents a yardstick by which digital transformation and readiness can be visualized. We contend that the cornerstone of digital transformation and remote work for every organization is information management. Intelligent information management platforms like M-Files allow users to access and manage business-critical information…
No matter where that information is stored — CRM, ERP, network folders, share drives, Salesforce
And no matter where on Earth the user is — home, office, hotel, airport, coffee shop
That seamless experience of working with content from any location with an internet connection is powerful. And with information management platforms, remote work and accessing information doesn’t mean companies have to sacrifice compliance or security.