Wanted: A new approach to people and networks
18 November 2020 | Keri Gilder
Colt CEO Keri Gilder, shares an overview into what she sees as the biggest ongoing changes and what needs to happen to make things better.
The wider implications of the pandemic for individuals, businesses, and society are only just coming into focus. Some of these implications are daunting, and they also present a rare opportunity to reset and think differently. In this article, I want to share a brief overview into what I see as the biggest ongoing changes and what we need to do to make things better.
It’s clear that the pandemic has emphasised the importance of virtual collaboration, by turning our face-to-face working habits into video-conferencing calls on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace and many other platforms. We’ve discovered that we can be highly productive in a world where we have less of a requirement to commute or undertake business travel. We accept the imperfections of systems; dogs barking and kids shouting are now seen as noises indicative of the work-from-home environment. The platform switch to Cloud was already happening, but now it has been heavily pushed forward, and we make more use than ever of collaboration tools. Working life has gone on and I think it’s fair to say we’ve dealt better than most of us expected.
Now, as companies ponder how best to operate for the medium-term future, they must build in the feelings of employees. In the case of knowledge workers, it’s clear that there won’t be a return to the status quo of ‘business as usual’. Most people don’t want to go back to a full-time, Monday-to-Friday office environment, and dealing with that reality remains a work in progress. Organisations will have to factor in implications not only for equipment, bandwidth, and security, but also for wellbeing. We all have to look at the softer impacts of Covid and it’s incumbent on leaders to focus on the reality of mental health effects on staff. It’s my conviction that we will see many long-term mental health impacts as a result of the pandemic. Leadership is going to be different moving forward and to be successful we’re going to need to possess a high degree of empathy.
The traditional corporate oligopoly will need to be heavily sliced and carved, and that’s a good starting point to thrive and survive. Innovation and inclusion go hand-in-hand and remote working has meant that hierarchies have flattened, as there are no longer the imposing physical and symbolic ‘keep out’ boundaries of office life. I believe this has opened up a more inclusive environment where people, regardless of race, faith, or sexual identity, can collaborate and ideate. We need to learn from this and banish the residual bias that’s associated favourably with presenteeism.
There are also challenges here. Innovation happens through interpersonal friction, so we need to figure out ways to co-create internally and with different companies. That’s why we are building an innovation experience centre that is physical as well as virtual: it’s an opportunity to come together in a way that suits your schedule and your personality. We need to realise how best to use our minds in a virtual environment, ditching broad perceptions of people and really listening.
Today every company speaks in favour of these values, but many don’t act upon them. We need to be at the forefront of change and take practical, repeatable steps. As an example; when I took over as CEO, I sparked a strategy review that was internal-first — no consultants. We set up 10 strategy workstreams, each with seven people from up and down hierarchies and around all functions of the business. The remote working environment really boosted inclusivity and the sense that everything was on the table and open for change. If you have an opinion that differs from someone else, even if they’re more ‘senior’? People were encouraged to be brave and bring it forward.
To enable these positive changes sustainably and to get the most out of ourselves, we need better connectivity to the home. We’ve just about managed using consumer-grade tools to muddle through the first phases of the pandemic, and we all know that if families are using Zoom, Google, and Netflix at the same time it starts to break down. We need to investigate how software defined networking (SDN) might help to fix home broadband.
That means communications companies, such as Colt, need to adapt too. The communications paradigm is not just about connecting offices in cities to other offices in cities: the new working dynamic places a greater emphasis on fibre into datacentres and on technologies such as SDN and NFV. In a world where 30% of us at any one time are working from home, ISPs become extremely important as well.
The new world requires a big change in provisioning and in the way SLAs work as the NOC effectively moves to the home. The new SLA that enables a CIO to help staff work can’t include complex Ts and Cs and small print which only a few enlightened specialists can understand. We need experience-based SLAs. At home, you’re used to point/click technology and deliveries arriving in as little as two hours: that’s what we need to do with communications services and cloud migration. These technologies need to be on-demand, with capacity flexibility that enables services to be dialled up and down.
This brings us to another important are of the new world – ecosystems. There will be big implications for partnering, and buyers will want companies that can put a wrapper and telemetry around the tools and services of specialists. You will see telcos, security firms, platform owners like Microsoft and Google, SIs, content providers, and datacentre operators working together. The CIO gets a one-stop shop that’s made up of underlying best-of-breed components, as well as one-click provisioning and reporting consoles.
Even without the unusual events of 2020, it’s clear we can’t keep moving along the status-quo in a business as usual fashion. We need to revaluate how we think about connectivity and networking and we also need to be ever conscious of those who make our businesses run. This year has posed unprecedented challenges; however, I am inspired by how we tackled them and how these fundamental shifts will ultimately cause our industry to transform – for the better.
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