As Director of the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge, Professor Steve Evans plays a central role informing and influencing the UK’s transformation towards a sustainable industrial system. We spoke with Professor Steve Evans to get a better understanding of his work and the industrial transition afoot towards more sustainable operating models.
Responsible for driving McDonald’s supply chain and sustainability agendas across Australia and New Zealand, Kylie brings extensive procurement, commercial and sustainability experience to the country’s leading and largest quick service restaurant chain. We spoke with Kylie to understand the progress McDonald’s Australia has made, and what lies ahead for their sustainability journey.
We engage and enable our entire supply chain to set genuine and practical system-wide commitments to sustainability.
Dr Stefanos Fotiou is responsible for the planning and implementation of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s work on natural resources management, climate change, sustainable urban development, and the green economy. From decarbonisation through to the cities of the future, we sat down with Stefanos to sharpen our approach to the epidemic political and industrial challenges that threaten our sustainability outlook.
The ongoing pandemic has had a consequential impact on all sectors of the national economy, but perhaps none more than the airline industry. As Group Executive, Government, Industry, International, Sustainability at QANTAS Airways, Andrew Parker has visibility over the disruption that has unfolded and the potential for sustainable change moving forward. We sat down with Andrew to discuss what is on the horizon for the nation’s carrier.
As Chief Property, Export and Sustainability Officer for the Coles Group, Thinus Keeve has a unique
perspective on the sustainability journey being undertaken by one of the nation’s most iconic
Retailers. From renewable energy partnerships through to experiential store concepts, we
spoke with Thinus to find out how Coles is realising its ambition to be Australia’s most
To download this Insights Piece as a printable .PDF, click here.
To watch the full Panel Discussion, click here.
To help define the next steps of your data journey, connect with Databricks’ technologists here.
Businesses are placing renewed attention on the value of responsive analytical capabilities. National and global Retailers alike are leaning on data analytics to help drive better decision-making and advance customer outcomes, strengthening their businesses against the current volatile economic landscape. We recently convened a virtual panel to hear how leading national Retailers are approaching data transformation. Moderated by Bede Hackney, Country Manager, Databricks Australia & NZ, our conversation unearthed the unique strategies that Retailers are pursuing to enable responsive, data-informed decision making.
A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER: NAVIGATING UNCHARTED TERRAIN WITH DATABRICKS
The pandemic restricted the movement of people and forced huge swathes of the economy into retreat. In response, the nation’s Retail community mobilised rapidly, channelling tremendous growth in e-commerce platforms to facilitate safe consumer spending. Looking ahead, our optimism or pessimism on the continued health of our communities, on the trajectory of consumer confidence, and on the strength of our industry is not misinformed, it’s simply not informed.
Volatility inherently corrupts our ability to forecast with any precision. Without historical data to lean on, thought-leaders are taking advantage of new types of dynamic information to shape a contextual perspective. Sole reliance on internal data is slackening as Retailers widen their gaze to accommodate external data sets and incorporate unstructured and semi-structured sources of data. By adopting a more holistic data perspective, one that is informed not just by internal data but by reconciling external sources of data in a unified and intuitive platform, Retailers can enhance their resilience and responsiveness
REIMAGINING RETAIL: NEW DATA PERSPECTIVES FROM MICROSOFT
Retailers are confronting their global supply chain dependencies in response to the pandemic, reassessing the weight of individual component costs in the broader scheme of end-to-end value optimisation. But the process of anticipating and mitigating the factors arresting the movement of goods hinges on sharing data with key players in our supply and distribution networks to achieve greater transparency and responsiveness. Beyond addressing our assumptions on what data is of relevance, we need to consider the varied use cases for data assets we have already collected.
Preceding the pandemic, Retailers had been building their capability to collect data from physical environments with the intent of understanding in-store traffic patterns to optimise product placement layouts and ultimately affect cart size. Now, the same environmental data is being directed towards improving employee and customer health and safety protections by removing bottlenecks and managing in-store movement.
BUILDING FOR NOW AND THE FUTURE WITH JB HI-FI
Hindsight is the weapon of emerging businesses – you don’t need to encounter and overcome the trials faced by your established competitors when you have the historical data to circumvent them. New companies pre-emptively adopt a data-first mindset, diffusing the resource-draining data engineering undertaken by traditional players.
JB Hi-Fi faced a number of significant challenges on the road to building an intuitive and responsive data functionality. Data had accrued in siloed systems, while different access methods, formats, and authentication controls meant that anyone attempting to report against the data contended with a spider web of connectivity. The on-premises data warehouse solution was both scale and cost prohibitive, while reporting mechanisms anchored to Excel were flat, non-interactive, and non-dynamic in the content they delivered.
In response, the business created an environment structure modelled on swim lanes of data ingestion, one for each type of collection, with these pipelines parametrised to store definitions about schedules, database tables, and credentials. From there, all data is transformed into Databricks Delta Format, allowing for asset level transactions and increased retrieval time. Microsoft Power BI is augmented with precomputation and business logic implementations within an adjacent Databricks Job to rapidly deliver interactive visualisations and business intelligence reporting capabilities. Together, this environment structure empowers JB HiFi to react rapidly to a changing business landscape.
Dynamic, data-informed decision making is essential for businesses when they encounter volatility. The pandemic has exposed our collective reliance on historical forecasting data, shifting attention towards the value of real-time data to inform rapid responses to changing market forces. Moving forward, Retailers will benefit from looking beyond their own walls to identify and leverage alternative data sources, incorporating structured, semi-structured and unstructured data to reveal broader insights. By adopting a culture of rapid experimentation and focussing on improving outcomes rather than generating insights, Retailers will be able to unlock a new resilience that is embedded with responsiveness.
To learn more about how Databricks can help you realise these capabilities and shape the next steps of your data transformation journey, reach out to a Databricks’ technologists here.
As consumers, we are all enmeshed in the circuitry of modern Retail. We are constantly sending out signals, from dim, pulses of interest in moments of intrigue and discovery through to blindingly clear statements of purchase intent. A misinterpretation of these signals, a single misstep in engagement, will trip a fuse on the path to purchase.
We convened a virtual panel to hear how Mike Ainsworth, General Manager Marketing, Barbeques Galore; Jason Rickard, Digital Customer Experience Manager, Terry White Chemist; and Chris Spence, Country Head, Oracle Marketing Cloud are powering experiences by harnessing consumer insights. Moderated by Paul Waddy, CEO, The Horse, our conversation identified the practical steps businesses can take to create a sharp image of every customer that enters your brand ecosystem. We are sharing some of the summarised insights from this executive conversation with you today.
To begin, what are your opening impressions on the current state of experiential Retail?
The importance of comprehensive customer-journey mapping, taking into account consumer emotions, trigger points, pain points, and need states cannot be overstated. Only once we understand the path our customers are on, and by extension, the pathways we anticipate delivering in the future, can we being consolidating our approach to connecting and activating data. Data acquisition becomes relatively straightforward when armed with this visibility over the customer’s journey; we apply digital tracking to our properties, ingesting data through subscription forms and booking engines alongside other inputs. The next step is activating that data with content. While data powers our marketing automation, content provides a purpose and drives consumer outcomes by delivering pertinent messages at precise moments of the customer’s journey.
The most important part of customer experience is truly understanding your brand and connecting your purpose and promise through to consumers. For us, customer experience is about delivering sincere moments and honest empathy in all our consumer engagements. Too often, experiential efforts are focussed too low in the funnel; there is extremely fertile soil in the ground above to drive experiences in the consideration and preferences phases of the customer’s journey. Another immense area of opportunity is leveraging online and offline environments harmoniously as part of a broader recognition that success hinges on the sum of all parts. It’s highly counter-intuitive to dwell on the success of individual channels rather than taking a more holistic view on the success of the business that accounts for our ability to deliver truly exceptional customer experiences.
As a Retail community, we have accelerated dramatically these past twelve months to meet rising consumer demands. We have witnessed a shift towards direct-to-consumer business models as brands attempt to drive and shift customer preferences before the search battle plays out on browsers. We are also seeing an increased focus on loyalty, with Retailers securing customer allegiances by driving connected experiences across digital and physical channels. All of these efforts stem from a solid bedrock of data and the recognition that customers are willing to trade information in exchange for considered personalisation. We’ve been working closely with Retailers to look more closely at content consumption, cart abandonment, profile data and ancillary consumer signals to better understand the entire customer lifecycle. From here, Retailers have a solid foundation for building brand affinity and embedding emotions to reduce churn and curate a community of loyal customers.
Our lived experience of the pandemic has been greater oversight of and restrictions on human movement. Social interactions and commercial transactions have become defined by distance to the extent that we have learned a certain discomfort for proximity. The obvious consequence of these restrictions was a swift shift to digital channels and accelerated growth in the maturity of e-commerce. Beyond that, what are the most salient changes in consumer behaviour that you have observed this year?
One of the most pronounced shifts in consumer behaviour has been the steep demand for low and no-touch fulfilment as an extension of existing click and collect options, and in our particular case, the acceleration of Telehealth services. Speaking more broadly, the resilience of existing supply and fulfilment models has been drawn into consideration as we accelerate towards a contactless Retail environment. The rise in fear-based purchasing and hoarding behaviour was particularly pronounced in Australia on a global scale and affected our ability to provide equitable access to products across our wider network. In response, we adopted a more active role triaging customers to the most appropriate delivery channels, a challenging undertaking given the mechanics underwriting our franchise model.
The extreme conditions of the pandemic shuffled consumers back into the home, providing retailers and customers alike with a rare opportunity to reassess their relationship. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been a constant dialogue on translating face-to-face encounters in a digital setting. This conversation is driving towards creating exercises in experience; we are striving to establish an emotional connection between consumers and our brand in a virtual environment, to create vehicles for experiencing products online. Consumers are reaching for connection and brands need to respond by delivering authentic, empathetic experiences.
Timing is everything. What are some of the key, real-time indicators you rely on to inform decisions around driving content and offers to customers?
In the context of propelling the customer down the path to purchase, we have seen that Retailers who are empowered to respond to cart abandonment triggers in near real time have drastically improved conversion rates. Cart abandonment is undeniably one of the most powerful and accessible customer signals that Retailers can leverage. Given that the average value order on abandoned carts outweighs traditional online orders by approximately 45 percent, there is a real opportunity to reengage customers with a comprehensive omnichannel offering, communicating information on inventory or price fluctuations across relevant channels.
Beyond conversion, the value of real-time communications has been made abundantly clear to us this year in the fulfilment stage of the customer’s journey. Customer experience in fulfilment is directly informed by transparent communication. There are enormous opportunities to secure customer allegiances and improve retention not only be offering diverse fulfilment options, but by providing timely and accurate information on delivery timelines. Real-time visibility over your supply pipeline provides you with indispensable signals and opportunities to communicate with your customers at this stage of their journey with your brand.
It’s important for Retailers to distinguish real-time from relevance, to recognise that immediacy is no guarantee of effectiveness. There are dangers for brands that profile their customers too aggressively. We should aspire to build trust through targeted communications rather than erode it by being overly familiar or intrusive without context. By way of example, our customers are not always in the right mental or emotional state to condense content immediately after making a purchase. But information providing further context around the products they have purchased can be extremely relevant and valuable when timed effectively in the days following purchase.
What role does experience play in fostering customer loyalty?
Customer experience is everything in loyalty. Consumers have forfeited their data in exchange for rewarding experiences, but a narrow focus on gamifying transactions rarely satisfies these expectations. In many instances, points-based reward tiers represent a shallow, transactional approach with few short term benefits and no long-term value for the customer or business. The notable exception is the Airlines industry, where the audience’s receptiveness to elite status alongside vast redemption potential informs the success of the model. But Retailers should not suffer under the illusion that their audience will respond to the same triggers. We are currently on a journey to better understand what loyalty means to us, to recognise the emotional connection consumers have to our brand and to deliver content and experiences that resonate to retain customers in our ecosystem.
While data delivered experiences are an opportunity to build trust, they are also a highly versatile mechanism from an operational and supply perspective. A scalable, skewed rewards system can be leveraged to clear stock without resorting to discount strategies, and charitable donation options further reflect your brands commitment to reflecting and supporting the values espoused by your customers. Any Retailers that have implemented a points-based loyalty model should reassess how granular and responsive their system is to consumer and business needs alike.
The nation’s Retail community has responded emphatically to challenges flowing from the pandemic. Retailers have evolved at a frenetic pass to improve their responsiveness and engage with customer’s on their terms. The capability to deliver thoughtful, rewarding experiences is firmly rooted in data capability. Consumer expectations for personalisation can only be reached by forming and acting upon a unified view of the customer’s journey.
Oracle continues to work with Retailers to map these journeys and build a deeper understanding of customer lifecycles. It is incumbent on Retailers to consider the steps they must take and the partnerships they can pursuit to deliver truly responsive and rewarding customer experiences in the year ahead.
Experience is emerging as a critical differentiator in personalised retail. Consumers are moving beyond transactional commerce and aligning with brands that they connect with on a more emotive level. The challenge for Retailers is establishing this level of authenticity in an environment that remains fractured between physical and digital.
We convened a virtual panel to hear how Angus McDonald, Chief Executive, BBQ Galore, Shane Lenton, Chief Information and Digital Officer, Cue Clothing, and Scott Treller, Executive General Manager, SAP Customer Experience are moving towards a unified view of customers. Moderated by Paul Waddy, CEO, The Horse, their conversation identified some of the key challenges and opportunities of omnichannel experience. We are sharing some of the salient insights from this executive conversation with you today.
We have accelerated rapidly down the path from analogue to digital Retail. Traditional levers, such as product range, and pace, precision and flexibility in fulfilment options have been widely implemented and so muted as competitive differentiators. To effectively ignite the interest of consumers and propel them down the path to purchase, Retailers need an e-commerce engine that responds personally and empathetically to customer needs. How can Retailers build this level of responsiveness across physical and digital environments?
It’s important to recognise that we live and operate in a borderless Retail world. We have witnessed a real shift in the maturity of e-commerce over the last twelve months, evinced by significant growth in online as a percentage share of overall Retail sales. As e-commerce builds momentum, the challenge for traditional Retailers becomes leveraging the physical footprint as a site of advantage. There is growing recognition of the tremendous potential a physical presence holds for delivering rich customer experiences. But these physical, human experiences hinge on a more fundamental omnichannel position: that the sum is greater than the parts. E-commerce was born as a function of marketing, and the dissonance that customers experience can often be traced to gaps in business integration. It is essential that Retailers recognise the power of a single view of the customer, appreciating that this view is contingent on facilitating the flow of information across the organisation.
E-commerce is all about identifying moments where we can push recommendations based on behaviour, how we can leverage data to inform a whole gamut of activities at relevant stages of the customer’s digital journey. But this level of personalisation and precision has historically been foreign to physical environments. When we speak of unified commerce, we are talking about taking a single-view of customers across channels. The challenge is translating the deep consumer knowledge we use to tailor digital experiences into a physical environment. We need to think more deeply about the information dialogue between online and brick-and-mortar; how we can empower staff with real-time, consumer insights to deliver personalised in-store experiences, and how we can capture in-store information to continue a conversation with customers in a digital setting.
We sometimes fall into the trap of viewing online Retail as a form of cannibalisation. But once we adopt a more holistic view, we see that it’s all about building a unified view of the customer. Practically, you can’t redesign your entire physical store for every customer that comes through in the same way you can for a digital environment. But there are tremendous opportunities to augment in-store experiences with the same real-time insights that drive personalisation in online environments. The challenge for Retailers is to recognise the opportunity that a physical footprints represents for creating highly personalised experiences.
Everyone is looking for connectivity, and Retailers cannot lose this opportunity to reimagine how they resonate with customers. This is a time for retailers to be braver, to think deeply about creating an emotional tie through e-commerce. So how do we create a connection that not only attracts, but retains customers?
We often hear claims that brick-and-mortar presents unrivalled opportunities for connection based on the power of the human touch. But in theory, creating a lasting emotional connection is more achievable from a digital angle. When a person walks through the door of your store, they are not followed by all the data points that otherwise accompany them on a digital journey. All they carry is an expectation of the brand that has been informed by their digital experiences. So the challenge for Retailers when it comes to creating a connection with customers is how do we meet these expectations? We need to empower staff with the information to deliver informed experiences.
We begin by identifying the information that is lost when the customer leaves the store. There is so much depth to the research piece that happen in-store, troves of information that are being forfeited instead of captured. Consider that there is no equivalent of a wishlist in a physical setting, no way to track the consumer’s interest in related products or adjacent shelf items, and no way to record what inhibited the purchase or why the cart was abandoned. Now consider how we could not only bridge this information gap, but fill the void with a personal and meaningful interaction. Think of the potential of e-receipts, not just as a wishlist or ledger, but as a vehicle for a personalised and ongoing dialogue between the customer and the in-store staff around the products that interested them and when inventory or prices may change. If we capture information, we can create a dialogue, and if we create a dialogue, we will retain customers.
It’s easier to create loyalty and drive business results if you remember that customers are not statistics. The ongoing pandemic has further demonstrated the dangers of business silos and relying on a fragmented view of customers. It is essential that Retailers gain a wholistic picture of consumers, that they look beyond their own data and implement a strategy that is driven by numbers, not a narrow-focussed impression of these numbers. How can Retailers build this capability?
There is a hygiene level when it comes to technology and data, a baseline of proficiency and functionality that Retailers must meet. We must continually invest in our digital capability to keep pace and remain in consumer consideration as this baseline rises. But technology only goes so far – it can help you find an audience, but it can’t create the message. It is vital to recognise that the most powerful brands alive are increasingly tribal, inspiring a more emotive following than others have in the past. While the historical levers of differentiation were incredibly rational, now people are motivated by brands they can align with on a deeper level. To resonate in this way, Retailers need to have structures in place that empower creative thinking. We need to approach challenges on their merits rather than retrospectively fitting the outcomes that our current technology accommodates.
We can only truly know our customers if they trust us. Retailers should aspire to build trust with personalisation rather than erode it by being overly familiar without context. We are custodians of data that customers own, and we need to reflect this ownership by implementing robust, consent-driven capabilities. Loyalty and retention have shifted away from reward programmes towards creating intimate experiences at scale. Strong, consensual data practices are the bedrock for creating authentic consumer experiences. Without it, your commerce infrastructure is vulnerable and your potential for knowing your customers is limited.
The pandemic heralded great change and uncertainty for the nation’s Retail community. In many ways, the extreme conditions of the pandemic provided consumers and retailers alike with a rare opportunity to reassess their relationship. In response to the ambiguity and chaos, Retailers found opportunities to reflect on the role that consumer experience will play in the sector moving forward. While many challenges lay ahead, there are real opportunities to elevate and improve the ways we connect with consumers in a meaningful manner. Connect Media and SAP will continue to connect Retailers with the aim of furthering this dialogue, combating shared challenges and enlivening collective opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a paradigm shifting event, a crisis of health and a business revelation. The ongoing pandemic has not so much altered businesses environments as it has uprooted them. The pertinent question for digital leaders in the face of such unprecedented change is not how we restore our pre-pandemic work environment, but how we improve it.
This question is, at its core, one of design; we must identify which business structures are weight-bearing and must be reinforced, which systems can be reengineered, and those processes that can be abandoned. This sweeping recalibration will distinguish the resilient from the vulnerable, the flexible from the rigid, and our future leaders from followers.
NextDC and Connect Media recently invited CIOs from all sectors of the national economy to interface digitally and discuss this reinvention of the workplace. From compressing transformation timelines to advancing communication and security infrastructure, we unpacked the decisions digital leaders are making to lead business transformation and secure advantage amidst uncertainty.
INFORMED INSTINCT: OUR HEIGHTENED CAPACITY FOR CHANGE
The sheer pace of the pandemic forced nations and businesses to respond with reciprocal intensity. From international border closures to remote work transitions that, from an aerial perspective, more closely resembled office evacuations, governments and businesses made decisions of severe consequence at unprecedented pace.
These were not acts of transformative ambition, but acts of survival: processes, layers and timelines were reduced by the logic of necessity. The pandemic cut through cultural aversion to transformation on a revolutionary scale and reaffirmed our will to change. And change we did.
The rapid uptake of remote work practices is a shining example of the capacity for business leaders to communicate and act resolutely. But now, the context that enabled this bold decision-making is changing. While the pandemic continues to define our social and business environment, we are adjusting to its presence. Flexibility may well be the new normal, but normality exists to stifle urgency.
In a mass transition instigated by deep crisis, it is vital that momentum for profound organisational change is preserved and we do not revert to pre-pandemic levels of complacency. Business leaders must inject their organisations with a different sense of urgency.
The challenge for business leaders is to dissect the consequences of our instinctive leap to remote work practices, protecting and amplifying new sources of value while mitigating new structural and personal vulnerabilities.
WORLDS COLLIDE: ALIGNING PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL PRIORITIES
Businesses are learning to communicate in an operating environment defined by distance. We are all learning how to live in isolation, or at least, how to interact in a world where the human touch has been muted. Whether as a commercial necessity, or an act of collective empathy, businesses have amplified the importance of employee wellbeing.
Communication strategies and the channels our voices and faces travel on have developed to facilitate closer, more authentic connections. Executive leadership have become more visible and accessible, inspiring confidence, reigniting motivations, and connecting separated employees to a shared ambition. As a broader consequence, the spaces separating professional and personal life are shrinking, a collapsing of realms that is at once both an affront to privacy as well as an opportunity to amplify real identities and expressions in the workplace.
Increasingly, employees are being empowered with the tools and trusted with the autonomy to deliver business outcomes – outputs, not inputs, are being assigned value. These are paradigmatic shifts that signifying that technology itself is not the answer – it is the enabler, granting employees the options to be flexible, resilient, and empowered.
RISK REIMAGINED: ADVANCING SECURITY FRAMEWORKS
As the context for work evolves, the parameters for secure work have fundamentally shifted to create new vulnerabilities. We are witnessing a fundamental, digital expansion beyond fixed perimeter defences – an expansion that is particularly fraught because of the very pace at which it is unfurling.
Rapid change breeds exceptional risk, and as a company’s digital footprint expands to lay tracks in new territory, the unmapped attack surface available to cyber actors grows in unison.
Attack vectors are being remapped to directly target home environments, and there is a distinct danger that employees are becoming apathetic towards, or at the least unsure of, expectations around data handling and remote information exchange in this new context. Businesses cannot afford to remain vulnerable to dangers borne from the pressures of expediency.
Responding to these risks requires a whole of organisation approach; a cyber-security lens must be applied to every aspect of the enterprise; risk assessments must be embedded in all cadences of activity; and a deep interrogation of existing infrastructure must take place.
BUILDING NETWORKS TO FORGE A NATION
The rapid transition to distributed workforces has reignited debate on the core capabilities and limitations of the nation’s infrastructure. The Coalition Government has announced a further $4.5 billion investment in the nation’s broadband infrastructure.
It is hard to deny that the NBN has performed admirably during the lockdown. And while using the pandemic as a retrospective justification for the decision to expediate the rollout of the NBN is rhetoric befitting scrutiny, it is clear that improving our nation’s infrastructure will further empower businesses to operate remotely and improve our digital competitiveness as a nation.
The impacts of the pandemic on our environment are not transient – already our CBDs have been challenged by a growing movement towards decentralisation. Australia’s vast ecosystem of corporate and market partners must continuously ask how they can both leverage and advance the fundamental architecture underpinning the way we work.
The pandemic has forced us to remould social and professional patterns. While change has been mandated by forces larger than any single corporation, it is our individual, digital leaders who remain largely accountable for the experience and precise direction of that change.
Enabling remote workforces, not only on a digital and structural level, but on a human level, is a severe but surmountable challenge that can only be accomplished by dual-wielding technical knowledge and emotional intelligence.
Our digital leaders must work to actively resolve security vulnerabilities, adopting a framework that is directly suited to remote work. They must ensure that digital infrastructure is scalable, flexible, and highly responsive, enabling the business to operate with confidence and lead through a climate defined by uncertainty. And they must communicate tirelessly and openly throughout this entire transformative process.
Only with continuous dialogue, collaboration, and the support of trusted partners will businesses be able to lead through this crisis.
Businesses are beginning to accept that our current operating environment, defined by distance, is not a fleeting affair. The seemingly immutable practices that defined the way businesses interacted with each other and their employees have been upheaved on a global scale, creating new behavioral and structural precedents such as recruitment beyond proximity that bear ongoing commercial significance.
The reflexive, near-instinctive steps that businesses took to enable remote workplaces following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are falling under heavy scrutiny as the longevity of these practices and the value they yield becomes apparent.
Enterprises reflecting on the lasting business case for remote work are confronting the redundancy of legacy perimeter defence methods as the parameters for effective cyber-security recentre around identity. Security threats are compounded by behavioural and processes challenges that stand in the way of employees reaching their full potential under a mandatory remote work regime.
In response to these challenges, OKTA recently arranged for leading digital professionals from all sectors of the national economy to virtually interface on the current state of work. Their conversation illuminated shared challenges around securing remote workplaces and revealed strategies for empowering a truly flexible workforce. This is what they had to say.
SECURITY CHALLENGES: IDENTITY AND ZERO TRUST
The context for work has evolved as companies become physically dislocated from their employees. The firm’s digital footprint has ventured outside familiar perimeters to lay tracks in new territory, and security vulnerabilities are the corollary for this mobility.
The parameters for secure work are fundamentally shifting: attack vectors are being remapped to directly target home environments; employees risk becoming apathetic towards, or at the least unsure of, expectations around data handling and remote information exchange; and the danger of disenfranchised individuals becoming antagonists of security breaches is amplified by reduced visibility across remote work locations.
The sheer scale and speed at which businesses adopted blanket remote work policies, while necessary, has amplified these threats considerably. To operate with confidence in this new commercial landscape, businesses must ensure that information is being viewed by relevant parties in unquantifiable locations and across unseen devices. This is an imposing but surmountable challenge, provided businesses can recognise the vital role identity plays in ensuring that workforces do not introduce vulnerability to the workplace.
Identity empowers businesses to abandon perimeter defense methods in favour of zero trust principles. By bringing the strongest representation of security to the user, wherever they may be, businesses can allow the right people with the right access to the right resources in the right context. The effectiveness of identity as the foundation for an enforceable security policy hinges on the fact that cyber-security antagonists only succeed when they compromise identities – every attack is levelled through some form of compromised identity.
Businesses will only succeed as defenders and build their security posture in meaningful ways when they drive past passwords to secure identities. Identity is the child of context – by continually assessing location and actively managing devices, businesses can generate a unique profile of characteristic behavior. These profiles can then be leveraged to make immediate and informed decisions around when and how certain applications are being accessed.
BUSINESS CHALLENGES: A BROADER PERSPECTIVE ON FLEXIBILITY
Flexibility has been subject to many varying corporate interpretations. In too many business cases, flexibility has become synonymous with remote work policies that enable employees to engage with the company on personalised terms. While this definition carried some weight prepandemic, it is of little differential utility now that entire industries have been forced to abandon their offices and routines. Instead, it may be helpful for businesses to think of flexibility as the practice of empowering people to realise the full value of their skills.
It is important to recognise that remote work on the scale we are currently witnessing poses several behavioural and processes challenges that can inhibit employees from realising their full potential in line with this broader painting of flexibility. Businesses that apply a service design lens to their actions to counter these challenges will be in a stronger position to compete when our operating environment corrects, and employee choice once again becomes a factor in remote work practices.
Beyond software requirements and hardware limitations, one of the most immediate challenges tied to remote work has also proved to be the most obstinate: being remote first makes it incredibly difficult to be present. Physical separation always threatens to fester into isolation, not only from colleagues and friends but from the company’s mission that serves to connect, inspire, and motivate action.
When combined with any number of external market pressures threatening job security, it becomes very difficult for employees to sustain performance let alone generate momentum for new initiatives under the spectre of disconnection. This mindset affecting relatability is not sustainable from an individual or business perspective, and stems from the fact that the rituals of a physical workspace do not naturally translate to virtual environments.
Constant, two-way dialogue an interactive experiences have emerged as favourable remedies for stagnation from separation, with many businesses reporting a spike in virtual team events that serve to channel information up and down the corporate hierarchy. When well executed, digital engagements are an effective vehicle for both incentivising action back to core values as well as aligning employees behind a shared mission. Constant dialogue is not without its own dangers, including the erosion of the line between professional and private life.
For some businesses, the fact that the boundary between work life and private life is collapsing is being celebrated an opportunity for greater authenticity, connection, and representation, particularly as employee generated video content gathers momentum as an effective vehicle for both communication and development. It is thereforecritical that leaders reassess the communication strategies and business processes that surround remote work to better support, connect, and enable employees.
The swift transition to remote work practices has had a sweeping impact on the security posture of Australian businesses. The inefficacy of legacy perimeter defense methods is being cast into stark relief as businesses move to enable a set of technologies built on identity that aspire to a flexible workforce. But the challenges of supporting a remote workforce extend beyond security.
To empower a truly flexible workforce, businesses have had to reengineer processes and adopt new modes of communication to connect and inspire otherwise disparate employees. It is fair to say that our current businesses climate is defined by a crisis of identity, in terms of both security and wellbeing. The ability of businesses to defend the identity of their employees in this wholistic sense will prove consequential for success in the uncertain times that lie ahead.