With remote working now sitting atop of boardroom agendas across Southeast Asia, technology providers are facing a pandemic inspired dilemma -- differentiating amid an emerging and highly competitive market segment.
According to IDC findings, customer spending on future of work technologies -- spanning cloud and mobile solutions -- is expected to reach approximately US$656 billion during the next 6-12 months, representing an increase of 17.4 per cent compared to 2020.
As a ‘new normal’ comes into focus, customer-driven remote working opportunities are set to surge, creating new levels of opportunity for forward-thinking partners as a result. To capitalise, the ecosystem must now find new ways to shape collaboration conversations, adhering to end-user security, productivity and experience requirements.
“While the pandemic certainly accelerated remote working, the shift to flexible work environments was something we’ve seen coming for many years,” observed Jason Leong, country manager of ASEAN at LogMeIn.
“During the past 18 months we made the decision to transition to a permanent remote-centric company, while are the same time working closely with our channel partners to enable customers with secure and reliable tools to allow them to get work done when and how they want.”
At the height of COVID-19, LogMeIn reported usage spikes of 10X for core products such as GoToMeeting. As well as LogMeIn, remote access products surged by 300 per cent, with remote support solution adoption increasing 50 per cent week-to week.
“While our products have always been designed for scale, we increased the volumes of activity they could support through adding extra servers, vCPU allocations, memory and network capacity,” Leong noted. “With our co-located data centres as well as a public cloud infrastructure, we also had great flexibility in processing locations.
“As we look to the future, we know that some face-to-face relationship building will still be important, but we also know that many business trips or commutes can be replaced with virtual meetings and workers will be able to prioritise more important aspects of life, such as family time or hobbies.”
Pivoting during the pandemic in Southeast Asia
As a leading global system integrator (GSI), Accenture already operated a well-established remote work architecture before the outbreak of COVID-19, using such foundation to “quickly and successfully” transition employees and customers to remote working environments.
The business also launched the Accenture Immersive Collaboration Platform (ICP), a high-fidelity virtual platform designed to allow users the opportunity to pay digital visits to innovation labs and studios.
“Digital twins are essentially digital representations of physical objects or processes,” outlined Abhishek Kahol, Managing Director of Intelligent Platforms Services across Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at Accenture. “This enables side-by-side collaboration in a virtual environment, where users from around the globe -- who are not physically together -- can collaborate across multiple platforms in public or private meeting settings.
“One thing we know for sure living in a post-pandemic era is that technology will continue to innovate, empowering new ways of helping employees feel more connected even when working remotely.”
During the initial transition process, Telstra Purple ensured strong staff connections were maintained through fortnightly one-to-one video calls with team members, aligned to the aim of supporting employees during the acclimatisation period.
“We believe it’s our people who bring purpose to technology for our clients, so it’s vitally important they are supported,” noted Dan Whitmarsh, Head of Consulting Services and Digital Technology at Telstra Purple.
From an external perspective -- and in response to customers pausing transformation projects due to market uncertainty -- the technology specialist delivered a slower paced roll out of services to accommodate easing end-user demand, especially among new clients.
“But as remote working become the norm, clients are learning to adapt and standardise business communication via video calling,” Whitmarsh added. “We have had to refine our approach, finding different and engaging ways to deliver customer presentations. We aim to strike a balance by providing exciting webinars and digital content, whilst being cognisant of not adding to webinar fatigue.
“Clients are also relaxing “must have the consultant” on-site policies which has enabled Telstra to perform tasks remotely to meet tight customer deadlines.”
Meanwhile in the Philippines, Manila-based provider Accent Micro Technologies (AMTI Cloud) stepped up to conduct proof of concept activities as the government lockdowns kicked into action, building customised support engagement platforms to accommodate new end-user requirements.
“The future will be a hybrid environment in which companies will re-evaluate security postures to accommodate a consistent and effective way of securing access,” said Josefino ‘Bong’ Paloma, Senior Vice President of AMTI Cloud.
“We expect the continued transition to mobile devices, cloud migration and core enterprise applications which in turn will create more OPEX-based opportunities.”
At World Wide Technology (WWT), plans were also in place to “practice what we preached to customers” during the early phase of the pandemic, evident by the company embracing collaboration solutions at speed and scale. Yet some adjustments had to be implemented at an end-user level in recognition of changing market dynamics.
For example, the business adjusted the working model of four Integration Centres globally, which help augment supply chain capabilities and configurations for customers worldwide.
“All WWT customers were at different maturity levels when it came to supporting remote working, meaning there were no one-size-fit-all solutions,” acknowledged Piyush V Gupta, Head of Digital Transformation Services at WWT. “We leveraged our deep OEM partnerships to ensure preferred delivery schedules and enhanced our global supply chain capabilities to better manage procurement, build and deliver IT devices for customers.
“We also helped customers quickly adopt and scale the best collaboration tools which included identity and access management (IAM) integrations while keeping licence costs manageable.”
WWT also strengthened remote access capabilities in existing demilitarised zones (DMZs), helping customers urgently upgrade remote access infrastructure to support external employee access back to the enterprise environment and business tools.
This was in addition to enhancing end-user experience by assessing current maturity levels to support employee requirements and foster innovation, primarily delivered by defining the required technology, process and people strategies with a “palatable roadmap.”
“During this process we kept employee and customer personas at the centre while leveraging our artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise to provide data-backed recommendations,” Gupta explained.
Delivering new levels of customer value
As noted by IDC research, all aspects of how people and organisations work is continuing to evolve at pace, enabled by emerging technologies and accelerated by COVID-19.
“Employees do not want to return to five days a week in the office,” observed Leong of LogMeIn. “We are now at a crossroads where businesses need to enable their employees to have greater flexibility in their schedules by providing them with the right technology and policies, or risk losing good talent.”
“It’s more important than ever that the technology is cloud-based so users and IT teams can collaborate with each other and customers from anywhere. It needs to work across devices from desktop computers to mobile.
"And it needs to be secure whether a user is in a fire-walled office or on-the-go. We will continue to offer our customers top flexible work technology via our channel partners, whether they are at home, in the office, on-the-go, or a combination of all three.”
To embrace the future of work -- according to IDC -- organisations are investing in a wide range of technologies and services with hardware forecast to represent the largest area of investment in 2021 -- businesses are expected to purchase $228 billion in endpoint devices, enterprise hardware, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and robotics and drones.
Delving deeper, services -- including business, IT, and connectivity services -- will rank as the second-largest area of spending at more than $123 billion.
Software will see the fastest spending growth with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.3 per cent until 2024, spanning enterprise applications, content and collaboration solutions, alongside analytics and AI, human resources applications, security, and software development and deployment.
“With expectations to be onsite no longer as prevalent as before, we have been working with our clients to ready them for remote work, such as through developing bespoke collaboration solutions, reviewing security practices, and rearchitecting networks and user change management,” said Kahol of Accenture.
In defining the future of work as “hybrid,” Kahol outlined the emergence of a new market reality in the way individuals and businesses across Southeast Asia work and collaborate.
“Employers must realise there is a major paradigm shift in that they have to bring the work to the employees wherever they are, instead of the convention of employees going to work,” he noted. “While technology can accelerate the normalisation of hybrid working, these changes go beyond technology into themes such as user experience, engagement, productivity and security.
“Getting this right would help the organisation experience not just business growth, but benefit in areas of branding, talent attraction and talent retention. We see tremendous opportunity to help clients build on these aspects and prepare them as they embark towards a hybrid work approach.”
Citing “communication and collaboration” as mission critical, Whitmarsh of Telstra Purple acknowledged that the region has been on a journey into the unknown during the past 18 months, triggering a “huge mindset shift” for customers in the process.
“We have collaborated and helped customers on a journey to start using new tools while providing technical guidance around security to offer support remotely,” he documented. “We have consultants -- ‘Purple Peeps’ -- in various countries around the world with remote working enabling us to bring together multi-disciplined teams, comprised of staff from Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, to help support our ASEAN customers.”
With the shift to remote working showing no signs of slowing down, Whitmarsh said an expectation now exists for co-workers, business partners and customers to communicate on a 24/7 basis.
“Continuous developments in data analytics within collaboration platforms can lead to a better employee experience,” he said. “Managers can now use such productivity analytics to drive positive improvements within their teams.
“Business automation is also a key part of remote working. Organisations need to move away from the paper-intensive, manual processes and improve digital flows that enable a smooth user experience. AI, machine learning and workflow automation are some of the innovations that will continue to have a major effect on the workplace of the future.”
Echoing Kahol and Whitmarsh, Gupta of WWT reaffirmed that with the hybrid work model here to stay in Southeast Asia, “employee collaboration, engagement and retention” stands tall as the leading customer priority in the months ahead.
“We will see companies adopting a more employee-centric approach to their IT strategy, with employee experience at the centre of all their key company-level decisions,” he said.
“We will see companies put even more thought into their ‘remote worker’ and ‘return-to-office’ strategies to ensure a fit-for-purpose work environment that will foster innovation and collaboration while making sure all their key tools work seamlessly across the hybrid work model for their employees with improved employee and customer experience.
From security standpoint, Gupta said zero trust architecture (ZTA) will gain further prominence with companies expected to invest in adopting the model encompassing IAM, policy management, segmentation and cyber resilience across enterprise private / public cloud and employee home-office environments.
“Companies will also continue to invest in automation, not only for IT infrastructure deployment / management but also for remote deployment, support and management of end-user technologies,” he added.