Towards digital acceleration

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Globally and regionally, more companies will continue to adopt more digital transformation strategies this year towards meeting their Business goals

Technology has been quite an integral part of the world’s attempt to stay connected and make progress through 2020, despite the covid-19 challenges. Digital transformation initiatives in the past few years have been taking-off but every company has been following their individual journeys. The early adopters of relevant digitalization initiatives have been certainly well placed to handle the challenges of remote working and emphasizes the necessity to continue relevant new technology investments and upgrades. The scalability that digital acceleration offers to companies in terms of reaching out to new customer segments and in terms of broadening their delivery channels of services are certainly advantages that Businesses will seek to leverage more and more.

Khaldun Al Khaldi, Banking Technology Enthusiast and Transformational Leader

Khaldun Al Khaldi, Banking Technology Enthusiast and Transformational Leader says, “We are witnessing a drastic shift in the role of Technology from enabler to driver role by empowering business with digital transformation capabilities and services. This should influence businesses to change their mind-sets and maintain strong partnership and collaboration driven relationship with Technology. With the necessity to consider digital as an integral part of any new business’s plans or growth, it is not anymore to be just left to one’s choice to have technology bud- gets fully integrated and justified by business. In addition, Technology’s KPIs, processes and performance evaluation should be one of the main drivers for business’s performance measurement along with other drivers such as revenue growth.”

For those organizations that have been putting technology up- grades on the backburner in view of budgeting constraints, covid-19 has been a wake-up call to prioritize Technology in- vestments. And with more consumers and users preferring to go digital in their transactions or interactions, there is a need to ramp up on the digital front.

 

Tabish Asifi, Group IT Governance Lead at Majid Al Futtaim Holding says, “The perception of technology not just as an enabler but also in many scenarios as a savior has been reinforced during the pandemic. The digital channels to reach our

Tabish Asifi, Group IT Governance Lead at Majid Al Futtaim Holding

customers and provision our services to them during the pandemic restrictions proved to be a lifeline for many business streams. Besides technology providing a reliable and solid platform for employees to collaborate and interact with each other really helped to ensure the “show went on” without much of a disruption.”

In the past year or so, the growing realization has been to digitize as many processes and automate, placing the IT leaders of organizations in a pivotal role of decision making.

Jayakumar Mohanachandran, Group Head – Information Technology at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group says, “Technology was always considered as an enabler well before Covid but with Covid-19 it now got pushed into the forefront of all organizations thereby even in a better position to drive the digital transformation. As IT professionals, business continuity and disaster recovery is in our DNA, but Covid-19 has enabled and forced organizations to start experimenting how to be more flexible and resilient. Organizations that were behind in automating workloads or reluctant about embracing cloud, has all reached the stage where these became the mandate for existence. Businesses who were never bothered about technology initiatives has all started talking about digitization, transformation and overall how to go more digital in the new era. This is certainly a great advantage for people in IT function to take the digital transformation to the next level.”

Jayakumar Mohanachandran, Group Head – Information Technology at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group

In 2021, there will be acceleration around key technology invest- ments as Businesses and organizations understand for sure that IT has a decision role to play as an enabler of smart Business or smart processes, across verticals from healthcare to Banking to retail, education etc. With virtually no sector left untouched by IT in terms of processes, the onus is on organizations to fully embrace digital technologies that can enable better reach out and enhances services in the front end as well as make for a very robust backend from the operational point of view. 2021 in all likelihood would be a year of greater digital acceleration, with AI, RPA etc being among important focus areas.

Khaldun says, “CIOs have witnessed a great shift of focus from long term digital transformation plans to digital business acceleration as a logical response to COVID-19 pandemic. This will continue in 2021 as steady progress isn’t enough anymore, hence, CIO focus will remain on digital acceleration. We’re still living in a world of uncertainty and any organization’s success in 2021 will be mainly impacted by how technology will help with re- setting, restarting, and responding to society and the enterprise. Nowadays, technologies are being stressed to their limits, and traditional computing is limiting business growth. While organizations are trying to cut costs as a reaction to the tough economic conditions, they need to strategically invest in new trends to keep up with the business growth requirements and customer’s’ needs including “New Normal “post the pandemic.”

Among the major considerations for going digital is cost of operations and enhanced operational efficiency. The objectives behind Technology investments would be around achieving those key goals.

Tabish says, “For us the focus on improving operational efficiency with reduced cost while increasing costumer experience, hap- pens to be the main agenda for IT, as challenging as it may seem. This translates into enhancing a few essential Technology capabilities like RPA, Group wide CRM, APi orchestration platform and a low code development platform as priority investments for the coming year.”

More workloads are now on the cloud with organizations preferring a hybrid cloud strategy and this trend continues to gain traction.

Jayakumar adds, “Big Data, Cloud and Automation will be the three key pillars for this year and beyond for organizations to rebuild and drive transformation. Organizations will continue to invest in moving workloads towards cloud and to be precise a hybrid model considering the scale and size of organization. Automation will further gain momentum in organizations as cost reduction being one another major challenge for organizations with improved efficiency while they try to stay agile and nimble. Cyber Security will cut across all different facets of technology to ensure the business continuity.”

In critical sectors, there will be progress around moving some of the critical workloads to the cloud, meeting required compliance measures.

Khaldun adds, “There are good amount of cloud migration pit- falls enterprises are currently facing including the fail to meet business cases along with cost and objectives. In addition to the lack of planning, re-platforming and compliance. Despite the above obstacles and more, migrating some of critical workloads using Hybrid Cloud will be “to go” option for most of enterprises. It will also enable them to achieve risk and regulatory compliance, security & governance, operational flexibility and retain data privacy and visibility. Other critical workloads such as core financial applications require more modernization and cloud native architectural changes for cloud adoption readiness.”

The arrival of local data centers of major public cloud providers has given more confidence to organizations looking at cloud adoption, even in verticals that do face stricter compliance regulations like Banking for instance.

Jayakumar concurs and elaborates, “That is absolutely possible. As mentioned, organizations are now re-thinking about how to avoid a similar situation in the future thereby ensuring that people can work from any part of the world and to have this achieved, Cloud is one of the biggest enablers. With more providers coming into the region and opening up data centers, this even adds up the percentage of workloads that will get migrated as organizations can plan the same without thinking too much about the regulatory or compliance issues.”

Tabish agrees as well that the arrival of the local datacenters of public cloud service providers is a definite game changer.

He says, “Yes this definitely is a big win for many businesses in UAE. There was always a concern from the compliance side that certain types of data should not cross the geographical boundaries because of regulatory restrictions. This many a times led to un- necessary resistance and reservations in taking full advantage of the cloud platforms. With the advent of local data centres by the likes of Microsoft and others was a big relief for the technology leaders here, who could now think more freely in terms of lever- aging these platforms to their full advantage.

Among some of new technology trends expected to be part of CIO agenda in 2021 supporting digital business acceleration journey according to some research studies, will be to enable ‘Any- where services and Operations’

Khaldun adds “This will entail a flexible operating model with digital capabilities to enable employees to work from anywhere and anytime securely with 100 % productivity. In addition, you could also deploy digital business services to customers based on AI technology and using distributed could technology.”

Citing research studies, he says that there could be a lot of remodeling and modernization of core technologies which includes but is not limited to digital workplace technologies to support work from home, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), robotic process automation (RPA), hybrid cloud and multi-experience platforms. These emerging technologies will help to auto- mate processes and decisions, enabling a faster pace and scalable digital. Further, there will also be trends around adapting and enabling new ecosystems in cooperation with Fintech such as AISP (Account Information Service providers) & PISP (Payment Initiation Service Providers).

There has always been so much emphasis on cybersecurity but more so during the past year when more people were working remotely. Cybersecurity is being constantly redefined to make it pervasive as the traditional borders of the networks have vanished with people accessing corporate networks remotely from wherever they work.

Tabish says, “The necessity of Cybersecurity has been well understood for quite sometimes by the Technology leaders of the region. The pandemic hasn’t really brought anything new to the execution except the needed for scaling things up, since it has in- creased the perimeter of concern because of increased workforce operating from outside of office premises.”

Jayakumar opines that perhaps cybersecurity is now too big a responsibility to be handled by a small in-house team and is best handled by specialized Managed service providers.

He elaborates, “Covid-19 was a big realization time for many organizations and IT teams to revisit the Cyber security strategy. We have seen a huge spike in the cyber-attacks all across and especially within this region the issue was even worse. It’s high time where organizations have to adopt a managed security ser-vices as the in-house IT teams will always have limitations in handling the issues as the cyber-attacks are so dynamic in nature and it requires a fully dedicated and committed team to act upon it. This also talks about the investments within this space as there are certain rudimentary controls which all organizations would require to enable the remote working, file access etc. but this won’t be enough to protect the larger eco-system and thus arises the need for Managed Services which help us to stay afloat with the frequent changes that happens in this space.”

According to Gartner, cybersecurity mesh which is defined as a distributed architectural approach to scalable, flexible and reliable cybersecurity control that allows for the security perimeter to be defined around the identity of a person or thing is now a more effective way of defining and delivering security as traditional perimeters no holder hold true.

Khaldun says, “Cybersecurity mesh is expected to emerge as the preferred delivery model for security services. This cloud-based and highly modular architecture makes it much more practical to control the uncontrollable. Cybersecurity mesh is expected to offer the most efficient and effective way to extend security policy to digital assets and data that is outside of the traditional enterprise.”

He adds further, “Cybersecurity will remain one of the main pillars in any enterprise digital strategy and priority despite the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Enterprises acted quickly to re- orient security to cover remote workers and business continuity during the COVID-19 crisis must now prepare for the future. Such preparation includes determining how to allocate limited cyber- security budgets to support additional modifications. There is a fundamental need for Cybersecurity to remain ahead of growing and emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, 5G, and the cloud.”

Staying protected from cybersecurity attacks in 2021 is not going to be an easy game; threats are evolving, new threats are constantly appearing.

“However, you can safeguard your organization’s business and stay protected by understanding the evolved digital risks, your own organization’s risk profile, and then mitigating threats with the right strategy, systems and technologies. Approaches such as Breach Assessment or Attack Simulations are generally a great place to start when it comes to assessing your own areas of vulnerability, including testing your current security solutions. In addition, controls and security capabilities provided by models such SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) support the dynamic, secure access needs of digital enterprises and rapidly react to business changes,” says Khaldun.

Among other trends, edge computing will continue to be a trend that will continue to gain ground, in the short and longer term.

Jayakumar says, “With 5G getting enabled, edge computing is more becoming a reality for enterprises, especially the manufacturing companies will have a lot of benefit out of this. 5G and edge computing are opening a world of revenue opportunities and helps enterprise level businesses to maximize operational efficiency, improve performance and safety, automate all core business processes, and ensure “always on” availability.”

In the next couple of years and more, edge computing will continue to get more pervasive to deliver applications to wherever the employee is based out of and to deliver consumer services also more seamlessly with higher efficiencies at the edge.

Khaldun says, “Based on latest study’s results, edge computing will become one of the top priorities in the coming years. This will be mainly driven by the reaction to changed workforce and new business models. The need to deliver infrastructure, application and data resources to edge locations will spur adoption of new, cloud-centric edge and network solutions that enable faster responses to current business needs while serving as a foundation for boosting long-term digital resilience, enabling business scaling, and ensuring greater business operational flexibility.”

With its advantages including lowering of latency and reduced transmission costs for data being at the edge, edge computing is a trend that is likely to be a priority for Businesses going ahead over the next few years.

Tabish says, “I believe the adoption and priority of edge computing is going to be correlated with the penetration of Technology enablers like IoT, IoE devices in the business do- main and also by the need for performance decided by the volume of data being handled by these businesses. Given the associated technology stack and endpoint related infrastructure investment I believe it is more likely going to fall on the long-term strategic roadmap of IT rather than on its short- term priority list.

Achieving a balance between immediate requirements and longer- term goals of Technology investments would be the key priority of IT decision makers but for certain, there would be hardly an organization that doesn’t work on its digital acceleration plans this year.

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