As organisations increasingly adopt cloud platforms, a new kind of connected business is emerging that is more agile, integrated, and automated, according to Sage Asia-Pacific executive vice-president, Kerry Agiasotis. Driving this change is a new breed of shared cloud platform, he said. Unlike traditional cloud platforms that provide a single business solution, shared platforms provide businesses with a highly-integrated ecosystem of solutions.
“They help drive efficiencies across multiple business functions, are more affordable, and easier to implement,” Agiasotis told a group of IT leaders who gathered in Sydney for a Computerworld roundtable lunch to discuss the journey towards becoming a more connected business.
Attendees discussed how cloud platforms can help businesses increase agility, collaboration, and control, and investigated some of the cultural and change management challenges of moving to a smart cloud-based business environment.
The tech leaders at the table – including both private and public sector representatives from the manufacturing, telco, hospitality, education and healthcare industries – agreed companies and government agencies need to rapidly evolve to address the changing business landscape.
Attendees said they need to pursue digital business transformation to not only unlock productivity gains but to ensure significant competitive advantage while also delivering exceptional customer experience.
Agiasotis said businesses and agencies are increasingly tasked with pursuing digital transformation while, at the same time, the rapid adoption of cloud technologies is driving unprecedented change to business models – a shift from product value chains to new platform and ecosystem driven economies.
“In a world where many experts are predicting business will begin to be valued on the strength of their ecosystems, it's imperative that businesses get connected,” he said. “We already know this intuitively from the way we as consumers are connecting with friends, colleagues, governments and businesses. Everything in our lives is becoming interconnected. In a business sense, these connections include integrating software with suppliers and customers to drive speed and efficiencies and to benefit from the advantages of platform ecosystems.”
What this means is linear supply chains are evolving into complex, dynamic and connected value webs. Getting connected involves a complex mesh of suppliers, customers and partners. Connected business environments help companies manage everything from money to people, and to navigate the changing business landscape and stay compliant.
The right cloud platform can help businesses become a more agile, integrated and automated ‘connected business’, Agiasotis said, explaining companies are now starting to enable the connected business through proactive transformation.
“Proactive innovation is all about getting into the driver seat of change and not be a passenger, and let change happen to you.”
Importantly, smaller companies - in addition to large enterprises - are now able to take advantage of the connected business environment that is opening doors for players in many industries including manufacturing, finance, healthcare, telco, utilities and transport.
“Cloud brings new levels of technology affordability to businesses, especially smaller businesses. They no longer need to buy expensive hardware knowing it will be underutilised. The software is available on-demand to be consumed in a similar way to utilities such as electricity or water. Essentially, connected businesses can do more with less resources and they can do it faster,” Agiasotis said. Certainly, there is a mindset shift as the industry travels the path towards innovation and disruption.
“We are going through one of the most important times in history. As technologists, we have the opportunity to go far beyond where we traditionally played and move towards optimisation and automation,” he said.
While attendees recognised the myriad benefits of the ‘connected business’ environment, they also discussed some of the challenges involved.
StayWell Holdings global director of information technology, Leon Gu, said his biggest challenges lay in standardising the IT infrastructure –and the issue of isolation – as he works and operates across a vast organisation.
StayWell Holdings is one of the largest hotel management groups in Asia-Pacific and with its parent company, Prince Hotel, has a combined network of 72 open and operating hotels worldwide.
“The budget is different from country to country, and the new department head will change the direction of the technology,” Gu said.
The company is halfway to achieving its goal of enabling a connected business, an environment that he said will ultimately provide reliable IT systems and embrace innovation.
“The strategy is to improve customer experience by smart room and innovated tech devices, as well as standardise system by country and integrate different systems to the ecosystem.”
For other tech chiefs at the table, the push towards digital transformation – and a connected business environment – is also top of mind.
Wideband Networks regional manager, Patrick Newlyn, said the connected business journey is in a constant state of flux.
“The connected business journey is not about actions creating reactions, it’s about interactions causing multiple chain reactions and chain interactions, both internal and external, to your organisations based on the strategic outcomes you or your organisation are trying to achieve. The connected business journey is a constantly changing ecosystem.”
He said enabling the connected business environment would mean greater speed, agility, information flow, leverage and security for a company and its stakeholders.
“All are applicable but defining which works best for you or your organisation is what makes the difference.
“Having multiple entities both internally and externally that can connect with ease, share the relevant information with each other, be that automated or not, and create a set of actions through multiple systems to reach an end deliverable that meets expectations, is ideal,” Newlyn said.
The main challenges are getting partners to a point where they are connected to the ecosystem in a functional way. “This can be from resistance to interconnect at all to limitations on how they connect, and how and what information and processes are involved,” he said.
Other big challenges attendees faced included having to deal with the complexity of legacy systems, the ongoing headache of technical debt, the hurdles associated with change management and procedural changes (tech and business issues), and a lack of buy-in from c-level executives.
Dematic business systems manager, Michael Plonus, said his biggest issue was a lack of resources – and the fact there’s substantive work to be done in terms of staffing and skills.
The company, which supplies integrated automated supply chain technology and software and services, employs more than 6000 people and has engineering centres and manufacturing facilities in the US, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Italy and China.
Plonus said Dematic is currently “dipping its toes in the water” on the connected business journey and planned to adopt a digital inventory management system on its sites, but it was worried about resources.
However, the company is looking to beef up operational efficiencies and boost cost savings. Digitisation was a good focal point, he said.
“We have a global digitisation strategy and there are some projects on the way - for example, digitisation of operational data.”
The tech leaders said constant concerns include a lack of resources and issues with IT security, IT governance and compliance.
Other major worries included ‘loss of control’ in relying on cloud platforms; a lack of communications amongst stakeholders about the cloud strategy; resistance to change and “old-school mentalities” from employees; and difficulties in properly crafting and articulating the business case for cloud and then convincing the board to commit.
Attendees agreed that while IT leaders face a host of challenges they also needed to deal with them and move into the connected business environment in order to stay agile and competitive.
They recognised using normal business models is not always possible and tech chiefs need to look at process optimisation - and cloud services - in order to stay competitive.
Technology chiefs are no longer simply tasked with keeping the lights on. They now have to deliver operational efficiencies and cost savings, while also driving innovative change in order to realise the ‘interconnectedness’ of everything from business processes and models to business activities.
Sage Product Director, Australia and Asia, Ettore Alterisio acknowledged the challenges, and said there would always be resistance to change within organisations.
“With technology evolving so quickly it can be difficult to know when and where to start,” he said. “But the main thing is to just start. You can start small and go from there but not starting is not an option.
“There is almost too much information out there. It can also be difficult to plan for future competition that doesn’t exist yet, which is why getting the infrastructure in place to embrace change is so important.” Alterisio suggested IT leaders - particularly those at the start of their journey - be open to ideas and recognise that who you connect with today may not be who you connect with tomorrow.
“Think of transformation in terms of a journey rather than having a fixed endpoint in mind – you may need to adjust as you go. This is a classic change the engines while keeping the plane in the air scenario.
“Look to platforms that already link to an existing ecosystem of applications so you can easily integrate functionality, which is what Sage Business Cloud looks to achieve. Proprietary systems that lock you in to a single vendor are potential technological dead ends.”
Agiasotis said the point is to “think beyond your four walls” and recognise it’s all about innovation and how companies connect with key stakeholders and customers.
“That’s when the magic happens - when you can interoperate beyond the four walls.”