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IT AND HR – SURPRISING BEDFELLOWS

– Cyrus Gilbert Rolfe, EMEA MD, SocialChorus

 

Digital content has changed the way people communicate. Personal lives have been transformed by text, by social media and messaging apps. People can now communicate with as many people as they choose, all over the world, whenever they want and however they want.

While these advances in digital communication have enhanced many lives, it has also become a disruptive technology in more ways than one. Not surprisingly, the development of new communication tools is keeping pace with changes in the way people communicate, giving them a myriad of ways to get the right information in front of the right readers at the right time. However, there’s been a lot less attention given to the development of internal communications tools and their place in the ever-evolving digital workplace. As a result, many businesses have unwittingly allowed a disparate form of internal communications to evolve. According to TechCrunch there are over 10 million users of Slack, a day and over 1 billion messages are sent a week. That’s just one messaging tool. As WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have become more popular the number of SMS and MMS messages has dropped from 163 billion in 2012 to 82 billion in 2017, while WhatsApp users sent 60 billion messages every day during the final quarter of 2017. What these numbers show, is that despite a decline in some channels being used to deliver messages, the number of messages being sent have risen exponentially. And those messages won’t be just personal ones.

The job of any good communications professional is to keep employees highly engaged. Employee engagement is critical to productivity and retaining/attracting employees; and engaged employees increase motivation among the entire workforce and enable others to feel as though they have a stake in a company’s strategic direction. That’s why so many companies are prioritising the employee experience.

So how do businesses engage their employees and most importantly, what does it look like in today’s digital era? Gartner’s recent Workplace Summit highlighted why the C-suite has made the digital workplace a high priority and how organisations that invest in the employee experience could improve employee engagement scores (by up to 10%).

Not surprisingly, one of the primary takeaways from the summit was that everyone needs to take ownership of digital workplace initiatives if they want them to succeed. “Digital workplace initiatives cannot be treated exclusively as an IT initiative,” said Carol Rozwell, distinguished research vice president at Gartner. “When initiatives are executed as a series of technology rollouts, employee engagement and addressing the associated cultural change are left behind. Digital workplace success is impossible without such [collaboration].”

The digital workplace is about aligning technology (existing and new) with business processes around a clearly defined strategy. It is a C-suite priority, and one where business leaders need to reassess. They need to ask themselves how their greatest asset – their employees – work and collaborate.

Business leaders are realising that they need to prioritise the digital workplace to overcome siloed teams and technology across the company, to personalise to retain and attract talent and include all of the workforce (when frontline workers are often completely left out of the picture). Engaging employees will be driven by communications and HR but that’s not all as already highlighted.

The challenge is that many communications professionals are still using software and methods from the early days of the digital revolution. And the reason behind this is that HR and internal comms teams rarely work together, let alone with IT, to identify ways of improving communications channels. They’ve either inherited legacy tools such as the company intranet or the business has allowed messaging apps to creep their way into the working environment. The question is how do HR and internal comms know if their messages, or indeed the right messages are reaching all employees? HR, IC and IT need to start thinking about technology solutions holistically. In turn if these teams align then the business needs to enable IT to be more agile with more up-to-date technology to keep pace with the digital workplace.

 

Developing a Culture of Digital Dexterity

Leveraging technology in today’s fast-paced business world depends on the ability of employees to collaborate, communicate, and innovate. Leaders must ask their workforce to rethink about the way in which they engage with their colleagues and help them to better communicate with one another.

Redesigning the workplace is about changing the organisation’s approach to technology, social networks, and leadership practices. It also means ensuring a great employee experience.

According to an MIT study, the dynamic between the technology and the way people work is most tangible when it comes to measuring success. Organisations focused on enhancing the digital workplace see significant improvements in performance when measured against the performance of their competitors.

While employee communications could benefit greatly from the same kind of purpose-built tools people use in every other part of their lives not all businesses are utilising them appropriately to connect with their employees. And there’s several reasons for that.

 

Embracing the Digital Workplace

The emerging digital workplace will answer a variety of problems that will spin the wheel and help business drivers—including increased revenue, reduced operating costs, greater innovation, increased productivity, higher flexibility, stronger talent, and improved employee experience—come to life.

It will offer the necessary support when it comes to shifts in working styles that allow for employees to function more transparently and more efficiently leverage social networks.

Digital workplaces will also unify internal communications by enabling employees to stay connected through the channels of their choice (including mobile). This allows for the employee experience to exist outside the typical company firewall. When used correctly, digital workplaces can provide flexibility and personalisation. That’s because digital workplaces allow for the integration of different apps and software, which facilitates easier workflows for employees.

Virtual work environments allow employees to remain connected in different offices across the world while still maintaining a balance between customer privacy and operational risk. This, in turn, minimises spending and allows for a better employee experience through enhancing productivity, because employees are equipped with the right tools and information at the right time.

Furthermore, companies creating digital workplaces are able to attract talent by showcasing their progressive and unique working environment, where top candidates are learning to expect from employers.

 

The Right Digital Workplace Enhances Company Culture

Managers are increasingly aware of how much the digital workplace can be used as a lever for achieving employee happiness. A Harvard Business Review study showed that 87% of senior managers find achieving effective digital workplaces to now be a priority, with the majority saying it is a do-or-die imperative.

Currently, 62% of senior managers are actively implementing management initiatives and transformation programs in order to make their business more digital, which will, in turn, satisfy their employees.

 

Five Key Attributes to Digital Workplace Success

The human capital changes as a result of the digital workplace can be sorted into five key pillars that lead to digital workplace success.

 

  1. Digital Workplaces Are The Workplaces Of The Future

Technology is changing almost everything about how people work. The C-suite sees the digital workplace as a top priority and now leaders are taking steps to make it happen.

 

  1. Digital Workplaces Require A Great Communications Strategy

Companies are trying to design an irresistible experience for their employees. This would allow them to engage employees and get them working harmoniously toward the organisation’s mission and objectives.

This is where a strong communications strategy paired with a workforce communications platform comes in. Because if employees are not kept in the loop, business initiatives may fail. Also, CIOs must understand that they must take accountability for shaping the company culture, not just HR and Internal Communications.

 

  1. Digital Workplace Success Must Be Holistic

The changes business leaders make can have a big impact on all employees. That includes remote workers, contract employees, frontline employees, and employees who come into the main office every day. The chosen technology must serve all groups. It’s not about buying more tools that only solve one problem for one team. IT needs to look at the technology and challenges holistically.

 

  1. Digital Workplaces Must Integrate Existing Tools

Businesses need to take advantage of their existing tools. A digital workplace transformation doesn’t necessarily mean a complete replacement of existing technology. Integrate new tools can be integrated with whatever is currently working for teams. This allows for workers to operate in very different ways and leverage different digital technologies while improving efficiency.

Additionally, IT must look for tools that not only integrate with other software but create a platform to unify the technology. For example, a workforce communications platform (or employee engagement platform integrates all communications channels giving companies one place to create, target, schedule, and publish communications to the channels employees prefer).

 

  1. Digital Workplaces Sustain Organisational Performance

This involves constant re-evaluation of how the whole workforce performance improves in the organisation that does not rest. This will, in turn, keep on driving more and more impact on the bottom line of the workforce.

On the whole, embracing new technologies is important in keeping employees motivated and enabling them to leverage different digital skill sets. However, one team or department can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Adopting a digital workplace strategy will help to align multiple disciplines and help to deliver a unified and engaged workforce that has a shared interest and investment in the company’s values and ultimately, its success.

 

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THE EVOLUTION OF THE TECH CFO

CFO

Gavin Fallon,General Manager, UK, Nordics & South Africa Board International

 

Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) have traditionally been seen as behind the technological curve – the luddite of the boardroom, too attached to their Excel spreadsheets to move with the times. But the role of the CFO is now shifting and becoming more strategically significant to the business, putting them in the ideal situation to make much needed changes in the boardroom.

Despite many business functions being transformed by data, the boardroom remains a place where paper presentations are annotated around the table and, when it comes to finance, the focus is placed on the traditional statutory profit and loss structure. This may remain useful for reviewing historical performance but provides no insight into what may happen in the future. As global events – from political upheaval to health crises – have an impact on organisations, the ability to react in real-time becomes more important than ever. It is here that CFOs have the opportunity to make seismic changes in their business.

 

Gavin Fallon

CFOs now sit in a unique position

CFOs now sit in a unique position, where the traditional responsibility of keeping an eye on the bottom line is wrapped with analytical and operational knowledge to create a far more strategic role. It is by sitting at this unique crossroads and holding a huge amount of knowledge about every area of the organisation that CFOs have the potential to change many aspects of how the boardroom operates. However, in order to fully realise the potential, CFOs must be empowered to take a digital lead.

A lot of the CFO’s most important work takes place on Excel and Essbase, systems that remain rife with risk. In fact, 56 percent of finance professionals believe the spreadsheets they use in their reporting processes are well-controlled and error free, which may well be why 40 percent also believe their reporting is based on potentially inaccurate information (FSN 2018). Not only prone to human error, spreadsheets are also static and do not allow for real-time forecasting or modelling. While CFOs are well aware of this challenge, the fact they have for too long been tied to legacy systems has led to an unintentional knowledge gap about the technology available to enable them to move away from making decisions based on what happened last year, quarter or week.

 

Seeing the bigger picture

With a greater understanding of the technology available comes an evolution and expansion of the CFO’s role within a business. It is no longer enough to make decisions based on static reporting, focusing on the traditional statutory profit and loss structure. Instead they need to use the tools available to play a strategic role with a keener eye on the future, seeing the bigger picture, anticipating what is next, and having the correct contingency plans in place to mitigate risk.

Technology can provide CFOs with full visibility of the entire company at a single glance, with data at their fingertips enabling them to take into account everything from KPIs to operations, distilling instant insights. This offers a level of clarify that means the answer to ‘what happened’ is obvious, allowing for more attention to be placed on ‘what will happen?’.

Consider a board meeting that is discussing headcount requirements based on the launch of a new product. Using traditional methods, a business may well make presumptions based on experiences when previous launches took place. But since that time, there is likely to have been a whole host of changes, both within the company itself as well as in the wider market – from market conditions for the product to the salary expectations of potential recruits.

The use of such technology, however, does not solely require the buy-in from the CFO, or even the finance function. To fully realise its potential in fundamentally changing how an organisation operates, the value will need to be seen by the entire board to, in effect, create a digital boardroom. While such technology has an impact on all areas of the business, allowing senior leadership to understand the impact of a factory in the supply chain closing, for example, it is the finance function that is best placed to show the value and drive adoption.

 

Primed to integrate the business like never before

The CFO is becoming more strategically important, combining analytical, operational and strategic value into a single role. They are primed to integrate the business like never before, acting as the central thread that ties all aspects of decision-making together in a single, unified process. To do so, requires a radical transformation of their role, as the pioneers of new technology. Already a trusted advisor, CFOs can now elevate their role with the ability to effectively forecast and help spearhead the organisational culture change that is required for the shift in mindset that comes with such digital transformation. To maximise the potential of this unique position, the CFO must be equipped with the technology that provides them with the full visibility of the company and clarity in decision-making they require.

 

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Banking

ADAPT OR LOSE – THE BANKING OF 2030

BANKING

By Frank Zhou, CEO & Founder of Zeux

 

Fintech, the world over, is rapidly expanding with the global value of fintech deals last year coming in at $53.3 billion. It’s no news that this continued growth can – at least, in part – be attributed to a shift in the financial industry’s mindset to allow and facilitate the integration of digital tools, such as online banking and mobile apps, to help improve the customer experience. But the rate of integration and adoption differs vastly, from continent to continent. So what makes a mindset towards innovation choose ‘caution’ over ‘audacity’ when it comes to the world of fintech, and how are these different approaches shaping the future of the financial landscape? Frank Zhou, CEO and founder of Zeux, shares his insight on the future of banking.

 

Asia is wearing the fintech crown

Financial innovation and the adoption of fintech in Europe has been slow compared to Asia who has been more open to moving away from traditional banking methods. China is the largest alternative lending market holding around 90% of market share, with the US coming in second place.  Together, they dominate 95% of the market. Although the UK is ranked third, the market share is only expected to peak at a value of $4.8bn this year compared to China’s $265.7bn.

BANKING

Frank Zhou

At the head of the pack, Chinese investors are similarly quick to put their weight behind fintech start-ups as they seek to improve the operations of their banks and financial institutions. This forward-thinking approach has brought about the adoption of new-gen technology such as AI and Machine Learning to solve serious finance-relevant issues such as assessing risk and identifying fraud.

The US has demonstrated strong commitment towards adopting new digital technology as well. According to Ryan Battles, EY’s Banking and Capital Markets Lead for the Americas, “banking is finally starting to catch the wave that began with Apple and Amazon raising consumer expectations”.

 

Europe is only catching up with the Silicon Valley mentality

Europe’s fragmented nature – shaped so by its multi-languages, laws and cultures – pushes boundaries in the way of large scale business decisions. And rather than tackle the international markets, an often go-to European approach is to concentrate on developing business within Europe itself.

The Silicon Valley approach of ‘blitzscaling’, a phrase coined by LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman, involves scaling at all costs including “doing things that don’t scale” and making deliberate choices without having all of the information—sacrificing efficiency for speed. There are clear risks involved by adopting this method of favouring quick growth on a global scale, but the results can be ground-breaking: think PayPal.

Europe may not have the tech titans that the US or Asia boast, despite having a strong industrial base, but in a ‘hare and tortoise’ style setting, has the potential to become the global fintech frontrunner, because where Europe can truy flex its muscle is in its regulatory prowess when it comes to AI. As with the rollout of GDPR in 2018, Europe wants to be identified as not just a true regulatory superpower but also as a tech superpower. The latest European initiative is to regulate AI through an ‘ecosystem of excellence’ and an ‘ecosystem of trust’. This new legislation will focus on AI applications that are deemed as high risk. Because as we know, Europe is, on the whole, risk averse.

At the same time, the UK itself continues to attract by far the largest share of fintech investment in Europe, with 83% of all European 2019  fintech investment, states Augmentum Fintech.

 

Bright future for the UK: Embracing the power of crypto

With the latest figures predicting traditional British banks could lose a further £8bn of revenue in the next five years, it’s no wonder there’s been an – albeit slow – shift to adopt tech-powered solutions in order to compete against trailblazer challengers such as Monzo and Revolut. Among the line-up of traditional banks that are rolling out new products are Santander and RBS, both of which are evolving the way they facilitate payments and transfers of funds.

Aside from these relatively ‘standard’ innovation developments around payment technology – that are more evolutionary than revolutionary – what else could help the financial sector catch up to its industry counterparts and drive real change? Does crypto really have a place? And how safe is it?

The US is embracing cryptocurrency as a safe digital currency because it trusts the technology behind it. Blockchain technology is an advanced way of logging and protecting data, which is difficult to manipulate or hack. It has the potential to improve security, productivity and customer experience when adopted by businesses in the financial sector. In spite of the bad press it receives, blockchain technology has been recognised as an emerging technology that could transform the banking sector due to the ability to improve trust, provide transparency and potentially lower costs, reduce transaction times and improve cash flow.

At the beginning of the year, even the Bank of England announced that it would consider adopting a bitcoin style digital currency as part of a global group of central banks. And that’s a big step.

Major financial markets around the world are still ahead of European and British banks when it comes to fintech innovation. AI and blockchain technologies are still in their relative infancies, and the pace of change and innovation is only going to gather even more momentum. Those who have made the smart decision to adopt, will reap the benefits that are to come. So, it’s more important than ever for the cautious approach that the British banking industry has demonstrated for so long to be replaced with a new, fresh hunger to harness digital technologies. Not only to guarantee growth, but also to remain competitive in a global market.

Innovation breeds innovation, it breaks through traditional models, and brings new opportunities to the table. The UK’s banks need to be smart with their next move and pull up a chair.

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