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Tech-driven CEOs key to business

By ED HOPPITT, director of apps and cloud native platforms in EMEA for VMware

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In the face of immense adversity, the last few months have witnessed arguably the greatest use of, and reliance on, technology in powering the world economy.

It is organisations that have digital at their core that have been able to move fastest during these trying times: from educating children and university students, to transforming the delivery of healthcare; providing new channels for banks and governments to distribute billions of pounds to businesses, to retailers rapidly pivoting to digital channels and manufacturers identifying new ways to drive efficiencies in local manufacturing.

In the space of a few short, albeit arduous months, the digital delivery of information and services has been critical to keeping the world turning. And this is all down to the ability to develop and deliver apps into the hands of users, be it employees or customers, as fast as possible.

Organisations around the world have had to put technology at the heart of their business in a very short space of time. Decision making has been swift and matched by absolute faith in the use of technology to support business needs.

But is it technology alone that can take credit for this – or are the individuals driving these changes, taking the decisions and leading the charge, equally responsible?

Determining responsibility for technology leadership

According to our new research, 71 percent of EMEA business leaders believe it is this ‘technologically informed’ leadership that is driving business success. That means that business leaders around the world are now having to balance business resiliency (to protect their imminent and longer-term futures), innovation (to drive competitive advantage) and responsibility (ensuring technology drives better business outcomes and social impact). Covid has accelerated much of what ‘digital transformation’ was already delivering or had scope to deliver. And it has exposed those who simply weren’t prepared.

So, success requires being able to act and react smartly and quickly. In short, it demands champions, it demands leaders willing to take responsibility, it demands executives that will instinctively know how innovation will help their organizations adapt to any market conditions and shape future performance and resiliency. To that end, it is unsurprising that a majority of EMEA business leaders believe CEOs and executive leadership positions should be filled by people with technology career backgrounds, such as in app or software development.

Why? According to our research, when identifying specific benefits, half (50%) of business leaders highlight improved efficiency across the whole organisation, 42% recognise increased business performance, 40% greater innovation potential, and more than a third (37%) better customer experiences. Having tech insiders on the board also helps build collective responsibility for digital investments, the implementation of technology and, ultimately, the delivery of innovation.

Consider any innovative business and it is likely that they will have a senior leadership team steeped in technology. Netflix, Amazon, Deliveroo – all companies renowned for their innovation, all with leaders, both past and present, with technology backgrounds and instinct.

Resilience as standard

Organisations that once had multiple revenue streams woke up to find all but the most digital had disappeared overnight. For some, placing all the focus and directing all the traffic through just one part of their portfolio proved too much – one only has to consider the number of retailers and delivery services that had to implement waiting lists and queuing systems to understand the impact.

Others, on the other hand, have been able to pivot quickly. There are multiple reasons why they have been able to do so, but the consistent theme is their greater digital maturity, delivered through a digital foundation that supports next generation applications.

Having the ability to build, run manage and secure these applications is critical to riding out the storm. In fact, an inability to deliver next gen apps can lead to failure full stop – 80% of EMEA app developers and tech leaders believe that without successfully modernizing applications, organizations will be unable to deliver a best-in-class customer experience. This is echoed by the global executive community; in a global Forrester study we carried out, more than 80% of believe that enhancing application portfolios will improve the customer experience, which is directly tied to revenue growth.

Users will quickly switch to alternative providers if their original choice fails to deliver the expected service or experience.

Not only that, but they’ll also move on if businesses fail to be continually available. This need for resilience is also reliant on the power of these next-gen apps, with more than a third (37%) of respondents to the VMware study citing the importance of apps in ensuring reliable uptime.

Leaders with tech in their DNA will understand all this, but they’ll also know that modernizing apps does mean having to tackle additional challenges.

That’s because these next generation services have to deliver experiences at speed, while being constantly innovative. Look at airline booking services, for example. They have to handle data from multiple sources, such as destination popularity, date, weather and the user’s past travel history, balance it all and produce an outcome that delivers the best possible customer experience.

Supporting and regularly enhancing these attributes requires flexibility, agility and scalability, while at the same time delivering infallible security. It means being able to use environments such as public and private cloud, or even on-premises, that best meet the needs of the apps themselves.

This can bring added complexity, at a time when the ability to conceive, create and deploy apps quickly is critical. The answer is a digital foundation that can be a common platform for the fast production of apps, all with consistent management and operations.

Innovating a legacy service

But this isn’t just the preserve of digital native businesses; those with app innovation so interwoven into their fabric they don’t even realize they’re being innovative. It’s an achievable goal for established legacy organizations.

One of our customers, the French group La Poste, has vastly diversified its services, with mobility and apps at the very heart of its diversification strategy. From being able to provide citizens with banking and insurance services on the doorstep, more recently the business has enabled its postal workers to check the well-being of elderly people in the community as part of the Watch Over my Parents service – providing this service free during the COVID-19 lockdown. It has equipped 70,000+ employees with apps on mobile devices to facilitate these services, and through a digital workspace platform has been able to simplify the delivery and management of the apps and devices, providing easy access for postal workers, regardless of their IT literacy.

Technology feeds business agility

If businesses want to continue to operate in the face of massive disruption, they need to make fast, decisive decisions, build resilience and drive innovation. That requires two clear elements: leadership with technology in its DNA, and a digital foundation that can help accelerate the pace of delivering new apps and services. It is simple – technology is the difference between organizations that will thrive and those that won’t survive. That means having leaders with the relevant skillsets, expertise and perspective in the boardroom. With the right digital tools and infrastructure in support – organizations can attract, engage, and retain both customers and employees, and optimize competitiveness today and for the future.

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