Beyond the new normal – Creating sustainable change in the channel

Now that the dust has settled, and businesses have pivoted, what’s next? Making agility the ‘new norm’ – and making it sustainable. The stakes are high and the goal posts are fluid, but ultimately technology is the hero enabling major workforce transformations – forming the building blocks of cultural change. Channel partners need to rise to the challenge, go beyond simply selling products and become trusted advisers. Now more than ever, they need to be providing a consultative service to organisations on how to best operate now and how they can set themselves up for the future. So what do we really mean by agility and how it can be achieved. This article by Executive Director and General Manager of Channel and Distribution for Dell Technologies South Africa, Bradley Pulford, reflects on this and more.

As the world continues to face the most challenging moment in recent human history due to Covid-19, technological change is accelerating to meet new and unprecedented demands. Talk of the ‘new normal’ will soon become passé, as we continue to adapt to the changing needs of an uncertain world. But one thing is for sure, resiliency is essential for business continuity and ongoing success. This is underpinned by digital agility – and it can’t be achieved in siloes.

The pandemic did not hit all businesses equally. Industry differences aside, the digital leaders with nimble teams and agile transformations underway faired far better when the initial shock hit, compared to the digital laggards maintaining traditional business models. Research by McKinsey and the Harvard School of Business confirms this clearly.

The need for agility

As part of the research, reports from 25 businesses across a range of sectors that have undergone, or are currently undergoing agile transformations, were assessed – taking into account measures such as customer satisfaction, employee engagement, or operational performance. It found that agile teams continued to work ‘almost seamlessly’ after the pandemic first hit, while nonagile teams struggled to transition. Agile businesses had the competitive edge, because they already had the groundwork set with processes and structures in place to take the impact.

The importance here lies in the fact that this pandemic is not yet over – the situation is evolving on a regional basis. That first shock was a warning, the starting shot for fast-paced transformations that we have never seen before. Overnight, businesses fast-tracked two years of technological transformation as the workforce headed to the home office. Now the dust has settled, and businesses have pivoted, what’s next? Making agility the ‘new norm’ – and making it sustainable. Strong partnerships, collaboration across ecosystems and nimble business structures will help to establish this reality, giving poise to Channel businesses so that they can seize the opportunities at hand – rather than flail in turning tides of change.

This is no small ask, the stakes are high and the goal posts are fluid, but ultimately technology is the hero enabling major workforce transformations – forming the building blocks of cultural change. Channel partners need to rise to the challenge, go beyond simply selling products and become trusted advisers. Now more than ever, they need to be providing a consultative service to organisations on how to best operate now and how they can set themselves up for the future. This may require upskilling, or a shift in mindsets. So, let’s take a deeper dive on what we really mean by agility and how it can be achieved.

Poised for success

The enemy of agility is complacency. We have been reminded that businesses must stay on their toes in order to remain ahead of the curve. But with stringent planning, strong partnerships and diverse supply chains in place to cushion shocks – and there will always be shocks, regardless of their nature – businesses can reduce their impact, becoming more sustainable.

This is how poise is attained and Channel partners have a part to play when it comes to offering consultancy around these plans. For instance, table-top plans are not good enough. Risk management frameworks need to be operational so that businesses can stress test their processes and supply chains on an ongoing basis – those that do will come out on top in a crisis. But don’t forget the human factor. For example, the whole workforce needs to be onboard when it comes to reinforcing lines of defence against an increased surface for cyber-attack – especially during the pandemic.

Brand Culture

Kicking complacency out of the door is as cultural as it is structural. Agility is a mindset, that enables individuals to stay ahead of the race by consistently looking ahead and confronting the unexpected. Crucially, converting the unexpected into opportunity.

This is not new, but the pandemic has amplified the trend towards digital transformation, which calls for a shift towards data-driven mindsets, innovative technology solutions and the backing of the workforce from the top down, across stakeholders. Digital leaders found themselves ahead of the curve because they had already adopted that nimble mindset that would enable their business to successfully pivot. But they didn’t do it alone. The urgency must be imbued in the full collective workforce, in order to respond to shifting priorities and new practices seamlessly.

The IT industry seems to be the hero at the centre of this storm, but it is important for Channel partners establishing that role of trusted advisor to help customers understand that technology is only a part of the solution – it must be packaged alongside real shifts in people’s mindsets and processes in order to be effective.

Talent, Collaboration and Creativity

Amid the apparent chaos of a post-Covid-19 world, the tech industry is set for a skills shortage. Diverse talent pools are conducive to agile thinking and growth mindsets. But here lies an unexpected silver-lining for businesses looking to attract the crème-de-la-crème of the tech talent, to reinforce their digital transformations. As workforces become more flexible, with remote working and hybrid models becoming the norm, the ability to attract top talent is not reliant upon proximity to a tech hub.

Recruiting a more diverse range of thinkers enables greater creativity – necessary when navigating through a crisis. Knowledge sharing and collaboration feed into this, as demonstrated by McLaren, which joined forces with medical specialist tech and UK manufacturers in response to the need for ventilators in the UK at the start of the pandemic. Pooling knowledge, data and resources, the consortium responded at pace to the unprecedented call to action. In the same way, Channel partners and the entire ecosystem must be ready to support one another and share resources.

Agile tech

Cloud computing is a clear factor in agility, as an enabler of digital transformation. But it is the convergence of multiple pieces of tech that will really turbo-charge change – and it’s all data-driven. In order to collaborate effectively and with speed, businesses need to have their data in order, understand what they have, where it sits and where the true value lies. This can be a problem, but it will ultimately power the machine learning and automation technologies that form vital parts of the tech solutions, for tomorrow’s crisis. We have seen huge demand for devices, VPN and VDI capacity, as well as a sharp shift in security needs – all of which have implications for data centres, with rising data traffic. But with resilient supply chains, this won’t be a problem.

In an uncertain world, consistency and sustainability are key. By strategically enhancing a businesses agility with this nuanced and human-centric approach, the technology will inevitably shine. In which case it is essential for Channel partners to embrace this holistic view, putting the customer first: people, process, tech. With more turbulence ahead, empathy is the perfect pairing for that illustrious agility.

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