2021: a year to reboot, rebuild and rebound
In every company, 2020 was a year of reckoning.
Being required to operate with minimal human presence, in a context of severe disruption and uncertainty, has been a test of their resilience, as organizations and as human communities. And, for many established companies in every industry, a test of their capacity to quickly adapt to massive change.
In the past year, we have helped our clients reinvent themselves with a fully remote workforce, migrate critical applications to the cloud so that they could operate at all times, and envision new cybersecurity threats.
As the situation dragged on, we have seen their focus shift from “when do we get back to normal?” to “how can we be ready for whatever the future brings?”.
To help answer this question, the Atos Scientific Community has just released a great report. It outlines 4 imperatives for organizations to rebuild, retool and adapt to the changing expectations of their customers, employees and communities.
Imperative #1: Master technology (and don’t let it master you)
It is a lesson that is as important for companies as it is for individuals: your technology choices should be deliberate ones - and they should not be left to a handful of technology experts.
This imperative comes with several implications.
First, to realize technology’s potential, a company’s approach must consider as key variables whether it gives you control and adaptability. Technology should be the instrument of flexibility and acceleration, not something that limits you or bogs you down.
This is true in every strategic area, from their supply chain to their cybersecurity, and to a multi-cloud approach that avoids being dependent on a single provider. This is a dimension that we have strongly emphasized at Atos, through initiatives such as Atos OneCloud or Gaia-X, which aims to create a trusted data infrastructure at the European level.
Second implication: being in control means having an active stance toward emerging, potentially disruptive technologies. One example is quantum computing: businesses should already be identifying currently unsolvable problems that will become addressable as quantum technologies mature.
And rising to technology mastery should not be a task left to technology experts and decision-makers. The pandemic has also served as a reminder that your technology-savviness as a company heavily depends on (all) your employees.
#2: Embrace frictionless working
It is indeed an observation that spans many industries: in the first year of the crisis, many businesses managed to keep operating because of the dedication and resourcefulness of their people, and their ability to carry out exceptional measures, patches and quick fixes.
As we move away from such temporary solutions, it is time to take a pragmatic approach and ask ourselves: in this period of intense change, what worked and what did not?
Let’s take an example: at Atos, we strongly believe that the new digital and distributed way of working imposed by the COVID-19 crisis is sustainable and can lead to better outcomes for companies that fully embrace the change.
In that regard, the focus should not be “will we all work from home?” or “will we all come back to the office?”, but rather “how can we make work frictionless in every environment?”.
#3: Move toward data equity
The workplace is not the only area that seems up for reinvention. The pandemic is also leading us to reconsider some of the fundamentals of our data economy.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the operating model has centered on data exploitation, with companies acting as independent actors, jealously hoarding data behind walls and moats.
Fast-forward to 2020: not only was the fight against COVID a data-driven one, it was also a demonstration of the power of shared data between trusted partners. From epidemic management and response to vaccine research, collaboration around data has led to better decision-making and rapid scientific breakthroughs.
We believe that this could bring a welcome change of perspective - and that, in 2021, a company’s rebound will be driven by its ability to share its data in a fair and trusted way, and shift its model from data exploitation to data equity.
In the “Data Equity” model, members of data ecosystems establish shareholding interests in the collective value of otherwise disparate datasets. Such interests have to be represented in an equitable and trustworthy manner to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
These three imperatives - mastering technology, embracing frictionless work, moving toward data equity - have one thing in common: they will reward companies with a bias for action. The crisis has demonstrated that companies that take a backseat make themselves more fragile and less ready to rebound than those that are driven by a strong sense of purpose and create agency for themselves.
#4: Be sustainable by purpose
And this bias for action is nowhere as important as it is in sustainability.
The COVID-19 crisis has placed health, social, security and environmental considerations in the spotlight, particularly as businesses take stock of the ongoing and wider relevance of their company’s purpose. After this year, it feels that no company, no matter how big, has a guaranteed seat at the table unless it can prove its purpose.
And what we call sustainability by purpose is this idea: sustainability cannot be an effort on the side or a nice-to-have: it should pervade all aspects of a company’s activity and be a consistent framework within which the company operates.
Decarbonization is, of course, an essential part of this framework. It crystallizes the need for every company to measure, examine and improve its net impact on society.
The re-entry of the United States into the Paris Agreement has set the tone for 2021 and beyond - when I have talked to CEOs over the last year, decarbonization has been the number 1 topic they wanted to discuss. At Atos, we have created a dedicated business line because we are convinced that Digital is the solution in this domain. We propose Decarbonization assessments and Decarbonization Level Agreements in our contracts to make net zero emissions a shared reality.
Sustainability by purpose extends, of course, beyond decarbonization. It encompasses diversity and inclusion; ethics; security and trust - five essential dimensions of what makes us a society.
For this crisis, as others before, pulls us in two different directions: it propels us into the future by changing the way we work, trade or use technology, with no turning back. At the same time, it pulls us strongly back to fundamentals: our role, impact and purpose.
As businesses and members of society, we need to find ways to pull ourselves into both directions, to rebound and reboot - knowing fully well that, after 2020, the status quo is no longer an option.