The year 2020 is shaping up to be the ‘pivot year’ for IT with a rising adoption of cloud technologies triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to many industry leaders in Asia.
Chief among these voices is Sandeep Bhargava, Managing Director of Asia Pacific Japan (APJ), Rackspace Technology, who in a recent interview with Disruptive.Asia, emphasised some significant factors behind the changing times, and the way we work and live in Asia.
The ‘new normal‘ will also see the rise to disruptive proportions of emerging technologies, innovations and integration keys required to capture new business opportunities.
Many companies are engaged in post-pandemic digital infrastructure planning involving the identification of opportunities that adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, blockchain, next-generation security and IoT (internet of things).
Speaking of Malaysia, Bhargava finds that: “Cloud adoption for the Malaysian market is not as advanced as Singapore because of the market’s inherent preference for traditional on-premise IT architecture and services sourcing models. Mostly, the adoption is ad hoc or the opportunistic use of infrastructure involving non-critical cloud services.”
“However, due to the Covid-19 situation, we are starting to see more interest in Malaysia around assessments, consulting and migrations on top of the usual managed services,” he continued.
“In Singapore, with the easing of restrictions to Phase 3, the country has entered the ‘new normal’ stage. Under this phase, borders were reopened with safeguards and health checks in place, allowing foreigners to transit and enter Singapore. Businesses, on the other hand, can resume but with safe management measures in place.”
Why Cloud first?
Broadening the discussion to Asia, he believes that the most significant challenges organisations in the region will face are associated with how prepared they are in adopting a cloud-first strategy. “Similarly, the ability of IT teams to work from home and support a predominantly remote workforce will also be put to the test.”
Bhargava’s advice to companies when formulating a sound cloud-first strategy is that it should extend beyond the bounds of the organisation’s IT Team. “Essentially, the company’s strategy must be understood and embraced by the whole organisation.”
Also important is communicating the ‘whys’ of an organisation’s cloud vision is imperative, he stressed.
“More than the technical steps required to implement a cloud-first strategy, IT teams need to focus on promoting the merits of cloud. With buy-in and commitment from across all levels of the organisation, technology leaders can get the help they need to develop and extract benefits that will yield a competitive edge and greater profitability for the business.”
Steps to multi-cloud implementation
To overcome multiple challenges related to establishing a reliable platform of remote work capabilities, and one equal to coping with sudden upsurges in heavy loads to system resources that further stretch already-lean IT teams, Bhargava advises the following priorities for business leaders.
“Leaders must set priorities and take into account the following two concerns,” continued Bhargava. “Firstly, security: With more people working remotely, the increase in intrusion vectors is opening more opportunities for attack. The addition of BYOD [bring your own device] and IoT [internet of things] devices to existing hardware resources makes it even more difficult for businesses to stay ahead of cybersecurity.”
“Data and applications previously protected by networks and processes are now dispersed, requiring new approaches to protection. Organisations need to stay protected against phishing, ransomware, malware and other forms of cyberattacks targeting vulnerable organisations.”
“Secondly, we must ensure infrastructure readiness as – almost overnight – many organisations have had to convert their workspaces from physical to digital to accommodate social distancing guidelines,” he said, adding, “IT teams have to quickly address legacy systems and outdated processes to get solutions up and running and avoid major productivity issues.”
“This conversion involves the selection of the right tools and implementation of security protocols to ensure that remote solutions can support workloads just as smoothly as the solutions that were used on-site,” he explained. “For companies that did not have a remote strategy in place, this shift has been particularly difficult.”
Moving on, Bhargava cites analyst firm IDC’s forecast that more than 65% of enterprises in Asia Pacific will use multiple cloud providers by 2021. Multi-cloud will become the preferred IT foundation for more organisations as they seek to become more agile to keep up with digital disruption.
With this in mind, he believes that given the wide range of cloud choices available, organisations need to carefully select the right cloud platform and tools for different workloads instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to cloud deployment.
“To optimise returns on cloud investments, technology leaders must take a customised approach to accelerate the value of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud aligned to their desired business outcomes.”
“We are seeing changes in mobile and digital environments as many countries are still enforcing work from home measures,” he said, adding that he had observed three key inflexion points.
“The first is that scalability of public cloud services has come to the fore amid the Covid-19 pandemic as more organisations are operating with a remote workforce as well as facing a surge in demand for digital services for customers.”
“Secondly, there is a need to lower total cost of ownership (TCO), amid the rising high price of purchasing, owning and operating on-premise software applications.”
Indeed, Gartner estimates that the annual cost of owning and managing software applications can be as much as four times the cost of the initial purchase.
“To deflect some of the costs, many organisations are turning to popular cloud computing solutions which enable users to access business applications anywhere, at any time using a Web browser,” he said.
In this way, businesses can save on upfront and ongoing costs by subscribing to software applications, and “outsourcing” the operations and the associated maintenance and support.
“This cost optimisation enables IT departments to allocate their budget across a broader portfolio of services that deliver greater productivity and profitability,” Bhargava said.
To enhance digital capabilities under the post-pandemic period, industry players and government sectors should focus on the following.
“Deploying adequate infrastructure should be a priority if we want to support the development and use of various digital platforms and data modernisation in the public sector. Without adequate infrastructure, accelerating service delivery and citizen engagement will be difficult,” he said.
“In addition, developing digital content and services at a national level is essential in creating a digital culture. Digital services and transactions such as eHealth, e-Education and digital government applications will help drive this culture, which is also vital in promoting data-driven development.”
Another imperative is to upskill and reskill the workforce, particularly civil servants, educators, private sector employees, and IT workforce to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
“A robust curriculum must be designed to develop competitive sector-specific skills,” Bhargava believes. “With the help of schools, universities, private sector and public service academies, the upskilling of the workforce should follow targeted learning paths and include women and vulnerable youth as part of these digital skills programs. This is a critical step to boost the up-take of digital content and services.”
Another step is to realign digital economy strategies with local contexts. “This is vital if we want to harness the full power of technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
“To achieve this, markets must consider contextual use of data science, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and advanced digital analytics. Realignment of strategies with local context can help recession-proof markets and identify growth opportunities in resource-constrained macroeconomic conditions.”
Scaling for the Second Wave
Looking ahead, Southeast Asia will see an increase in investments toward cloud computing with estimated market revenue of US$40.32 billion by the year 2025. The transition to multi-cloud is being triggered by the need to manage resources across multiple platforms in a data-driven environment, which points to cloud-native enablement.
Adopting an enabling mindset is a prerequisite to embracing a cloud-native mentality for executives, managers and IT leaders, Bhargava says.
“While infrastructure and technology are important considerations, digital transformation is about the people and how they approach change. Many organisations fail to cultivate the necessary cultural shift needed to change the mindset of workers. Organisations who skip this step struggle with their transformation projects. Realising too late, without the right mindset, no digital transformation project is going to succeed.”
His thoughts of the immediate future in Asia are encapsulated in the comment: “The year 2020 will be known as the ‘Pivot’ Year for IT and Cloud. With added pressure on businesses to be prepared, business continuity plans need to be prioritised – and this is going to change the way we work going forward.”
This pressure will open up organisations that have been averse to cloud. “More sectors will embrace digital commerce driven by the increase in personalised services and delivery industries. This will also dramatically shorten the supply chain – much the same way that micro-segmentation has disrupted networking.”
We could also see the emergence of a ‘Chief Continuity Officer’ role, given the uncertainties in the global economy. “With disruptions happening from all fronts, the role will be critical in risk identification, crisis management and immediate restoration of operations and services.”
In tune with some other leaders in Asia, Bhargava sees a second wave of digital changes, one that includes enhanced focus on automation and security.
With much of Asia’s workforce unable to come to the office, companies will have to surrender steps that require manual intervention to streamline processes. The large-scale work from arrangements has also exposed gaps in enterprise security. Automation and security initiatives will be implemented to address these issues.
“Now is the time for all organisations to develop a physical and digital infrastructure, which will accommodate both the need to address critical situations and day-to-day productivity needs,” he said.
“Organisations that have taken a cloud-first approach will find they are better set up for remote work,” Bhargava concludes. “Remote operations and remote work have become a fundamental component of their new cloud operating model. As such, their environment and services (both internal and external) are better designed for remote access and scalability. With the recent disruption, organisations are in the midst of considering changing from capital expenditure to operational expenditure models.”