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DIGIT Leader Summit 2021 | Leaders Must Step Up to Drive Change

David Paul

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DIGIT Leader Summit
As we emerge from the pandemic, strong leadership and technology are needed now more than ever.

Covid-19 vaccines are slowly bringing the pandemic to an end, but now we must deal with the fallout of a year of difficulty and uncertainty.

Homeworking and lockdown have had a major impact on the way we live and work, and the pandemic has forced us far apart from our colleagues, losing not only the social interaction of the office but the structure of a working day.

Additionally, in many sectors, such as the hospitality industry, face-to-face interaction is critical for their business to function and thousands across the country have closed, forcing millions to lose their jobs.

This year’s DIGIT Leader Virtual Summit looked more deeply at this transition and saw discussions around the future of work, data security and improving business alignment.

Technology has become a vital resource as we navigate the pandemic, helping with a multitude of issues from covid tracking, food delivery and medical operations. It has become the lifeline that has allowed organisations to continue to operate.

Leaders are going to have to step up more than ever to deal with this fallout, and technology will be there to support them along this difficult journey as we adapt to a new business paradigm.


The future of work

Lockdowns have changed the business landscape forever, but some people in the tech sector are attempting to ‘re-set’ the normal as much as possible.

The big question of the first sessions was what do we want our workplace, organisations, and society to look like over the coming months, and what can tech leaders do to help to make this vision a reality?

According to Abigail Marks, Professor of The Future of Work, Newcastle University, the issues created by the ‘mass homeworking experiment’ carried out over the last 12 months need to be addressed by business leaders and the government going forward.

In her talk, Marks looked not just at the future of remote working, but its desirability. She pointed to a study that found a 30% increase in productivity over the pandemic thanks to remote working. However, she warned that this points to workers being over-burdened and working longer work hours thanks to a “weaker divide” between home and work life.

The idea of cognitive bounce, or the jump between tasks throughout the day, is the “hidden crisis of home working,” according to Bianca Best, Author & MD of Blink, MediaCom.

She dug deeper into the complex discussion around how home working technology can boost productivity and help people in certain ways but can also have severe problems for staff with burnout.

Best noted that change is now a “permanent constant” and that “learning how to adapt is something we must take heed of”. We needed these mechanisms to manage the delicate balance of stress – between using it to motivate us and to it being a detriment both to work and health and leading ultimately to burnout.


The role of leadership

The second session of the day looked more deeply at the importance of leadership roles and technology in the future, discussing areas such as work culture, good security practice and leadership through disruptive change.

As the cliché goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. But with a diffused workforce, creating a solid workplace culture can prove difficult.

In the first breakout session, Metix CTO Alastair Rennie looked at some of the challenges to this, and how they can be overcome. Workers are often lost in a remote working situation, and to compensate, leadership needs to actively engage with them to develop workplace culture.

This means taking the time to engage with workers using techniques like shadowing and mentoring.

On the discussion of agile security, Barrier Networks CISO Jordan Schroeder discussed how a leader should be implementing a strategy effectively into their business culture.

Cybersecurity is often seen as a ‘bolt-on’ option for business leaders, Schroeder said, but this is something that needs to change. Leadership often treats security as a problem for later on down the line, which means funding is low and staff ability and training along with it.

“Business leader can provide little resources for security, but still expect results”, Schroeder comments, stating that there is often a “culture of blame” and a set of unrealistic expectations around what security experts can do.


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Schroeder says that to effectively take advantage of the security, a leader should “ditch the department of no and adopt the department of go,” better aligning their expectations to the reality and begin creating a culture of learning and growth.

Another important topic that appeared throughout the day is behaviour during the pandemic, and Author and Customer Centricity Advisor Ilenia Vidili looked more deeply at five trends that have emerged in customer sentiment over the last year.

The biggest of these is the growing role of values and ethics in determining which companies people spend their money with. While not a new phenomenon, customers are increasingly gravitating towards businesses that they identify as sharing their values.

The other trends were a focus on healthcare, a natural occurrence during a public health crisis, and the importance of safety, as we gravitate away from in-person experiences.

In addition, people increasingly value convenience when shopping, and the growth of digital experiences is another trend as we are forced online.


The Importance of data

The day’s closing session focused on addressing organisational delusions and improving business alignment and outcomes in the future.

Speakers explored risk and compliance within complex organisations, as well as the importance of output and purpose, and the vital role of data in building and maintaining trust.

Talks focused on the importance of compliance. As digital industries mature, they will come under increased scrutiny, said CTO and Technology Commentator, Aubrey Stearn. This means that compliance will need to be an “integral feature” of news products, new software and new processes, not an afterthought.

Martin Thorn, Head of Data Science at Standard Life Aberdeen, discussed how vital it is for strong leadership in the data science sector. He noted a distinct disconnect between data science teams and c-suite. Fostering closer ties between these facets of a business “requires leadership personnel that can traverse both sides of the ‘divide’,” Thorn added.

“When building a great team, you need people that can speak in plain, simple terms and interact with staff from all facets of the business,” Thorn said. “Translator skills are key in data science leadership situations.”

The day ended with a Q&A discussion around the importance of trust in the new post-pandemic world. Trust in technology, security, data, employees and the trust that consumers put in businesses and brands.

Hew Bruce Gardyne, Head of Business Intelligence, TVSquared, along with Stearn, Thorn, agreed that now more than ever, we are facing a “trust crisis”. Even before the pandemic began, trust in institutions, governments and companies has already been fading for years.

In a world plagued by a public health crisis, political upheavals and cybersecurity, trust will prove a major determiner of who thrives and survives. Creating it and maintaining it will perhaps be one of the most crucial and difficult challenges facing leaders in the next few years.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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