It’s good to walk with your head in the clouds - Michelle Hawkins

Technology has been a lifeline for companies and the economy over the past 12 months. In the process it has turned many business models on their heads. It also fundamentally changed the relationships we have with our colleagues and workforce and our business partners.

At the heart of that change is cloud technology. Many organisations have been ramping up their investment in cloud as a direct response to the crisis. Nearly half (48%) of organisations have invested in cloud enabled tools and technologies with a similar proportion (47%) spending on digital collaboration platforms.

At the same time, as many as 95% of companies have been seeking new ways of engaging customers as a direct result of COVID, from food delivery platforms to telehealth services and ecommerce. These companies are not waiting for the old days to return but building a new future predicated on technology.

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The lessons we’ve learned are that digital systems allow businesses to expand their reach in unprecedented ways, including the creation of new employee networks and building new insights and services through partnerships with others. Against this backdrop, there is scope for great optimism among Scottish talent and an opportunity to leverage the natural instinct of Scottish businesses to collaborate with others.

In Accenture’s Technology Vision 2021, one major factor defining the new future is the freedom to work from anywhere. As an example, one US-based tech giant is transitioning more of its workforce to a remote strategy as a way to expand and diversify its talent pool. The company cites the ability to recruit people from more locations, and the capacity to retain people who might have left because they wanted to move to a different area, for the shift.

Indeed, the Technology Vision report finds 87% of executives believe that the remote workforce opens up the market for difficult-to-find talent. For a country with a wealth of technology expertise, that can mean new opportunities without the risk of ‘brain drain’. While opening up to the idea of geographically distributed employees, by default, will finally give companies access to a truly global talent pool. And for Scottish companies with ambitions for a global business, there is now no longer a need to be tied to a geography.

The pandemic also inspired amazing collaborations, from the production of thousands of ventilators through to the development and manufacture of vaccines. Yet, the past year has also highlighted the fragility of supply chains and many organisations have been left scrambling to build new trusted relationships. In 2020, 94% of Fortune 1000 companies reported COVID-19 related supply-chain disruptions and 75% reported either negative or strongly negative impacts to their businesses.

As a result, organisations across industries doubled down on the investment in multiparty systems (MPS) to build new partnerships. These enable the shared data infrastructures between individuals and companies that underpin, for example, frictionless payments and initiatives such as contact tracing.

Now 25% of organisations are scaling up their MPS capabilities to drive efficiency and build new revenue models. Cloud is the gateway, with MPS effecting deeply rooted transformation in the way businesses work together and how industries operate, using blockchain, distributed ledger, distributed database and tokenization.

One trade finance initiative, for instance, has created a platform for payables financing built on distributed ledger technology. Its ecosystem brings together 30 banks, lenders, and technology providers, and can help improve trade processing speeds by three to four times, increase working capital and liquidity by 20% and decrease data entry and reconciliation by 80%.

These ecosystems blur the industry boundaries of the past and require consortiums of collaborators, yet they can hold the key to solving the world’s new problems such as healthcare and travel.

Adopting a broader ecosystem approach means the success of any one organisation is tied to the success of the whole, and can result in partnerships that are resilient, adaptable and trustworthy. It is not too much to claim that these technology ecosystems are the foundations for change, leadership and future growth.

COVID exposed inflexible work arrangements and operations, fragile supply chains, untrustworthy information and new customer needs. Technology allowed companies to minimise disruptions and in doing so has opened up a path to reinvention that can be tackled collectively.

Michelle Hawkins, Managing Director, Accenture, Scotland

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