How data fuels resilient workplaces

The coronavirus crisis has illuminated not only the importance of data for decision-making, but how difficult it is to work with. As governments have seen during the pandemic, data is often messy and unpredictable. They have faced great challenges in piecing together information coming in at different times from hospitals and agencies. Businesses face the same challenges in trying to inform their decision-making.

Not all organisations had a robust data strategy going into the pandemic and those that didn’t have been left scrambling to find what data they have, what parts of it are important to them and exactly how they can apply it. Having data is one thing, being able to interpret it and then make a decision is quite another. Companies too often find it difficult to align action with goals when it comes to analysing and interpreting their data.

“Our clients that had already undergone a data transformation were in a much better position to adapt to remote working,” says James Hodge, chief technical adviser at software firm Splunk. “Others had to race to rethink their access and security policies or send out thousands of laptops because staff were used to working on desktop PCs in the office. It’s been a real awakening, not just for the tech industry, but any business. It has caused so many companies to realise the importance data plays in decision-making.

“At Splunk, we made the transition to remote working seamlessly overnight. We’re lucky because we’re an organisation of knowledge workers, so with a laptop and an internet connection we can, on the whole, work from anywhere. But, actually, a lot of what enabled us to switch seamlessly overnight was down to the fact that we’d moved to software-as-a-service over the last few years. Almost all our business processes are cloud based. They’re all agile. Rather than having some 30 offices around the globe, we were able to transition to 6,000 offices distributed globally.”

Splunk infographic

Organisations have been gradually moving to a more data-driven style of leadership in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic is now set to accelerate that shift drastically. Those leaders who have taken the leap of faith and changed their leadership style around data have already been able to embrace a more agile approach to business.

Splunk is helping companies build a more resilient workplace, supported by data. Its world-first “data-to-everything” platform allows organisations to monitor, investigate and act on all forms of data, and has played a crucial role in powering businesses with the agility they need to respond quickly to critical events, such as the pandemic.

“When countries started enforcing lockdowns, we supported a lot of customers in understanding VPN [virtual private network] usage and other access components,” says Hodge. “We also spent a lot of time working with chief information security officers to help them understand the changing landscape so they could be more confident about people accessing their networks from home. Now we’re helping organisations restart their business and the economy, using data to guide and manage their approach.

We’re helping organisations restart their business and the economy, using data to guide and manage their approach

“Businesses are changing. People are shopping online and interacting through their smartphones at a higher rate than ever before. We’re also seeing a big transition from people being loyal to brands to being much more loyal to experiences. After you have your workers able to access things and your security in place, we allow companies to completely reinvent and transform their business in the digital age. Our data-to-everything platform helps companies to deliver those meaningful experiences.”

A data-driven approach fuels businesses with the flexibility to pivot quickly. As companies balance the restart of their operations with that risk, data allows them to understand the fluidity of an evolving situation and make the right decisions at the right time. For example, data enables companies to notify employees if they have been in the office at the same time as somebody who later tested positive for coronavirus. But the depth of data insights go beyond track and trace.

As organisations now look to reimagine their workspaces in the wake of the pandemic, Splunk is helping companies examine their office usage. By exploring data associated with which parts of the office are being used more than others, organisations can look to repurpose certain areas. Likewise, if they see there is too much density in one space, they can take steps to ensure staff aren’t congregating and are appropriately distanced.

Data also enables more digital ways of working, such as putting in an expense report, booking a meeting or interacting with learning portals. The easier it is for employees to interact with the key services they need, the easier it is for them to do their jobs more productively, which is extremely important in the context of restarting operations. As businesses look to build the workforce that will support them in the new normal, data is crucial to decision-making and removing unnecessary burdens.

Hodge identifies five steps organisations should take to achieve resilience through data, starting with designing the data strategy with privacy in mind. Indeed, businesses that fail to do so are no longer trusted by end-consumers. Secondly, organisations should empower their teams to investigate. When employees are empowered to make decisions with contextual data, it is a “liberating and fulfilling experience”, he says.

Next, companies must establish partnerships and basic access to data, including public data, which is very important to forming a cross-functional rapid-response team. A colleague in another area of the business will look at the same problem through a completely different lens. Such cross-functional teams, and a real diversity of thinking, enable employees to iterate much more quickly through the next challenges that arise.

“Preparing for the new wave of data is number four,” says Hodge. “Companies can reinvent themselves because they give data to the frontline staff, who have confidence to get new products out to market faster. Finally, start looking at how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can also aid decision-making and taking the burden off people.

“Data-driven leadership ultimately requires collaboration, curiosity and courage. Have faith in the data, the way you interpret it and the policies you put in place to be able to act on it. Too often people see data and don’t believe what it’s telling them and revert back to their previous ways of working. Changing that mindset is incredibly important to achieving agility and therefore business resilience in these challenging times.”

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