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Moving organisations forward, not “returning to normal” 

As Australia prepares for the challenge of returning to the physical office, organisations nationwide are considering the best course of action when it comes to ensuring that their workers have the most adaptable and flexible approach possible. The year has been unpredictable and frightening, both on a societal and governmental level. Some companies have managed to weather the storm while others have struggled, and ultimately challenging times are as much ahead of us as they are behind us.  

While 86% of Australian’s have claimed they are ‘somewhat comfortable’ to return to their workplace, restrictions have been easing at different rates across the country, with some states prompting staff to head back into the office, while others are recommending that staff continue to work remotely. After a world-changing pandemic, Australians are more eager than ever to go back to work and “return to normal”. But the reality is, we’re never going to work the way we were before, and the flexibility and adaptability of Aussie workers has shown that we are moving forward to a better future: The Data Age.  

CIOs, Operations Leaders, and even HR executives are going to need to rethink how they think about people and data, and every business is compressing their digital timeline from years to months. Having robust data sets and new tools can help organisations reimagine the new way forward and enter into the recovery phase with clarity and confidence.  

Data will help us all get back to work 

“Return to work” is a misleadingly simple label for a complex problem. Every organisation needs its own plan for the future, and that plan must consider the context of local practices, policies and progress against the disease, as well as the specific needs of the organisation and the situation within its facilities. 

All of that is data. Investigating and analysing available data, from within and outside the organisation, can help leaders devise the most effective strategies for their facilities and teams. “Return to work” strategies need to solve more than just the problem of bringing back necessary workers as safely and as soon as possible. Effective strategies must be prepared for renewed outbreaks of COVID-19, and they must build greater resilience for other large-scale disruptions.  

Companies have more data than they know how to use. Every digital system and application are producing data. Every time an employee scans a badge onsite, or a remote sensor pings the network, or an employee files a service request or completes a service call, potentially useful data is created. Organisations need to determine what’s important regarding getting people back to work, keeping them safe and making sure they can be productive.  

Key steps to data resiliency  

An organisations data strategy should be designed with privacy in mind, ensuring data collected is securely stored, accessible only to those who need it, and securely disposed of when no longer needed. Teams should be empowered to investigate data, enabling the flexibility required to manage in this environment. When you’re dealing with large data sets across many different devices, systems and interactions, you need the capabilities and skills to ask questions of your data and follow each answer to deeper insights. 

Establishing partnerships and basic access to public data will prove to be more important than ever. Fast, easy access to public data sets on a city and country level will help when making decisions about whether it’s safe to gather, and in what numbers, allowing them to act swiftly. Building a cross-functional rapid response team and processes that can ensure organisations respond quickly and effectively, harnessing the power of organisational data to accelerate response times, see past blind spots and ultimately automate approaches so issues can be quickly remediated, and employees returned to work.  

Related: Where will your business end up in 12 months? Here are your 3 scenarios

Lastly, leaders must be diligent during this recovery phase in preparing for a new wave of data in the near future. Decades of digital transformation and technological advance have brought us to the advent of artificial intelligence, 5G networking, augmented and virtual reality, and more. There was going to be a lot more data, and a lot more to do with it, before the coronavirus crisis. But in an era of pandemic, organisations must work with their data to improve resilience and respond to potentially disruptive conditions as they emerge, if not sooner. 

A willingness to take action  

Organisations need to shorten the distance between comprehensive data and intelligent action, so that they can understand their data and turn it into the right move at the right moment. This will ensure they are able to respond more effectively to challenges, like the one that has been confronting the world this year. A system and a process must be built that is flexible enough to adapt to the ever-changing landscape. 

With data comes the opportunity, and the responsibility, to act. The concept of “data-driven leadership” assumes that the decision-maker will have the best available data, and that decisions will be made based on this data, rather than relying exclusively on gut instinct. In this crisis, the data is here, and more is being gathered all the time. What is needed is the willingness to synthesise it, look at it honestly, interrogate it deeply, analyse all possible courses of action, and then promptly take the best action. In order to move forward, organisations need to commit to putting data to its best use. 

Simon Eid is the Group Vice President, ANZ, at Splunk.

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