The experiences of the pandemic underline that the old approach to managing and refreshing IT infrastructure simply isn’t good enough anymore.
Modernising workplace infrastructure to cater for exponential change
Now is the time for a technology refresh and reset
Thriving at a time of exponential change
Creating the right mix for your business needs
1. Enterprises have underinvested in technology infrastructure over the past five years.
2. Recognise how important reliable, responsive and easy-to-use tools are to the employee experience—and by extension, innovation, the customer experience and productivity.
3. CEOs need to ask where automation is appropriate, how automation impacts their people, and which tools and technologies the workforce needs to augment its impact.
4. To keep up, organisations need the ability to scale and change at rates that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.
5. The shift towards utility-like, as-a-service models gives CEOs the flexibility they need for today’s fast-paced world.
6. It’s about creating the right hybrid of private and public cloud as well as on-prem infrastructure for each business’s needs.
7. Seek out integration, consulting and implementation IT partners.
One of the revelations of the coronavirus crisis is the extent to which many Southern African enterprises have underinvested in technology infrastructure over the past five years. Though Tarsus Technology Group is an IT company, we are guilty as charged. We were slow in investing in our technology upgrade. We are going into the next normal determined to do things differently.
Let’s take a step back and reflect on the experiences of 2020 and 2021. Because we were already focusing on digitalisation, automation and enabling knowledge workers, we made a relatively quick and painless pivot to remote working. We had many of the basic tools in place, including our existing use of the Microsoft Office suite for collaboration.
But over the past two-and-half years, we have discovered that there were some gaps in our IT environment—including in basic infrastructure that most businesses take for granted. We assumed that our wireless connectivity was up to scratch, for example. In reality, jittery Microsoft Teams calls were hampering collaboration and productivity and sales reps were frustrated with our somewhat legacy PBX.
We realised that we would need to replace our Wi-Fi access points, rip and replace our LAN cabling and modernise our PABX to meet our business goals. This has given us a fresh appreciation of how important reliable, responsive and easy-to-use tools are to the employee experience—and by extension, innovation, the customer experience and productivity.
Our experience is by no means unique. Enterprise research from PwC reveals what the management consulting firm calls an ‘experience gap’—the delta between the C-suite’s perception of employees’ satisfaction with workplace technology and end-users’ actual satisfaction with the IT tools and systems they use every day.
Closing this gap matters as we move into the next phase of the pandemic when small and medium businesses (SMBs) face difficult operating conditions. Rising interest rates, a volatile exchange rate, electricity load-shedding, a shortage of technical, financial and management skills, and slow economic growth are putting businesses in the Southern Africa region to the test.
They need to get the best from people, technology and infrastructure to master these challenges. Consider customer experience—it’s a vital competitive edge, at a time when it is hard to compete on price or features. If a customer service team struggles with a slow network and unresponsive order management and inventory systems, they may not be able to serve customers as efficiently as they would like to.
According to PwC, 90% of C-suite executives believe their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, but only 53% of employees say the same. 1
As this example shows, a company’s technology, customer and people agendas have become difficult to untangle. CEOs need to ask where automation is appropriate, how automation impacts their people, and which tools and technologies the workforce needs to augment its impact. Forward-thinking CEOs and CIOs are putting the user’s experience with the company’s technology at the centre of this discussion.
These C-suite executives are looking at facets such as:
This marks a sea-change from the times when enterprises used spreadsheets to tell them when to upgrade IT systems. They would sweat their assets for the full three-to-five-year depreciation cycle, even if they had outgrown the technology. That approach made sense at a time when IT was a significant capital expense and when upgrade paths were smoother and more predictable.
Now however, we’ve entered a world of exponential change and hyperscale technology. We’re seeing explosive growth in data volumes and end-user numbers, billions upon billions of devices connecting to the Internet, and rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI). To keep up, organisations need the ability to scale and change at rates that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.
For an example of how fast the world is moving today, consider the fact that it took TikTok just five years to reach a billion users. By contrast, in the early days of Web 2.0, it took Facebook eight years (from 2004 to 2012) to get to its first billion users 2 and five years (2012 to 2017) to reach its second billion users.3
Another instance: by some estimates, the amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed globally each year has risen from 2 zettabytes in 2010 to 64.1 zettabytes in 2020. This is expected to nearly triple to 181 zettabytes by 2025.4 For context, a single zettabyte is enough to store 30 billion 4K movies or 60 billion video games.5
No organisation that ties its IT strategy to five-year forklift upgrades can expect to keep up with this pace of change. The good news is that there are new approaches to IT procurement and management that enable SMBs to turn IT into an operational expense. The shift towards utility-like, as-a-service models gives CEOs the flexibility they need for today’s fast-paced world.
New technologies and business models are radically improving IT price and performance, enabling businesses to quickly scale and change as workloads or data volumes increase at exponential rates.
This isn’t just about public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and SaaS from hyperscale providers like Microsoft, Google and Amazon. It’s about creating the right hybrid of private and public cloud as well as on-prem infrastructure for each business’s needs. With enterprise vendors offering workload elasticity, consumption-based pricing and predictable monthly billing via on-prem data centre solutions as well as cloud platforms, CEOs, CIOs and SMBs can forge their own path.
Given the urgency and pace of change, most SMBs need external partners to navigate the complexities of the cloud, remote work and automation. Indeed, through to 2025, Gartner expects businesses to increase their reliance on external consultants as the gap widens between their digital business ambitions and their internal resources and capabilities.
When SMB CEOs face such complex choices, it’s more important than ever to choose integration, consulting and implementation partners. Our advice is to seek out IT partners with a track record in serving as strategic counsel to their clients. It’s not enough to install the kit and keep the lights on—a true IT partner should be able to help an SMB optimise the business impact of its tech investments.
As we move deeper into a work-from-anywhere world, IT departments at SMBs need a flexible, sustainable and resilient way to provision technology services to employees wherever they are. They might need to rapidly get a new PC to someone working-from-home because their old one was stolen or even provision a fully configured device to a remote employee who may never come to the office.
In the past, the costs of configuring devices with all the right corporate settings and software, and then getting them to an employee’s home would be steep. Today, however modern management practices enable IT to provision devices and customise remote environments for users without having to be in the same room as the device.
These zero-touch deployment technologies allow the IT department to configure and customise images on a device in quick and easy process. From the user’s perspective, it only takes a few simple steps to get their device to a productive state. All the end-user needs to do is to connect to a network and to verify their credentials. The next steps are fully automated.
Zero-touch deployment simplifies the end-user experience, making it easy for people who might not be tech-savvy to get up-and-running fast. From a security perspective, IT administrators can ensure all the correct security—from endpoint to encryption—is installed correctly and meets all the required standards in an automated process.
As companies start to consider Device as a Service (DaaS) models—where they pay subscriptions for devices rather than spending capital—zero-touch deployment will be a key enabler. DaaS offers companies a way to turn devices into an operational expense, so that they can allocate their capital to high-value projects.
People don’t just use technology today—they have a relationship with it. And when it comes to tech at work—the software, systems, and apps employees use in their day-to-day jobs—that relationship status is best described as “it’s complicated.” They want to use tech at work and recognise its potential for making their work and their skills better.
But workplace technology isn’t always chosen with the user in mind, leaving employees bound to tools that they feel impede their progress, or worse, wastes their time. Yet here’s the rub: you may think you’re choosing tech with your workforce in mind, yet our survey shows a disconnect; leaders and staff just don’t see things the same way.
One thing is clear: Enterprises aren’t so much falling behind as struggling to keep up with what’s next, based on a decade of data on companies’ digital journeys… With companies’ near-continuous deployment of new applications, Intelligent Robotics Process Automation, and more, employees must quickly master sophisticated new skills, too.
And the pressure on companies and individuals to keep up will only intensify: the rise of artificial intelligence will soon make even the most tech-savvy in the workforce look for ways to stay relevant.
– From Our status with tech at work: It’s complicated, a PwC research report 
 Gartner Forecasts Worldwide IT Spending to Grow 5.1% in 2022, Gartner, January 18, 2022.
 Seagate Is the First Company to Ship 3 Zettabytes of Hard Drive Storage, PC Mag, April 8, 2021.