Business technology budgets: Balancing employee and customer experience

Remote work and digital transformation budgets are often considered separately. In the current climate, they need to be closely aligned.

If it feels like past ways of working belong to a bygone era, that’s because they do. We’re overwhelmingly moving into a hybrid work environment supported by business technology that enables giant swathes of both the employee and the customer experience to be digital.

Two in three companies (65 percent) see a hybrid work future, according to the 2021 Digital Trends report, commissioned by Adobe.

In fact, close to half of all marketers who responded to the study (45 percent) expect to work from home at least three days a week once the pandemic is over – rising to three in four who think they’ll be working remotely at least 1-2 days a week. That’s a seismic shift from the 28 percent of marketers who reported working remotely 1-2 days per week in March last year.

“Remote work will have a significant and enduring impact on businesses moving forward,” the Digital Trends report found, “influencing every part of marketing as well as the wider organisation”.

And just as the employee experience was transformed into a largely digital one by the pandemic, so was the customer experience, as lockdowns sent shoppers online in unprecedented numbers. These trends underline a key issue facing CIOs as we move into 2021: how to prioritise investment across the need to support and improve the remote work experience, and the need to pursue digital transformation to offer a better customer experience.

Remote work and digital transformation are often considered separately, competing for business technology budgets. In the current climate, they need to be closely aligned.

“The two paths need to happen concurrently,” says Adobe’s chief technology advisor Scott Rigby.

The digital imperative for employee and customer experience

Globally, technology budgets are set to grow this year after contracting in 2020, increasing 6.2 percent to $3.9 trillion, according to analyst firm Gartner, with spending related to remote work to rise by 4.9 percent, or more than $330 billion. Digital transformation budgets are likely to grow even more as businesses accelerate their transformation plans through to 2024, both as a result of the long-term shift to remote work and due to the increased adoption of digital touchpoints.

In one in four companies, the CIO will take on responsibility for digital business’ operational results within five years, Gartner maintains.

“Digital business, led by projects with a short time to value, will get more money and board-level attention going into 2021,” research vice president at Gartner, John-David Lovelock, says.

It’s a continuation of what many have already experienced, with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen telling analysts that “shelter-in-place requirements instituted across the globe created a heightened sense of urgency among all companies to accelerate their digital transformation. Overnight, small, mid-sized and large B2C and B2B companies shifted every aspect of their customer relationships, from acquisition all the way through renewals, to digital.”

The benefits of digital engagement in action

Indian financial services firm ICICI Home Finance Company (ICICI HFC) experienced the benefits of digital engagement with both employees and customers when branches were closed and staff sent home during a nationwide lockdown in March.

The company, forced to adjust quickly to remote work, had just launched a website using Adobe Experience Manager that not only allowed it to provide information in six localised languages but improved data input – such as by enabling real estate agents and builders to enter their own details into a searchable database, giving customers access to more up-to-date information. A range of processes, such as fixed deposit, gold loan and home loan moratorium (“morat”) applications, were migrated online. ICICI HFC is now using analytics and personalisation capabilities powered by Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target to track how various products are performing, improving customer experience.

“If we had not launched the website in March, we would have struggled to accept morat applications,” says Sandeep Gambhir, Head of Marketing and Digital at ICICI HFC. “All of our call centres and branches were closed, so digital became the only channel for our customers to connect with us.”

“All of us have seen the benefits associated with engaging digitally,” Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen said in a recent interview. “And any company that doesn’t have a great presence, a great mobile app, the ability to do commerce, and the ability to deliver a personalised experience, I think, is going to be disadvantaged.”

Remote work shifts to ‘doing it right’

While most organisations, like ICICI, had to quickly shift to remote work and digital customer experiences, research from Adobe and Fortune found four out of five CIOs (84 percent) believed they were already prepared to work remotely. But businesses are now shifting from “doing it light” to “doing it right”, according to Dell Technologies, President APJ and Global Digital Cities Amit Midha.

“Team members want the flexibility of staying remote,” he told a CIO forum on the future of remote work, adding that to facilitate this successfully, organisations would need to overcome hurdles related to culture and workplace enablement, as well as technology.

Conversely, productivity, collaboration and security are the key pillars of the connected workforce experience, according to Midha, who said cloud tools would continue to gain importance to help distributed teams collaborate, while Dell would be bringing “more compute capacity to homes and remote settings to support more innovative, dynamic experiences”.

Optimising the employee experience

Positive productivity outcomes have meant remote work – and the new employee experience – is “a capability to be optimised”, according to the Digital Trends report, presenting organisations with an opportunity to expand their available workforce and attract skilled staff from a broader, geographically dispersed talent pool.

Seven in ten executive managers report a positive experience when it comes to remote productivity, the study showed, while fewer than one-in-five respondents described their personal productivity as lower than normal.

“How companies approach their remote work policies can be a differentiator or a stumbling block to hiring the best digital and CX talent,” the report found, with “flexibility” cited by managers as being more important to their teams than “total compensation” – and only “career progression” rated more highly.

The top initiatives organisations are taking to improve the employee experience include increased training, nominated by 40 percent of respondents, improved data visualisation for remote team members (35 percent) and well-being programs (29 percent). In addition, one in four executives are offering remote work stipends. But companies must decide if they will adopt a “rigid” cultural attitude to the employee experience – in which the organisation decides how, when and where employees will work – or a “flexible” approach in which the employee has more say. The study concluded, “In the battle for the best digital and CX talent, flexibility will win in a landslide.”

It’s a view shared by Australia’s fifth-largest bank in terms of mortgages and savings, ING, which is taking advantage of remote work by targeting workers from all over the country.

The pandemic has caused ING to accelerate digital transformation and rethink its workforce strategy in tandem, according to CIO Linda Da Silva.

“There is a shortage of technology talent in Australia and I’m convinced that we do have more talent out there, just not necessarily in the big cities,” she says.

During the pandemic, investments have been made in hardware to enable people to work from home, new governance and collaboration software, and tech delivery process automation to enable staff to work remotely, anywhere in Australia.

Business technology automates both the customer and employee experience

Business leaders should keep a close eye on the employee experience and adjust tools accordingly, Adobe’s CIO Cynthia Stoddard maintains, leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) to enable self-service, take the human element out of repetitive IT tasks and to shift employees to higher value work.

“Experimenting with AI-powered technologies and strategies will enable future growth, open up opportunities for innovation, and improve overall efficiencies,” Stoddard says.

The combination of remote working and a drive for greater efficiencies should “propel the next wave of process automation based on robotics, workflow automation, and artificial intelligence,” according to advisory firm McKinsey.

ING has applied RPA to improve both the customer and the employee experience, demonstrating the advantages of a dual application of the technology.

“We introduced robotics into our process of helping customers apply for assistance with their loans, and it really helped us reduce customer queues,” says Da Silva.

“We have also thought about how we use AI robotics and certainly digitisation to improve operational efficiency. It has meant we can speed up processing approvals and the cycle times across a number of areas, including our mortgage and our consumer lending application.

“We will now continue to use a combination of RPAs and AI to automate and drive operational efficiencies as part of our technology agenda.”

Communication remains a challenge

If AI, RPA and automation present an opportunity for organisations during the pandemic, facilitating internal communication remains a challenge, nominated by 53 percent of CIOs in the Adobe-Fortune study as the biggest problem they faced.

Virtual meeting and other collaboration tools have been adopted en masse, sending video conferencing stocks skyrocketing and spawning countless memes, eventually giving rise to ‘Zoom fatigue’.

To help address the issue, some organisations are applying personalisation engines once reserved for the customer experience to transform the employee experience.

WalMart, one of the biggest employers in the world with a total workforce of more than 2 million, rebuilt its intranet for the digital age to handle both communications and personalised employee information., which is built on Adobe Experience Manager, now communicates news about major initiatives impacting employees – such as its involvement in COVID-19 vaccination plans – as well as team news, local store opening hours and closures, and where to view payslips or benefits.

“We operate at a scale that effectively pushed us to reimagine what an Intranet could be for an organization,” says Steve Wilson, Director of Digital Strategy and Brand Engagement. “It has given OneWalmart incredible resiliency, regardless of what happens in the business or in the broader world around us.”

Investing in digital transformation for post-pandemic growth

Accelerating business transformation efforts now will leave organisations better positioned for the post-pandemic recovery, according to KPMG, which is predicting that 80 percent of revenue growth will hinge on digital offerings and operations by 2022.

It’s a philosophy that has been adopted by organisations such as Swinburne University of Technology, which last year doubled down on digital experience to create a gamified virtual open day, branded Swintopia, in just 12 weeks.

Using a digital marketing foundation based on Adobe’s Experience Cloud, and data-driven personalisation to connect with and target prospective and existing students, Swinburne created a dynamic, personalised website and microsites to deliver a virtual experience that enabled prospective students to build their own itineraries, connect with staff, and explore everything Swinburne has to offer – leading to a 240 percent increase on Open Day registrations over the previous year.

“Swintopia wouldn’t have happened without the digital transformation that we did in partnership with Isobar and Adobe,” says Jordan Capp, Swinburne’s head of digital marketing.

It’s a great example of the transformative role of business technology investments that lead and connect the digital customer and employee experience.