For example, no healthcare organisation is “ever going back and saying telemedicine is just a niche,” Nadella said. “It’s going to be mainstream. Every retailer will have kerbside pick-up and every manufacturer will have digital twins so they can do lights out manufacturing.”
Yet while there is going to be real structural change in the new digital economy, he emphasised the importance of the human element.
For Nadella, in the immediate term “management and managers matter” and we need to recognise the importance of a first-line manager who actually connects and cares for their people, as humans will always yearn for real human experiences and contact.
“Social capital needs to get built in a digital world, it’s not just transactional,” Nadella said.
“The thing I think is most relevant in this period is care. You can easily tell people who are most connected are those working for a leader who they think cares.
“Technology can help, but nothing can substitute for good leadership.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella looks at home with his collection of Australiana. Supplied.
He spoke of Microsoft’s “model, coach, care” initiative which underpins the company’s workplace culture and it’s something he has to practise daily, as do the company’s 18,000 managers globally.
In terms of workplace culture, Nadella said we’re now learning how collaboration is being rethought.
Recounting his virtual visit to a BHP mine where “engineers and frontline workers are collaborating using technologies like Hololens [Microsoft’s mixed reality device]”, he said these new ways of working are “transcending space and bridging expertise”.
According to Nadella, workplaces will become places where people will be constantly learning and reskilling so the emphasis is on business leaders to work differently and think more holistically about the sort of workplace culture they foster and develop for the long-term.
Fellow panellist, Telstra CEO Andy Penn, spoke of how there has been “more digital adoption in the last few months than we have had in a number of years”.
“What this says is technology was not the inhibitor, but it was our preparedness to adopt digital ways of working,” Penn said. “We have done so out of necessity and in doing so we have seen a big increase in productivity.”
Moreover, the digital ways of working that we have adopted during the pandemic are here to stay and the companies of the future that will be most successful will be those “offering their people the greatest degree of flexibility”.
This flexibility will be driven by workplace technology Penn said, which is set to rapidly develop and those with the highest quality technology will be able to attract the best possible talent from around the world.
NAB CEO Ross McEwan agreed the pivot to a more flexible approach to work as the pandemic hit operations was equally fast and the bank went from having 4000 people being able to work remotely to being able to have “just about everybody working from home in three weeks”.
The bank was already in the midst of a major digital transformation but the pandemic brought a whole new slew of challenges.
“In one week we took more calls and email interactions than we would in 52 weeks and we saw an 800 per cent spike in e-commerce activity. We had to move a lot of people into the frontline and our technology had to stand up and it did,” McEwan said.
Digital acceleration has been a positive change for business during the pandemic. Getty.
“Many small businesses went cashless overnight and we saw a five year shift in how people use cash in six months.”
A major focus of the discussion was how cloud computing, data and artificial intelligence will transform business over the next decade as all of these technologies are brought together.
Penn spoke of how 5G technology will enable us to meld the digital and physical worlds together by putting billions of sensors into things and this connected world will allow us to utilise our resources, utilities and machines in smarter and more productive ways.
Chief executive of AEMO, Audrey Zibelman highlighted Australia‘s take-up of rooftop solar and how it is changing the energy sector as we need to now think about how the “weather and climate as our biggest fuel source”.
“We’ve moved from a situation where we have hundreds of generators to millions of producers of power on the rooftops of our homes,” Zibelman said.
This new age of energy production does present some complex data challenges as we constantly monitor weather forecasts and spikes in market demand, but according to Zibelman it also presents significant opportunities.
Nadella said this evolution of the energy market as well as Telstra’s roll-out of digital twinning technology with customers and NAB’s utilisation of cloud infrastructure to transform the bank are examples of how the distinction between the digital technology industry and the rest will disappear.
“The digital capability built into a bank, an energy company, a telco is going to mirror what a software company does. It’s not that their domain expertise will go away but it will be augmented by real digital capability.
“The world’s cogs are becoming digital, not just the tech industry,” Nadella said.
All panellists highlighted the critical role cyber security plays in this connected, digital world and said it’s incumbent on business and government to build the necessary level of resilience to mitigate against constant cyber attacks.
McEwan said NAB experiences tens of millions attacks every month “and they’re happening right across the board – not just in banks”.
“We need to be incredibly vigilant and it’s only going to get more ferocious,” he said.
Zibelman agreed that “we know we are going to get attacked and we need to be prepared”.
For more information on the Reshaping Australia Dialogues go to the special AFR Live events page here in partnership with Microsoft.
To read more about Microsoft’s blueprint for an inclusive post-pandemic recovery visit https://microsoft.com/en-au/reimagine
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