2021 Thought Leaders: Stephen Ball
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2021?
It’s more than likely that all industries, including the ones with which we’re most intimate, will be looking to the immediate future with fear, uncertainty and doubt. However, like many of the challenges that our industries and our economy have faced in the past, there is opportunity. For example, in the 1990s our aggregate growth was driven predominantly by productivity gains (75% of GDP); in the 2000s this was inverse: 25% of economic growth was driven by productivity. Considering this, the only way out of the current economic environment and to drive growth will be through productivity gains; gains that can only be enabled by technology and digitalisation, supported by governments federally and at a state level. While this growth may be challenging and a bit ‘lumpy’ at times, there will be growth and future prosperity in a new kind of normal.
What are the three biggest challenges or threats facing your industry in 2021?
There are really two challenges, as I see it.
The first is capital constraint: businesses are deferring capital decisions that are NPV positive ie, likely good for their business in the medium term but deferring in an effort to mitigate risk. The other challenge is uncertainty: while there’s uncertainty of demand and of supply, there’s stagnation and therefore paradoxically, increasing risk, not less. This will be a difficult cycle to break.
The two are interrelated and difficult to resolve. Due to the current state of the economy and the industries in which we operate, many businesses are deferring decisions until things are generally more certain, more ‘controlled’ — which is understandable. In a world of constant, rapid change and under (in many ways) existential threat from something we have no understanding nor control of, the status quo seems like a logical choice.
However, it isn’t. Companies that reduce costs selectively and focus more on operational efficiency (among a couple of other key drivers) will — with the highest probability — emerge from a downturn stronger across all their key metrics than when they entered the downturn.
What impact has the COVID-19 global epidemic had on your industry, and how does this affect your business strategies for 2021?
The impacts have been in many ways diametrically opposed. On the one hand, capital constraint has slowed decision-making and subsequent investments as already highlighted. But along with this, is the operational burden and cost of incremental validation and greater stakeholder engagement in an effort to ameliorate risk. On the other hand, industries that have a clear line of sight to incremental returns have been aggressively pursuing the realisation of these benefits and fast-tracking decision making and implementations.
Managing and servicing what are essentially dual horizons has been challenging for us and our partner ecosystem. This two-speed approach is challenging to support and has required a new level of agility right across the organisation. This dynamic isn’t going to abate — the world needs to re-adjust to growth and for growth, and we need to enable that for our customers.
How has the current international uncertainty impacted your cybersecurity or supply chain management plans?
Our participation in the global economy has undeniably made Australia and Australians more prosperous. And this will continue as the demand around the globe increases as economies recover. However, the downside is our exposure to cyber risk. So in many ways, we’ve been managing this risk for a very long time — it’s been fundamental to being able to deliver value to the markets we serve for our entire history. However, it has validated and fast-tracked the development of plans to further mitigate risk and empower workers, and to take to market solutions that shore up data security and the supply chain. We are working tirelessly developing our direct cloud offering, working with our cloud partners and our customers to unlock the benefits available in the cloud to minimise cyber risk.
What sustainability strategies will be at the forefront for your business in 2021?
Anything that has an ending is, quite literally, unsustainable. It sounds glib, but as a consequence ANY decision we make as a business will ensure that we deliver growth to our triple bottom line — people, planet and profit. We began these plans in earnest this year for our own business, and continue to make investments to deliver returns for us, as well as for our customers and theirs. As mentioned though, ensuring our own workforce and our customers’ workforces can work safely remotely — and therefore continue to deliver value — will be critical although the risk brought to bear by the pandemic will subside.
But more than that, because of the technology we develop we have a social, moral and commercial obligation to support and enable our customers’ sustainable operations.
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