Duncan Hewett is an industry veteran with over 20 years of extensive experience in the software industry, a majority of which he spent at IBM. Having joined VMware in 2016, Duncan is presently serving as Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific and Japan, and is responsible for VMware's business across India, SEA & Korea, Japan, China and A/NZ.
In an exclusive interview with People Matters, Duncan dives into how remote working is addressing sustainability and diversity issues, the rising expectation from employers to provide access to digital tools, the biggest opportunity presented by 2020, and the emergence of co-innovation.
Here are excerpts of the interaction.
What does the COVID-19 triggered ‘big reset’ mean for you? Is it about the increased emphasis on agility, adaptability, and sustainability of businesses or a newly emerging focus area?
As we find ourselves in this unique situation, there have been some major shifts in the way we do business today and will conduct business moving forward.
The fundamental shift to a truly digital workforce is already underway. The provision of seamless access to the systems, tools, and applications that are productive, collaborative, and can be accessed securely has been the IT team’s priority. The seamlessness with which millions of employees were fully productive and collaborative overnight is the biggest shift for me. As a tech company with hundreds of thousands of customers, we’ve seen that customers are going through the same challenges – they too are worried about their families, finances, and their futures. The kind of customer experiences needed right now is not necessarily the same things needed a year ago. Every company that is adapting to the new world has adapted to a digital customer experience. The shift has also affected the way we think about security. We now need to secure company data with a highly distributed remote workforce and secure customer data with a new digital-first customer approach.
The global health crisis has shaken up the normal ways of work and upended businesses like never before. What does it mean for businesses as they plan for the year 2021? Do you see any big opportunity that businesses should seize in 2021?
From a leadership perspective, I think all future leaders will be software minded in some capacity. It has been a defining year in the shift towards end-users of technology – be it employees or customers. The discussion has surpassed the cost implications of building a digital foundation and now is evolving towards how best to service end-users. I see CIO and CEO priorities are more aligned today than ever before.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated digitalization in organizations but as we move to 2021, employees are demanding more access to faster and better digital tools. Recent research by VMware on the future readiness of companies and their employees in APAC found that around 89 percent of employees believe that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure employees have appropriate access to digital tools needed for remote work.
As distributed work becomes integral to the future of work, IT will extend to new levels of innovation to help people engage, interact, and work from remote environments.
The traditional office environment is changing amid this chaos, but the degree to which it should be shifting is something experts have different opinions on. What's your take on this?
We have permanently shifted the balance to remote working. However, the future will be all about flexibility and balance. We will never have a 100% remote or 100% onsite team. We foresee that depending on the industry, there will be a shift in balance.
Remote working can help address some of the major sustainability and diversity issues across the country ranging from pollution, traffic to allowing greater access to people across regions to participate in the workforce. This is our biggest opportunity to create a better world, a greener planet, and a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
What are the key COVID-triggered trends in the tech industry that you think will last for the long term? What specific gaps, blind spots, and opportunities have COVID-19 brought to the fore? What existing trends have been accelerating and why?
Every industry has been impacted in the way they interact with their customers. Customer experiences are now being delivered based on tailored needs. We have also seen an acceleration in investments in telehealth, as many patients will not want to go back to waiting in the waiting room to be seen by a doctor for non-life-threatening issues.
Federal, national and state or provincial govt have seen a surge in the need to provide services online to keep citizens informed and safe. This shift will continue in the long run as many governments have made investments to allow delivery through modern applications providing real-time citizen services with apps such as contact tracing.
School closures have transformed the schoolroom into an online learning program. EdTech startups have seen massive investments in countries like India which are now being used by the world. As world-class education and delivery go online, while we will return to regular schools, a huge part will become hybrid education providing both flexibility and opportunity to learn from the best.
Traditional financial services will continue to transform their customer experience. They have been forced to compete with digital-first Fintechs born in the cloud before the crisis and move to more consumer-friendly mobile-first platforms. We will see this trend continue to accelerate as they provide new digital services to customers and migrate from cash to cashless transactions.
According to recent MIT research, 75 percent of CIOs in APAC have accelerated their digital transformation plans during the pandemic. In the last few months, organizations have rapidly driven tech adoption to allow their employees to be productive and the organization to serve customers. For example, through VMware Cloud on AWS, iselect increased cloud capacity and helped millions of Australians make better purchasing decisions on insurance, utilities and personal finance products. Meanwhile, engineers at Airbus India are now collaborating remotely through virtual desktops and mobile. One of Asia’s leading banks, DBS, is leveraging years of investments in its digital foundation to provide innovative and intuitive customer experiences.
Throughout this challenging year, we have seen countless examples of how customers, across industries, and at different stages of digital transformation, have pivoted.
The CIO and the IT teams have been thrust into the limelight to be the leader, helping to make a real contribution, be it by creating a digital workspace to support a distributed workforce or securing data and apps.
What has changed for VMware amid this pandemic? Can you take us through the most impactful restructuring exercise/initiatives the company has undertaken in recent times?
We have adapted quickly to support our customers and help them respond to the challenges without disruption. Our digital workspace solutions have been at the disposal of the customers when they needed to shift to remote work environments. Application modernization has become a key priority for CIOs and governments to enable digital customer experience. Security was and continues to be a critical area for customers as remote work environments will continue to thrive in 2021.
VMware, with over 30,000 employees, shifted to remote working overnight last year. We saw our employees work flexibly through the course of this year. From a solutions point of view, we’ve always been organized around the customers’ needs – our strategy on being able to support ‘Any Application on Any Device from Any Cloud’, securely, continues to hold and defines our structure and go to market.
As the global economy reopens, how can companies harness the spirit of innovation to re-think how they produce their products? What is your advice?
I think more co-innovation between technology leaders, customers, and partners will happen in the following years. As every company needs to think like a digital company, the need for engagement and a ‘solution approach’ will increase. CIOs have done a tremendous job across the board and the opportunity for the future is even bigger.
My advice to readers is to seize the opportunity for technology and use this as a breakthrough moment to help the business move forward with the right digital approach, which will be unique for each company.
Do you feel confident in your business post-COVID-19? What are your top priorities moving forward in 2021?
Customers are at different stages of adapting to the new environment. Irrespective of the stage, they are all looking at disrupting or staying ahead in their industries. I am very positive that we can help customers transform digitally at every stage of growth and respond to the current conditions. Our top priorities remain to help accelerate transformation faster and make every customer intrinsically secure.