Putting people first in digital transformation

March 4, 2021

Keri Gilder, CEO Colt

As large parts of the economy and society go online, we need to consider the implications for current digital platforms and services, networks, data centres, cloud and other communications infrastructure, as well as the impact on our customers and our people.

There has never been a better example of the power of the digital ecosystem than 2020. Ten years ago, the rapid transformation we went through would not have been possible. Taking businesses which used to operate out of big shiny buildings in the hearts of cities and keeping them up and running as their workforces were sent home to operate remotely was no easy feat. However, as with many rapid digital transformations, while there were victories in what was achieved there are still many things that need to be tweaked so that we can all benefit and thrive in this digital world.

As we begin 2021 and the immediate rush that we all experienced early last year has dissipated, many businesses will be looking internally to reflect on how they can set themselves up for on-going transformation. It is no different in our business and for the telecommunications sector more broadly. It was a privilege to facilitate the changes we were able to – keeping societies, communities and essential services up and running during an unprecedented time – however, we must continue to further optimise our organisation and industry so that we can keep pace with the new digital world and ways of working.

A big part of this will be building further intelligence into what we do. This doesn’t simply mean utilising artificial intelligence and machine learning; we need to get better at creating insights around how customers are using our network and then we need to get more proactive with how we assist them in optimising their operations. One thing to come out of this last year is that the small to medium enterprise is never going to look the same. We will have to rethink the infrastructure part of our business; we know this makes the edge increasingly important, and technologies such as 5G will also have a role to play in the new networking landscape. Where we once connected large buildings in metros, this is no longer the case with workforces becoming more disparate than ever – so we need to plan for this accordingly.

Another critical element of the new digital environment is ensuring that networks and the data they carry are secure. This is a challenge all participants in the digital ecosystem need to tackle together. We know that in challenging economic times the floodgates open to waves of crime. During the uncertain times of a recession, attackers exploit fears and already disturbed patterns of behaviour. In the current recession climate, where the impact of COVID-19 has already disturbed network patterns beyond recognition, vulnerabilities may be exposed more than ever before. A key point here is the fact many workers are now remote means that significant security gaps are appearing at the very time when many info security teams are most stretched. This is an issue we can’t ignore as the stakes have never been so high. Organisations need to act by embedding security into the fabric of the network, at the network edge, in applications and across endpoints.

We also cannot ignore the people element in discussions about the digital economy and the digital ecosystem. From a technological standpoint, it’s vital that we ensure people in rural communities don’t fall behind due to poor connectivity, with this being a challenge the whole sector needs to be cognisant of. We can’t let this lead to greater discrimination against these groups that either can’t access or can’t afford the connectivity or devices they need to be productive at home.

Another point here is we also can’t let this new environment, that has meant greater flexibility for many, cause not only an innovation drain in our organisations, but also cause many to feel isolated. When I say innovation drain, I mean that it’s very hard to replicate the organic innovative environment that generally comes from people physically coming together in an office-style environment. I’m sure we’ve all been on virtual brainstorms and often they don’t have the same electric feel as they do when you’re sitting with colleagues or partners in the room.

So, we need to think about how we structure our environments moving forward, so we can still foster that collaborative environment in the new working world. Also, as mentioned before, isolation and poor mental health have been a big personal concern of mine during the pandemic. I think this is something as a leader today is critical we focus on. At Colt, most of us have been working from home since March last year. The safety of our people is paramount, and that has to extend to our mental safety. We have put in place a significant amount of mental health initiatives to support our people, and we must strive to reach those most critically in need by creating environments where those who are struggling to feel mentally safe can admit they need help to those around them. We also need to teach people to recognise the signs of depression and anxiety and encourage them to reach out to those who are struggling. We literally have never been more connected, and it’s so important that we also use these connections for good where we can.

For me, all of the above has played a role in how we are hoping to approach this year. Taking on the role of CEO in May 2020 threw me headfirst into the digital ecosystem and I had to learn quickly how to best support our customers, partners and people through something we were all living for the first time, and management books on this topic have not yet been written. A big part of this for me was thinking about connections. Not only the physical connections on our Colt network; it was also about the connections we have with one another and with our partners and suppliers that make up and power the digital ecosystem. This led me to look inside Colt and to talk to our people around how they would improve and optimise our organisation. It also got me thinking about the key things that have always been in Colt’s DNA and how we can build on those to ensure our business is agile enough to support enterprises as they move into the future. Even though it has been daunting at times to be a leader at this precise moment, it also has been a real privilege. Not only does Colt play a critical role in the digital ecosystem and will continue to do so, I feel we too can play a role in creating a sector that powers the way the world works, and also one that makes our environments more inclusive, connected and transformative than ever before.

Keri Gilder is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Colt. 

Appointed to the role in May 2020, Keri is responsible for executing Colt’s strategy which centres around transforming the way the world works through the power of connectivity. 

Before becoming CEO, Keri was Colt’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), leading global teams across sales, presales and marketing, as well as working closely with the wider organisation to ensure Colt delivered for its customers. 

 Before joining Colt, Keri held several leadership roles at Ciena but was most recently its Vice President and General Manager EMEA, responsible for guiding Ciena’s EMEA service provider and enterprise customers, as well as partners.