4 takeaways on navigating uncertainty from the New Champion Dialogues summit

August 3, 2022

Disruption and uncertainty. That is the economic and geopolitical context many countries, businesses, and local communities face today. Strained by inflation and disrupted supply chains caused by the global pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, entrepreneurs are looking for answers on how to maintain stability in the upcoming future.

Co-founder of Nord Security, with shaved head and stubble, wearing a white sweater

Tom Okman, co-founder of Nord Security

Finding answers to that question and discussing ways to scale and transform industries for long-term sustainable growth was the goal of the recent World Economic Forums' annual meeting, the New Champion Dialogues. Held annually in China since 2007, it differs from the annual meeting held in Davos because the summit focuses on engaging entrepreneurs and innovators from emerging markets.

On 18-19 July, the New Champion Dialogues provided a forum for more than 1,100 participants to exchange insights with their peers. But the main theme of the summit – navigating uncertainty – is topical and important for the rest of the world as well. So here are four insights from the cybersecurity perspective worthy of additional discussion that I took away from the summit:

Enabling SMEs to utilize scale through digital tools will shape global economies

By some estimates, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 70% of the global workforce and GDP. As a result, these businesses play a significant role in shaping local and global economies. Yet, at the same time, SMEs are most vulnerable to the issues of global and domestic uncertainty and disruptions at the economic and supply chain levels. So finding a way to ensure the long-term resilience of SMEs is a key to future-proofing the growth, innovation, and sustainability of our economies.

Providing SMEs with scale opportunities with digital tools is an answer that continues to be a successful approach in emerging markets. Enabling small or even micro companies to integrate into the larger sectors by connecting them to accessible and secure platforms offers multiple benefits. One of these benefits is allowing large-scale workforce mobility and diverse job options to local communities. It also helps minimize the resources spent on innovating and securing SMEs' technical infrastructures.

The metaverse’s growth will need to address data privacy and security questions

While the metaverse still has no widely accepted definition, the global trend of trying to prepare for the next stage of the internet and decentralized economies is accelerating at a rapid pace. But it is not the lack of vision of what the metaverse should look like that currently bottlenecks the full potential of the metaverse. It is still a matter of technology breakthroughs in hardware. If we take a look back and see the tech evolution in the sector, VR and other remote-control technologies are now showing spectacular results in a variety of digital devices, battery life, and supporting hardware. Yet, users will need more powerful wearable devices, sensors, and hardware upgrades for truly diverse environments and metaverse use cases.

But while the technological aspect is still being tweaked in the background, now is the time to start building a foundation of trust when we talk about personal data used in the metaverse. There is no doubt that user data has become a precious resource in a time when its application methods and uses are getting more diverse. So from the start, users need to demand a level of sovereignty over their personal data. Well-managed and regulated user data should be considered a fundamental part of the metaverse's design rather than a feature added later. Transparent use of data will also help determine the actual value of the user's data for the user themselves.

Instead of competing with human force, AI is putting people's skills at the very front of future work

There was an example being used about the interventional radiology field in medicine and how it is one of the largest medical sectors where AI already has many applications. Now, intuitively we could think that choosing to be a radiologist in such a context would be an unpromising career choice. But the reality is showing the opposite effect – with new tech and AI improvements, X-ray scan prices are being driven down. With lower prices, more patients are comfortable having complex scans performed, and the demand for radiologists is higher than ever.

The radiology example illustrates a point observed in many different industries – rather than destroying jobs in the particular sector as some feared it would, AI actually increases the scale of businesses and brings costs down. A work transformation is happening without cutting people out of the equation. We observe increasing examples of AI improving business models when it focuses on more analytical tasks, and people can concentrate on human-touch requiring assignments. In times of uncertainty, where upskilling and reskilling questions are high on the agenda, AI is becoming a helpful companion instead of a competitive force.

Before deciding on remote and office work approaches, companies need to answer their cultural questions

Hybrid, office-only, or remote-only work? The global pandemic forced most businesses to use different approaches, and with the pandemic slowing down globally, the question of which work model is here to stay is heavily debated. However, that question also unmasked a concerning lack of accurate measurement of employees' productivity in office-only work. For example, some companies insisted on returning to the office because if middle or high-level managers couldn't see their workers, they assumed they were slacking off.

But the notion of only one approach being a silver bullet is similarly far-fetched. Instead, industries have started recognizing that different businesses benefit from other work models, even in the same sector. And one of the main factors when deciding the most suitable model requires correctly identifying a company's culture. Workplace dynamics are vastly different when employees work remotely, and so are the workflows. For example, in a lot of tech-focused sectors, the element of constant learning is essential, so ensuring in-person interactions may be necessary. Summit panelists noted that it is also a question of identity. For many employees, work takes up a large part of their identity. Keeping that identity intact while maintaining engagement and motivation of their workforce can become challenging to companies focused on remote work only. Forming long-lasting relationships is another less talked about aspect of the in-person work model. The ability to form new friendships provides additional motivation, but it remains a question if the business can ensure that in Zoom-like environments. And of course, there is an additional question of ensuring secure network access for your remote workers, but with a reliable SASE provider, that can be solved without difficulty.

The hybrid work model covers a lot of previously mentioned bases, but at least for now, it is a less attractive model than a fully-remote one to sell to potential future workers. However, if your business culture allows for fully remote work, you are in a great position to attract talent from competitors. Whatever course a business chooses to take, following established company culture and offering trust and flexibility to its talent force remain among the most important factors in these uncertain times.