Microsoft’s Lee Hickin on digital resilience beyond cybersecurity

Building digital resilience starts with solid foundations and human capabilities – before investing in new technologies, says Microsoft’s Lee Hickin

What is digital resilience? These days, it’s about more than just cyber security, though that remains critical. While disaster recovery, operating through impairment, minimising customer harm, reputational damage, and financial loss are all crucial, digital resilience is also about long-term survival and adapting to change, facilitated through digital transformation. Digital resilience means unlocking sustainability. 

Digital resilience is the capacity of individuals and/or organisations to leverage digital technologies to anticipate, absorb, and adapt to exogenous shocks, according to Dr Yenni Tim, a Senior lecturer and digital resilience researcher in the School of Information Systems and Technology Management at UNSW Business School. Dr Tim was recently awarded Cyber Security Educator of the Year by the Australian Information Security Association (AISA) and received the Most Innovative Educator in Cyber Security award at the Australian Women in Security Awards. 

Dr Tim recently spoke to Lee Hickin, Microsoft National Technology Officer Australia & New Zealand, and NSW Government AI Advisory and Review Committee Member, about how organisations and business leaders can best leverage technologies to build digital resilience. “I think for a long time, people have had this idea of resilience being about security, and its history has come from this idea of cyber resilience, that we need to be protecting our environment to be resilient to attacks,” explained Mr Hickin, who works with the latest Microsoft cloud solutions, such as Microsoft Azure (a cloud computing service that is helping businesses achieve digital resilience). 

“The reality is, and you know, in COVID times in recent years, we've sort of seen this morphing of the term into this idea that resilience is more about being protected against all sorts of challenges to your business viability or business stability,” he said. “I think it's a bit unfair to frame that as a COVID thing; I think this is just a market dynamics situation that organisations have had to think about their ability to sustain themselves in a very dynamic shifting, high pressure, high moving market." 

Digital resilience starts with solid foundations

According to McKinsey, in the past, businesses could mitigate crises like service disruptions in IT through manual business-continuity processes, such as a customer-care agent using administrative access to enter an order. But as more customers increasingly migrate to digital ecosystems, the old ways of addressing stability issues no longer apply. With digital technology poised to transform business in the coming decades, especially with the trend towards hybrid work and remote work, having the necessary skills and capabilities to deliver resiliency has become vital for business leaders and their teams. But before they can think about digital resilience, they require digital enablement.

Pandemic lockdowns and cyber threats aside, more and more companies have to adapt to stay relevant, which is all part of their business resilience strategy. This is especially critical to remain competitive in areas like financial services and e-commerce. For example, if you’ve recently ordered pizza from the Domino’s app, then according to Mr Hickin, you’ve seen a prime example of digital adaption first-hand. But how does a business improve its digital capabilities to become resilient end-to-end? One way to illustrate this is through the concept of building a house (a concept that may seem far-fetched to many in today’s housing market).  

“When you build a house, you put the foundations in place, and then you build the scaffolding, and then you build the house. And then you have this strong foundation,” explained Mr Hickin. The same is true for any technology. “You put the foundations in place: good security, good networking, training, and skilling for your people, all the readiness you need, and then you build the scaffolding,” he said.  

Mr Hickin added that technology isn’t just about solving technology problems; it’s solving business problems. It's about creating new end-user experiences, data flows, and connections in supply chains.

New technologies do not guarantee digital resilience

So more and more, companies are adapting. But what about when it comes to more advanced technologies like AI and machine learning? Do all businesses need to jump at the chance to implement these new technologies into their business processes?

“There tends to be a bit of a focus on, you know, okay, well, we've got to implement the latest and greatest because that's going to make us, you know, more innovative, market-leading, we're going to kind of strive forward, there's a real risk there.

“And I hate to say this as the technologist for Microsoft, but there's a real risk that we leap into technology without the sort of foundations that we need in place, the people process and technology to make that happen,” he said.

“And once you've got that in place, technologies like AI and other things will help you accelerate those markets in resiliency and cyber resiliency, and certainly your innovation opportunity, because, you know, no doubt about it. Innovation and technology go hand in hand. And certainly, as we think about what cloud technologies broadly allow you to do now, they allow you to innovate with business problems.”

Digital resilience requires a growth mindset

People require capabilities to leverage technology to achieve digital resiliency, but these skills aren’t necessarily all technical. “It comes down to people's ability to adapt to have this, you know, what we refer to as the growth mindset. The ability to adapt and learn and change how they think about a problem. You need to have people looking at how your business operates, questioning things and adapting things and looking at ways that things can be done differently to give you that continual edge,” said Mr Hickin.

So digital resilience isn’t about having a ‘business as usual’ mindset because the way things may have worked in the past may not work in the future. But to achieve this, organisations must cultivate a culture where business leaders and their teams can question current processes, learn new skills, and experiment with new ways of thinking and operating.

“They [employees] need to feel safe, they have to feel empowered to stand up and talk, they have to feel that there are mechanisms for them to do something about what they say because nothing quells enthusiasm for innovation if you're not rewarded for it,” he said.

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“The reality is digital resilience will become like those foundations and scaffolding… I think it's going to become the baseline. It will become something an organisation doesn't consider an adjunct to its strategy. It will become your strategy because it is so important in today's modern world with all the things we see coming at us and the opportunity in front of us.

“Resiliency works both ways. It protects you, and it gives you opportunities,” he concluded.

Lee Hickin is National Technology Officer in Australia & New Zealand at Microsoft. Dr Yenni Tim is a Senior Lecturer and a digital resilience researcher in the School of Information Systems and Technology Management at UNSW Business School. Listen to the full recording here or contact Dr Tim for more information. Main image: Microsoft


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