Joanna Grimbley Smith
14th October 2020 · 23 min read

Prior to 2020, digital transformation was forecasted in the far future for most businesses.

No matter the sector they operated in, nor how they operated, the process of using technologies to create and change business processes, culture, and customer experiences was not associated with any sense of urgency.

Until now.

Digitalisation had been steadily infiltrating each and every industry prior to the emergence of the virus and had already left a trace on the business world. Covid 19, however, stamped a footprint on the planet.

From the 9-to-5 to the grocery shop, from business meetings to making the most of the weekend - everything has changed.

From airports to the office desk, the new normal has reshaped everything we do.

How businesses operate and communicate has shifted, too. They now rely on the most forward-thinking technology as a means of basic survival.

In the UK alone, 96% of UK business decision makers agreed that the pandemic has sped up their digital transformation plans. You need to know the steps your business needs to take to keep up with the competition now and as it moves towards the ‘new normal’.

Whether it’s your way of working, your customer service, or your fundamental operations, no stone will be left unturned.

Chapter 1
How Has Covid-19 Accelerated Digital Transformations During The Pandemic?

There’s no doubt about it: Coronavirus has presented the world with a challenge.

Not simply to find treatments to protect the population, nor just to source the vaccine that will bring this crisis to a screeching halt.

Just as much as the medical world is going up a gear, the rest of the world has had to adapt to the new difficulties at a similar speed via a digital accelerant.

At the core of this is the overnight change in how we interact with each other and our services. A majority of the world’s population have gone remote whether it’s their work day, studies, shopping, or the rest of their daily routine.

Social distancing has prompted a new 9-to-5.

In order to face this challenge and overcome the issues at hand companies have had to opt for digital technologies that can keep their business running throughout the crisis.

Business as usual is no longer an option; alternative models and methods have had to be selected to secure business continuity. And if that wasn’t enough, Covid-19 has placed a multitude of problems businesses typically face under the spotlight, too.

The harsh lighting has illuminated 2 problems which can compromise a business’s operations:

Poor data security:

As the world heads online, threats to your business, employee, and customer data become more volatile. With breaches on the increase, securing your details is more essential than ever.

Digital flow:

Online stores anchored themselves as a necessity long before the first mention of Covid-19. But your business’ usability is important to ensure conversions via your digital presence.

These challenges revolve around the absence of face-to-face communications. Offices are merely a memory of early Spring. And in-store shopping sprees were last experienced during the post-Christmas sales.

But these same challenges have prompted deep-rooted economic and business change, change that has struck at the core of digital transformations.

And it’s time to talk about that change.

What Changes Are We Seeing During The Pandemic?

Businesses Work Towards A Stronger Digital Infrastructure

As the world headed online, the entire population needed to tap into basic digital solutions to ensure they could stay connected. Within the business world, the need for a reinforced IT infrastructure empowered by the latest innovations was a necessity for survival.

Being able to live our daily lives - albeit via a screen - has reinforced the course of digitalisation.

Working from home and online schooling is one example of how industry has met the needs for controlling the virus whilst facilitating the move towards digitalisation.

On top of this, a shift to online shopping and alterations in limits on contactless spending has moved all retail businesses that can adapt forward.

An investment has been made in the infrastructure that encourages a digital transformation to occur, from facilitating digital communication channels to supporting a culture of digital innovation amongst employees.

The potential has been put in place for a digital world - all you need to do is chase up the changes that fit your firm.

According to a study done by Twilio, Covid-19 has accelerated digital communications strategy by an average of 6 years.

The Better Use Of Technology, Such As AI

We aren’t just seeing the adoption of technology on a whole new scale - we are witnessing the use of the latest technology to facilitate our move to the new normal.

With Slack, Zoom, and Google Meet now a part of our daily routine, our digital knowledge and know-how has been transformed.

Rather than a slow, gradual process of digital transformation, we have experienced a sudden shift within mere months, if not weeks.

These new technologies have in turn oriented attention to how previously inaccessible tech, such as AI and machine learning, can reinvent your operations. Sales prioritisation, admin, and ID verification are just a few processes that can be digitalised and streamlined with these complicated tools.

But on top of this, the pandemic is ushering in long overdue changes which span transformations beyond the end of social distancing.

The way we do meetings are just one of the changes we've seen.

By infusing the latest technology across each process, customer interaction and employee, you can instil a culture of innovation throughout the business. This in turn allows faster innovation in the future which blend seamlessly with your operations.

The dramatic shift towards necessary technology thus allows your team to unlock the full potential of digitalisation.

A Move To Online Shopping

Internet shopping is by no means a new invention - it’s already shaken the retail sector to the core.

Covid-19, however, has fast-forwarded a process already in place. The move to an online store for retail businesses is no longer an easy fix for higher revenue, but is now a necessity to get any at all.

By mid-April, online shopping had surged 129% across Europe.

Online shopping is vital for most of the population, especially the most vulnerable, to secure basic supplies.

For companies that already harness the potential of the internet, their digital strategy as led by a chief customer officer will need to be ramped up to cope with excess demand, and for companies that have yet to put their services on the web, a move is fundamental to ensure survival.

H&M - the world’s second biggest fashion retailer - is just one retailer that announced a strategic-shift to the web. In early October, the directors stated that it was going to cut 250 stores across the globe in order to supercharge their online shopping experience.

On top of this, how customers are engaged has been altered, too. 95% of companies are currently seeking new ways of digital engagement for their current and future customers.

From social media to paperless contact, a new way of working has been pushed through - a way of working that will continue into the future.

Online shopping is vital for most of the population, especially the most vulnerable, to secure basic supplies.

Even supermarket giants have struggled to cope with surges in online orders and supply chain problems. Covid-19 has facilitated the online store experience for established firms and jump-started the move for small businesses such as local grocery stores.

What once seemed distant is no longer so far-off.

Support For Remote Working

99% of businesses surveyed by Twilio agree that digital technologies will open up opportunities for remote working into the future.

With positive feedback for WFH among employees disproving the necessity of an office for all employees, a move towards remote working has been one of the most striking changes in the business world.

By encouraging employees to work from home, new technologies can be put in place, such as live chat bots, that streamline operations and create that all-important culture of innovation.

As early in the pandemic as mid-May Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, claimed it would allow staff to work from home “forever” if they wanted to. The social media giant was just one of many businesses across the planet vouching for the opportunity of WFH.

New technologies can be unlocked, costs can be cut, and efficiency can be improved with remote working.

How this will translate post-Coronavirus with flexible working after the current business challenges is one of the biggest changes forecasted to take place.

Business Solutions Oriented Towards Cloud Computing

To facilitate remote working, many businesses have tapped into the potential of cloud computing in order to store, protect and use data.

Despite being on the market for 2 decades, only now have a majority of businesses begun to adopt cloud technology.

According to a survey by Snow Software (polls IT leaders across the world), 82% say they had ramped up their use of the cloud in response to the pandemic and 76% claimed it has led to an increase of spending on services such as Microsoft Azure and the Google Cloud Platform.

With security, big data, and mobility providing the necessary support for overcoming the disruption provided by the pandemic, cloud computing puts the flexibility in remote working.

Cyber security and data analysis are fundamental values that power digital transformation, and thus feed into your digitalisation.

By encouraging streamlined operations and access to your business from the other side of the globe for your employees, your enterprise decision makers can future-proof your business.

This in turn encompasses other new technologies, promoting an overhaul for your processes and employee culture on a digital scale.

Chapter 2
How Will Digital Transformation Accelerate After Covid-19?

If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it’s this:

Nothing is for certain.

Yet despite this foray into uncharted territories, we can make some predictions about the future of business.

And one of them is that digital transformation is now a necessity for survival.

Digital transformations rest on the disruption of sectors by competitive businesses. And as every company around you begins to adopt the latest technology in order to move forward in the industry, the need to stay in-step only becomes more vital.

Digitalisation has become a necessity for businesses to survive the ongoing crisis, and soon it will become even more important to succeed beyond it.

The barriers that once stood in the way of the inevitable process were knocked down in a rush to stay viable in the pandemic.

"For many the pandemic has knocked down previous barriers to digital transformation, and leaders are increasingly relying on technology for mission-critical aspects of their enterprise operations” - Mark Foster, IBM Services

After Covid-19, the trend towards transformation will continue but pick up pace, and the changes we witnessed will evolve.

A new standard has been set.

Will your business follow it?

What Changes Are We Predicted To See After The Pandemic?

Permanent Operational Flexibility

From strategy to technology, flexible ways of working and operating are officially the future. Businesses need to be built for change at any moment, a value that is central to digital transformation.

With uncertain demand forecasted, many executives have pivoted their businesses on staying competitive via the new operational trends pushed to the fore by the pandemic.

Flexibility and scalability are vital to this.

94% of executives, for example, are planning to participate in platform-based business models by 2022.

These same executives are having to balance fluctuations in demand, challenges to remote working, and the need to compete in their sector via lower costs. This can be achieved through scalable and flexible IT solutions that reinforce your tech infrastructure as well as omnichannel communication.

Microsoft has led the shift and made its cloud productivity suite free to small businesses for 6 months. Google and Zoom have similarly extended their capabilities for free users, confirming that flexibility is the future.

The growing dominance of cloud computing will only continue as it becomes more of a priority for scoring flexible digitalisation.

Alongside remote working, the focus on the cloud also centres around customer engagement and marketing solutions.

A Focus On Intelligent Workflows

Core operations were thrown into contention overnight. Intelligent workflows as driven by AI, automation, and exponential technologies changed that, and will continue to do so in the future.

AI in particular is predicted to increase in the future, and 60% of executives are reportedly applying process automation to streamline their business functions.

A number of leading AI companies are offering their tools and infrastructure services at cheaper rates or for free. DataRobot is just one of these businesses, and is providing its platform which deploys, monitors and manages AI models at scale for no charge.

But this isn’t just about technology.

It’s about facilitating a culture among your employees. Prioritising cybersecurity for your data and team is essential during the move towards flexible working.

Covid-19 has empowered a move to tools that encourage intelligent and responsive workflows.

Innovation and productivity are buzzwords of WFH - and they’re the billboard values of DT, too.

Engaging The Workforce In A Culture

As flexible working rewires how the world operates, the dynamic between employer and employee is evolving, too.

Agile methodology and DevOps tools are lined up to support the employees in both formulating an innovative culture and creating a positive employee experience.

No matter your age, everyone has had to rethink how we do things.

By fostering a new culture of learning, your future digital transformation strategy can move over time and keep your business looking forward to the future.

Take Apple for example: their alleged ‘culture of secrecy’ has made it difficult for their software engineers and employees to work from home due to their high-grade cybersecurity.

By providing the right tools and enforcing a new culture which supports remote working, asynchronous working can be achieved.

Each of these changes are the consequences of a digital transformation - and they only facilitate it further as time marches on.

Chapter 3
Will Your Sector’s Digital Transformation Be Fast-tracked?

Sure, Covid-19 seems an obvious cause for the incredible overnight change materialising before business directors’ eyes.

If your business wasn’t already undergoing a digital transformation, it will be now.

But not all sectors have been able to station their workforce in their home offices and preen their website for online orders and communication.

Coronavirus forced businesses to harness technology to survive the initial impact of the pandemic. Yet some businesses were not so lucky.

Nationwide lockdowns, border closures and quarantine rules have crippled certain industries that rely on tourism, face-to-face contact and travelling.

The changes range far beyond the office.

The travel, transport, non-pharmaceutical, non-food retail and hospitality sectors could not harness the latest technology - such as cloud computing and AI - to stick to regulations and keep their businesses afloat.

OECD estimated Covid-19 could create a decline of 80% in the tourism sector, a hit reflected in the number of travel agents and related firms pulling the shutters down on their business.

Tui began the process of shutting 166 UK and Ireland stores in July, restructuring the business in order to ensure the affected staff could take on alternative roles in the company. As the biggest tour operator in the UK, this was indicative of the hefty blow dealt by the Coronavirus.

Their digital transformations do aim to streamline operations and leverage data-driven insights to improve the customer experience, but this cannot be achieved during the pandemic.

However, the purpose of these sectors has quickly been replaced by the digital innovations secured by the sectors less at threat from such staggering revenue loss:

Travelling overseas for business meetings? Zoom call. Having dinner with a friend? takeaway ordered in minutes via a mobile app. And a shopping spree now comes with next day delivery!

Chapter 4
Is Now The Time To Accelerate Your Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation has always been a factor to consider in your long term business strategy. However, now more than ever it is a necessity to overcome the waves of the pandemic and move beyond your competitors when the economy rebounds.

The concept of DT revolves around the need to stay competitive against disruptive forces in your industry. As ‘Digital Transformation’ becomes a buzzword in all sectors operating, your business needs to find outlets to compete effectively against your opponents that are chasing up the latest technology trend.

The digital overhaul is no longer a nifty marketing tool or a niche strategy that elevates your efficiency; it is a necessity for fundamental business survival.

If everyone is doing it, you need to be doing it. The gap between digitised businesses and those that fail to do so is only growing wider.

If it can be done on a computer, it will be done on a computer.

And as it enters the conversation, particularly regarding the future, the pace of technological innovation in your sector will increase as it gets more adoption.

Prior to 2020, extreme market conditions had been racking up competition and speeding up the pace of technological change. Covid-19 has only complicated the situation further.

To overcome disruptive forces and the uncertainty of a global pandemic, your business needs to be prepared. Your business needs a sector-specific strategy that evolves and adapts to the changes in the economy and your circumstances and can then move forward after Covid-19.

Conclusion

Covid-19 has charted a move towards cloud computing, the digital workplace, a data-driven strategy, and cyber security for businesses operating across the planet.

All of these components inform your business’ digital majority and are the pillars of a digital transformation.

A link has been forged between the pandemic and the need to weave your operations and revenue streams around it. But the need to keep running has only confirmed that digitalisation is the way forward.

Your business might be primed for uncertainty, but your team can take solace in the fact that the future is well and truly technological.