Christina Constantinou
15th October 2020 · 20 min read

2020 has been a year of transformation.

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, businesses have been forced to radically change how they operate in order to keep up with the demands of a drastically different cultural landscape. How we interact with the world has changed, leaving more and more businesses scrambling to keep up and move everything online.

Digital transformation is now more important than ever.

But in 2020, certain trends have emerged that have proven to be crucial to the digital transformation process and have provided a valuable insight into the future of business culture - from increased interest in sustainability, to creating a more fully digitized experience for consumers.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest trends in digital transformation in 2020, and the effect they’ve had on the business world as we know it…

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The new normal is here - how will it look for your business?
Outpace Competitors

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Chapter 1
Big Data Just Keeps Getting Bigger

Businesses are constantly needing to process more and more data. In fact, the amount of data that needs to be stored doubles on average every six months. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the majority of this data is presented in unstructured formats that can be difficult to use in a meaningful way. That’s why data governance has become so important this year, with successful businesses building insight engines to help them survive the big data influx.

An insight engine essentially uses a combination of machine learning and usage analytics to integrate, organize and analyze data. This is hugely beneficial as it allows pre-existing or newly integrated data to be made available whenever it is needed, as well as helping businesses to interact with this information in a way that is most optimal to their business needs.

It is also worth noting that with the increase in regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), businesses are having to adapt their data storage measures to meet new privacy requirements. That means popular storage methods such as data lakes will become less popular.

Chapter 2
The Arrival Of 5G

The need for faster connectivity has been evident for years - but Covid-19 has forced this matter to accelerate into one of key importance. Huge numbers of workers are having to work from their homes where their internet connections are often considerably less high-speed than their city-centre offices. But with the rapid growth of a new, more digitized culture, it has become obvious that the world needs better networks in order to keep everyone connected.

That’s why the increasing deployment of 5G-ready products has been such an important part of allowing businesses to transform digitally. Apple and Samsung have made 5G compatible gadgets available, and telecommunication companies such as Huawei and Qualcomm have started the 5G network rollout in certain locations. In fact, in their most recent earnings, Qualcomm reported that over 60% of devices shipped out were 5G compatible. In the US, Verizon launched a digital lab in May that they have been using to test 5G products and even deployed 5G services in San Francisco, California.

With the world switching to virtual connections, it’s very likely that 5G is going to become increasingly common worldwide. 5G is the future of digital transformation.

Chapter 3
AI On The Rise

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may still sound like something from a sci-fi movie, but it has actually been fundamental to the growth of many businesses. 2020 has shown us that AI and machine learning are often the key to digitally transforming a business and delivering important business outcomes. AI is typically reserved for specialised areas such as data analytics and fraud detection, but this year has seen a huge expansion of AI and machine learning use across different fields.

A particularly popular and beneficial use of AI is the improvement of consumer engagement. Think of how Spotify seemingly reads your mind by recommending you music that is exactly what you want to listen to - this is all possible through the integration of AI and machine learning algorithms.

Many companies have wisely made the decision to utilise this tool in order to increase consumer engagement and satisfaction. Machine learning enables marketing departments, for example, to offer hyper-personalization and optimize advertising in order to meet the exact needs and interests of each individual consumer. It will also give businesses the opportunity to optimize sales by estimating the value of deals and ensuring sales representatives are pursuing the best leads for each product or service.

According to IDC, AI-powered organizations are predicted to respond to consumers, regulators and partners at least 20% quicker than their competitors. So AI and machine learning should definitely play a huge role in all businesses going forward, and should be a top priority in the digital transformation process.

two graphs should AI investments
AI use is steadily increasing in both use and value.
Chapter 4
Cybersecurity And Data Protection

As data grows, systems expand, and IT infrastructure becomes more complex, the possibility of potential vulnerabilities increases. A number of major companies have experienced data breaches, such as Facebook and Capitol One, leaving sensitive consumer information at risk. This is one of the main reasons why data protection has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially in 2020 when there has been a surge of online activity.

As I mentioned earlier, the introduction of GDPR has forced companies to pay more attention to how they are protecting information they have taken from customers. More regulations are likely to be introduced in the near future also, meaning that businesses need to begin to transform their data storage immediately.

Data protection can also affect a businesses’ relationship with its consumers. Data breaches can lead to a lack of trust, which in turn can lead to a reduction in clients or customers.

And that is the last thing any business will want to see happen. Implementing advanced and secure data monitoring and protection services is now essentially mandatory for businesses that want to keep up with the ever-changing digital environment and build a stronger relationship with their consumers.

Chapter 5
Home Working - Here To Stay?

The pandemic has forced us all apart - and for most businesses, the only way to keep things going was to implement remote working, often company-wide. The pros and cons of working from home have been much debated over the years, but with 2020 giving most of us no option but to stay away from the office, people have had to adapt to this new working culture as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Many businesses have found that switching to a completely remote working environment has had many benefits. With office space being eye-wateringly expensive in most major cities, businesses have found the cost-saving factor that comes with home working a huge bonus.

Remote working also offers employees more flexibility, leading to a greater work-life balance. Multiple studies have found that home working can increase productivity, due to a more streamlined workday and reduced workplace stress and distractions.

So while the increase in remote working began as a necessity, for many businesses it is likely to continue far beyond Covid-19 restrictions - and may even start to become the new normal.

woman looking at smartphone whilst walking down a street
Remote working is forecasted to be an option for all office workers in the future.
Chapter 6
Sustainability

‘Sustainability’ is perhaps the biggest buzzword of the year. The increasing urgency of the environmental crisis, spearheaded by activists such as Greta Thunberg, have forced company owners and consumers alike to question the impact certain business practices have had on the climate. As a result of this, many businesses are choosing to take steps to change their practices and culture in order to become more environmentally responsible.

A huge step companies are taking to become more sustainable is to focus on becoming energy efficient, as wasted energy is often a key problem for most businesses. Google has attempted to tackle this issue by using DeepMind AI, finding that this helped to reduce energy usage, which in turn decreased electricity bills in their data centres by 40%. Many businesses integrate smart sensors into the devices they use, which help to monitor energy usage and report on any areas in which energy is wasted.

Many businesses are also considering the life cycles of the products they produce, with many companies focusing on finding ways to develop products that can be recycled easily via new technologies. Organisations such as Procter & Gamble plan to use the power of the internet to add digital watermarks to all their products, making the recycling process more efficient and reducing costs.

Pledging to become more environmentally conscious is a great way for businesses to gain new customers, as consumers are becoming more and more invested in sustainability. It is therefore worth considering a plan to improve in this area during the digital transformation process.

Chapter 7
Automation

Higher levels of automation have slowly been introduced into businesses for years, taking care of the mundane, menial tasks and leaving employees to focus on the challenging and thoughtful work. But in 2020, levels of automation have increased rapidly, and businesses interested in digital transformation have noticed that it has been a key trend throughout the year.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) tools have found themselves to be incredibly useful time and time again, but never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Businesses that have been attempting to thrive despite the restrictions of fully remote working and pressures of economic decline have found success with automation, offloading work that is related to the daily running of the business and spending more time on growth opportunities.

AI-enabled automation saves businesses both time and money, with reports suggesting that companies can successfully automate 64% of data collection processes and 65% of HR tasks. As you can see, it’s pretty clear that businesses around the world can benefit significantly through the integration of automation tools, and it is likely that RPA and IPA will have a fundamental impact on the future business climate.

Chapter 8
A More Digitised Experience

As we are becoming more involved in the digital world, businesses have started to integrate digital technologies with consumer experience. Industries such as hospitality, retail and healthcare are already offering a more digitized experience, adapting to the needs of a hyper-connected world brought on in 2020 by Covid-19.

One of the ways in which businesses are creating a more digital experience for consumers is through the use of Augmented Reality (AR). Up until recently, AR technology has been used primarily within the gaming and entertainment industries. This year, however, many businesses in other sectors have begun utilising this technology in order to enhance consumer experience.

For example, a number of fashion brands - such as Lacoste, American Apparel and Uniqlo - have used augmented reality technology to allow customers to enter virtual showrooms, where they can try on clothes from the comfort and safety of their own home. This has meant that these retail companies have been able to offer a solution to the obvious decline in in-person shopping due to the pandemic, allowing them to keep operations running.

Business owners looking into digital transformation should definitely consider the benefits of providing a high-quality digitised experience for consumers, as the trend of moving experiences online is likely to continue far beyond Covid-19.

two graphs showing the role of customer experience in digital transformations
The customer really is always right.
Chapter 9
Digital Twins

In 2020, the need for digitized problem-solving solutions has increased. Businesses worldwide have chosen to focus on ways to minimise any potential risks or issues within their systems, with the hope that should anything like the Covid-19 pandemic happen again they will be ready to solve any problems that are thrown at them.

A hugely beneficial tool for digitized problem-solving is the use of digital twins. A digital twin is essentially a digital portrayal of a real-life problem. By creating a ‘twin’ of every tool and process a company uses, it will be possible to monitor these digital copies in order to reveal any seemingly hidden issues, which will allow businesses to develop fixes to problems before they even occur in real life.

Digital twins are likely to only increase in popularity, as any process can be digitized and so all businesses can reap the benefits of using this online problem-solving solution.

Chapter 10
Insight-first Innovation

For a long time, digital initiatives were implemented as reaction-led responses to urgent issues presented in the moment. However, as 2020 has thrown some curveballs bigger than anything most of us have faced before, businesses are starting to embrace the concept of insight-first innovation.

Insight-first innovation still focuses on solving problems that need to be dealt with immediately but combines that with a concentration on any future issues that may arise. It also looks at the best ways to maximise data storage long-term.

This gives businesses the opportunity to improve their problem-solving capabilities, as well as allowing them to create a safety net to help them if any future issues arise.

Chapter 11
Multi-Cloud Adoption

The ever-increasing amount of data collected by businesses has forced them to find new storage solutions that can handle the pressure. Cloud storage has been a popular choice for many businesses for a number of years due to its highly flexible nature and often low running costs. But in 2020, as there has been more data stored online than ever before, a growing number of businesses have opted to adopt multi-cloud environments.

It is estimated that 84% of organisations that employ more than 1000 people use a multi-cloud strategy. It’s easy to see why, as the use of multiple cloud storage systems allows for more data storage space and often results in faster retrieval and analysing of data.

However, multi-cloud systems are not without their challenges. Juggling multiple clouds can be a difficult task, and businesses sometimes find that they struggle to transport workload data between clouds. It is possible to use APIs that allow the data in different clouds to be pulled and communicated with easily.

Optimising data storage is a key element of digital transformation, and so implementing a multi-cloud strategy can be amazingly beneficial for any business - especially as the amount of data needed to be stored is unlikely to reduce any time soon.

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The future rests on the cloud.
Chapter 12
Co-creating Value

Despite most of us being driven apart due to Covid-19, this year many businesses have begun developing collaborative ecosystems. These are essentially networks that tend to involve partners, consumers and external stakeholders.

This allows businesses to create a more meaningful service, as the collaborative ecosystems provide insight into what each aspect of the network considers to be valuable, which organizations can use to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

Research suggests that these digital ecosystems are on the rise, and that most successful businesses can utilize the information gained from these collaborations to improve their business practices and easily incorporate new products and services into their customer experience.

These types of collaborations are certain to become increasingly popular, especially as a way for businesses to truly understand the wants and needs of everyone that plays an important role in the business succeeding.

Chapter 13
New Digital Transformation Metrics

One of the biggest reasons why businesses fail to complete successful digital transformations is that strategies are not implemented and utilised right from the beginning of the process. This means that many businesses fail to properly make use of new, digital tools and often fall behind.

In 2020, many businesses have begun to create more methodical evaluation criteria for their digital projects, and this is likely to become a trend that sticks beyond this year. Proficiency will likely be measured across these three main areas:

Velocity:

How fast work can be completed, and how quick processes are.

Intelligence:

How well analytics are able to automate and improve decision effectiveness.

Experience:

The experiences that are able to produce the best behaviour and economic outcomes.

The implementation of these evaluation criteria will allow businesses to optimise their digital transformation process, allowing them to see better results both now and in the future.

Conclusion

Overall, it is clear that the unique challenges 2020 has brought us all have resulted in interesting and fantastically useful developments within digital transformation.

It is likely that these trends will continue to be popular well into 2021 and onwards, meaning that businesses that utilize these tools and solutions will be on the right path to an optimal digitized experience.