As the world continues to grapple with the devastating impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the need to pursue a digital transformation agenda is more acute than ever. And while companies will undoubtedly face significant issues during the digital transformation process, slow progress is not an option, with business leaders needing to accelerate the digitalisation of their core operations.
The pandemic has created an environment of sink or swim, and companies are having to accelerate digital transformation strategies to enable them to continue to connect to customers. In the UK, research by eFax found that 60 percent of IT decision makers have accelerated their speed of digital transformation as a direct result of disruption to their workforce caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The research also revealed that the crisis has enabled many enterprises to get to grips with the need for digital transformation and combine the operational changes needed with digital applications. Even if this process began prior to the crisis, they may have previously lacked the required knowledge, expertise and focus to successfully achieve a change of this scale.
Companies of all sizes have had their IT resilience tested to a significant degree during the pandemic. They will now be enhancing their digital operations to meet the changing landscape they now find themselves in. And while data will already be at the centre of many digital transformation programmes, the COVID-19 experience will likely accelerate this trend. Therefore, it is safe to say that Covid-19 is “the digital accelerant of the decade”, the pandemic having brought forward companies’ digital transformation projects by a global average of six years.
When lockdowns hit, some very rapid changes had to be made under considerable pressure, not only to get operations back up and running, but to adapt to remote working but the ways of doing business which were extraordinary in March have become run of the mill one year down, so it is important to check that the normal regime and discipline of compliance has now been established around new systems, processes and procedures.”
While digitalisation can bring considerable benefits to companies, such as new revenue and value-producing opportunities, there are also numerous risks that need to be assessed and challenges to overcome throughout the course of a digital transformation process.
In the experience of Julian Ide, head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) distribution at Franklin Templeton, there are tremendous benefits for companies in digitalising – both internally and also for the end-client, as outlined below.
First, cost and efficiency. Perhaps the biggest benefit in digitalising is the decrease in cost and increase in efficiency. As more business is conducted or driven across digital channels, it will reduce the cost associated with previous methods of doing business and enhance relevant efficiencies. The ability to drive more communication online has reduced the cost of travel, while also ensuring the maximisation of speed of information and data movement, reducing the cost of delays and activity.
Second, productivity.It has been shown that workers are more productive when they are given the choice of working remotely, especially as they eliminate commute time, travel and related exhaustion, and can spend more of that time with family, being that much more productive. Availability has also become a key point in driving up productivity gains related to remote working.
Third, increased client interaction. The ease in which an employee can interact with clients, either through online meetings or digitally, has decreased some of the barriers to connect with clients, making it easier to meet with them.
Lastly, personal connections. While the initial thought suggested that COVID-19 would reduce connections when balanced well and executed effectively, video conferencing specifically has shown that personal connections have become deeper. Being invited into homes and personal spaces has increased the ability for people to better connect.
Digital transformation can help to simplify operations which results in productivity gains and cost reductions. For example, companies may have hundreds of internal systems all running together at the same time, but by working from the centre-out on a customer journey and system that links both front and back end legacy systems, productivity levels are likely to increase. Moreover, it is safe to predict that companies that digitalise their operations will be better placed to cope in terms of how they and their staff operate remotely, as well as in coping with changing consumer behaviour, such as the increasing preference for online avenues.
Companies also need to dedicate sufficient time to advance their digitalisation and to clean up their automated processes to ensure they work properly. Not only this, but they must also factor in any recent policy changes made during the pandemic that need to be reviewed and updated accordingly. With all the pressures that COVID-19 is placing on their business, no company wants the additional pressure of having to deal with a regulatory investigation or enforcement action. In order to mitigate this threat, oversight of and compliance with all relevant regulation is essential.
Prior to COVID-19, digital disruption was already critical for business growth. Since the pandemic took hold, exposing companies’ digital gaps and compromising their operational effectiveness, the need to accelerate digitalisation has become even more acute. A critical transformation is needed if businesses across all industries are to survive and thrive in the new normal.
As a different world takes shape, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for companies to transform and respond, with digitalisation a key enabler. Going forward, many will be looking at further investment in technologies, including analytics and automation, that can help them innovate, gain greater business insight, open up new revenue streams and, ultimately, ensure their survival.