We’re living through a moment in history that people will look back upon many years from now and call a turning point. Historians will muse about it, and academics in business schools will teach courses about how it transformed whole industries.
2020 will be lauded as the year business culture shifted, significantly and permanently, while future business leaders will study the tea leaves of this tumultuous year as a warning, to find what it might portend for their own businesses’ futures.
This was the year when a crisis woke companies of all sizes from their plodding sleepwalk towards digital transformation. It’s when the race to transform suddenly turned into a sprint.
Yes, digital transformation was a priority for many enterprises before, but it had yet to become critical to their operations. 2020 brought the need to transform digitally to the front of every business leader’s mind, and it became necessary for many companies’ survival.
Plans Become Turbo-Charged
In May 2020, the IDC’s Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide noted that, in spite of challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, spending on technology and services related to digital transformation will still grow more than 10%. Companies more clearly than ever realize the importance of digital transformation.
Yet this transformation requires significant investment, not to mention definitive strategies and objectives. Many business leaders face multiple difficulties, many outside their control.
“Today, technology is a business imperative,” says technology industry analyst and strategic advisor Maribel Lopez, “It was already a fundamental, integral part of organizational communications and workflows, but now the business culture–technology relationship has intensified because of the crisis.”
Businesses and other organizations needed to act early in the pandemic so as to engage digitally, using web conferencing applications like Zoom and cloud-based e-commerce platforms like Shopify to keep operating. Companies shifted rapidly to adapt and accelerate their digital profile.
Education: Learning moved online for most students worldwide, as primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities were forced to close classrooms. While distance learning worked, many teachers and students thought it should be modified and examined, as it didn’t provide equity for all.
Financial & Real Estate: Built on relationships – banking at branches, financial advisors, and real estate agents – suddenly had to rely on IT while having to maintain compliance. Fortunately for financial industries, most countries made eSignatures as legally valid as those signed with pen and paper years ago.
Companies that provide secure eVaults for signed contracts and personal information allowed businesses to carry on without too much disruption, with eContracts and eMortgages replacing hard copies of such documents.
Healthcare: Though modernization in healthcare has also been happening for years, providers ensured that non-essential staff could work from home. Additionally, healthcare providers launched consumer-based software solutions that enabled vulnerable populations to receive healthcare advice and referrals without having to venture out.
Retail: Businesses that remained open focused on getting products to customers as quickly as possible. Online shopping and curbside delivery became important, as did applications for checking inventory and establishing workflows.
What is Digital Transformation?
While the examples above show specific instances where digital transformation solved problems, it’s also important to understand what it isn’t. Automating business processes doesn’t automatically translate to transformation.
Companies like AirBnB, Uber, Ola, and Oyo aren’t examples of this. Rather, these business models are examples of how digital technology disrupted whole industries rather than transforming them.
Digital transformation enables businesses that are, in essence, not digital to leverage technology so they can thrive in a new business environment. This is why the pandemic, which created a new business environment nearly overnight, contributed to the advance digital transformation.
As a business, you don’t suddenly reach a place where you become digitally transformed. Rather, it’s an evolutionary process. The environment changes, and technology adjusts to these changes.
Don’t Innovate From Fear
Yet though digitization is important, it’s not something that should be done out of fear. Yes, there are those stories strewn across the Internet of companies that failed to react to change. But acting out of fear can inhibit the creativity necessary to effectively exploit the technology. It’s important to analyze your business carefully in order to ensure the most productive change
Studio Graphene – a London software developer – recently asked senior decision-makers in the UK about how their companies approach technology. It revealed 45% of those questioned believe their organization is too risk-averse, while this figure rose to 70% when asked of those within large corporations.
The future will favor the nimble.
Look around. The digital landscape has been shifting since the millennia began. The introduction of high-speed internet connection, social media platforms, and the proliferation of smartphones changed how consumers interact with business. The relationship has become less transactional and more social.
Creating a Roadmap
Adopting a digital-first mindset is important for businesses that don’t want to be left behind. That’s why it’s important to have a plan. Have a clear vision about how to develop digital capabilities, looking at how to move forward in a way that will not disrupt operations or inconvenience customers.
Consider how your company can:
Invent or support new ways of doing things, including new business models when needed, to increase efficiency, enable you to reach new markets, and ultimately to become more profitable.
Develop an organizational culture that evolves with the technology, which focuses on making things possible and that thrives on change.
Look from the perspective of your customers and create experiences that satisfy their needs and wants, utilizing digital transformation to enhance customer experience.
If you do these things, digital transformation should be seamless. We saw many hiccups when organizations globally tried to transform digitally nearly overnight. Just imagine if each entity had followed a plan instead.
D. A. Rupprecht is an internationally-based freelance writer who is passionate about how technology is changing business. He also occasionally writes books.