We started 2020 feeling good aboutthe growing global economy and our outlook. But life is full of surprises. We found ourselves in a centrifuge that accelerated from one week to the next and subjected every part of our businesses to extreme G forces.
Organizations around the world had to adapt quickly to protect and enable employees, embracing digital channels for sales and distribution, customer service and operations.
In the US and EU, we saw five years of ecommerce sales growth happen in three months. Last year, we would all have agreed that those numbers were impossible.
This global pandemic has especially impacted organizations struggling with the structural issues of high fixed costs, legacy processes and systems. That’s why despite challenging times and budget cuts, organizations who had already prioritized digital transformation, adapted quickly and in many ways, benefited from the new situation, while others struggled as they rushed to implement digital capabilities during a pandemic.
So what is digital transformation? It is adopting digital technology and tools to improve business performance, through this lens let’s look at the key trends.
Accelerated process automation:
Government-imposed lockdown and control measures revealed many vulnerabilities in outsourcing. Many service organizations experienced severe disruptions in operations as they and their outsourcing partners were not prepared to ensure continuity.
This generated many questions about the existing model, especially about outsourcing manual process operationsthat were long overdue for automation. In the past, the ROI for automation was not always high. Now it has become top priority for many organizations, especially as automating manual process by investing in API’s, workflow platforms and RPA not only improves resilience but also helps reduce fixed costs and transition to variable cost structures.
Remote work enablement:
As people and organizations experienced and learned how to work remotely, it will now have apermanent place in organization culture and operations.
First, thefocus was purely on the ability to connect and work from home, but now the focus has shifted to optimizing productivity and driving staff engagement. During the first phase, many companies used out of the box tools, but they were not adequate in many cases, so organizations are now working towards implementing a new generation of tools focused on improving collaboration and productivity.
Digital sales enablement:
With the rapid shift from traditional to online channels, companies had to adapt to sustain revenue generation. It uncovered a lack of critical internal capabilities while breaking organizational resistance common in traditional distribution to adopt digital tools.
Organizations will continue investing in developing mission critical digital sales capabilities and tools forsales enablement, salesforce automation, digital marketing, remote transaction support, analytics and insights. In industries with traditional sales forces, we will see transformation to equip them with skills and tools to operate more like digital affiliates and influencers.
We will also observe accelerated adoption and development of optimized web, mobile, and e-commerce channels, personalized digital outreach, and virtual selling as most organizations will invest in their direct digital commerce channels.
Fixing data foundations
In lockdown, many organizations discovered that they were flying blind, as primary data from offline channels were not available, or due to remote working, were simply not accessible outside of the office.
As most customer interactions shifted online, digital tools and channels provided the opportunity to gain access to a new set of insights both inside the organization (productivity, employee engagement, and sentiment), as well as into customers (needs, behaviour, preferences, sentiment, and trends). To benefit from the new set of insights and data, investments in democratization of data access will continue with focus onmoderndata platforms, tools, controls and development of DataOps as an integral part of every organization.
The rapid shift to digital channels for sales and service along with a distributed workforce highlighted more than ever the importance of cybersecurity, as many companies had to implement quickly workarounds that often compromised security standards. A key focus going forward will be increased investments into cyber security to address the heightened risk profile and strengthening the security around identity, access management, and network security. This trend will go in tandem with the shift to cloud-based solutions.
Democratization of AI and no-code tools
With pressure on increased automation, flexibility, and time to market, more organizations are turning to no-code tools and platforms as go-to solutions. The trend started with popularization of RPA few years back as an easy way to automate manual backend processes and bridge the gap in interfacing with legacy systems. It also allowed democratizing process improvement and automation initiatives that provided business units with capabilities to respond and adapt to process changes without dependencies on IT departments.
Following rapid investment into no-code and B2B SaaS space by the VC industry, the number of platforms and their maturity quickly increased in the past few years. Today, no-code tools allow not only automating simple processes, but also to create complex UI and launch complete apps for internal and external users. No-code platforms also started providing out of the box AI capabilities with modules ranging from computer vision, recommenders, and predictive models, with user friendly model training pipelines. The popularization of the no-code platforms answers the increased demand for automation, efficiency and speed to respond to market changes amplified by COVID.
COVID has shown us that digital transformation and developing necessary capabilities matters more now than before, as it addresses structural business issues of high fixed costs, low flexibility and responsiveness, allowing organizations further down the path to benefit from business opportunities created in the times of crisis where others struggled just to keep the lights on.
The lesson from the digital leaders is to continue investing in digital transformation, even when budgets are tight. While no one can predict the future, shocks and new opportunities will continue to come — creating chances for digital leaders to further increase their advantage.
Today investing in digital transformation isabout building outward-facing capabilities, marketing and sales enablement to support development of new revenue engines, especially in traditional industries.