How Covid-19 is redefining digital transformation
Following our recent webinar on the impact of Covid-19 on digital transformation with guest speaker and board level CIO, NED and Advisor Christine Ashton, Adam Gates, Head of Odgers Connect, reviews the key points discussed
The on-going period of economic and social disruption has seen great changes for organisations across all sectors. Businesses have undertaken momentous pivots to ensure business continuity; driving this is the digital transformation agenda. The implementation of new technologies, whether building on IT infrastructure with a new communications platform to enable remote working or introducing automation tools for customer services, has been paramount for corporate agility. As we continue to face uncertainty of the future with no clear indication of the economic recovery trajectory, organisations need to be accelerating their digital transformation agendas forward and considering how they can stabilise for the ‘new normal’.
To discuss this and how to take digital transformation forward into a post-Covid world, we asked Christine Ashton, a highly experienced digital expert and independent board advisor, to join us in hosting a webinar. Here are her thoughts on how organisations should be approaching digital transformation now to survive, and going forward to thrive:
We are entering a more complex world, one which needs to be tackled from many angles. Organisations need to plan for monumental change. This requires consideration of the current business needs but also for potential future scenarios – such as restructuring and changes in funding.
Business leaders have witnessed the weak points in their organisations – for some this was an unstable supply chain, for others this was seen in insufficient IT infrastructure. Poor business processes need to immediately be resolved, but thinking longer-term, there should be a strategy formed which builds a more robust functionality – “ruggedize your business”!
Planning shouldn’t have a one-stream approach, it should be broken down into different business functions. In Christine’s words, “segmentation is your friend”. Look at each business area - from demand side, supply side, finance and tax, business model and product/service, customer experience and people talent resilience. It is not enough to think about the organisation as a cohesive entity, but each unit needs to have a specialised plan in place.
Christine described the process as building a dashboard or “Weather Stations”. Building a more comprehensive view of the business will allow senior leaders to pin-point areas of weakness and make more informed decisions when designing the short, medium and long-term business strategies. The key point here is resilience and having this assessment through segmentation will help to strengthen the business as a whole.
Organisations need to be moving away from manual and process-heavy environments, instead look to implement automation technology to streamline processes. RPA and AI are becoming increasingly commonplace, but there should be consideration of off-the-shelf Software as a Service (SaaS) packages to increase digital capacity quickly. Christine told us that, “automation could be the business backbone”. Efficiency is a necessity right now, and automation is the key to enabling this.
During times of rapid change, organisations must be considering the impact on their people. Following the suggestion to automate and drive a renewed digital transformation programme, talent has to be nurtured and trained on new systems and processes – strong cultural and change management is key to achieving this. For those with furloughed staff, now is a prime opportunity to upskill.
Learn from ‘crisis mode’
An organisation’s true capability has been on display over the past few months. We have seen pace, we have seen agility, and we have seen sound decision-making. This needs to be driven forward and embedded into the organisational culture and working practices long-term, rather than left behind as a one-off success story.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a sudden and highly unprecedented disruption, being one that no one was prepared for. Stress testing is one way of assessing resilience in the face of disruption. Rather than this being an activity in times of crisis, it can be brought into business as usual activity.
Stress testing should be applied to areas beyond finance profit and loss activity, looking at supply chain, resilience, capacity to flex up and down, and maybe virtual compliance and customer buying confidence. These are just a few examples that would help shape a more informed business strategy, one that is flexible and evolves with the fluctuations of the stress testing.
Implement cyclical improvement processes
Organisations need to consider embedding more agile working practices to be better prepared for the next bout of change. Teams should be working in continuous cycles with regular check points to improve the digital capabilities of the organisation. This will not only drive the pace of change but will give the organisation the ability to pivot in the face of emerging scenarios – perhaps business restructuring or bringing new products to market.
Christine described this cycle as: "Do it, fix it, try it, harden it, commoditise it, then do it again".
Go back to the basics
To come out stronger, organisations need to simplify and focus on one thing at a time, pushing towards one clear purpose. Organisations don’t need to be striving for the “new and novel”, looking to build highly customised and complex digital solutions, but should be working towards resilience and growth.
Christine advised us that “less is going to be more”. For her, digital transformation at this time doesn’t need to be hugely intricate with the latest and greatest technologies – these are just expensive and require extensive timelines to implement and see real return on investment. As we focus on adapting to the ‘new normal’, businesses should be considering the ‘off the shelf’ SaaS packages to elevate digital.
What we have seen over the past months has been a redefining of digital transformation. Organisations have been forced towards agility and simplification of digital to take on the disruption and drive business continuity. Going forward, this new attitude needs to be embedded and met with new cyclical improvement processes to continue the momentum of change across all business areas. Christine concluded, “there are no separate business cases outside of technology”.
For more information please contact Adam Gates.