When the Coronavirus was declared a pandemic back in March, the world came to a screeching halt. Forced by the unforeseen scenario, businesses across all kinds of industries started to devise contingency plans overnight to face the looming threat. The responses were varied, but they all tended towards the same horizon – digital adoption.
It just made sense. With stay-at-home orders in place and an active quarantine state, companies could only use remote work and online collaboration to move forward during the pandemic. The shift towards digital technology was massive. Recent data reported by McKinsey shows that consumer and business digital adoption during the pandemic reached the level expected for the next five years. That’s five years worth of transformation in around eight weeks!
Impressive as it may seem, it wasn’t a path that most companies and organizations would have chosen under normal circumstances. Grocery stores and restaurants embraced e-commerce because the number of people walking into their physical locations dropped sharply. The same goes for banks that made their operations more flexible and quickly accommodated them online. Hospitals and clinics put their telemedicine solutions right and center, while schools started using Zoom for their classes. The examples go on and on.
The point is that the Coronavirus pandemic has pushed everyone to adopt digital technologies, driving a spike in the use of online platforms and applications. And while that’s a good thing (all of those companies would have been forced to become more digital in the future), how the adoption took place was full of bumps on the road. Given that the process itself was born in an emergency context, it’s understandable. However, companies can’t afford to go improvising their digital tech adoption process.
Instead, they need to devise a strategy that allows them to overcome the challenges of such a process. That’s a tall order for sure. That’s because the Coronavirus pandemic adds a new set of challenges to the ones already present in a typical digital transformation path. Since even the most optimistic of predictions believe that we’ll have a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, we’ll have to learn to live and do business with social distancing in mind.
All of that means that even businesses that feel somewhat comfortable with the digital shift they’ve taken during the pandemic need to strategize for what’s to come: a set of changes that are taking place right now and that will surely keep impacting our daily lives.
The Coronavirus Challenges
Digital transformation processes are already challenging in normal circumstances. They imply the reevaluation of the entire business workflow, the redefinition of tasks and roles, the adoption of numerous tools and applications, the workforce training, and even the modification of specific business values, attitudes, and overall culture. All of that it’s a relatively lengthy process that takes time and effort to prepare and execute.
Given that most of the companies right now were thrown into it overnight, it’s only natural for some of them to get accustomed to what it all means. Businesses working with remote teams might be discovering their overreliance on paper documentation or finding that there’s a lack of standardization in their processes.
As if that wasn’t enough, some pandemic-specific challenges make it even harder to make the transition. The most notable include:
- Customers’ expectations are changing. Since most of the customer-company interactions now happen online, people expect a straightforward, secure, and satisfactory experience with the companies they deal with. Without a proper strategy in place, addressing those demands in a digital environment can get hard quickly for any business.
- Market demands are unpredictable. Even when we’re a couple of months into this pandemic, there still isn’t clarity surrounding the behavior of the market demands. It’s hard to estimate how markets will act, as no one is sure about potential measures affecting our social lives or the economy. Which products will be in more demand and which will fall? Which customer segments will be more active? Will there be new demands?
- Unprepared workforce for remote work. Though there are numerous successful experiences of impromptu remote teams being born out of the pandemic, the reality is that a significant portion of the workforce isn’t prepared to work remotely. That may be due to lack of digital training, job expectations, lack of proper infrastructure, or even personal reasons.
It’s easy to see how this specific set of Coronavirus-related challenges will reshape the post-pandemic world. Surveys are showing that consumer habits will probably be different than those of the pre-crisis time, with a preponderance of online channels as the preferred medium of transaction. Market demands will take some time to recover and can even follow unpredictable paths after COVID-19 recedes. People who start working remotely today might feel tempted to stay that way after all this is over.
Of course, a proper digital adoption strategy can answer those challenges. There are several things a business can start doing today to address those particular issues while also smoothing out its transition into the real world.
Going Ahead with Digital Adoption
A lot of companies that have already begun their digital transformation processes know that doing so can be particularly hard. But that doesn’t have to be the case. While a process as global and massive will undoubtedly take a lot of time and effort, a proper strategy can bring notorious benefits to the whole organization.
That’s more true today than it ever was, as the Coronavirus-related challenges put yet another layer of complexity on top of the whole issue. Fortunately, there are several measures companies can take to tackle those complications and solidify their digital adoption processes in the coming months. Here are some of the most relevant ones:
- Reorganize and reprioritize digital budget: under normal circumstances, there are plenty of tasks going around and using up the digital budget. Since the pandemic needs companies to streamline their workflows, it’s better to start a digital adoption strategy by taking into account the existing infrastructure and practices to reorganize and reprioritize their components.
Doing so will free up some resources companies can reinvest in the process of furthering the digital adoption. Modernizing the tech stack, hiring cloud services, and digitally upskilling the workforce are among the things that should rank first in the priority list. All of that will better prepare the company for the times to come, times that call for more flexible and agile practices than ever before.
The key to successfully addressing this is to plan ahead and thoroughly define which components can be quickly turned around and which will take some time. Speed is a factor of significant importance, as the pandemic and the global disruption of the business landscape have impacted profitability for many companies and even for entire industries. However, that doesn’t mean that companies should put speed before anything else – each movement has to be calculated and provide the basis for further steps that allow for a swift response to the crisis.
- Adapt the team: the speed of the response can be increased with timely adaptations throughout the teams in the entire company. Fostering interdepartmental relationships and unleashing the potential of outsourcing can bring the needed flexibility and agility to tackle the challenges presented by the Coronavirus.
It’s essential to assess the current team’s abilities and shortcomings to design an interconnected workflow that aligns with the company’s key goals to pursue practical objectives in the short term. This means that companies need to analyze their in-house roles and devise a strategy to interconnect them better to respond to the most pressing issues.
Outsourcing partners can fill talent gaps. This is especially important throughout the company, as outsourcing companies can provide the necessary professionals for a wide variety of tasks, from software development and software QA to accounting and customer support.
- Implement customer-centric technologies and practices: we were already experiencing a more customer-centric approach to business, a phenomenon that the pandemic has deepened – and changed. Demands don’t just include more typical factors (price, quality, convenience, overall experience) but also other considerations, such as safety procedures and a brand stance on the pandemic.
Thus, the customer journey has changed and continues to do so. The best way to face that shift is to adopt technologies and practices that can go along with those new turns in the journey. Using an ecommerce platform can be a starting point. There are many more things to do from implementing AI solutions to automate and improve customer-facing tasks (product recommendations, payments, customer support) to using QA services to ensure that all digital tools are secure and running smoothly.
It’s highly important to consider technologies that can provide value in the short and midterms. Planning too far ahead might be counterproductive and end up costing more than just money. Companies need to focus on the most straightforward solutions to provide a tech foundation to base their future tech implementations later on.
- Embrace data for decision-making: linked to the point above, it’s essential to determine the KPIs that will evaluate the performance of all new technologies and practices. In that way, there’ll be metrics to measure against the hypothesis used to justify the tech solutions’ implementation. Besides, measuring performance can also lead to timely adjustments to provide further value.
That’s not all. Using big data algorithms can lead to valuable insights that will come in handy in the face of a very fluctuating market. Using AI to analyze data gathered across different channels, companies can forecast potential fluctuations, discover new business opportunities, and prepare internally for market shifts.
These algorithms aren’t flawless. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind two things. The first is to value the human component of business decisions, as algorithms, especially those in the early stages of development, are more about pattern discovery than actual suggestions. The second one is that there has to be a process in place to refine the algorithms with new data sets that ultimately lead to valuable insights.
A Quick Shift for a Better Adoption
The Coronavirus has pushed many companies into undesirable terrain. Facing a digital transformation during this pandemic can be a delicate matter that combines a unique set of challenges. All of them call for a quick shift in priorities, a detailed analysis of the situation, and a swift response in the key areas and practices that can make the most impact.
While it’s true that that sounds overwhelming, it’s essential not to fall victim to despair. Decisions taken on an organizational level have to be more laser-focused than ever, and despair won’t help with that. Instead, it’s better to bring all the executives along and discuss a plan that acknowledges the importance of digital tools to address the problems of this new world. Once that plan is developed, it’ ll be time to strictly follow it, as that’s the only way to turn this situation around.