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Digital Transformation in the COVID-19 Era: 3 Things Your Business Should Start Thinking Hard About

Matt Klassen

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A crisis has a knack for exposing what’s most important.

The coronavirus pandemic is challenging the fundamental fabric of our society: do people feel safe financially, do people have access to necessary healthcare services, do people still feel connected and supported even when quarantined at home, the list goes on. And as challenging as these questions are to confront, they are shedding light on what the most important issues are in the world right now, giving us the opportunity to solve them.

The same could be said for every single business on the planet.

A crisis always reveals the maturity of an organization. When the business landscape shifts, the rules change, and unforeseen challenges enter the equation, both the good and the bad within a company come to light. You can see, more clearly than ever, what made the company successful in the past. And you can see what is now keeping it from being successful in the future.

If there’s an optimistic point of view to be found within the coronavirus pandemic, it’s this: The challenges of today will tell you precisely how you need to reimagine your business for tomorrow.

Digital Transformation in the COVID-19 Era

The moment COVID-19 started causing arenas to shut down, cities to enforce “shelter at home” restrictions, restaurants to close, etc., companies all over the world were thrown into a reactive survival mode. What most may not have understood at that time was they were actually forced into an accelerated transformation mode.

For example, my friend’s company has call centers in other locations around the world. They had opted for cheaper manual labor vs. higher levels of intelligence and automation. 

As soon as the coronavirus started to be taken very seriously on a global scale, their call center in Guatemala was put on 24-hour notice, which sent approximately three-quarters of their entire customer support team home. Unfortunately, the company hadn’t previously invested in setting up infrastructure for remote workers, which meant as soon as the rules changed, the company was not equipped to pivot. Their only choice was to make digital investments to build a more efficient remote customer center staff in the United States.

Like most companies, the choice not to invest in transformative digital technologies in the past had been to keep costs low. But when a crisis hits, suddenly a spotlight is shone on internal workflows, processes and technologies. Any business that had not previously invested in real-time collaboration, digital workflow automation, and omni-channel self-service, is now 100% shifting their priorities in this direction.

So, how do you do that?

And more importantly, when time is paramount, what are the most effective ways of transforming your business, using technology, quickly but effectively?

1. Digital transformation is not just about reducing costs and improving efficiencies. 

A lot of times, companies will approach the topic of digital transformation by throwing a chatbot or a software tool at a problem without thinking through who’s going to use it, how often, and why. 

But simply incorporating “machine learning” or “artificial intelligence” isn’t the answer. 

The answer comes from connecting the dots and really understanding how these technologies are going to move the organization forward from a business perspective.

  • What business metrics can you improve by reducing the number of touchpoints between a request and a successful outcome?
  • Who (employees, customers, etc.) can you empower in order to drive the most long-term value for the business? 
  • How does engagement impact the business? If employees, for example, are engaged, and ultimately more productive, what does this equate to for the company as a whole?

2. Digital transformation in the COVID-19 era means prioritizing the future of work.

Remote real-time collaboration. Accelerated cloud migration. Omni-channel self-service. Automation to make work flow.

A lot of organizations have been thinking about the future of work for quite some time now, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 really started spreading that businesses realized this needed to become a higher priority. Again, this crisis has exposed each business’s backlog of initiatives, and right now, every business on the planet is moving “the future of work” to the top of their priority list.

What this means is:

  • If you were thinking about whether to move more of your data center to the cloud, you are now going to do so. 
  • If you were thinking about investing in projects to automate certain aspects of the business to improve the efficiency of your workforce long-term, you are now going to do so.
  • If you were thinking about moving more of your company remote to reduce overhead costs, you are now going to do so.

The future of work is going to evolve tremendously out of this crisis. And so now is the time to set up the right infrastructure, and be intentional with how you build the next generation of your business. You have to think about how your organization is going to transition from where you are today (and be clear about how you’re measuring that), and where you want to be tomorrow (and the milestone you need to hit in order to achieve your goal: cutting your in-office workforce by 50%, for example).

3. Digital transformation means embracing change.

Any downturn is a wake-up call. 

It’s an adjustment in the market that forces leaders to say, “We are not going to emerge from this era as the same company we were before.” 

We have been helping companies with this for years here at Cherwell, and I can tell you firsthand that digital transformation within a business is a team effort. It requires buy-in on every level, and a desire to not see problems as granular (“Which type of productivity tool should we use?”) but to view efficiency and effectiveness through a broader lens. For example, instead of thinking about just “IT efficiencies,” examining employee productivity as a whole. 

These are the bigger questions that will ultimately allow the organization to evolve.

If you look at the list of companies that have been top-rated companies from an employee perspective, flexibility has been a priority for a very long time. And flexibility is absolutely part of the future of work. People today are looking for more than just an eight-to-five or nine-to-five office job—and customers are looking for more than just a vendor. What people truly want, on both sides of the equation, is to feel like they are being treated as an individual. 

On the employee side, that means having the flexibility to work in the way that best fits the needs and demands of their lifestyle (kids, etc.), and on the customer side, that means having flexibility in the solution being provided to them—so that it fits precisely what they’re looking for.

Vice President, Product Marketing — I’m a dot connector. Creating connections between customer needs, meaningful content, and technology are how I solve our customers’ challenges. And that’s what product marketing – and Cherwell – are all about.

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