How should CIOs and IT teams prepare for “the day after coronavirus”?
Success in the post-COVID era will require preparation, after all.
But to prepare properly, we must first understand how the pandemic will unfold.
In this guide, we’ll explore:
- What the world will look like after the coronavirus
- Why digital technology and transformation are so necessary
- How CIOs and IT teams can plan for the post-viral age
To start, let’s look at how the pandemic will impact the economy in the months and years ahead.
Many analysts and research firms predict that the post-COVID world will look very different.
For example, firms such as McKinsey, Accenture, and others suggest that:
- Customer expectations and needs will fundamentally change. In the wake of the pandemic, health and safety will become far more important for consumers. Even after spending levels return, those health concerns will likely remain, at least to a certain extent. They will continue to shape buying preferences, shopping behavior, brand choices, and more.
- The workplace and the workforce will transform. Health concerns will also affect the workplace in the post-COVID age. We have already seen the mass implementation of remote working, as well as increased hygiene practices. Though these practices may roll back to an extent, health will remain a priority in public life, at home, and in the workplace. These trends will continue to fuel trends such as remote working, automation, and digital adoption.
- Governments will become more involved in public health and the economy. In response to the coronavirus, government restrictions have been implemented in countries around the globe. After the coronavirus, many businesses will experience more regulations and requirements designed to increase public safety.
- The business landscape will shift significantly. A number of trends will shape the post-COVID business landscape. Many industries have suffered great financial losses during the crisis, for instance, resulting in bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions, and more. At the same time, a few have actually advanced. The result will be a marketplace that looks far different from the 2019 economic landscape.
- Global digital transformation will drive greater adoption and organizational change. Despite decreased IT budgets, several technology-related fields have made significant progress. Remote working software, robotics, automation platforms, and telehealth are just a few examples. In the coming months and years, we can expect to see more growth in these areas, as well as emerging technologies such as AR, VR, and IoT.
Many of these effects will be deep, lasting, and irreversible – the advancement of certain technologies, for instance, will permanently affect the marketplace.
As a result, we cannot expect that the world will simply return to the same normal that we once knew.
Instead, organizations should prepare for a new normal, or, as McKinsey calls it, “the next normal.”
There are many areas to focus on when planning for this paradigm shift, and one of the most important ways to prepare is through digital transformation.
Why Business Leaders Should Fast-Track Digital Transformation
There are several indications that, despite the current financial downturn, digital transformation is actually accelerating.
For example, as mentioned above, a few important trends are advancing, such as:
- Virtual interactions and communication. As business leaders know, remote working exploded during the early months of 2020. That trend resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of certain types of software, such as video conferencing tools and automated employee training software.
- Robotics. Robots have been used to clean streets, greet customers, enforce social distancing, and pack meat. Certain use cases may disappear after the pandemic, but these implementations will only fuel further adoption and investment.
- Automation. Automation, such as robotic process automation (RPA), can significantly improve organizational efficiency, reduce error rates, and more. There has always been a use case for automation platforms such as these. But, as with many other trends mentioned here, the crisis has propelled their adoption and we will only see more adoption in the years to come.
- Telehealth and telemedicine. Telehealth, telemedicine, and telecare are concerned with providing remote care and consultations to patients. Since remote treatment is safer, more convenient, and less costly, it should not be surprising that these practices were used extensively during the pandemic.
Other research indicates that, although overall IT spending has decreased, digital transformation continues to receive investment.
Trends such as these strongly suggest that in the days, weeks, and months after coronavirus, we will emerge into a world that is far more digital.
The Benefits of Digital Transformation
Perhaps the biggest reason to invest in digital transformation is because it will allow a company to stay relevant and competitive. After all, if the entire economy moves forward, organizations that don’t keep pace will get left behind.
More specifically, however, an organization that pursues digital transformation initiatives can enhance:
- The digital, virtual workplace. The digital workplace forms the backbone of the digital organization – and in the post-COVID era, every organization will be digital. Digital transformation efforts should emphasize the workplace, the workforce, and the employee experience. After all, the effectiveness of the workplace directly affects the organization’s performance.
- Digital resilience and cyber security. Organizations must have the ability to resist and rebound from cyber attacks, which is nothing new. However, as businesses adopt new technology and virtualize their workforce, they become more vulnerable to attacks or losses. Maintaining strong cyber security programs, therefore, is a must.
- Operational efficiency. Better technology, IT systems, and IT infrastructure almost always enhance efficiency throughout the organization. These productivity increases can increase speed and agility, which are two other important traits to focus on in these uncertain times.
- Competitive positioning. Technology-driven innovation and performance gains can help companies better position themselves in tomorrow’s marketplace. That positioning will naturally differ depending on a business’s circumstances and can include lower prices, new value propositions, and more. Regardless of the positioning, technology will often be required to implement such changes.
Below, we will look at how to design a digital transformation strategy that achieves these goals.
A 5-Stage Digital Transformation Agenda
To truly benefit from digital transformation, several things are necessary:
- A digitally savvy workforce. A digitally skilled workforce has become mandatory in the modern enterprise. According to research by PwC, for instance, a lack of key skills can limit an organization’s ability to innovate. And the World Economic Forum claims that by 2022, everyone will need an extra 101 days of learning. Digital training, therefore, should play a central role in any digital transformation program.
- A digital-first strategy. Businesses must be ready to adapt their strategies to a new reality. In the digital economy, that strategy should leverage digital technology as much as possible. The focus must extend far beyond performance gains, however. Technology should be used to drive innovation, improve the customer experience, and even transform the business.
- Overall digital maturity. Digital maturity represents an organization’s overall digital capabilities. A digitally mature organization is one that has advanced IT systems, a digitally savvy workforce, an ecosystem of technology partners, and well-designed digital workflows. As the digital economy grows, digital maturity will become more and more essential.
By aligning business strategy and a digital transformation plan around these goals, business leaders will be able to achieve many of the benefits covered earlier – most importantly, they will help prepare the organization for the digital, post-pandemic world.
Digital adoption is a core component of any digital transformation program, and businesses will undoubtedly adopt new solutions as their digital transformation agendas move forward.
- Remote collaboration tools keep workers productive and safe
- Automation platforms take over certain business functions and tasks, without requiring human labor
- Data, AI, and analytics offer insight into customer sentiment, behavior, and spending patterns
- Ecommerce solutions provide products and services online, for either B2B or B2C companies
- Digital adoption platforms train employees inside applications, allowing remote workers to learn from anywhere
These types of solutions can be implemented throughout the stages below, though the adoption time frame will depend on a number of factors, such as the organization’s existing digital capabilities.
1. Respond and recover
During the first few months of the outbreak, remote working software became a lifeline to many companies. Zoom, for instance, saw a significant uptick in usage during the first quarter of 2020.
Organizations around the globe adopted such software in order to stay operational and flexible during the “crisis” stage of the outbreak, when damage control was the top concern.
During this stage, companies mostly focused on:
- Business continuity. Business continuity planning focuses on protecting key business functions after a disaster, an emergency, or other events that disrupt business operations. These plans are designed to minimize the negative impacts of those disruptions, particularly the financial effects.
- Protecting the people. Protecting people should also be another main focus during a crisis. On the one hand, this entails protecting people’s health and safety through proper workplace procedures. On the other hand, it can include measures that protect other aspects of employees’ well-being, such as their finances or their emotional health.
- Restoring business operations. Once feasible, the next aim should be the restoration of business operations. Restoring operations is by no means easy, and will depend on other factors, such as lockdown procedures, customer demand, and the supply chain’s viability.
Though the initial spike of global infections has died down, secondary waves and outbreaks could easily result in more government restrictions and business disruptions. For that reason, businesses should have plans designed specifically for those scenarios.
2. Optimize and stabilize
The economic downturn began soon after the health crisis, and that financial slowdown will have lasting repercussions.
After responding to immediate threats to people’s safety, business operations, and the supply chain, costs became the next priority.
During this stage, it naturally pays to invest in technology solutions that can optimize costs and help the organization stabilize its operations, such as ecommerce or automation platforms.
From a strategic perspective, it pays to invest in digital programs that improve:
- Cost-efficiency. Financial problems have mounted for organizations across the globe, resulting in a number of business failures, cost-cutting measures, and organizational changes. Technology can also help reduce costs: telecommuting can lower office overhead, automation platforms can decrease workflow costs, and so forth.
- Workforce performance. A number of organizations have chosen to retain their employees, despite worksite closures and restrictions. In such cases, this presents an opportune time to train employees in order to improve their performance and efficiency.
- Agility. Organizational agility has also become mandatory in the modern business world. And, in the post-COVID economy, agility will be even more necessary. To stay agile and adaptable, businesses should adopt data-driven technology, digital adoption platforms, real-time analytics, and other tools that boost organizational responsiveness.
At this point, it is too early for most organizations to consider investments in emerging technologies or research and development – given the state of the global economy during this period, long-term survival comes first.
3. Build resilience
To survive the long-term financial downturn, organizational resilience should become a top priority.
Technology can play a significant role in this regard, by reducing financial damage, improving adaptability, enabling the virtual workforce, automating business processes, and more.
Here are a few points to consider when steeling the organization for long-term survival:
- Tech suppliers and vendors should also be chosen based on their reliability and reputation – established, well-connected providers will prove to be better partners throughout the financial crisis
- Business process standardization, optimization, and redesign can also be improved through the proper implementation of technology
- Supply chains, likewise, can be made more resilient and agile with the proper digital technology, such as supply chain management or procurement platforms
With agility and resilience as the main focus, organizations will be able to survive further restrictions, disruptions, and financial difficulties.
4. Pursue growth opportunities
As restrictions recede, business operations can begin returning to pre-COVID levels.
With economically sound, targeted investments, organizations can:
- Resume research and development. As the economy restarts, ongoing research and development projects should resume. At the same time, however, budgets and customer spending will undoubtedly remain muted. Businesses should adopt lean and agile practices in order to reduce waste and improve turnaround times.
- Accelerate organizational changes. Organizations will need to make fundamental changes to stay operational and competitive in the post-viral era, as mentioned elsewhere in this guide. In many cases, organizational change should be pushed to the top of the strategic agenda – such changes will, after all, be survival traits for many companies.
- Invest in emerging technology. AI, IoT, robotics, and other technologies will become standard in the new normal. Early adopters will be able to realize the full value of those technologies early on. In many cases, they will be able to innovate and gain an advantage.
- Innovate. Innovation has been critical during the digital age, and it will be just as crucial during the fourth industrial revolution. As we progress deeper into that revolution and the post-COVID era, innovation will become more necessary in order to evolve and make progress. In short, we can expect the fourth industrial revolution to move just as fast, or faster, than the digital revolution.
Volatility in the marketplace will have reshaped industries substantially by this time.
That uncertainty will, on the one hand, leave many organizations in a precarious position. Yet these same business conditions will unveil new opportunities for growth and development.
5. Reimagine the enterprise for the next normal
“The day after coronavirus,” as mentioned, will be far different in many ways from the pre-COVID age.
To succeed in that era, it will not be enough to follow the steps above – instead, companies must be willing to reimagine and reform their companies.
These organizational changes can revolve around:
- Strategies. If the competitive landscape changes, then business strategies may also be required to change. New competitors, customer expectations, and marketplace dynamics, for instance, may require an organization to completely shift its strategy and value proposition.
- Operations. Operations should become digital, agile, resilient, and efficient. The current crisis has revealed a number of problems with current operational models, such as supply chain vulnerabilities. One of the best way to solve these types of problems is through digital transformation and adoption.
- Business processes. Business process management, as many business leaders know, is an ideal way to increase efficiency and performance. An organization undergoing constant change, however, may find it necessary to continually redesign, improve, and standardize business processes.
- Organizational structure. When a company undergoes major changes, organizational structure must also change. These changes can be minor, such as the assignment of a digital transformation task force. Or they can be quite large, involving the reassignment of entire teams and departments. In any event, business leaders should be prepared to restructure the business if needed.
- Supply chains. Supply chains around the world suffered major disruptions during the crisis. Though these disruptions are natural, they also reveal the vulnerabilities of the modern supply chain structure. To minimize risk, business leaders should invest in an agile, intelligent supply chain.
- Customer experience. Customer expectations and needs, as mentioned, will evolve continuously as the marketplace evolves. Technology should be leveraged as much as possible to track customer sentiment, analyze data, and deliver seamless, multi-channel customer experiences.
In some cases, it may be necessary to transform the entire organization from the ground up.
Choosing these changes will depend, of course, on the actual economy and the business environment of the post-COVID landscape.
To prepare properly for that landscape, businesses must carefully examine their own industry and their own capabilities, as well as the shape of the post-viral digital world.
The Post-COVID Digital Landscape: A Guide for CIOs and IT Teams
Earlier, we briefly covered a few of the major trends and changes that we can expect to face in the post-viral age.
Now, let’s see how these trends will unfold across the digital landscape.
Here are a few trends to watch and plan for in the coming months and years:
The Future of Work
The future of work is being fast-tracked, as are many of the other trends covered here.
Telecommuting, for example, has undergone rapid adoption in a short period of time, due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
After the pandemic, that trend, among others, will continue to influence the digital workplace.
Here are a few trends to plan for:
- More remote working. Remote working has become the norm during the crisis. Although that trend may abate somewhat after the crisis ends, we can still expect an increased interest in remote working, both from employees and employers. Telecommuting technology can improve employee performance, job satisfaction, while also cutting costs for employers and preventing the risk of infection.
- Advances in automation, AI, and data. The proper use of these technologies can generate significant productivity gains wherever they are employed. Though job displacement remains a concern for some, employees are happy to retrain in order to work alongside automation tools. With proper training platforms, such as digital adoption platforms, workers can stay productive and happy, allowing organizations to keep up in the automation race.
- Changes to employee expectations and needs. Employees’ expectations will also shift as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. To meet these changed perceptions and needs, businesses should adapt their workplace accordingly. This can mean remote working, flex-time, altered workspaces, and the deployment of health-related services and technology.
- An increased need for employee training. Since organizations will be evolving in tandem with the fourth industrial revolution, employees must receive ongoing training to keep up. Traditional training, however, simply cannot keep up – classroom training, for instance, isn’t scalable or efficient. Just-in-time training solutions, such as digital adoption platforms (DAPs), offer an ideal alternative that maximizes productivity and enhances the user experience.
Developing a fully digital workplace for the next normal will require a multi-pronged strategy that includes new systems, a new culture, and a new workplace strategy.
The focus should also be directed outwards, however, to embrace the customer and the marketplace.
Customers and Connectedness
Tomorrow’s world will be far more connected than today’s.
The implementation of 5G, virtual technologies, remote working, and similar trends will all fuel a B2C marketplace that is more digital, more virtual, and more innovative.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as mentioned, is accelerating many trends in this arena, so businesses can expect:
- Changed customer expectations. There are several trends to watch for, according to Accenture. Home-related products and services, for instance, will become far more popular, since people will spend more time at home to protect their health. Trust will also be harder to come by, so companies will have to work harder to build up confidence in their customers.
- New health and safety needs. Accenture also suggests that health will become relevant to every business. Where relevant, health features can become differentiators for certain products – and they may even be required in some instances. Public transport, for instance, may be required to implement certain health-related features and devices.
- An increased demand for virtual solutions. The virtual world will take off in the coming years, and we will see virtual interactions, products, platforms, and services skyrocket. In part, this trend will be fueled by people’s desire to stay safe and healthy. But it will also be propelled by other advantages, such as convenience, cost, and the virtual experience.
Note that many of these trends will also impact the B2B world as well.
Businesses that market to other businesses will be just as likely to benefit from adopting virtual technology, delivering health-centric features, and so forth.
We have already covered digital technology a great deal, but we will recap a few of the main strategies to focus on:
- Infrastructure. Infrastructure and systems form the foundation of an organization’s digital capabilities, upon which all other digital operations depend.
- Security. Cybersecurity and digital resilience will stay important in the coming years, since digital evolution often opens up new security vulnerabilities.
- Innovation. Innovation and disruption will continue to set leaders apart from laggards as we enter the post-COVID era.
- Digital maturity and savviness. Having a digitally savvy workforce doesn’t just improve productivity, it improves engagement, innovation, and the employee experience.
The future will be digital and, as mentioned, that future will be coming faster than ever as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the crucial role that technology will play in the post-COVID economy, CIOs and IT teams should coordinate closely with other business departments.
The Economic Landscape
Digital technology will also affect the shape of the post-COVID economy and individual markets.
When developing digital transformation plans, business leaders should analyze:
- Industries. Every industry has been impacted differently by COVID-19 and each industry will continue to evolve at a different pace. Organizations will need to carefully assess their own markets, their suppliers, their customers, and other variables that will impact their performance down the line. The pace of digital evolution will also differ from industry to industry, which will affect organizations’ transformation agendas.
- Supply chains. Supply chains will also adapt as the pandemic continues unfolding. In the coming years, suppliers will come and go, merge, adopt new technology, and more. To stay relevant and resilient, organizations should evolve their supply chains by adopting IoT, AI, real-time analytics, and other necessary technologies.
- International trade. Political dynamics will also evolve rapidly. Relations between nations can have a number of effects on the organization, affecting audiences, supply chains, profit margins, and more. These developments can be difficult to predict, which is yet another reason to adopt technology that improves organizational agility and resilience.
- Public health regulations. Public health regulations, as mentioned, may impact the business. New requirements may be implemented that restrict the volume of customers, introduce hygiene requirements, and so forth. Technology may be required to implement many of these changes, making digital transformation a necessity.
Every organization will be impacted differently, depending on variables such as the industry, the region, one’s own supply chain, and so forth.
Regardless of those conditions, global forces will also fuel continued digital transformation across continents, which should compel every organization to accelerate its own digital transformation efforts. The more digitally capable an organization is, after all, the better it will be able to compete in the global arena.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): A Deeper Dive into the Next Normal
To offer more insight into the next normal, let’s address a few questions that often come up when discussing the post-COVID age:
- Why won’t the world “go back to normal”? Many of the trends we have covered in this article are simply too profound, long-lasting, and powerful. Given the length and depth of the crisis, it will undoubtedly leave a lasting psychological mark on people in every nation. Likewise, certain trends are simply irreversible, such as the advances made in certain technology fields.
- When should I take action? Every business’s circumstances are unique, so the answer to that question will vary. In general, though, businesses should embark on their digital transformation journey as soon as possible – those that wait too long will need to spend more in order to catch up to their competitors.
- How can I keep my workers happy and safe? Remote working has its advantages, but it can also be isolating. In these difficult times, it is essential to ensure that workers stay emotionally healthy. Only so much can be done under these circumstances, but useful actions include: offering emotional support services, training employees on telecommuting best practices, and communicating frequently with employees online.
- When will the pandemic end? As of this writing, many experts predict that a vaccine may become available towards the middle of 2021. These are just estimates, however, and progress continues to be made by research institutions around the globe.
Naturally, the future is still unwritten, so there are no final answers.
However, given the current trends and data, most major research firms agree that we are entering a new era that will look much like the picture we have painted here.
Conclusion: Leverage Technology to Survive and Thrive After COVID-19
Digital transformation is the pathway to take in order to future-proof one’s business in the next normal.
The pandemic has resulted in a financial crisis that will have a lasting impact on the global economy, the workplace, and society as a whole. These times are difficult and trying for businesses in every corner of the world.
Despite these difficult times, however, the world after coronavirus will present us with opportunities to grow.
The fourth industrial revolution is just beginning, after all, and the scope of that revolution will exceed the internet revolution.
Organizations that prepare properly and take action early will stand a much better chance of succeeding in that era – and CIOs will play a central role in charting a path forward.
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.