While businesses have been focusing on the immediate challenge of keeping the lights on during the Covid-19 outbreak, digital transformation projects have been placed on hold. For many businesses, however, it has also demonstrated the importance of digital transformation: businesses with strong digital capabilities have been able to adapt more quickly and are likely to revive faster and emerge stronger.
With the crisis pushing digital transformation projects back by three to six months, businesses are currently playing catch-up. It’s clear to senior management, however, that without digital transformation, their businesses won’t recover with the vigour they need. With this in mind, digital transformation projects are increasingly grabbing the attention of senior managers as somewhat of a partnership between business leaders and IT leaders rather than a project led by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
The fact that digital transformation is now commanding the attention of the CFO or CEO gives IT departments a better opportunity than ever to have their voice heard on the shape and timeline of upcoming digital projects. In general, the pandemic has significantly improved the perception of IT departments: As one technology head commented: “Having gone through Covid, our department’s credibility has gone through the roof. Now, everyone thinks everything is possible.”
So, what’s changed?
1. Customer and employee experience
The biggest area of change senior decision makers are focusing on is employee and customer experience.
The business rationale for improving employee experience is clear: faced with an indefinite period of social distancing, employees need to be able to perform day-to-day tasks effectively no matter where they are. Considering the increased threat of cybercrime that’s come as a result of the virus, security is also a major concern for businesses and their customers; corporations cannot afford to take their eye off the ball.
It’s become clear to business leaders that there will be no rapid return to normality. Some organisations have started to look at hybrid working models, with employees working in the office for half of the week and at home for the remainder, for example. The crisis has also opened up conversation around even bigger changes: some smaller or more digitally-proficient businesses are contemplating more radical questions: ‘Do we need permanent workspaces at all? Could we just use pop-up sites or shared working spaces instead?’
In an increasingly competitive market with more companies vying for a shrinking consumer spending pot, delivering a better customer journey using technology has become a major priority for many organisations. Devising a compelling API (application programming interface) strategy to facilitate tools such as chatbots has been a key development area, with many companies jumping to implement them after having seen their competitors doing so.
Whichever form it takes, digital transformation has been widely praised as a way for organisations to achieve operational resilience at a time when weaknesses are being ruthlessly exposed. In short, there is ‘no way out’ of digitisation for business leaders.
2. Delivery of transformation projects
With a significant number of people working from home, some management teams are concerned about challenges regarding the delivery of digital transformation. Can the journey be delivered remotely? Can leaders energise their workforces for the road ahead without face-to-face time? If one thing is clear, it’s that many businesses will need to revisit the way they approach digital transformation projects in order to accommodate the ‘new normal’.
Even under normal circumstances, digital projects can fail if goals are not clear from the outset; this often results in insufficient buy-in from key business heads and/or explicit or implicit disagreement about the purpose of transformation. In a post-Covid world, these goals may have changed, so it’s worth revisiting existing plans to make sure they still make sense for the future. In the vast majority of instances, the business case for digital transformation will be stronger, but business heads still need to be fully engaged with any changes being made.
Moreover, the real issue is paying for digital transformation amid constrained budgets. While it may save costs in the long term, upfront costs can be significant, and unachievable for some businesses. This is particularly relevant within the public sector, where the unexpected costs of making it through the pandemic are severely affecting budgets.
One potential solution is to redirect transformation budgets from physical to digital initiatives. With the attention of senior leaders helping to push budgets towards digital transformation, instead of asking whether they can afford it, many are now asking whether they can afford not to implement these initiatives! That said, many CTOs and CIOs agree that having a clear project workflow that is seen and understood across the business is still a crucial measure. Ensuring that requests can be properly prioritised and expectations managed creates less pressure to undertake low-priority work and frees up resources for digital transformation projects.
3. Transparent, cross-functional approach
Now more than ever, open and transparent decision making is of utmost importance to the overall success of delivery projects. One digital leader we spoke to is encouraging his team to share their ideas and progress on Slack rather than through email. Their reasoning? “We needed to stop it being a siloed conversation. We have monthly architecture forums where key decisions and tool selections are discussed.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, there is still a skills gap that needs to be addressed in order for businesses to effectively implement digital transformation programmes. Hiring is frozen, and yet many companies lack in-house knowledge of the Cloud or designing APIs. For many, the solution has generally been to lean on strategic partners while building skills up internally.
We believe that culture is the final piece of the puzzle. Can technology leaders change their organisation’s core attitudes and help everyone embrace digital change? For many, digitising in silos seldom brings the hoped-for rewards; successful transformation requires a cross-functional approach.