It’s been a year since the onset of the novel coronavirus. March marked the anniversary when millions of people worked from home indefinitely. Workers created makeshift office spaces in living rooms, kitchens, and spare bedrooms . Shelter-in-place orders took effect across the globe, the markets tanked, and millions of lives were lost to the deadliest pandemic in modern times.
In the digital world, organizations quickly re-worked their digital transformation strategy. Businesses swiftly relied more and more on the cloud to support a scattered workforce. Some relied on more innovative technologies to create immersive experiences for customers feeling isolated. Others began using emerging software technologies to fight the spread of Covid-19. Global businesses redefined digital transformation services as they adjusted to the demands of a new world.
2020 became the year that accelerated the digital transformation.
What Is Digital Transformation?
Think of digital transformation as a process that ties all aspects of business operations with all aspects of digital technology. Business and digital integrate to transform how an organization produces and delivers products and services. The integration brings great value to clients and creates an easy and pleasant customer experience.
Digital transformation also hinges on cultural change. Organizations have to constantly pivot toward accepting new methods of solving problems that occur with changing digital technologies. Changes are reflected in the culture of a company. Remember when open workplaces replaced cubicles? Employees interacted differently, more casually and that created mass cultural change worldwide.
Big Tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have traditionally been leading with digital transformations.
But the onset of the novel coronavirus broke us from this norm. What we’ve seen the last few months are major adjustments that tipped, pushed—maybe even throttled—some organizations into a digital transformation that changed the culture, production and delivery of goods and services.
Technologies that were once seen as disruptive are now more mainstream. With shelter-in-place measures, many people have become more dependent on a digital way of life and that’s pushed B2Cs to restructure their digital roadmap. As a response, businesses are relying more on emerging technologies once deemed as revolutionary, expensive and optional, such as AI chat bots, shopping with a virtual assistant or customer journey personalization. These rapid changes have forced B2C companies to tap into their digital infrastructure in ways they hadn’t planned for (or budgeted).
When we emerge from the pandemic, our technological landscape will be completely different. Even as revenue streams take a hit, in order to survive, organizations are harnessing the power of digital transformation.
The Heart of Digital Transformation: Customer Experience
Customer experience (CX) is at the core of the digital transformation. At a time when we’re separated from loved ones and anxiety about the spread of Covid-19 is high, many B2C companies are reanalyzing how their CX is impacting the lives of people.
Companies who understand the value of creating good CX are using empathy to better communicate with clients and create a more pleasant digital experience.
Strategy+Business reports CX and digital interaction should convey messaging the company cares, especially during the pandemic:
You must be more human across those virtual channels, too, because people can’t get that touch in other ways. So think about how you can embed human interactions, be honest with your customers about what’s changed, and surprise them with unexpected, caring gestures.
Businesses must show they understand their customers’ hardships and shift focus away from the hard sell to messages of well-being. Large organizations, like Amazon and Costco, that depend on online deliveries have put messages on their home pages that the health and safety of employees and customers is their highest priority.
Harvard Business Review reportsin order to show commitment to public safety, Chiquita Brands removed Miss Chiquita from their iconic banana logo, writing on their Instagram page, “I’m already home. Please do the same and protect yourself.” Feel-good content that promotes positive messaging will go a long way in enhancing a company’s appeal.
Smart companies are using their digital distribution channels to convey a very humane message at a time when we’re having communal trauma.
And it’s not only in the messaging, CX also needs a customer journey personalization.
While organizations have been bold in explaining their vulnerability in the face of the pandemic, they’ve strengthened their CX by prioritizing customer journey personalization. Online ordering capacities, delivery services and call center accessibilities have all been transformed with augmentations to digital platforms.
Across the core channels, customers are seeking a CX that tells them the company understands we’re in a difficult time. CX has to hug and hand hold the client while customer journey personalization has to lead the client to what they’re lookin for.
Online retailers know the browse-to-purchase journey entails showing people lots of love. Now that we can’t walk into a store and have 1:1 face interaction, smart retailers are engaging with clients to personalize the shopping experience. They’re turning to voice commerce and virtual assistants as a way to show CX TLC in the customer journey personalization.
Amazon’s Echo, the Walmart Voice Order, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Alexa and others are helping people have an easier, shorter and more pleasant experience of ordering goods and services during the pandemic.
B2Cs have shown the digital transformation is about showing love and support through revised CX and customer journey personalization, especially during this unprecedented and challenging time.
The heart of digital transformation’s message is not just focused on customers but also on employees’ well-being—and that includes augmenting the digital workforce.
The Brain of Digital Transformation: The Rise of an Augmented Workforce
Behind the digital transformation is an integration of technologies with manufacturing. The mergence creates a symbiotic relationship that makes the online world go round. Whether we’re talking about manufacturing goods or services, an augmented workforce is foundational to almost all present-day operations.
That’s because companies are looking to amplify use of emerging technologies to help sustain an augmented workforce, keep costs down, improve CX and adjust their operational agility to meet all the demands of a Covid-19 world.
A prime example of how augmentation has risen in the workforce is with call centers. Call centers have been inundated since business began closing in March.
With Covid-19, organizations adjusted their operational agility by restructuring call centers using human and robotic elements. Large conglomerates like Barclays and British Gas had to provide armies of call center employees the ability to work from home. To alleviate the strain on inundated call centers, companies provided updated information online before a customer would need to contact a representative.
Call centers have both elements of humans and robots to augment CX and employee well-being. During the onset of the pandemic, British Gas couldn’t get to all the client calls, but they made it possible for call centers to be moved to employee homes.
“We’ve had a huge amount of work to do to try and get all our call centers mobilized in terms of working from home and getting laptops to people,” says Debra Walmsley, Head of Customer Research and Insight at British Gas.
This was the case for so many organizations: some of the CX would be momentarily strained while businesses organized to put the safety of workers first.
Financial protection insurers, Umum, published The Future of Workplace 2020 report showing that protecting employees’ well-being is a major driver for the digital transformation. More than half of employers say health and safety efforts have led to better employee morale and engagement by 56%.
An augmented workforce largely relies on robotic help. Smart companies still maintain the human connection clients crave but they rely even more on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and intelligent automation to help sustain CX and business goals as they transitioned employees to shelter in place.
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash
Technavio, a Berkshire Hathaway research company, has been monitoring the RPA market. A recent report states it’s poised to grow by some $7.4 million during 2020-2024. The number is based on an updated analysis regarding “the current market scenario, latest trends and drivers, and the overall market environment.”
Using RPA as part of the work force strategy is helping organizations not only operate more efficiently but create a sustainable infrastructure for the future because RPA is capable of learning and adapting to changing circumstances. MarketWatch reports RPA is:
anticipated to drive the proliferation of the robotic process automation market in the forthcoming years. Some of the advantages offered by RPA and expected to influence the market favorably are low cost, higher efficiency, etc.
Call centers aren’t alone in augmenting with robotics during Covid-19 for employee well-being. Walmart has robots scrubbing its floors. In South Korea robots are taking temperatures and distributing hand sanitizer in workplaces. McDonald’s has been testing robots as cooks and servers.
Covid-19 made organizations expand the use of an augmented workforce. But any organization can create or leverage augmentation with sound digital strategy. That involves relocating assets and money to building and sustaining a workforce that can work both remotely and flexibly.
Employees and customers are looking at company heads to lead the digital transformation, at least until we emerge in a post-Covid-19 world.
The Spirit of Digital Transformation: Cultural Shift on Tech Leadership
At center stage helping with the pandemic response have been the heads of Big Tech. In March, the White House asked Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Cisco and Twitter for assistance. The U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Michael Kratsios, convened a video and phone conference.
Politico reported: “The White House urged tech companies Wednesday to fight coronavirus disinformation and other harmful content on their platforms, while also using their technical know-how to assist the government with its own response to the expanding outbreak.”
“Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Kratsios in a statement afterward.
Since the pandemic started, the role of Big Tech has changed. For the past three and a half years there’s been a backlash against companies like Amazon and Facebook, who’ve been roiled with competition and privacy issues. But, the pandemic halted the so-called techlash.
Big Tech is now at the center of response to the pandemic. In terms of the digital transformation, the heads of these major companies have stepped in to subsidize government aid. In Wired, Steven Levy writes that an overwhelming health crisis has changed the way we see these tech giants:
While Big Tech’s misdeeds are still apparent, their actual deeds now matter more to us. We’re using Facebook to comfort ourselves while physically bunkered and social distancing. Google is being conscripted as the potential hub of one of our greatest needs—Covid-19 testing. Our personal supply chain—literally the only way many of us are getting food and vital supplies—is Amazon.
Who knew the techlash was susceptible to a virus?
While Big Tech has been charitable pre-Covid-19, the response has been unprecedented.
Photo by United Nations on Unsplash
Facebook is helping make more Covid-19 tests available to the Bay Area and committed $20 million to the United Nations Foundation, World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the Center For Disease Control Foundation. Google pledged $8 billion and 3 million face masks.
IBM, Cisco, Twitter and others have donated billions of dollars and resources to fight the spread of Covid-19, help advance breakthroughs and sustain healthcare workers. IBM has created a consortium to give researchers free access to over 400 petaflops of computing capacity during the pandemic. Cisco is providing Security to help secure over 2.2 million people online, and Webex to facilitated virtual response meetings for the French, Canadian, German, Colombian, and other governments around the world.
A March 2020 survey conducted by The Verge shows most Americans look favorably on Big Tech.
Americans are relying on technology companies to get them through this pandemic. Covid-19 prompted a cultural shift that built greater trust and reliance on tech leaders. This will be foundational to the future of the digital transformation.
The Future: Where Does Business Go From Here?
The key for organizations to move through the shadow of this pandemic is a digital transformation roadmap that implements a digital strategy with humanity: to have kind CX, to strengthen the agility of an augmented workforce and to use technology as a way to lead and better serve people.
Covid-19 has brought us incalculable human loss and the World Economic Forum reports the economic slowdown is forecasted to cost the global economy at least $1 trillion in 2020.
Every business has been forced to take a long and honest look at its operations. Can it adapt? Does it have the right strategies and capabilities in place? Can its digital infrastructure withstand the market? And how can it serve its clients and protect the wellbeing of its employees?
Organizations are looking for cost-saving, high-efficiency strategies but it’s not the time to cave into a risk-averse mentality. Companies are slashing IT budgets but they also know they’re in need of financing capabilities that can sustain long-term remote work and collaborations.
The International Data Corporation (IDC) tracks trends in IT, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets. Its 2020 quarterly report shows IT spending across the world is now expected to decline 2.7% in constant currency terms. But there are two areas still projected to see positive growth: infrastructure spending (expected to grow by 5.3%) and software investments (up by 1.7%). It’s the demand for solutions supporting a remote augmented workforce and collaboration that will drive this growth.
If one is too risk-averse in this climate, one might miss an opportunity for growth. This pandemic is calling us to pivot, re-plan our outlook and re-asses the digital strategy.
A sound digital strategy can help organizations minimize risks. It can help build and maintain workforce augmentation for emerging technologies, cloud capabilities and enterprise solutions. Successful digital transformation shows that leaders are thinking through digital strategy that allows for quick experimentation, iteration and serves better CX.
Businesses that have been slow to evolve their tech infrastructure before Covid-19 are now seeing the necessity for a fast digital transformation. That’s because their operational agility and CX depend on a stronger technology infrastructure. Now more than ever, there’s a focus on building and maintaining a digital-based infrastructure and integrating digital solutions.
A silver lining to this pandemic is emerging to a world with massive technological leaps that could create a happier, more agile workforce, and show greater empathy for people. Covid-19 accelerated the global digital transformation and that will change our cultural perceptions of how we operate businesses, deliver value to clients, and re-connect with one another both on and offline.
In a post-Covid-19 world, we now have a different digital landscape--one that will help us lean on technology that can withstand the next crisis and better serve our well-being.
Photo by Aljoscha Laschgari on Unsplash