The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted life in unprecedented ways, disrupting business models and placing extreme pressure on timelines for the development and delivery of a wide range of digital initiatives, from e-learning, to remote work, to telemedicine, and more. Businesses and organizations across the globe are scrambling to meet an expanded set of digital requirements. Certain industries, like education, healthcare and entertainment, may have a head start vis-à-vis planning for remote capabilities but are now facing the need for acceleration and scaling of their solutions, while other industries are having to acclimate overnight to a new world in which “virtual” rules.
How can your company or organization successfully make the transition? There are four important considerations.
1) Strategic Planning
Maintaining business operations during a time of uncertainty requires a level of operational agility and an ability to deliver digital capabilities at scale that may seem out of reach. Your top priority may be addressing the immediate needs of customers or constituents by leveraging existing digital communication and collaboration services such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom. Yet, taking the time to define a set of short-, mid- and long-term business goals that consider the current economic, technological and societal landscape may suggest other options that can help ensure not only smooth operations but higher levels of scalability, security and success over the long run. Depending on your strategic needs, the best and most cost-effective long-term solution may involve developing digital capabilities internally.
2) Establishing a Foundation: New Processes and Culture
While the use of digital channels and creation of digital applications and solutions is clearly essential to meeting current needs, the requirements for successful digital transformation go deeper than that.
New processes are often needed across business, technology, operations, HR and marketing functions. A new culture may need to be established that requires not only changing the mindset of your clients, but also of your employees. An example is the establishment of a culture of remote work. While some corporations have been successfully practicing this for decades, with established practices in place for remote management of teams, collaboration, video conferencing and more, other companies or organizations are having to scramble to put remote capabilities in place.
Successful transitioning to new processes while maintaining a good company culture requires, above all, a great deal of clear and transparent communication across the extended organization – communication with customers, employees, vendors and partners – so that all connected parties can have a shared vision of the new reality; how it works, what it offers, and the role they need to play to support it.
3) A New User Experience
Transitioning from “physical” to “remote/virtual” introduces a new and often unfamiliar user experience, one that is being thrust upon people with little advance notice and no guidance. A teacher, for instance, is asked to switch from teaching in their familiar physical classroom to teaching online within a short 24-hour period. No training is provided because school administrators are themselves unfamiliar with using the new digital channel, be it Google Hangouts or a comparable tool; new rules have not yet been defined, success criteria have not yet been articulated. Students, depending on their levels of access to and familiarity with technology, may perceive the new modality as a way to thrive or to flounder.
Given that most people are typically uncomfortable with change, how can one ensure customer or end user trust and loyalty during a time of significant transition?
Creating a good digital user experience is critical to ensuring comfort level. Any well-designed user experience clearly integrates intent, goals, steps, interactions and possible outcomes so the user feels well oriented. It needs to be designed with people’s needs in mind and be intuitive and simple to use. It needs to provide some reference back to known processes in order to provide a level of familiarity and continuity. In the case of a remote work syndrome, for instance, the user experience could provide for the functional/emotional equivalent of water cooler chats, or for the physical weekly team meeting in which team members exchange not only work updates but the occasional updates on personal life.
4) Infrastructure Support
While new tools may offer new capabilities, their efficacy can be limited without having integration with other tools and the support of a robust and secure IT infrastructure.
What we are seeing is that companies are struggling to determine the best way to deal with their short-, mid- and long-term needs as they relate to critical infrastructure. Many clients are trying to quickly adjust to the new reality of remote work. Yet, there are challenges. A company may have in-house IT equipment in place that is perfectly adequate to handle pre-pandemic conditions but find that its infrastructure is overwhelmed by current demands. A company may be struggling with limited IT staff due to COVID-19 or be experiencing other disruptions to the smooth running of their infrastructure.
So, critical to establishing successful “remote” solutions is having an infrastructure that is powerful and resilient enough to support a massive increase in data storage and connectivity requirements.
Overall, worldwide IT spending is now projected to decline by 2.7% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, IDC estimates, As late as January, the consultancy predicted 5.1% growth in technology spending this year. The two areas still projected to see positive growth are infrastructure spending (expected to grow by 5.3%) and software investments (up by 1.7%). Demand for solutions supporting remote work and collaboration will drive this growth, IDC says.