COVID-19 forces biggest acceleration in digital transformation.

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2 April 2020

Digital transformation. An evolution or something that happens in fits and spurts, in line with regulation and change?  

I ask this as it was just before COVID-19 struck that I heard a CEO refer to his business as ‘not needing to be transformed digitally’ as this ‘had happened’. Good for him I thought, he must be able to sleep much easier at night having got rid of all his dysfunctional legacy systems; and anticipated COVID-19 back in 2018. However, surely as new platforms and data sources are built, it’s naïve to think that any company ever reaches a ‘digital stand still’ moment.  

For those of you around long enough, you’ll remember the 2008 crash which had a similar hallmark to the current situation we are in. The economy came to an almost stand still, people suddenly found themselves at home and amongst the chaos it became practically impossible to balance what was best for your company and how to protect your employees, alongside the ability to deliver a great experience to customers. For the last two weeks, we’ve been facing unheard of, and in many ways, un-humane orders to stay at home that have tragically utterly decimated some industries and tested the resolve of others.  

 This will certainly create a before-and-after moment in the history of the economy and in the history of digital transformation. Communications has taken on a completely new meaning as many companies struggle to get set up remotely and continue to deliver digital change during this time. The irony being, it’s at these times when digital innovation is needed most and those that succeed will inevitably have ‘architected’ change years ago. There’s no doubt we were slowly moving towards a ‘weightless world’ anyway as economist Diane Coyle calls it, where more and more moves digital and remote – and this global pandemic has just expedited that movement. Valued at 42 billion dollars, nine-year old Zoom has become the overnight poster child of the start-up world as it now exceeds any airline and we see the boundaries blurring with teleports taking over airports.  

 Even when the COVID-19 outbreak is contained, it’s unlikely things will return to normal. Instead, we’re seeing the forced acceleration of previously slow-moving trends that are likely to shape the future for the long haul, including remote delivery models. Granted, some sectors have been rather late to the party anyway; only recently have the big banks managed to transform their business models to be able to provide open banking despite the birth of fintech nipping at the heels of the incubators. Proptech too. But the fact we are still adding ‘tech’ to these descriptors is wrong in itself. Make no mistake, these sectors are already very disrupted and intrinsically ‘tech’ by their very nature. 

However, where digital transformation is truly accelerating is where businesses have been suddenly exposed to the brutality of being digitally unprepared and where, post chaos within the IT departments, they now are taking this time to move strategically from ‘ keep the lights on’ to building their digital infrastructure for the big bounce back. Many businesses have adopted remote delivery models, or virtual in-housing for the continued delivery of software platforms and tech solutions with companies helping them to identify platforms, data and team requirements.

Healthcare is another area where COVID-19 is really going to accelerate. We at Splendid Unlimited recently helped private healthcare company Cera to develop an app that better enabled carers to communicate with their workforce and carer’s families. A brilliant idea to support and better connect people where and when they most need it and in an intuitive way. The company is now suddenly scaling up the functionality of that app as well as creating 10,000 new jobs to support the elderly and vulnerable. The firm said it will offer successful applicants training courses and assessments through its digital platform, allowing them to become formally certified as carers and able to start earning money after 10 days. Cera said it wants people who have lost their jobs in retail, hospitality, travel or other sectors during the outbreak to apply for the roles, which involve providing care to elderly or vulnerable people in their own home. All this is enabled by an accelerated digital platform and app.

So, as the pandemic dust starts to settle, businesses are brushing themselves down, pivoting where they can and accelerating. Accelerating digital infrastructures to both continue to deliver digital transformation projects remotely and truly innovate digitally as this situation nudges us even closer to a ‘weightless world’. In fact, if there’s one thing we’ve all learned grappling with Teams, Zoom and the many other virtual comms platforms, is that we too need to learn new skills and as human beings, also need to be digitally transformed.

This article was written by Paul Bishop, Managing Partner, Splendid Unlimited.

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