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A catalyst for change – the pandemic and the acceleration of digital transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK )

Businesses have been wrestling with digital transformation for a number of years. As one report put it “with 90 percent of the world’s data having been produced in the last two years and more than 26 billion smart devices in circulation, we are living in an era of unprecedented technological innovation.” To be able to take advantage of this means radically overhauling existing operations to compete with newer, more agile companies and serve educated, demanding customers.

Yet for all the talk of digitalization being an imperative, many had yet to translate it into direct action. Decisions on new initiatives would take many months, if not years, as committees discussed and considered, and business units had to make the case for new investment in digital tools and projects.

The pandemic as transformation catalyst

That all changed in March 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic upended everything, businesses had to scramble to keep operational. Those that had reached a degree of digital maturity were able to react faster than those that had not, but even then many struggled to cope with the upswell in demand. Amazon went on a global hiring spree to cope with locked-down consumers switching all their shopping online overnight; supermarkets struggled to offer delivery and click and collect slots to customers. Even getting to a website was a challenge – a number of operations had to install queuing systems to keep their digital shopfronts from toppling over.

For those that championed transformation projects these issues were frustrating, but looked at positively, the pandemic was a clear catalyst for change. In our latest eFax survey, 77 percent of IT decision-makers would have accelerated digital transformation sooner if they were aware of the full impact it could make on their organization in just a few months.

What’s more, 60 percent of respondents are, as we speak, accelerating the speed of their transformation projects as a direct result of the disruption the pandemic wrought on their workforces.

But what stopped them before? Based on the survey, there are five key factors:

  • A lack of budget: Slightly over half (51 percent) of respondents believed that if more budget had been available for transformation projects their organizations would have been encouraged to accelerate digital transformation sooner.
  • A lack of leadership buy-in: Two-in-five IT decision-makers also felt that more buy-in from leadership teams would have encouraged a sooner acceleration of projects.
  • Siloed departments: The third highest factor was a lack of coordination between departments and functions, with 34 percent suggesting more cooperation would have helped.
  • Restrictive vendor services: Being held back from what they could get from technology suppliers was another issue, with 30 percent highlighting more flexible services as being helpful.
  • Move on from legacy: Just behind was the challenge of wrestling with old systems and applications, with slightly less than a third (29 percent) believing that with less focus on trying to make legacy processes work they could have accelerated more.

Overcoming obstacles to futureproofed transformation

So, does this mean that the coronavirus came along and swept all those problems away? Hardly. Budgets will still need to be justified, particularly as cash becomes tighter in an economic downturn. That said, those top five factors are symptomatic of cultural obstacles.

When it comes to leadership buy-in, most organizations now have evidence to prove that transformation projects can deliver immense value. What needs to be considered, however, is that in order to remain operational, many enterprises had to radically focus on their core goals in the early stages of the pandemic. For instance, as lockdowns rolled out, the priority was getting previously office-based workers online remotely as quickly as possible. Now that has been achieved, the focus needs to switch to ensuring that any shortcuts taken, such as bypassing security, do not leave businesses exposed.

Looked at in another way, the decisions made in March and April were crisis-focused; the decisions made now need to be about futureproofing. What are the cultural changes that can be implemented so that siloed departments will never be a block on accelerating transformation? How can they be implemented in a working environment that has yet to be decided? Clearly, having secure, online connectivity is going to be critical, as is the ability to share, review and collaborate on documentation and files. But it needs to be in a manner that can be accessed from any location, whether it’s in an office, in the field or at home, and on any device.

Organizations also need to be careful when they select technology service providers. The digital world is fluid, agile and flexible – partners need to mirror those attributes. Vendor lock-in, an inability to integrate with other systems or burdensome payment terms that stifle scalability will not support businesses that want to accelerate their growth in the coming months and years. Again, decisions made in the early months that enabled fast transformation are one thing – the choices made now will be in place for some time to come.

Finally, there’s the question of what to do with legacy IT. This will vary from organization to organization, but it’s likely that there will be some applications or systems that can’t simply be digitized or lifted and shifted to a new environment. Finding a way of still being able to use those systems, while transforming the rest of the organization, is going to be needed if the relics of investments from two decades ago are not going to hold businesses back.

The post-pandemic transformation

The message from IT decision-makers is clear – accelerated digital transformation is possible with the right support in place. First and foremost, that’s financial, and it’s lead from the top. The first months of the pandemic proved the worth of digitally transformed operations. What organizations now need is ensure that they overcome the cultural obstacles holding back progress, provide the right support, and make decisions that will futureproof their operations to tackle whatever happens in the coming months.

Scott Wilson, Director of Customer Experience, eFax (opens in new tab)

Scott Wilson is Director of Sales and Service at eFax (part of J2 Global). Prior to joining eFax, Wilson held various roles at organisations including Dell, Perlico (Vodafone) and IBM.