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Four digital transformation priorities for the Covid-19 era

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Having been forced to lean on digital technology more than ever as we inch our way through the pandemic, many organizations have fast-forwarded their digital transformation plans.

Businesses are keen to find ways to make it easier for the workforce to collaborate and do their jobs remotely and they recognize that to achieve that aim they need to drive out paper from their day-to-day operations and digitize internal processes.

Manual processes that were just about holding up in a face-to-face setting – think paper-based purchasing, invoicing or contract sign-offs – have become totally impractical from a distance.

At the same time, lockdowns and quarantine have made digital channels a necessary option for customers and we have seen the balance shift in favor of online interaction. Digital has become the norm for everything from engaging with local authorities and government departments, to studying, socializing and dating.

Behind the scenes, however, organizations face tough challenges as they adapt to the ‘new normal’.

Here are four common transformation challenges that enterprises are facing right now, and some practical steps that can be taken to address them quickly and cost effectively:

1. Adapting business systems for digital communications

The dramatic increase in digital customer transactions and interactions since the start of the pandemic has put huge pressure on IT systems. Older systems and communications technologies – and even some newer applications – are creaking at the seams due to the sheer volume of digital traffic. Many will not support all of the digital communication channels favored by customers: chat, text, email and so on. It is often a mixed picture, with some parts of the organization doing digital well, and others less so. Few companies have a single, coordinated approach.

Enhancing individual applications to bolster their digital capabilities is invasive, time consuming and carries significant risk – and these are all factors that work against organizations with limited resources and no time to wait. A faster, non-invasive option is provided by customer communications management (CCM) software. CCM systems provide an ‘add-on’ multi-channel capability that works with, but is separate from, core business systems. They can repurpose the output from existing systems - either existing documents or data - and automatically manage delivery through digital and print channels. Documents that were originally designed only to be printed can be transformed into digital formats and sent by email, SMS message or presented through apps and portals, for example.

By combining digital delivery at scale with watertight feedback and failover processes, CCM systems ensure that critical business communications always get to the right person, in the right place, at the right time, and in the right format. An end-to-end digital snapshot can also be created, including all communications that punctuate the customer journey (correspondence, orders, bills, contracts, voice conversations, and so on), with online access for customers and authorized staff. 

This approach enables organizations to breathe new life into old content and transform static documents into interactive formats that are better suited to digital communication. ‘Boring’ customer statements can be made more useful by including personalized marketing offers or inserting announcements about new policies or opening times introduced in light of the Covid-19 crisis, for example. Charts and explanatory notes can be added to make documents easier to understand, helping to reduce the volume of calls to overstretched contact centers.

2. Protecting sensitive data for employees working from home

With large swathes of the population now working from home, employees need remote access to the information that is essential to their jobs. This has data protection implications when they need to view sensitive content such as personal information belonging to customers and employees.

Accessing information away from the controlled environment of the office – potentially on mobile devices – increases the risk that personal and confidential data may be exposed to prying eyes. And if employees are storing sensitive data on their laptops or other devices, or printing documents at home, there’s a chance of that data falling into the wrong hands.

Where remote access to sensitive content is necessary, enterprise information management (EIM) systems provide additional controls to help businesses manage data protection and security.

EIM systems hold information from across the business within a secure, centralized content store so there is no need for any information to be stored on end-user devices. This eliminates the risk of data being compromised if a laptop or phone is stolen or goes missing. 

These systems also provide granular controls over how employees across the business can access, share and collaborate on content. For example, personal details within documents can be automatically redacted for anyone who does not need to see them as part of their job. When workers participate remotely in business processes involving sensitive data, such as reviewing and approving documents, all of this activity can be closely tracked, and an audit trail maintained to monitor compliance.

3. Strengthening user authentication

The increase in remote systems access by home working employees also underlines the importance of strengthening user authentication.

The obvious solution is to roll out multi-factor authentication (MFA), the feature all consumers are familiar with when accessing bank accounts and other systems containing financial or sensitive information. By requiring users to pass multiple security tests or ‘factors’, such as entering a randomized PIN or providing a fingerprint scan, MFA provides robust authentication and security that is difficult to crack. However, despite its advantages, studies suggest that MFA adoption has been slow within enterprises. Whether it is due to the cost of implementing the technology, low user acceptance or technical difficulties, many organizations still continue to rely solely on passwords for authentication, leaving the door wide open to cybercriminals.

This is especially true for enterprises that run cross-platform IT environments, including applications that reside on the mainframe or other heritage environments. Cost is a key obstacle if they have to deploy multiple MFA solutions on different platforms. There is also likely to be greater pushback from employees who have to pass through a longer and more complex authentication process for multiple applications or, for example, encounter MFA at Windows login, and then go through a similar process again when accessing mainframe or IBM i applications. 

A more employee-friendly option is to deploy a cross-platform authentication system, with single sign-on. Employees sign in once, with multi-factor authentication, and can then access all the applications they are authorized to use, regardless of which platform they are on. This approach is also much simpler for the IT team as MFA only needs to be implemented in one place.

An obvious starting point is to implement single sign-on, along with MFA, at the Windows login level as this is where most employees commonly access enterprise IT systems. Authentication can then be synchronized between Windows and other platforms so that employees’ login credentials are automatically authenticated and they can switch between applications seamlessly. 

4. Migrating applications to the cloud 

Cloud computing plays an important role in many organizations’ digital transformation strategies as it can provide the flexibility and scalability they need to respond in an agile way to business changes – including the major upsurge (or downturn) in demand experienced by different business sectors during the pandemic. Moving to the cloud also offers the opportunity to eliminate the financial and management burden of supporting large physical data centers.

Often, however, cloud migration is held back by the sheer number of applications involved, and the complexity and effort that this creates. Legacy applications can be a particular problem: organizations may have dozens of older systems that are not being actively updated with new data, but access is still required because the historical data is needed for compliance, or for operational reasons such as customer service. Migrating static applications to the cloud in order to be able to view the data makes little sense.  

A simpler alternative to migrating each individual legacy application to the cloud is to decommission them and move the historical data that needs to be retained into a single, secure and compliant online repository.

This avoids the technical complexity of migrating multiple live legacy applications, leaving the much more straightforward task of hosting a single repository in the cloud. Decommissioning also allows companies to eliminate support and maintenance costs for their legacy applications, while enabling users to access all the information they need in one secure location rather than logging into multiple separate systems.

Conclusion

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to live more parts of our lives digitally and virtually, both as consumers and employees, and things are unlikely to ever go back to exactly how they were. That is why even businesses facing reduced demand are accelerating digital transformation now, so that they can be ready to ride the wave when the upturn arrives.

One of the few positives to have come out of the pandemic is a sense that inertia has been swept away. Technological change has had to come quickly, with limited resources, and IT and business teams throughout the world have used their problem-solving skills to make it happen. They are turning to technology they already use, or that is quick to implement, such as systems for customer communications and information management, to tackle a range of challenges including scaling up digital communications, supporting employee collaboration, cloud migration, and safeguarding data outside the workplace. Sometimes it’s the ‘quiet’ innovations – the ones that build on what has gone before – that deliver the fastest results.

Lynda Kershaw, marketing manager, Macro 4