It’s not long since “digital transformation” first became a business buzzword. In the 90s and 00s, the concept spoke to the opportunity to digitize an organization, to shift from manual input, to bring a business online, to deploy the latest e-solutions. Digital transformations often moved entire industries into the digital era; Uber forced taxi companies into apps, Amazon led to online stores, and shipping being a defacto standard for businesses large and small. Banks raced to catch up with each other to provide mobile banking solutions after the advent of online-only banks like Tangerine.
Today, “going online” is like petroglyphs in a cave when compared to modern innovations like machine learning, AI and blockchain – whose vast potential is only beginning to be realized. Yet, understanding what digital transformation means and the willingness to truly transform one’s company has resulted in a common sentiment among business leaders that it is an arduous, risky, complicated and expensive endeavor. Indeed, there is a perception that digital transformation is an all-or-nothing endeavour, requiring an entire business to change – and there are plenty of failed efforts that have others shying away from even attempting to disrupt their (dis)functional processes and products.
Yet for those musing over how to achieve this feat amidst today’s anomalous landscape, it is actually far less strenuous than it would seem. For leaders under pressure to digitize a business, the road to success lies in finding processes in the business that can be digitized rather than rethinking the entire business itself.
Digital-First Thinking in a Pandemic
As COVID-19 has punctured economies and upended daily living, it’s easy for companies to revert to what’s comfortable - to what is known, and what feels easiest (or fastest) to execute. Two immediate and widespread examples have been the rebirth of paper-based surveys to perform health checks, and placing security guards with hand-held clickers at storefronts to determine store occupancy. These are two examples where a digital-first mindset will not only help companies to automate and improve processes, but provide opportunities for new products and services to emerge at a time where innovation will create jobs.
This health crisis has illuminated that, just as it’s been possible to digitize many aspects of an office space into work-from-home functions, so too is it possible to digitize a brick and mortar space to promote safety, efficiency and business continuity in a pandemic-driven world. In the retail space, one only has to look at the explosive growth of Shopify over the past few months to see that the most innovative retailers – small businesses included -- understand the imperative to pivot and adapt to a digital-first mindset, embracing the fundamental shift in the way businesses and consumers interact.
The paper health survey is just one of the kind of “sidestreet” examples that any business could target to transform digitally. They represent key areas of importance to target that turn the wheels of efficiency and, with it, profitable recovery. They are also easier to tackle as part of an overall digital-first mindset instead of radically rebuilding a business.
Where to start: digital thinking first
Digital transformation does not need to be an all-in business move. Consider it, instead, priorities-first. Conducting paper health surveys at the office may check the box for contact tracing requirements, but the data itself is unreliable and someone needs to manage the responses as well as the response strategy in the event someone becomes ill with COVID19. Long-term, these surveys are not a viable strategy. They become costly to manage, imperfect in their outcomes, and increasingly inefficient over time.
Whatever impacts profitability and performance should, today, be digital-first, regardless of what’s happening. This is a simple task that is ideal for transformation and a digital-first mindset so that it can be automated, seamless and, under current conditions, contactless.
In a time where efficiency, business continuity, health and safety AND profitability are all critical, here are a few ways to think about digital transformation in times of a pandemic:
- Look for Simple Tasks Ideal for Automation: Are you redeploying staff to monitor traffic levels in a store? Spending time sanitizing entire floors without understanding utilization rates in your space? Organizing sheafs of paper surveys? From retailers to office managers, identify the new processes the pandemic has introduced. Then, examine efficiency gaps and determine what technology can fill them as an immediate first step. Allow innovative thought to see how operational priorities can be addressed.
- Seek the Unconventional: There are standard ways to do most everything, often set by decades-old corporate methodology. Digital-first thinking requires unshackling from convention. You can contact trace in a pandemic with surveys, or you can lean on innovative approaches to keep staff and stakeholders safe, and future-proof your business.
- Look at the Technology You Already Have: Sometimes the answer is right in front of you. Moving to a digital solution doesn’t need to introduce added expense. Look at the technology you already have and see how it can provide more value to you. Most every business operating in 2020 has WiFi infrastructure in place. It’s now possible to leverage this to go beyond internet connectivity alone into a new realm of employee and public safety.
What seems easier today won’t be next year. Moving to automated solutions that improve operations and the customer experience is not just transformative, it’s good business. Start-ups may be known for their agile decision making but there’s no reason why all companies can’t embrace this line of thinking. By identifying simple areas of the business that can have a massive impact on the bottom line, digital transformation becomes a reasonable, strategic process and competitive differentiator instead of an overwhelming undertaking.