Four Reasons Why Digital Transformation Will Accelerate After COVID

One positive side-effect of the COVID pandemic outbreak has been the emergence of black humour, reflecting the unique human ability and survival instinct of laughing at dark times. One of the cartoons frequently forwarded to me, depicts a multiple choice question: “What led to the digital transformation in your company? A. The CEO B. The CTO C. The CDO D. COVID19”. The answer tick marked on this is D. Covid-19

Digital Transformation is one of those things that every CEO wants to do, but never gets around to starting to do it in earnest. Right now, as companies reel from the COVID impact, there is a lot of pessimism around getting back to business, revenues, job losses, etc. Investing in anything new, even going digital, seems farthest away from their set of priorities. However, I believe that, post Covid,  digital transformation will become an even greater priority for management of every company, across sectors and geographies. CEOs know that they will be entering a world very different from pre-Covid times, and there will need to be a change or transformation that their businesses would need to do to adapt.

Here are four reasons I believe that digital transformation will accelerate post- COVID:

Saving cost, becoming less human-dependent: Cost-saving through digitization will be Priority No. 1 for companies. Digitization of processed through Robotic Process Automation (RPA), collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, automation using IoT and other technologies will not be optional any longer. This will help companies share cost and increase collaboration and productivity. Companies will also invest to make their activities less human-dependent and remove humans from the chain, since sometimes humans-in-the-loop could be points of failure in bad times. This will have the unfortunate effect of increased job losses, but it is inevitable.

The hunt for more resilient Business Models: I have often spoken of Business Models as the Brahma, or the Creator, as really the essence of digital transformation. Companies whose models are purely online (again Zoom, Byjus, tech/SaaS companies) are seeing a boom during disruption. Companies whose models are enabled digitally, like ecommerce, have been disrupted but their decentralised, tech-enabled supply chains will recover faster than others – case in point, Zomato and restaurant delivery, rather than the restaurants themselves. Most traditional companies are therefore going to see how much of their models they can make digital, or whether they can have entirely different business models (e.g. OPDs of hospitals moving largely online, for example). This O2O or offline-to-online transformation will become critical.

Change in customer behaviour: Experts claim that it takes sixty six days to break or form habits. A lot of new habits will form over this lockdown period – reading newspapers online, not going to restaurants, working from home, wearing informal clothes, always-on masks, etc. Customer journeys will change, sometimes quite radically. Customers might not like to crowd stores, public transport travel behaviour will change, even leisure travel journeys might get impacted. Thus, apps to enable curb-side pickup, book grocery pick up timings, enable socially distanced journeys  Companies will need to alter their business models and processes to incorporate these new journeys, and liberally use digital tools and technologies to preserve their customer base by catering to this new customer experience (the second part of my Holy Trinity, Vishnu the Preserver).

Changes in management culture and attitude: I have always said that Shiva, the Destroyer, in the Holy Trinity of Digital Transformation has been the mindset and culture of the people. Human beings, especially those in senior management, resist change. This crisis, more than anything else, will force them to become more open and receptive to new ideas and radical thinking, and listen more closely to their customers and employees. Many CEOs I know would never countenance working from home, now they are realizing the benefits and productivity it can give, when balanced with office working. I believe that the COVID crisis will radically open up their minds to go digital, to postpone the inevitable technology enablement of their business models, processes and people

The right answer to the multiple-choice question posed in the beginning of the article is neither of the choices given, not even COVID19. The right answer is E. The Customer. COVID19 is a radical life event, that will hugely change the mindset, needs and demands of all our customers. Future-ready companies will race to meet her demands by transforming themselves – their business models, customer experience and culture using digital technologies, thus profoundly accelerating their digital transformations.

(This was published as a Mint oped on April 16)

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