After analysing the data of over 439 senior leaders at global organisations in the recent REIGNITE! 2020 Report, it was clear that the use of technology for 95% of the majority had been to maintain business operations, whether that was survival or business continuity in facilitating remote work.
This is not surprising per se in response to a major emergency. Before the tectonic shifts caused by COVID-19, some organisations were executing on multi-year digital transformation plans, with others focused on fighting other fires with digital not even on the radar.
The ongoing pandemic, economic, social and health crises continues to raise the stakes for leaders on digital priorities, underscored by three major opportunities:
#1 Increased digital adoption enables adaptability at speed and scale
For many firms this has involved a combination of accelerated back-end cloud, front-end software tools, and new ways of working. Many of those digital initiatives quickly became make or break—for example restaurants, cafes, and retailers enabling digital orders and connecting seamlessly with delivery services.
Other firms however continue to have core (or hybrid) infrastructure set-ups based on outdated tools, processes, and assumptions which need to be re-envisioned for the evolving landscape, continuing remote workforce requirements and leadership appetite to maximise the full potential of digital across the firm.
The focus for leaders should be to build on the momentum of change the crisis has caused (‘it can be done!’) and adoption by moving beyond ‘getting back to business’ and understanding the full set of digital opportunities for customers, internal processes, workers, and organisational capabilities.
#2 Digital acceleration increases the widening gap between the ‘laggards’ and transforming leaders
COVID-19 has accelerated this trend and has firmly planted digital and innovation at the top of most CEO’s (and CXO’s) agenda. Whilst many of the worlds large and small companies went into tailspin or survival mode once the pandemic took hold, a handful of digital-powered and platform-enabled companies have instead added billions to their market capitalisation and top-line revenues. And they won’t stop (even likely break-up by the US government will not slow them down).
In other words, if COVID crisis hasn’t shown you the burning platform (i.e. how fast change is moving, and how digital can help you adapt), then nothing will.
Here are the 3 rough categories of organisations today:
A business or brand, which has invested heavily (monetarily and otherwise) into a digital transformation strategy that goes far beyond ‘remote work facilitation’. Integrating key technologies and talent (up skilling existing and augmenting with external expertise) to elevate customer experiences, exploit new business models and ventures, and optimise business processes. Not to be confused with those who have attempted digital transformation, only to implement a new email system and hang up their hats.
Those who, for whatever reason, have failed to incorporate new technologies and/or invest in up skilling their talent, leaving their business to rely solely on manual or traditional forms of operations, business models, go-to-market, and communications. While you may be inclined to think of this group as pure traditionalists, grasping on to their old standards, assumptions and ways of working, this group has grown to include a much broader range of organisations.
In talking with many leaders and employees across the world, it is surprising how many leaders have gone straight back to this way of working after Q2 2020 lockdown. In some cases, they have retreated even further.
The Middle-Ground Mavens:
This may be the point in which you find yourself asking, but what about those in middle? Not quite a leader, but definitely not a laggard. In our post-COVID world and given the pace of change, the space taken up by these ‘middle ground mavens’ you could argue is increasingly dwindling, giving way to a landscape in which we can only find ourselves as laggards or leaders. Those who have mastered the art of transformation and innovation, and those who have not.
(NB This is obviously hugely simplified and far from black or white, but the sentiment remains).
For non-tech large incumbents with some tailwinds and the appetite to transform, there is significant opportunity to use the scale and resources to digitise processes for efficiency, and at the same time, investing in future growth and innovation portfolios, new business models, and up skilling. PingAn’s transformation is a brilliant case in point.
Whilst this is not easy and requires the right leadership, the alternative is arguably worse: a slow death-march toward extinction or significant value-destruction.
#3 Digital acceleration enables more advanced and integrated human and digital combinations
In other words, digital adoption will enable the workforce of today and tomorrow (e.g. remote, virtual, distributed, agile, flexible, gig etc) to become more productive, effective and efficient (‘smarter’) utilising automated workflows (enabled by cloud, analytics, AI, automation, software) of both repetitive and higher-order tasks.
The Boston Consulting Group call this the ‘Bionic Organisation’ which at its core will combine more advanced and integrated human/software combinations (see below):
According to BCG, what the company of the future will look like is becoming clearer. At the centre is purpose and strategy: the reasons it is in business and how it brings those reasons to life. Four enablers allow companies to operate as bionic organizations: two have to do with technology and data, while the other two address talent and organisation.