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Why the pandemic is a game-changer for digital transformation

Image credit: Thamrongpat Theerathammakorn/Dreamstime

Big organisations spurred into accelerating their adoption of new technologies by the consequences of Covid-19 should look to their smaller counterparts for inspiration.

If there were ever any doubts about the necessity of digital transformation to business continuity, they should now have been silenced. As Covid-inspired lockdown and social-distancing restrictions first came into play in March last year, it quickly became clear that innovation is vital to the survival of businesses both large and small.

The pandemic has proved to be something of a reality check for companies that were overly reliant on legacy software, and who have previously been hesitant to adopt new tech. Over the past 12 months, many organisations have found themselves under-equipped to continue their operations in a contactless world.

Indeed, almost half (49 per cent) of businesses recently surveyed by Studio Graphene say that Covid-19 has exposed weaknesses within their business’s IT infrastructure and digital processes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this figure rises to 59 per cent among the bigger companies surveyed (those with more than 250 employees), which traditionally lag far behind early adopters.

More reassuringly, 58 per cent of the businesses surveyed stated that the pandemic has prompted their organisation to overhaul the way it adopts and implements new tech, with 66 per cent of large businesses committing to giving their digital transformation strategy a reboot in 2021.

With this in mind, what can large corporates learn from the pandemic to bolster their digital maturity in the year ahead?

One of the biggest takeaways from Covid-incentivised digital transformation plans, is that the companies that had developed and executed on their digital strategies prior to the pandemic – and these are often start-ups and SMEs – have been better equipped to deal with the shift to online.

Thankfully, the Studio Graphene survey has shown that businesses of all sizes intend to go all-in when implementing new tech in the next 12 months, and on average, 69 per cent of organisations plan to launch new digital projects, tools or initiatives. A further 65 per cent are aiming to go the extra mile and invest in completely new areas, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing.

As businesses begin to deploy emerging technologies, I would urge large organisations to look to their smaller counterparts for inspiration. The truth is, smaller teams and budgets don’t necessarily mean diminished outputs. In fact, younger and leaner organisations are able to implement new tech more efficiently and at a much greater pace thanks to their company cultures. This is because the success of digital transformation efforts often boils down to company cultures that promote fast-paced innovation, and an ability to quickly pilot new initiatives.

Large organisations with masses of employees and bureaucratic structures frequently have a hard time gearing up their workforces for digital change. In the past, established companies with long-standing members of staff may have found it difficult to persuade their employees of the merits that new tech has to offer. As a result, these businesses often stuck to deeply entrenched mindsets and legacy software as an easy way forward. In cases like these, digital transformation strategies tend to be set out far in advance with overly formal procedures hindering quick adoption.

In part, this is to avoid risk; surely, tech must function well and be relatively error-free to fit the needs of any organisation. But in the current climate, rigid implementation schedules and red tape just won’t do.

Instead, companies should start thinking smaller. Like start-ups, they should work with procedures that champion iterative design, enabling teams to gradually implement new solutions and improve upon them at each stage of delivery.

Taking an ‘all at once’ approach generally leaves wide open the opportunity for glaring mistakes when the project is finally delivered, as well as running the risk that information collected at the project’s inception quickly becomes outdated as company needs shift. After all, slow and steady doesn’t always win the race when it comes to the roll-out of new initiatives – quick and gradual efforts will put businesses on the path to truly effective digital maturity.

Aside from offering a competitive advantage to businesses looking for commercial growth, tech has also been an important driver of continuity behind the scenes.

Now, more than ever, businesses must also consider remote-working conditions when developing their digital transformation strategies. To this end, 67 per cent of organisations plan to invest more heavily in cyber security in the coming months; meanwhile, the same number of businesses are laying down the groundwork for further investment in workplace collaboration software and video conferencing tools.

As digital natives, nimbler startup organisations adapted to flexible working practices quickly, and for the most part, without any impediment to their day-to-day operation. However, larger businesses are more likely to be set in their ways when it comes to working in line with more conventional procedures, and many have been under-prepared when mobilising their workforce to work from home.

For example, although these companies are ordinarily better equipped with cyber security in office settings owing to their larger budgets, they are also more vulnerable to cyber attacks, in part due to their complex company structures. Particularly when working from home, these challenges are magnified. With the digital economy growing, it is encouraging to see companies ramping up their cyber-security spend and seeking out new ways to protect their data. Indeed, the new working environment should be reason enough to start stripping away some of the red tape, and moving tech initiatives forward quickly in response to new challenges and priorities.

The path to digital innovation has finally come into sharper focus over the past 12 months. But that said, the need for businesses to adapt their ways of working to become leaner and more efficient will still remain long after the pandemic has ceased. Thankfully, organisations seem to be moving in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing the many wonderful innovations that emerge from this difficult period.

Ritam Gandhi is the founder and director of Studio Graphene.

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