Recently, I had the opportunity to join Constellation Research CEO R "Ray" Wang and Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist Vala Afshar on their weekly web series DisrupTV. During part of the discussion, we touched on how the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping our world, and I wanted to dive more deeply into one particular aspect: the definitive push toward digital transformation. For years, we’ve had digital technology capable of transforming how we work and live, but it took a global crisis for many to embrace that technology wholeheartedly.
A worldwide shift in thought
At the outset of 2020, technology’s latest offerings held exciting possibilities and potential. Advancements like blockchain, artificial intelligence, 5G, and other technologies were poised to become part of our daily personal and business realities.
However, societies across the globe still held an affinity for in-person experiences. For many industries, regardless of the available technology, human interaction was preferred: in-person classes for education, office working for business, and shopping in store for retail. Digital and virtual options were a convenient alternative -- but only when needed.
In a matter of days, though, COVID-19 changed the game for everyone. Traditional ways of working were thrown out the window as business leaders across the globe embraced technology with great urgency. Entire offices shifted to remote working structures, supply chains broke, and businesses rethought entire strategies, even their business models.
As much as these shifts pushed back the “in-person” mindset, they also created a ripple effect that has already changed our world. The digital transformation glass ceiling had been shattered!
Embracing change amid uncertainty
As our world’s status quo disappeared on virtually every front, so did our needs. People went from needing things like public transportation and dry cleaning to grocery deliveries and personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, business needs shifted from operating a physical office to implementing secure remote working infrastructures and collaboration tools.
Change didn’t stop with operational shifts, though. As people began settling into their new versions of “normal,” many quickly discovered unforeseen positives that had previously been written off. Options that were originally considered less desirable -- like remote working or online schooling -- quickly became our saving grace. But beyond that, many people and organizations realized that these options are often better for certain scenarios and for certain types of employees.
Hopefully, COVID-19 will be a distant memory one day, but companies like Twitter have already announced permanent work-from-home arrangements, and this is only the beginning. We’re feeling the rumblings of what will become our world’s greatest change -- a change in status quo.
So we went remote. How does technology change now?
With companies forced to become more digital, where do we go from here? I see three steps we need to take.
First, we need to build trust. As digital technology continues to advance and change the ways we work and live, it's up to industry leaders to establish and maintain trust. Organizations who handle data must continue protecting it fervently. Data protection, cyber security, and risk management are key. Blockchain solutions that promote trust and transparency, such as identity protection and verification, will be pervasive.
Next, we must prioritize innovation. For many organizations, innovation departments have been nonexistent, an afterthought, or cut off from the rest of the business. Now, many leaders of those organizations are embracing a dynamic outlook and industrious perseverance that will not only sustain us when crises emerge, but also propel us forward as we seek new ways to work, create value, and even change business models. AI and ML will be more embedded; digital and design will help build new user interfaces and experiences; interactive experiences like AR and VR will enable new ways of buying, selling, and servicing.
Last and most important, we must continue putting people first. Whether it’s your employees or your customers, digital primacy doesn’t change the fact that people matter. This means protecting your employees when it’s time to bring your workforce back to the office and creating safe environments for your customers. Examples include social distancing solutions for offices and retail, tech investments for curb-side pick-up, greater usage of drones and sensors, and robotics for factory safety.
This final push for digital transformation leaves us all with room to grow. We must do so responsibly and collaboratively. For more on this and similar topics, you can watch my conversation with R "Ray" Wang and Vala Afshar on DisrupTV at https://www.constellationr.com/events/disruptv-episode-191-milan-rao-jim-mckelvey-liz-miller. You can also find it on (and can subscribe or follow) Vimeo and YouTube. Then, you can also read Vala’s writeup where he shares the 10 business and leadership lessons he drew from our discussion.