Post-Covid how can businesses prepare for the next big disruption?
Many companies are now making digital transformation an integral part of planning
Businesses have moved to new technology platforms in ways and over timeframes that would have been impossible 10 years ago. Photograph: iStock
Businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to adapt rapidly to the new challenges introduced by the pandemic worldwide. Switching from physical to digital channels to meet customer demand, reconfiguring supply chains and shifting to remote working are just a few of the changes that have been addressed by resilient businesses to get through this period.
Deloitte’s recent Global Resilience Report reveals that most global leaders (60 per cent) believe the disruption seen in 2020 is not a one-off, and disruptions of similar scale could come with more regularity.
So what’s next, and how can they prepare for further disruption and ensure that they are positioned to compete?
Disruption, or innovation, happens when new technology meets a customer demand while providing economic value to all parties. What we have witnessed through the pandemic is the rapid acceleration of customer demand for what was largely new technology underpinning a new economic model.
The world we live in today is vastly different to just 12 months ago. On March 12th, 2020, when then taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced dramatic measures to combat Covid-19, most of the population left behind the routine ways of living, learning and working that had evolved over many years. We did not know then that we were kickstarting the most rapid adoption of digital and cloud technology the world has ever seen.
Most people left their workplaces and began to work from home. Students left their schools and colleges. Restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues pulled down the shutters.
We didn’t anticipate that these supposedly temporary measures were going to lead to radical and long-term changes in the way we live our lives.
The word “disruption” has become an over-used word in business. However, never has it been more appropriate than in describing the last 11 months.
Digital technology has been the enabler of much of this change, enabling remote working, online shopping, applications and delivery of Government supports such as the Covid-19 unemployment payment and wage subsidy scheme.
A significant feature is the extraordinary pace at which digital technologies have been adopted. Businesses have moved to new technology platforms and new methods of working in ways and over timeframes that would have been impossible 10 years ago.
The businesses that have done best over this period are the ones that had begun a digital transformation process and were able to scale this up very quickly, where video-conferencing, collaboration, online retail and other technologies already existed.
They have implemented several years of digital change in several months, while other businesses have had to start the process, investing rapidly in cloud technologies to adapt to their employees working from home.
Not all businesses have survived the impact of the pandemic. The physical retail landscape has changed dramatically, and many smaller businesses, particularly in hospitality, have closed their premises for good. It has been a salient reminder of our vulnerability to significant disruption. In the teeth of the pandemic we have pivoted from largely physical experiences to largely digital ones.
Looking to the future, consumers increasingly expect a blend of the best of both the physical and digital experiences – highly personalised, in-person experiences – without sacrificing the convenience of online transactions. Forward-thinking companies are focused on delivering more seamless and intertwined in-person and digital experiences, as well as looking at technology to address supply chain challenges.
A recent Deloitte study examined organisations that outperformed their peers in the market through the use of technology and how they did this – including differentiating practices, behaviours and leadership skills.
These vanguards of the digital age are focused on the intersection of technology, customer-need and business value. Nearly three-quarters are working in partnership with their customers to create new business value, and see their technology as the key to shaping customer experience and engagement.
Digital is the foundation stone of their business. They facilitate experimentation and rapid development of new products and/or services, and drive operational efficiencies through technology such as the cloud, robotics and AI. Always with an eye to creating a connected, seamless and valuable customer experience.
The idea of going back to the “normal” 2019 world now seems impossible. Many people have changed the way they shop and won’t ever fully go back. Businesses have changed how they listen to customers.
While the downsides to remote working for many have become apparent as time has passed, many employers have developed remote working systems that work well for them and their employees, and will offer potential hybrid models of working in the future.
The immediate future will continue to bring rapid change as society adjusts to the impact of the pandemic and gears up for a post-pandemic world. With three out of four business leaders believing that the climate crisis poses at least as great a threat as the pandemic, how companies adapt, with a combination of rapid adaptation of technology, long-term planning and an eye on the bigger picture, will determine their future success.
Many businesses have become or are becoming digital vanguards, with the late-starters rapidly catching up with the early-adopters – making digital transformation an integral part of business planning.
Knowing what we know today, what will it take to include climate transformation as the other pillar to our business plans?
Harry Goddard is CEO of Deloitte Ireland