What lessons can 2020 teach us about digital transformation?

2020 was quite literally, a hell of a year. It started with Boris’s, now well circulated, post that 2020 would be “fantastic year for Britain”, perhaps not quite capturing the tone of the year ahead. Instead, Britain faced a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in most people’s lifetimes.

7 minutes read | by Lee Smith | 11 January 2021

2020 was quite literally, a hell of a year. It started with Boris’s, now well circulated, post that 2020 would be “fantastic year for Britain”, perhaps not quite capturing the tone of the year ahead. Instead, Britain faced a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in most people’s lifetimes.

However, there’s no denying that it has also acted as a catalyst for change on a scale not seen since war time. In March, practically overnight, people were told that their way of life was to completely change. Businesses had very little time to prepare for an entirely new way of working.

Entirely new ways of socialising, shopping, and exercising also came into play instantaneously. Both at work and privately, people were adapting to completely different approaches to almost all aspects of their lives. This in turn impacted the businesses behind these functions of society.

The hospitality and retail sectors were hit especially hard. High street brands such as Debenhams found that despite their long history, they could not adapt quickly enough and survive the challenges they faced. Conversely, other businesses thrived. Amazon increased its profits massively, along with other winners such as Netflix and Adidas.

What set these companies apart? Their ability to respond to a new, digital way of working. Mary Meeker, founder of Bond Capitol, wrote a long letter to her company in which the main conclusion was that we are experiencing digital Darwinism at its most brutal: the coronavirus crisis is separating companies with a strong digital strategy from those who do not have one.

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It’s clear that 2020 has taught the business world a lot about digital transformation, so what are the main takeaways from the year?

1) You need to do it to survive

This has already been touched upon, but it’s so important we decided to give it a section of its own.

Digital transformation is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. Even before covid-19 hit, 92% of companies1 thought their business models would need to change given digitization. Keeping up with new digital trends was always becoming a must for businesses who wanted to stay ahead of the competition.

However, 2020 has collectively pushed companies into this digital future whether they were ready or not. Companies further along their digital transformation programs thrived, whereas those companies with old businesses models struggled to make it through the year- if they did at all.

At times of crisis, being a step ahead in the digital world gains you an advantage that is key for survival. With the measures surrounding the pandemic predicted to continue well into 2021, is your business ready for any challenges that may be thrown its way?

2) Digital transformation is about people too

Often, with the focus on new technology, employees are left as an afterthought. This can lead to employees not engaging with digital transformation or, worst of all, new processes that simply do not suit their needs.

The first step towards implementing a digital transformation strategy is to change people’s mindsets and their outlook on new technology. It is key they understand how their workload can be reduced by using technology in different ways, enabling more time to focus on the tasks that matter most. By enabling staff to see how they can be benefited by technology, you create a culture of digital growth.

Then you need to bring in technology that empowers your staff to improve their own working conditions. By investing in technology such as low-code, you are investing in your staff. Training staff how to use these systems at the earliest opportunity is key, as you reduce reliance on just one team of developers, instead creating a workforce of citizen developers.

This allows staff to become aware of their potential and showing them what can be achieved. While IT might not be able to spot every opportunity for increased efficiency or better processes, your staff, who are using those processes daily, will. With low-code technology they will be able to take part in building those applications and processes themselves, ensuring that they suit the businesses exact needs.

3) Speed is of the essence

Instead of the one-to-three-year phases in companies’ digital strategies, 2020 saw companies having to scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks. Almost overnight, digital became central to every interaction. Businesses needed to build applications and processes to replace those processes that were set up to be completed in the office, but they didn’t have the months to wait for these to be hand coded and built.

One solution that was found to shine in this time were low-code platforms. With the ability to build out bespoke applications in a matter of days or weeks, they became a must have solution. Not only could apps be built quickly, but they could be built imperfectly. Now, that may sound counterproductive, but anyone in IT knows that multiple rounds of testing take time. Even then, when you come to launch the app only to find out it has flaws can be devastating and require months of fixing while the solution is taken offline. Low-code enables companies to correct faults as they go. Taking an iterative approach makes it possible to refine a service and take it to the next level, while ensuring staff have access to a service when it is urgently needed.

Covid-19 highlighted the fact that at times of uncertainty, only companies who can respond quickly with digital initiatives will thrive or, in some cases, survive. Furthermore, the long-term impact of COVID-19 requires businesses to accelerate their future digital transformation, to look at digital touchpoints to meet customers changing demands.

4) Changes to the way we live and work can help enable digital transformation

At the beginning of 2020, the majority of office staff were, unsurprisingly, in offices. Working from home was a luxury allowed for a select few, with managers often viewing it as too much of a risk to productivity.

2020 changed that completely. All those able to were asked to work from home in March 2020, when the UK went into its first lockdown. Where businesses weren’t set up to operate remotely, work began to change that. With an increasingly remote workforce, businesses began to see that their productivity wasn’t falling. Working from home became the new norm.

Working from home brought with it the obvious need for digital transformation. The ability to build applications and processes that enabled staff to access the data they needed remotely. However, it also left more time for digital transformation initiatives in some cases. Without the need for long commutes, CTOs and their teams have had more time to focus on new initiatives. Could you be using your commute time to grow and future proof your business?

5) Use and analysis of data will become more important

Amazon saw its profits soar in 2020, with a 37% increase in earnings. That is not by accident. Amazon is famous, or arguably infamous, for using all the data it has on its customers to boost their experience and, thus, increase revenue.

Now, while your company may not have (nor want to have) access to every aspect of your customers lives, you will still have valuable data on your customers. Ensuring that this data is correct and useable, and then having the analytical capability to use it, is paramount.

Utilising a platform, such as PhixFlow, which can clean and analyse your data allows you to examine where you can start making process improvements, and even identify your customers most important needs. From analysis you may find that one process is particularly slow, allowing you to focus your efforts there. You may even find that after dealing with a certain team, customers are more likely to buy from you again. This will allow you to find out what that team is doing well and replicate it elsewhere. As they say, power is knowledge.

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