Keeping pace with digital change in a COVID world

COVID-19 has sped up the pace and scale of disruption to businesses this year, prompting them to undergo unprecedented digital acceleration. Since 2016, about half of respondents to BDO’s annual SA State Business Survey have reported some level of disruption from emerging technologies, but that number is expected to surge when this year’s survey kicks off next month.

Innovation and digital transformation have been topics of strategic business importance for a number of years.

This year, COVID-19 has forced almost all businesses to accelerate the adoption of new technologies or adjust their operating models in order to survive.

Responding to disruption is nothing new. What has changed this year, is the source of the disruption and the urgency of the response by businesses as they undergo digital acceleration.

What is digital acceleration and how is it best executed?

Digital transformation occurs when businesses embrace technologies to achieve better customer outcomes and value for their own businesses.

The key to understanding transformation, and indeed acceleration, is that it covers every aspect of the business: We seek to harness technology to optimise performance, build efficiency and deliver profitability as well as different ways of doing things.

Accelerating transformation involves more than technology, it includes changing habits, behaviours, mindsets and processes, and it requires everyone from leadership down to embrace these changes.

Without these elements, digital acceleration stops at the start line and there is no benefit to the business or its’ clients.

Take advantage of the positives of transformation and avoid a return to old ways

There is no doubt the pandemic has been a catalyst for rapid change. It has highlighted the “burning platform” that many businesses had in their adoption of digital, technology and the transformation journey.

However, BDO National Leader of Business Services Matt Laming says COVID is not the first impetus for dramatic change and won’t be the last.

“If we think about when the internet was introduced, many businesses closed as they didn’t embrace it or change their business model,” he says.

“The pandemic has simply increased the pace of change. What we would normally see in a one to two-year timeframe, we have seen occur within one to two weeks.”

Businesses that were able to adapt and pivot their business models quickly had started their digital transformation journeys long before the pandemic.

It is important that business leaders now review what was embraced, what changed, what was of benefit and what wasn’t. It is critical not to fall back into what was done before, but to implement the elements that will support growth into the future and provide better outcomes for consumers and staff.

The pivotal role of clients and customers

Clients should be central to any business decision, including strategic approach and importantly, any consideration of a digital roadmap.

How do your clients want to engage with you as a business? Consider both current clients and the client of the future – how they engage with you now will be very different to how they engage in five years’ time.

“A great example over the past five or six months has been the need for many businesses to engage with clients virtually,” Laming says.

“The benefits have been recognised in both directions as not only businesses but their clients embrace new ways of interacting much faster than they might have previously.”

Organisations now better understand that they can transcend borders without a physical presence – opening up new markets for businesses to consider and benefit from.

The key is to consistently consider the client experience. Success will depend on a strong focus and strategy around delivering on customer experience and consideration of how technology and digital will enhance this.

Maintaining digital acceleration and handling the data that comes with it

The rapid pace of digital change is unlikely to slow down. In many ways, says Laming, it will only get faster.

“Disrupting your own business is a must – it will reset your ways of thinking and doing and support digital acceleration,” he says.

“The success of your organisation’s digital acceleration is always going to come back to your ability to understand the data sets and the supply chain.”

With so many platforms and apps available, it is easy to end up with complex, decentralised systems. Centralised systems built on platforms that work together and provide collaboration for the organisation’s systems, people and clients will be crucial for success.

Success will also be built on trust, and your organisation’s ability to deliver it at every point for the client. Maintaining the integrity of data and the security of platforms is an absolute must.

Leadership will need to have a strategy, not only for the digital transformation of its business but also a strategy for the delivery of this transformation in conjunction with the business’ people and clients.

This article is based on a podcast from the BDO #TIMETOLEAD series.

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