The global pandemic: a catalyst for digital transformation
The global pandemic has sped up the pace of change in the technology market. Here we explore some of the main trends in digital transformation.
March 31, 2021 | By: Paul Ash
Digital transformation. Digital business. Digital technology. Digital disruption. No matter how you refer to it, the digital revolution is here. But what does digital transformation mean in a world that’s been disrupted by COVID-19? Where are organisations now on their transformation journey and importantly, what are the key drivers?
Navigating new digital transformation challenges
The spread of COVID-19 around the world has had an unprecedented impact on people and business and has put even the most resilient to the test. Technology has allowed people to connect at a time of isolation and the adoption of digital technology has had an equally important role for businesses and the economy. While the trends described below are not new, their importance has never been greater.
Organisations that had progressed their digital transformation journey prior to the pandemic were best placed to weather the storm. Those who recognised the value of technology and how it can be applied to save time and money, reduce risk and improve customer experience, quality and profit are the ones who will be most prepared as the restrictions on our lives begin to ease.
Applications to support better communication
Remote working and social distancing are expected to continue long after lockdowns have lifted. Web and mobile applications have, therefore, never been more important in the digital economy. They enable organisations to communicate and transact with customers and workers. Internet and mobile banking and retail applications - together with secure contactless payments - have helped the UK economy function, albeit at reduced levels.
Adopting agile principles in the development of new apps, which ensures businesses focus on user engagement, quality, adaptability, and the ability to deliver on time will be crucial.
Increasingly, digital enterprises have adopted hybrid IT, a multi-cloud approach, consisting of on-premise, private cloud and public cloud. In a 2019 Gartner survey of public cloud users, over 80% of respondents said they were working with two or more cloud providers, with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform dominating.
This trend is set to accelerate as organisations are keen to avoid vendor lock-in and look to take advantage of the best platform for an application. Factors such as availability, scalability, performance, data sovereignty, regulatory requirements and cost all influence the decision.
A benefit of public cloud is the ability to deploy new applications very quickly, in hours or days, rather than in weeks or months that are often the case with traditional on-premises environments. Cloud-based collaboration tools such as Teams, WebEx and Zoom have been able to meet the huge spike in user-demand during the pandemic by making use of the scalability afforded by public cloud.
A very difficult economic landscape lies ahead, and many companies grapple with the fallout of the pandemic and will be seeking to continue to reduce costs and protect capital. The pay-as-you-go economics of public cloud are attractive to many, who have been reluctant to make long term, capital investments in data centres and infrastructure.
Technology supporting the flexible modern workplace
Back in 2019, a survey conducted by the International Workplace Group found that 62% of organisations globally had a flexible workplace policy. However, when governments globally instructed their populations to work from home wherever possible, organisations with true remote-working policies and the technology to support adapted to the ‘new normal’ at speed, leaving unprepared organisations caught off guard.
Those organisations have needed to invest heavily in the appropriate technology, network connectivity, security and staff training to ensure employees are able to securely access the systems they need to remain productive. Investment in remote working is now a mainstay of business budgets.
The use of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, WebEx and Zoom has increased exponentially during 2020 and into 2021.
A balance between the office and remote working will be established in the post-pandemic future. That’s likely to popularise applications which will allow employees to book parking spaces, desks and meeting rooms.
The role of artificial intelligence in customer experience
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already widely used across a broad spectrum of business verticals, with use cases including the identification of fraudulent insurance claims, helping farmers protect cattle and property from barn fires and oncologists make earlier and more accurate cancer diagnosis. It has also played an important role in the fight against coronavirus.
Tools like TEKsystems’ conversational AI platform or chat bot, sAIge, has helped those on the front line of COVID-19 at Sentara Healthcare to assist people in assessing their symptoms and better allocate vital resources. This same digital technology can be applied by any business that wants to help its clients quickly and easily access information on its website, thereby alleviating pressure on a call centre.
Another use of AI likely to gain a lot of traction under the ‘new normal’ is Amazon Connect, an omnichannel call centre, which can be operated virtually anywhere and can be scaled to support unexpected call volumes. The AI features enables automating customer service interactions, performing text to speech operations and transcribing calls.
It can also integrate with an organisations’ many different customer service technologies, such as the customer relationship management (CRM) system. The ability for call centre agents to handle inbound calls remotely, even when working from home, is enabling companies to help their clients even during the current pandemic. This is likely to re-shape the call centre landscape once society returns to some semblance of normality.
5G and Internet of Things
The rollout of the ‘Fifth Generation’ (5G) mobile network has been a major focus for the mobile network providers and will spur innovation in Internet of Things (IoT). The almost instant transfer of data between IoT devices and the cloud, where a huge amount of processing is done, is opening up a world of possibilities.
Digital enterprises will need to harness this opportunity post-pandemic, to be more efficient and find new ways of being competitive – whether that be manufacturers using IoT to ensure uptime of machinery through predictive maintenance, or haulage firms using autonomous vehicles to deliver goods.
In response to the current pandemic, Vodafone and Digital Barriers have launched a heat-detecting camera, designed to screen people entering a building for a fever, which could indicate COVID-19 infection. These types of IoT devices could become the norm at offices, hospitals, sporting venues and airports.
Among the most in-demand IT professionals throughout the current pandemic are cybersecurity specialists. Digital enterprises have always needed to keep their IT systems secure, but remote working - which relies on potentially vulnerable services such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) is adding a new dimension and additional complexity. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has reported that criminals are exploiting the crisis with UK government branded scams and phishing emails, putting both individuals and business at risk.
As the UK emerges from lockdown, businesses will need to continue to invest in cybersecurity expertise, tools and processes to ensure they stay one step ahead of those with malicious intent.
With over 20 years in information technology, Paul Ash has extensive experience in managed services, cloud, business continuity and digital transformation. His digital transformation knowledge gives him insight into the challenges clients face including customer experience through to operational efficiency and data management.