Feb 24 2022

Beyond the Pandemic, Digital Transformations Must Shift into Higher Gear

Customers and workers are losing patience with digital progress that’s too slow.

The pandemic brought about a wave of digital transformation investment by companies in all industries. Retailers built out their e-commerce platforms and bulked up their buy online, pickup in-store options. Financial services firms focused more heavily on moving the customer experience out of branches and onto digital channels. Nonprofits got creative with events and doubled down on digital fundraising, and businesses in every industry grappled with building more elegant and secure remote work solutions.

Today, however, more than two years since public health imperatives changed the world, the time has come for organizations to take a hard look at where they stand in their overall transformation journey.

Because here’s the thing: While the pandemic may not be over, the world — at least as far as consumers and workers are concerned — is moving rapidly into the post-pandemic future.

As that new normal arrives, it’s clear that consumers and workers alike have changed. Businesses must meet them where they are now.

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How the Pandemic Shaped Consumers

For technology leaders, the truth is both encouraging and a bit daunting. First, the good news: Two years of online shopping and remote work have made Americans far more digitally savvy as consumers and employees.

For example, shortly after the pandemic began in the United States, 63 percent of U.S. adults said they had already conducted a new online activity, such as attending a religious service or exercise class, according to Forrester Research. That number is even higher now.

Office workers, meanwhile, learned how to do their jobs from home using employer-provided mobile devices and collaboration tools.

Now for the challenging reality: Along with that increased tech savvy comes rising expectations for what constitutes a quality digital experience, and people are beginning to lose patience with companies that don’t deliver: 56 percent of U.S. consumers believe that companies should have figured out by now how to handle pandemic-related disruption, according to Forrester. And 77 percent of executives told Harvard Business Review Analytic Services that employees will look for a new job if their current employer does not provide the technology they need.

In other words, organizations are running out of excuses. Savvy businesses will not look back on the pandemic as a temporary situation they endured, after which they really got serious about their digital transformations, but as the starting point to permanent innovations that only deepened as time went on. 

2022 TECH TRENDS: Explore the strategies and solutions that will shape IT this year.

New Digitalization Is Only the Beginning

Put another way, the changes businesses put in place over the past two years will be “temporary” only in the sense that they are starting points to even richer digital experiences.

What that means in practice will depend on the business. Retailers, for example, will emphasize winning customers back to their own digital channels, away from big online marketplaces, by investing in immersive experiences and inventory management. They will also use technology to enhance the in-store shopping experience.

And citing surveys of buyers who say the buying process itself is the most important part of their purchasing decision, Forrester predicts that many companies will adopt “always on” digital engagement strategies when it comes to their marketing efforts, which will requiring deeper investments in automation and artificial intelligence.

As for the transition to new work models, meanwhile, expect plenty of bumps along the road. About 30 percent of companies say they will insist on a fully in-office model; many will find that position unsustainable as workers simply move on in a strong labor market. The majority that choose to deploy a hybrid model or remain fully remote must surround employees not just with better collaboration tech, but also with a culture that allows them to thrive in a work-anywhere environment.

However long the pandemic lasts, businesses’ excuses for failing to drive lasting digital change must stop.

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