Maintaining digital initiatives amidst a pandemic: the story so far

Monday, June 21, 2021 - Jack Gill

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial effect on businesses. Adopting remote working practices, abiding by social distancing regulations and adapting internal operations are just a few new challenges that businesses have had to deal with.

Throughout all of this, technology has been critical to business continuity, with many companies rapidly undergoing digitisation processes just to keep afloat. According to a recent AppDynamics survey, 74% of IT professionals said that digital transformation projects that would normally take over a year to approve were accepted in weeks.

For those businesses already undergoing digital projects at a steady rate, the question has not so much been ‘what’ as it is how. How do we adapt our plans? How do we maintain our digital initiatives during a crisis? And perhaps most pressing; how will we continue our transformation post pandemic?

This article explores some of the main challenges that businesses have been up against and how they have responded to them. With these developments in mind, we consider how businesses can create ‘future-proof’ plans and ensure optimal success with their digital transformation projects as they move forward.

A move to remote working

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to usual operations has been the transition from office to remote working. With in-business operations discouraged, employees were expected to work from home where possible. Those employers who did not already have some flexible working arrangements in practice were now pressured into making the necessary adjustments to accommodate these developments.

But providing company laptops has been only half of the challenge. In a recent study by HP, 70% of surveyed workers admitted to using work devices for personal use, while 69% said they have been using personal laptops to complete work tasks. In both instances, businesses and employees have found themselves vulnerable to rising security threats.

How teams collaborate and innovate has been similarly affected. Findings from Microsoft show that approximately 7 out of 10 employees have experienced some increase in their weekly meetings – evidence of the businesses attempts to maintain collaborative working practices virtually. While leveraging digital solutions such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams has proven an effective option for some operations, businesses should now think about how they can provide widespread resources to employees to allow for frictionless operations across teams.

Remote working is likely to continue for many, with a recent McKinsey survey revealing that 90% of executives envisage a combination of remote and office work continuing into the future. The details of this schedule remain less clear, with the majority of those surveyed unsure how exactly this arrangement will work. Nevertheless, with some trace of these practices likely to remain, ensuring secure working both in-office and at home should remain a priority for employers.

As companies look to the next stage of their operations, they should also consider how they can support those who are working from home. Providing appropriate office equipment, devices and mental health support are just a few examples of how businesses can continue to support a remote workforce and ensure that satisfaction is maintained.

Legacy systems still casting a shadow

Unlike the pandemic, the threat of legacy systems has been long visible across industries and sectors. Last year it was reported that an estimated 80% of global corporate data was held in technology ageing over half a century.

As well as limiting growth and efficiency, legacy systems also come at a significant cost to maintain . Last year a review of the tax authority's performance for 2019-2020 revealed that the HMRC spent £53.2 million on maintaining their ageing legacy systems, opposed to updating these systems. And this is just one example of the costs that these systems pose. With almost every major system being dominated by such IT, evidence of their dangers continues to trouble executives and consumers alike.

One of the most infamous examples that showcases the threat of legacy systems occurred during the initial release of the NHS test and trace system last October, where some 16,000 COVID-19 cases went unrecorded. The incident resulted from Public Health England using spreadsheets that were incompatible with their dashboards to record personal data.

Cases like this have been a wakeup call to businesses across the world, illuminating the dangers of outdated software and encouraging them to invest in digital solutions.   

Accelerating digitisation

The pandemic has accelerated the rate in which companies are adopting digitisation processes, with Gartner forecasting that worldwide IT spending will increase by 8.4% in 2021.

Where some businesses survive, others thrive. British retailer John Lewis has been just one success case for digital transformation. After effectively digitising their payroll system last year, they were able to reduce operating workload by 20% and subsequently saw a significant improvement in overall performance. On top of this, the store has also pledged a further £1 billion investment into digital projects over the next five years, a further testament to the growing importance of technology in today’s economy.

Aside from developing digital operations, businesses are also looking to adopt specific types of technology that will allow them to succeed in this new working environment. Sectors who were once reliant upon physical interaction with consumers are now realising that even these interactions can be digitised using virtual reality and augmented reality.

Last month, fashion boutique Browns welcomed customers back into its flagship store in Mayfair – this time complete with augmented reality technology instalments. The new tech allows customers to virtually try-on a range of luxury products and even complete purchases via digital mirrors.

Internal operations may benefit from this software too. Faced with a workforce compiled of remote and office-based employees, technology that can simulate physical meetings, for example, may prove a highly useful tool in uniting distributed teams.

What is important is that new technology is integrated in line with business strategy and is informed by consumer demands.

Future-proofing your digital strategy

With the challenges that businesses have been dealing with over the pandemic, it is crucial that they remain focussed on the future and do not become stagnant in their situation. At the beginning of the crisis, it was those businesses that responded quickly who mitigated risk. But the time to respond is over. If companies want to maintain digital initiatives moving forward, they need to stay committed to initiatives of innovation and experimentation.  

While this might mean adopting new technologies to enhance solutions, oftentimes it starts by breeding a forward-thinking culture. This culture can be nurtured through continuous support and development. In practice, this means being responsive to consumer needs and continuously supporting development through prototyping and testing. Not only will this allow businesses to be ahead of the curve, but the internal support provided across the organisation will encourage employees to buy into future digital solutions.

Even before the pandemic, the journey to digital success was recognised as a long one. What the events of the past year have proven is that it is an often unpredictable one too. Regardless of what stage of this journey your business is at, adopting a flexible and innovative mindset will prepare you for the next leg – whatever that may be.  

To find out more about Audacia and how we can help with your digital transformation projects, talk to us on 0113 543 1300 or at [email protected] 

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