Digital transformation in the Covid-19 era


Jun 22, 2023

Digital transformation was being discussed by business leaders even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. While some organisations were already beginning to implement changes, others, understanding the importance of these radical alterations, were putting off adopting new measures, waiting for the right time to do so. And then came the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, forcing organisations’ hands.

Nothing and no one could have predicted that the digital transformation envisioned for the future, which was still very much in an exploratory phase, would suddenly be thrust upon us. The pandemic led to millions of people retreating to the security of the digital world, rendering digital transformation a critical factor for businesses. This radical change has incited a digital transformation of workforces, an evolution of work environments and a development of the services provided by companies. Ultimately, the entire world found itself thrust into a new reality - a new paradigm set upon us without so much as a warning.

Let’s take a look at some numbers to get a clearer insight into the changes underway:

- It is estimated that more than four out of five people (81%) within the global workforce are currently affected by total or partial workplace closures.

- Recent data points to an increase of around 60% in internet traffic since the beginning of the pandemic, with video conferencing having seen an exponential rise of 120%.

- In 2021, consulting giant McKinsey interviewed around 800 executives and senior managers at companies worldwide to try to track the digital transformation taking place as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The data shows that interactions with clients and supply chains, as well as in internal operations, have seen progressions during this period that would have been expected to take three to four years. The sharing of digital products, in comparison, has progressed seven years.

The economy has never been so digital, and never before has it been so heavily influenced by digital technologies like the internet, mobile connectivity, cloud computing, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics, among others.

The solutions provided by Industry 4.0 have, for many, quickly become the only way to face the rupture caused by COVID-19. Working at an accelerated pace, business models and work procedures have been changed to maximise the use of modern information technology (IT), dragging critical adjustments in organisational culture and behaviour along with it, as well as in the expectations and roles of the workforce itself. It is therefore crucial to understand how digital innovation and the pandemic are affecting organisations and how they will continue to do so in the future.

No consensus has been reached. Some believe that the future will bring with it a freelance economy, where services are outsourced to freelancers depending on the needs faced. It’s a straightforward approach to understand. Companies benefit from the flexibility of contracts moulded to the volume of operations, as well as from having access to a dynamic workforce that is spread across the world. But despite an increase in freelancers, many still value working collectively, exampled being organisations that have created solid knowledge bases they would not want to lose to competitors.

A digital transformation is far more than just implementing new technologies. What is also observed is a shift towards a digital workforce that is mentally capable of understanding that technology can democratise, scale and accelerate all forms of action and interaction. As the pandemic has come to demonstrate, this approach will allow companies to take up a privileged position, allowing them to survive under extreme circumstances as well as overcome the challenges to come.

In conclusion, organisations have accelerated their digital transformations to avoid short-term economic collapse, meeting the pandemic resiliently and head-on. The consequences of this quick reaction – rapidly adapting to a crisis – have now reached proportions never before seen in the digital world.  

The pace of the changes taking place is unlikely to slow down, and the only way to face the challenges to come is by learning from this experience, both tactically (promoting technological business changes) and organisationally (managing changes faster than ever before).

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