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Now is the time to put your foot down for a digital-led recovery

In our latest article, Mark Harris looks at how accelerating your firm’s digital plans can help you weather the storm and plan for post-Covid survival.

Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on businesses, the economy, and on peoples’ health and livelihoods. As we reflect on the impact of the pandemic, we should also take stock of the positive changes that have occurred and leverage the opportunities that they present. The national lockdown forced many companies to flick the switch on digital transformations that otherwise would have taken years to plan and implement. Covid-19 has sped up digital transformation plans in many cases by more than five years. It is estimated that work from home restrictions and social distancing has forced collaboration and doing business online, to a point where over 80% of companies have indicated that accelerating their digital transformation is now their strategic priority.

We’ve all had to increase our use of technology and software to facilitate online meetings, information sharing and e-commerce, whilst enabling employees to carry out their day-to-day duties from home. Most businesses have had to scale up some of that technology to revise their working practices. Managers who are more used to ‘presenteeism’, have had to rely on staff remaining productive while working from home. This is one of the key positives to emerge from the crisis. This ‘blended working’, (a mix of collaborating in the office and working from home) has coincided with a period of tough trading. We saw a 20% fall in GDP in the second quarter of 2020, and that resulted in serious cost control and cash conservation. Innovative business leaders have been alive to these challenges, adapted their plans, and taken the opportunity to move their businesses forward.

"The pandemic has inadvertently prepared many teams for an already changing digital landscape. We don't want to lose creativity and innovation. Part of ensuring that we have blended working is that we still have periods of time to bring the team together to get them acting as a catalyst for that creativity and innovation and we must consider the health and well-being of our customers and staff."

Dramatic changes have taken place in certain sectors in a really short period of time. Many that have adapted and pushed forward down the digital transformation route have seen a reduction in costs, workers who are happier, and wider organisational goals being reached in terms of sustainability, diversity, and innovation. And all of this is saving time and time is money.

Companies that felt they were previously perhaps lagging on embracing digital, potentially have the most to gain. Digital leaders that had an advantage prior to Covid could quickly lose it if other players accelerate their transformation.

Some sectors like retail for example have fast-tracked in terms of digital transformation. What would have taken them five years has been done in five months. And there's been real innovation in order to shift from footfall on the High Street to traffic online. These organisations have greater automation, detailed analytics, and are now able to better analyse their business and understand it in a way that they probably never had the sophistication to do before. By buying in expertise like project-based support freelancers, it’s possible to supplement the lack of knowledge and skills in a company. There are many opportunities now to gain market share with much smaller capital expenditure investment and there’s a lower cost of entry for startups.

Although we’ve seen an unavoidable depression in many sectors, such as hospitality, catering, and public events, there are still those that are benefitting from a digital-led recovery.  Innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity has led to many companies in these sectors shifting to doing their business online and using more technology. Retailers are selling online, professional services firms are conducting meetings virtually and accessing work and systems from the cloud. Caterers are reinventing to become takeaway/delivery services, publicans are innovating and repurposing their pubs to be digital work-hubs for business people by opening during the day.  With the right mindset, any type of business is capable of transforming and adapting to what is going on in the marketplace. There are advantages of continuing this way of working and making this the new business as usual. Digitalisation is no longer an option, but a matter of survival. Businesses are making progress by increasing the focus on digitalising processes and operations and embracing the technologies that will ensure business continuity and future post-Covid resiliency.