COVID-19 impact on digital transformation

covid-19 digital transformation
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We spoke to Tracey Dawes at Reed Talent Solutions and Alison Watson from Arden University, who together reveal their perspectives concerning the impact of COVID-19 on digital transformation

Tracey Dawes (TD), Solutions Director, Public Services at Reed Talent Solutions and Alison Watson (AW), Head of School of Leadership & Management at Arden University, together reveal their thoughts about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world of digital transformation.

In this in-depth question and answer interview, we discover how they define digital transformation and why they believe it is important. We also learn about how advances in technology transform how we operate and consequently changing the way the government interacts with the public.

The authors then explain how digital transformation helps citizens interact with government and to conclude, Alison Watson shares her thoughts on where digital transformation is at now and where she sees it heading in the future.

How would you define digital transformation and why do you believe it is important?

TD: The recruitment process, in general, is more malleable around people’s lifestyles than ever before. Digital transformation is important in removing any barriers to entry into a recruitment process – historically there were geographical barriers, barriers for those with visible and non-visible disabilities; technology creates opportunities for many people who may not have otherwise been able to apply for a role. Therefore, it allows businesses more opportunities to find the right candidate from a wider diverse talent pool.

Digitalisation also brings values and ethics to the forefront. Technology allows us to sift through volumes of CVs, applying basic matching criteria to find the right person for a job. But what about the human element? Digital transformation is creating a shift where humans are left to do what they know best: using their emotional intelligence. This means we will see more people looking at what values and ethics are important to them and what that means for them in their professional and personal life. Values and ethics have played a big part in the past two years, as people have changed their priorities and attitudes towards work due to the pandemic – and the rise of technology will make this an even greater focus. I think this is a hugely important transformation that will impact people and their everyday lives, more than they think.

AW: Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology that has the power to change an area of business or process. Drastic changes occur within an organisation when they adapt to using technology; it can be a planned, incremental or a radical process, but it will transform organisations, business models, products or services.

It can be vital to improving systems and structure within a business, but levels of readiness vary and it’s important to consider change culture, digital culture and leadership as a major player within the transition process.

How are advances in technology transforming how we operate and consequently changing the way the government interacts with the public?

TD: We all now interact with the government on a more regular basis than ever before since the introduction of technology such as the track and trace app and also the tracking of results for lateral flow testing and requesting/booking tests due to COVID-19.

We do, however, have a generational gap in the use of technology, and this is impacting how it is received by citizens. There are huge advancements occurring in digital transformation in our day-to-day lives, but many of the population didn’t grow up around nor learn using computers as part of their education – leaving them feeling alienated when tech is implemented in so many everyday processes. The government and businesses using such tech still need to make sure that these people who are not as comfortable or familiar with digital processes are still included.

On the other hand, I do believe digital adaptation will undergo a big transformation when all generations are tech-savvy. Things will get far more sophisticated as time goes on as we become more advanced in using tech, however, it will be a long journey. Different people use technology differently and engage on different levels; for example, in the recruitment sector, we are attracting people from every walk of life and need to ensure that we have engagement tools available for those who actively use technology as well as those who do not. We often find ourselves asking the question: Is technology the right way to engage with certain workers? If the answer is no, then how do we engage them? This is why the transformation needs to be well thought out, especially by the government.

The digital process and interaction with the government, for the older generation especially, can seem scarier when online; paying bills, for example, can seem more daunting online than via post or on the phone. Some are still undergoing a transitional phase, so while the digitising process can be beneficial, it risks alienating some of the population.

AW: Throughout the last year or so – COVID has rapidly sped up the way the government not only operates, but the way it will define future policies that will impact the private and public sector, from professionals and industries to the education sector.

We are seeing more virtual consultations, for example, and are moving towards a paperless environment. There has also been a focus on social media platforms for communication which enables government to communicate with the public quickly on a wide scale. Things are rapidly changing, and, in a way, it has become much more convenient and quicker for individuals to try to communicate with the government.

There are still many that are apprehensive, however. If we take the education sector – online platforms have been operating to support students for many years, yet more traditional institutes have struggled with the introduction of online classes and many students have struggled with accepting it as a means to be educated. There will still be bumps in the road like this for the government too, where people will prefer the familiarity of traditional systems.

How does digital transformation help citizens interact with government?

TD: The government plays a very important role in ensuring citizens feel safe. In order to do that, they need to be confident in the people they hire.

If we take recent events in the media regarding the police force, we now have the importance of vetting coming to the forefront. How can technology assist with this to ensure citizens do feel safe? The solution isn’t going to solely be technology-led – it is difficult to use technology to assess someone’s ethics and values – these are elements that are best assessed with human interaction.

Having resources to track and evaluate permanent and temporary workers is something that digital transformation can assist with. If there was an online screening passport that could be annually updated, for example, which could be used to quickly ascertain someone’s professional background and, therefore, recruit quicker, not only will you be able to feel confident in the person you recruit, but it also ensures citizens feel safer.

AW: The government’s digital capability framework is helping people to assess skills gaps and provides access in different modes, keeping it open for many. The Essential Digital Skills Framework, for example, defines the skills needed to safely benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital world of today and the future. Following such a framework provides citizens with the confidence they need to access government services easier, reduces costs and allows for a quicker response.

Where is digital transformation at now and where do you see it heading in the future?

AW: I think that many organisations are still in the early stages. There are pioneers, such as Tesla or Facebook, for example, that rely on technology advancements for progression. But there are also still many organisations that do not have the mindset nor the staff equipped with the skills to transform digitally.

What we are seeing, for example, is that different industries and sectors are adapting at different timescales in line with customer demand. There are lots of examples where technologies exist, and there’s a hunger to use them within organisations, but doing so would alienate their customer base.

“Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology that has the power to change an area of business or process. Drastic changes occur within an organisation when they adapt to using technology; it can be a planned, incremental or a radical process, but it will transform organisations, business models, products or services.”

Estate agents, for example, in theory, could use VR to allow customers to view homes remotely, however, their marketplace is not ready for this just yet. This means it could alienate older generations, in particular, and, as with all big purchases, there’s apprehension when not viewing something in person.

Concerns about the digital skills gap have been particularly acute during the COVID pandemic as people have been more reliant on digital skills for work, accessing education and services, and socialising. COVID has meant we have had to adapt a little bit quicker to this transformation, meaning that it may soon be more widespread quicker than we realise. Unfortunately, this means we are running the risk of witnessing many people not being skilled for the shift in job roles that are needed to adapt to the rise in technology. The onus is currently on education institutions to make sure they are providing the relevant skills, so businesses don’t find themselves falling behind simply due to digital and technology transformation occurring too fast for them to keep up.

There are barriers to obtaining digital skills, which the government needs to factor in; these can range from a lack of motivation or perceived need to obtain digital skills, a lack of trust in digital technology, a lack of support with learning digital skills and a lack of access to the required devices.

The government will be dealing with people from different generations and, therefore, different levels of comfort, experience and exposure to technology. But as digital literacy will be a priority for education institutes, businesses and personal social interaction, the government must be aware and readily react to this.

And as previously touched on, some organisations will find they are ready, but their customers/clients aren’t.

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Solutions Director, Public Services
Reed Talent Solutions

Contributor Profile

Head of School of Leadership & Management
Arden University
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