COVID-19 has finally turned the tide on digital transformation

digital innovation in 2021
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Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene, discusses how and why large businesses are preparing to lead the charge when it comes to digital innovation in 2021

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, businesses of all sizes and across all sectors have had to make difficult, yet necessary adjustments to the way they handle digital transformation projects. In the face of the pandemic, even the most tech-shy of organisations have been forced to shift their mindset.

No longer could elaborate plans to bring businesses into the future take the form of long-term projects, with milestones set out far in advance and little room for manoeuvre. In the “new normal”, organisations have had to quickly embrace new solutions and re-consider their attitudes towards risk – and perhaps this has been for the greater good.

Businesses have been faced with the prospect of going digital on a greater scale than ever before, and often, with fewer resources to hand. But in spite of it all, new research commissioned by Studio Graphene has revealed that more than half (58%) of UK businesses believe that COVID-19 has prompted their organisation to revamp the way it adopts and uses new technologies. Of the bigger companies surveyed (those with over 250 employees), this was even more prominent, with the overwhelming majority (66%) stating that this has been the case for their business.

Clearly, the pandemic has been a game-changer when it comes to digital innovation. And as we approach the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, what can business leaders learn from the past twelve months to successfully leverage new tech in the future?

Designing digital transformation strategies with flexibility in mind

Particularly within larger organisations that rely heavily on legacy software, the digital transformation strategies of yesteryear were often lengthy, wrapped up in red tape, and mapped out to the letter. These initiatives would more often than not, take years to implement and then arrive all at once, only for gaping holes and neglected business needs to quickly rise to the surface.

Now, I imagine that most of these businesses will have realised the benefit of fast-tracking digital initiatives, and will tear down the formalities in the months to come.

The trick to successful digital transformation projects is the ability to adopt the mindset of smaller and sprightlier organisations. Such companies usually work with iterative design: they build and deliver on a concept gradually, and give themselves room to making adjustments along the way. The result is that these new digital initiatives are entirely fit for purpose when they approach completion, with fewer mistakes to amend at the finish line.

It is perhaps for this reason, that a staggering 60% of businesses plan to enlist the help of third parties to support their digital initiatives in the coming months. This figure rises to 73% among the larger businesses surveyed. This should come as reassuring news indeed, and I would advise that big businesses embrace these new opportunities for collaboration, and turn to SMEs and startups as important partners in their digital efforts.

New horizons

As well as changing their attitude towards innovation, big businesses are increasingly thinking outside of the box when it comes to their IT spend, too. Throughout 2021, a sweeping majority of organisations (69%) said that they plan to launch new digital projects, tools, or initiatives more generally. But on a more granular level, 65% stated that these projects would involve technologies that they had never worked with before, including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing.

Before the pandemic, companies were admittedly more risk-averse when it came to the adoption of new and novel technologies. The general rule of thumb seemed to be that the more ground-breaking the solution, the longer it would take to implement. Now, as businesses look to innovative solutions as vital components of their business continuity strategies, the uptake of these technologies is becoming more prevalent.

Offering increased efficiency and profitability in the wake of uncertainty, companies seem to have learned that sometimes, well-measured risk can be a good thing. Indeed, half of the businesses surveyed in the aforementioned Studio Graphene research admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses within their business’ IT infrastructure and digital processes – in turn, this has caused a further 48% to eliminate one or more pieces of software that were no longer fit for purpose.

Going forward, I would advise that business leaders re-evaluate exactly where they sit in regard to taking risks, and whether playing it safe serves the greater good for their organisation. Although mitigating risk is no bad thing, there is always some element of risk involved in transforming internal and external processes for the betterment of the business.

Ultimately, it is a great relief to see businesses mobilising new solutions, and looking to new horizons as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So long as organisations do not hold onto old ways of thinking that no longer serve their business needs, I have no doubt that they will carry forward a rejuvenated corporate mentality and thrive in the post-COVID climate.


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