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Digital will be the new normal for business, experts say

  • Dawn Milne
  • |
  • Apr 23, 2020
Digital will be the new normal for business, experts say

The COVID-19 crisis is triggering a worldwide digital transformation and experts say there is no going back.

“Many businesses have demonstrated in six weeks the amount of agility they have,” said Robert Webb, a global technology executive and executive coach with The Ivey Academy. “If they see they can change that quickly based on this crisis, I think it will be hard to not reap those benefits.”

Webb, along with Warren Ritchie, a corporate transformation expert who leads the Strategy Services Practice at CGS Advisors, participated in an Ivey Academy webinar called Accelerating Digital Transformation, which looked at how companies can prepare for the transition to digital. Here are some key takeaways.

Warren Ritchie – Digital transformation goes beyond business continuity

Although many companies are operating remotely during the crisis for the sake of business continuity, Ritchie said that’s just the first step in a larger transition. As they see how consumers adapt to the changes, it will take away some of the uncertainty around digitizing and they’ll start to look more closely at how they can adapt their business models and underlying processes.

“Some businesses are saying they have the capability (to go digital), but they’ve delayed making the investment into it because they weren’t really sure of the ROI, and what they now might be finding is the core business is suffering ... Now is the time to ask, Would we be a better business if we were more digital?,” he said. “Ten-year plans, while the right plans, need to be done in two to three years. We have to advance and not be as patient as we once were.”

Even when companies can’t digitize their products or services, he said they might be able to digitize interactions with the user or consumer.

“There are ways to look at how the products or services are acquired or consumed and the pattern of usage,” he said. "We need to be able to adapt and dig deeper into other ways to interact with customers.”

Robert Webb – Now is the time to experiment

Embracing the use of technology requires companies to adopt a new set of behaviours. Instead of flawless planning, companies will need to test, learn, and experiment with an increased focus on the needs of customers and employees.

“We have to be ambidextrous. We have to be able to move very rapidly and trust people to make short-term decisions that are going to take care of customers and employees,” he said. “There are no silver bullets in this pandemic and there are no silver bullets for digital transformation.”

While acknowledging that not every business is prepared for the digital world, Webb and Ritchie said there are ways to assess if you’re ready.

Three signals your business is ready to go digital:

  1. You have cross-functional teams;
  2. You are looking at data architecture and data models; and,
  3. You have an agile way of working and communicating and your decision-making is decentralized.