Insight Article: The Re-start – We Are All Tech Businesses Now
After several months in survival mode there is a flicker of light emerging at the end of the tunnel. Lockdowns are being eased around the world and organisations are starting to discuss how, when and if they will get back to a somewhat normal work environment.
There is of course an ‘elephant in the room’ for many companies. Large scale changes have been made very quickly and some of them are paying off! Businesses have had to embrace tech to function with a homebased workforce and will need embrace it further as they adjust their processes to continue trading in the coming weeks, months and maybe years. So, now that we have embraced tech, such as Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams, and realised that we don’t necessarily need those ineffective weekly meetings or to fly across the world for a conference. We need to ask, what changes will be maintained and how are we going to keep our foot on the gas of a technological shift?
Moltke the Elder said:
‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’.
While this may be true, it is still important to have one! Volatility will be a major risk and it is wise for business leaders to look in detail at their organisation and how it will continue to be affected by COVID-19. This may mean investing in parts of the business that are succeeding or planning for further complications in certain geographical areas.
What we know for certain is that important decisions need to be made quickly and what would normally take years of planning may now only take weeks. Your strategy may evolve and adapt with time, but you should build on what you have been forced to learn about digital and use it to create new digitally-inspired value propositions. For example, a local newspaper may have digitised by allowing customers to order their paper online for delivery. A new value proposition may be creating exclusive articles or videos for those signed up to a weekly subscription.
While it may seem impossible to look beyond the immediate crisis, a changing attitude to tech will ultimately secure a stronger future.
This plan also needs to focus on two key human elements: your employees and your customers. It is vital that you acknowledge the additional pressures involved in working during a global pandemic. Your employees have likely been under a lot of stress and may have suffered as their work and home lives have been forced together. A lack of work-life balance coupled with illness, family problems and childcare, for example, will understandably have affected motivation. It is your job as a leader to listen with empathy and try to understand the causes of these issues. Furthermore, some employees may feel uncomfortable coming back to the office, even if it is on a rotational system. This is another moment where empathy is key. We recommend communicating clearly and effectively during this time and ensure that employees feel listened to while planning your re-start.
In addition, large organisations in particular need to completely rethink their networks in order for secure and successful homeworking to continue over time. Customers’ needs and safety are also a factor in any successful strategy. Ask yourself what you have learnt from your customers in the last few months and use that as a steppingstone for the future. The decline in GDP was not down to a disruption in the supply chain, as some may assume, but rather a fall in demand for goods and services.
In order to boost demand, use the data you have gathered to develop digitally-inspired insights onto your customers current needs. Customer insight is invaluable, especially in a time of uncertainty, and should be used as a road map in your re-start. This may include providing more services online, working on delivery systems or creating a new service which provides better security.
Integration of Tech
In 2019 and the start of 2020, ‘Disruption’ was the word to watch out for. I think it is safe to say that we have all been disrupted by the past few months and would now prefer a bit of stability. This could catch us out! Business strategist, John P. Kotter, describes a sense of urgency as the first step in his 8-stage guide to managing organisational change. When used effectively, disruption can be harnessed as a facilitator for change. In the last few months, you have probably switched into survival mode, brought in new technology and rearranged your structure. Changes which may have once taken years of planning and delay have now been carried out in no time at all. So, instead of longing for stability, look at the successes and failures of these changes and consider which strategies have worked and which should be left behind.
At SKCI we use a 5 Key Question Strategy tool to aid clients through their business planning. Question 2 asks, ‘Where do we want to go?’, and focuses on prospective growth and how an organisation can be disruptive in its market. As we move through the pandemic, we can see how technology has shaped decision making and how survival techniques could lead to expansion. For example, GP surgeries throughout the UK have previously been reluctant to carry out online consultations. Due to COVID-19, they have become common practice and demonstrate how technology can be used to reduce waiting times and safeguard people from entering an area with a heightened risk of infection. Tech could be used to improve this system even further by connecting GPs with pharmacies to bring prescription filling and delivery completely online. Similar to technology in the workplace, it can’t replace humans in all capacities. But this kind of hybrid model can reduce human error, increase productivity and unite previously siloed teams.
Digitalization alone is not enough to keep up with a changing world. Now that we have all become tech businesses, be that by having Zoom video conferences or moving sales online, we need to think bigger. Organisations that don’t undergo a digital transformation are at risk of being left behind by those that are ahead of the curb. You have likely been forced to take small steps towards this transformation by Covid-19, and now is the time to build on your work. Digital Transformation is about using new digital technology to create new value propositions. This means putting technology at the core of your business model and using it to serve customers in a whole new way.
SMACIT is a much-used acronym when discussing digital transformation, but what does it mean? Social, Mobile, Analytics and AI, Cloud and Internet of Things are the main trends driving business transformation. When used appropriately they can boost a company’s efficiency and engagement, as well as, ensure long term success. For example, analytics have been around for years, but organisations aren’t using it to its fullest effect. The belief that it is too expensive or too complicated has prevented many organisations from using it. However, a number of companies such as Microsoft, with Microsoft Power B, have entered the market and dramatically reduced the cost. But, the technology is only one element, you need to have the right people to ask the right questions and garner useful insights. Shared Customer Insights can be developed from meaningful data, experimentation and simply asking customers what they would pay for. These insights can then be put into valuable strategy. When you better understand your own business or your customer, you can evolve your USP and build on your vision.
Where to begin
It is very easy for us to tell you to integrate SMACIT technology into your business, but it’s important to recognize the practicalities of a digital transformation. Firstly, ensure that you have digitalised your business, look into the automation of processes and evaluate how successful your infrastructure is currently. This in itself can be a catalyst for change and will allow a digital transformation to run more smoothly.
Once your current projects are digital you can focus on an outright transformation. This won’t happen overnight and, unless you have the resources, should be seen as an incremental process. Start small and think about how technology could be used within your organisation. These changes are limitless and your familiarity with the tech shouldn’t be a barrier to you. Think about building a relationship with a tech firm, look at the work of your peers and educate yourself. Many leaders fear tech, but there are plenty of ways to incorporate it without being an expert. For example, coding can be difficult and time consuming, yet no-code/low-code automation (such as Microsoft Power Apps or OutSystems LowCode) is an easy way to automate processes without bringing in external talent.
Similarly, encourage a culture of learning amongst your employees. Technology is advancing rapidly, and hard skills become outdated quickly. Focus on hiring those who are capable of learning and are willing to be flexible. These characteristics can be built on through company training sessions and individuals being given the freedom to spend time on developing their skills. Fostering education will lead to innovation as employees have the abilities and autonomy to push the limits of the organisation.
As you embrace the changes happening in the world, remember that digital transformation is fundamentally about creating new value propositions. The tech is there to help you better serve your customer and although it may alter everything from your business model to your delivery process, the client is still at the heart of your business. We like to frame the sense of urgency brought on by Covid-19 in positive way, because there will be many positives as a result, and we hope to inspire you to do the same.
Published July 3rd 2020