The Digital Transformation Time Line Just Sped Up. Now What?
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown nations around the world back by almost a decade, if not more. As governments and businesses struggle to stay afloat, one thing is clear: Technology has become the lifeline of the world we live in. Without the telecommunication options we have today, the world would be at a standstill. So what does that mean for digital transformation?
Setting the Stage for What's Next
Before we discuss digital transformation, let us discuss some aspects of the work and social environments under COVID-19. It is these norms that will guide the transformations of the future and perhaps change the way we live and work altogether.
- Telecommuting as the new normal: When offices closed and social distancing laws were put in place, what thrived was the telecommuting technologies. Video conferencing technologies such as Zoom and WebEx have seen unprecedented growth not just for corporate meetings but as a means of socializing as well.
- Online education: As schools and universities all over the world closed down and moved to online classes, online education portals have grown by leaps and bounds struggling to meet unprecedented demands.
- Decisions based on data: We live in a world of information overload. In such circumstances, the need for sanitized data that can drive decision making has become clear and imminent. We need this data to inform our every decision concerning COVID-19. Countries that have relied on data driven decision making have been able to get a more accurate assessment of the disease and been able to contain the spread and mortality.
- Reinvented business models: Grocery and food delivery services have become the norm, as delivery services struggle to keep up with demand. Amazon has seen a surge in online retail as malls remain closed. Smaller businesses that were able to pivot quickly to create online portals and connections to delivery services have managed to stay afloat while many others with limited digital portals have been forced to close down.
So what does this mean? In a survey done by ZDNet in 2018, 70% of the companies had started on their digital transformation journey in some shape or form. However, in a similar study by Harvard Business review, a majority of these initiatives did not meet their goals due to a lack of drivers. COVID-19 has provided organizations with this driver, where it is no longer a choice but has become an imperative.
There a few reasons why COVID-19 has forced companies to visit a digital transformation faster. Let us focus on the key technologies that have been the backbone of the widespread response to this pandemic across various geographies and organizations.
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Cloud is the key enabling technology for some of the major telecommuting, teleworking and even tele-heath applications. Cloud is what enables employees to work from any location, giving them access via a virtual environment to the same information that they would have access to from the office. Without the cloud, it would have been impossible to scale to accommodate an increasing workforce, co-editing of documents and real-time communication. Moreover, because resources can be redirected from one area to another, cloud has enabled on demand and surge capacity in areas of high demand. Using technologies such as Infrastructure as Code (IaC), deployments can be scheduled and performed online using automation rather than sitting in front of a physical server.
Big Data and AI
Churning through large amounts of data to create predictive models using artificial intelligence has helped support how governments across the world have planned their response. AI and data analytics have featured largely in the healthcare industry’s line of defense against COVID-19. Researchers have leveraged these tools to do everything from tracking hospital capacity to identifying high-risk patients, to predicting number of infections and understanding the spread of the disease.
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While the coronavirus has accentuated the promise of advanced modern technologies based on cloud and AI, the pandemic has also revealed the vulnerability of these technologies. Disruptions in telecommuting and educational applications, supply chain disruptions leading to delays in delivery and phishing concerns have become even more critical as large data sets are transferred across the internet.
Furthermore, as we move towards a post-lockdown world, where governments and companies are looking for ways to open the economy, these transformations are enabling their decision making. These technologies are not only making the case for uninterrupted seamless transition but also helping offset expenses of travel and commute, as cost becomes a critical decision-making factor in the next wave of transformation. The combined financial benefits of modernization far outweigh the cost as organizations weigh their return on investment.
The Future Is Here to Stay …
These technological transformations have helped us get through these last two months, and will now be an integral part of the world we'll enter post-lockdown. Although most companies previously understood the importance of digital transformation, they now realize the urgency of transforming today or risk being disrupted and displaced. The benefits that come from creating a forward-thinking, customer-focused, digital company can be lasting. As we grapple with the human aspects of the coronavirus moving forward, the digital aspects have become clear. The need to transform has moved from “if and when” to “now.”
About the Author
Geetika Tandon is a senior director at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and technology consulting firm. She was born in Delhi, India, holds a Bachelors in architecture from Delhi University, a Masters in architecture from the University of Southern California and a Masters in computer science from the University of California Santa Barbara.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of her employer.