European Digital Transformation Forum: how the pandemic will shape our digital future

COVID-19 has severely impacted businesses across the globe. But one thing has become clear: it has accelerated digital transformation, which should change all our lives for the better. This was the message from the Orange Business European Digital Transformation Forum (EDTF) on 1 July.

EDTF is a gathering of our key CIOs – global thought leaders committed to addressing the latest business trends, opportunities, challenges and technology choices among their peers and with Orange senior representatives.

Technology, for me, has shown its star quality in keeping organizations operating through these unprecedented times. This was seconded by attendees. The rapid digital adoption of technology will continue into the recovery phase, where businesses will look to learn from the crisis and emerge stronger. They will need to reassess their entire business plans and look at opportunities such as automation and IoT to drive productivity.

Jerry Caron, Global Head of Technology Research and Analyst at GlobalData, highlighted how business priorities have changed post COVID-19. Before the crisis, CIOs were focused on sales, growth and opening up new markets. Now they are concentrating on business continuity and employee safety. Overall IT spend may be down this year. GlobalData found in a recent survey that 58% of companies plan to cut their IT spend this year, prior to a predicted upturn. But, at the same time, enterprises are actively looking at understanding how technology can help them adjust to the post-COVID world, according to Caron, and planning their budgets accordingly.

Looking forward over the next two years, enterprises will be looking at investing in technologies that can help them innovate, gain greater business insight and open up new revenue streams. These include collaboration, analytics and automation, according to GlobalData’s survey.

Priorities may have changed significantly short term, but it is clear from the feedback of the many diverse companies attending the forum that technology is in a prime position to shape our future. Digitization can provide invaluable benefits to business, the environment and society for years to come. If we get digital transformation right, it will bridge the physical and digital worlds. Not only in terms of competitive value, but also provide stakeholders with the tools to build a socially and environmentally sustainable world.

An emergency that has changed companies in fundamental ways

The pandemic is undoubtedly shaping our digital future. As part of plans to exit the crisis, attendees were unanimous that they would need to create more flexible workspaces, digitize more internal processes, and depend more on mobile applications. As a result, we will see more data and applications being driven to the cloud to support telecommuters.

I see for myself every day that businesses are facing a huge challenge. Not only have they had to navigate their way through this unprecedented health emergency, but they must now reposition themselves for the new normal. Technology has shown its value in supporting huge homeworking programs and keeping organizations operational, and it will be just as critical moving forward.

Leading business through the pandemic and into the new normal

We have seen that organizations with advanced digitization have found it easier to weather the pandemic storm. One customer, for example, said it had adopted agile working prior to the pandemic to create a dynamic workforce. With a technological infrastructure in place to link people and processes, the move to homeworking was much easier.

The ability of organizations to upscale and downscale has been critical during COVID-19. This, I believe, will become even more relevant in the future as we accelerate the use of cloud and “softwarization” to enhance agile working, flexibility and resilience.

COVID-19 has significantly raised awareness of the importance of business continuity planning. Attendees agreed that having well thought out business continuity plans in place is now more essential than ever, as disruption and instability are going to be on the horizon for some time to come.

The pandemic that has irreversibly changed the way we work

At the same time, organizations must take on board the fact that the workplace will never be the same again. A hybrid way of working will become the norm, with some staff in the office and some telecommuting. Technology, tools and connectivity will need to be put in place to make this as seamless as possible.

Business priorities in some organizations have changed, and they have had to find new ways of doing things. We will see organizations shoring up their e-commerce and utilizing advanced analytics with greater intensity.

The impact of COVID-19 will be long term

Sometimes it is hard to imagine what our lives were like pre-Coronavirus. In under six months, most of our lives have changed dramatically. We are all in this, however, for the long haul. The impact of the pandemic will be with us for a long time to come.

I will be very interested in hearing about how your enterprise is embracing digital technologies for the future.

Fabrice de Windt

Fabrice de Windt is Senior Vice President Europe at Orange Business.

With 17 years’ experience in ICT in sales functions, Fabrice’s responsibilities include defining the regional partner strategy, managing presales functions and practices, and ensuring the organization is geared to providing the best customer experience. He is also executive sponsor on key new logo opportunities and existing customers.

Fabrice has held senior positions in sales functions across several companies in the telecom and IT industry.

Fabrice speaks English, Dutch and French fluently and is the proud father of three children. In his spare time Fabrice likes to play tennis and golf.