Some industries appear to be getting through the pandemic relatively unscathed. Others, such as retail, hospitality and air transport, have taken a battering. All will feel an impact over the coming months as they adjust to unpredictable times ahead until we have a vaccine for the Coronavirus.
One thing we have learned is that the more digitally mature have found it easier to cope with this global health emergency. This has been noted by IDC, which has seen that enterprises leading in digital transformation have been markedly less exposed to the pandemic. In addition, enterprises that have invested in work resource transformation have been better able to coordinate remote workers and have had a higher overall work efficiency.
It is therefore paramount that companies build operational resilience into their digital strategies. The pandemic has spotlighted the value of technology in a crisis. This should be the catalyst in accelerating digital transformation.
I agree with Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, who says: “This will be a wakeup call for organizations who have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long term resilience.”
Businesses that can swiftly move to digital platforms will do much to lessen the fallout from COVID-19. The transformation will enable them to keep the wheels of their operations running smoothly and prepare for whatever the new normal holds.
Orange Business Services, for example, quickly realized that the pandemic fallout would overwhelm call centers and human resources. To help customers cope with the situation, Orange (with its subsidiary Business & Decision) built an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot. Chatbots are the most commonly used form of AI in companies so far, and we expect customers to utilize this technology going forward.
In another scenario, a customer wanted to move key functions, such as remote working, to the cloud to deal with teleworking triggered by the pandemic and a future of flexible working. Orange moved the customer across to Microsoft Azure. This migration proved critical, as the pandemic unfolded, in getting knowledge workers working from home on primarily Microsoft 365 applications.
Reimaging the world digitally
Many things will change in the new normal. There will be more people working from home and fewer face-to-face meetings, for example. Digital transformation is nothing new, but companies will need to prioritize digital solutions and services to deal with the changing face of the workplace.
Collaboration tools, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will become increasingly important in boosting productivity and efficiencies. These technologies will provide the speed, agility and resilience companies need to return to growth. They will be pivotal in enabling companies to act quickly and effectively to customers, competitors and markets that will be changing more rapidly than ever before.
It is important to understand that this accelerated digital transformation will require future-proofed, secure foundations. A robust, secure network that supports these transformation goals will be paramount, together with a well-orchestrated multi-cloud strategy. A cloud-based omnichannel call center, for example, will enable agents to work from anywhere.
EY forecasts that 72% of CEOs will prioritize investments in digital and technology once we start to get back to some semblance of business as usual. This will underpin new business ecosystems, revenue models and collaborations. Choosing a technology partner that understands these requirements will be crucial. Companies like Orange have the expertise to provide a secure infrastructure for transformation and the services companies need in this period of uncertainty.
Re-assessing infrastructure requirements may require specific skills. Infrastructure and process changes can be on-boarded more easily with end-user adoption and training. This again is where a trustworthy technology partner comes in.
Digitization and automation will also help to control costs as companies work out what the new normal actually is. Those that can balance their business priorities with this digital investment will be the ones that will seize any new opportunities that emerge post-crisis.
The pandemic response showed the power of cloud
The pandemic has presented organizations with unprecedented IT challenges over the past weeks and months. Cloud computing is one technology that has shown its true business value. It has supported a mass migration to homeworking that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Cloud has made access to key business applications and collaboration tools readily available to homeworkers. In addition, the scalability of cloud hosting solutions has made spikes in traffic due to business disruption far easier to address. With more people continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future due to social distancing, cloud services will be vital in getting business operations up and running successfully in the new normal.
Cloud has become part of our digital lives, enabling us to continue to run businesses effectively and stay connected. Cloud is now ready to play an increasingly important role in the economic recovery of organizations. Organizations will be looking to expand their cloud usage with innovative cloud-supported applications such as AI to enhance the user and customer experience.
Cloud will be paramount in building powerful, flexible, scalable and remotely manageable systems, supporting cutting-edge applications that are resilient to deal with any global crisis that may flare-up in the future.
Spurring on 5G
We will see 5G adoption spurred on as companies look to deal with a huge rise in data traffic due to the increasing deployment of IoT devices and M2M connections. To create real business efficiencies, higher data transfer speeds and lower latency are essential.
5G promises to deliver speeds up to 100 times faster than typical 4G technology alongside stronger, more robust connections. It will change the way we consume information and entertainment. This will enable companies to remodel their businesses with new, innovative revenue streams. It will make it easier to control consumer appliances and health monitoring devices, for example. Autonomous cars will start appearing on our roads.
We may have a small wait, however. COVID-19 has hit the finalization of some 5G standards. 3GPP, the global association responsible for developing global 5G technology standards, has had to push back releases to June and September respectively. The good news, however, is that 3GPP has said that there will be no repercussions on the compatibility of devices and networks used for the first 5G deployments.
Edge computing – the next big step
One can’t mention 5G without Edge computing. They will work together, hand in hand, to provide the power to process gargantuan amounts of data in real time. Cloud has revolutionized the way applications are developed, deployed and served up to the user. Edge is the next big step in increasing both performance and capabilities.
Mobile devices are increasingly central to the way we all work. Cloud, despite all its benefits, can’t overcome the physical constraints of the network, which leads to latencies. Shifting power, data storage and management closer to the edge allows data to be harvested and analyzed for smarter, faster decision making. As a result, we can expect to see groundbreaking 5G applications appear in the spheres of AI, IoT and robotics for example.
Moving forward in the new normal
The pandemic has forced CIOs to make some challenging decisions quickly. Now, the same CIOs will have to speed up IT project timelines and prioritize those that support business goals. With both continuity and growth very much to the fore, there has never been a better time to speed up digital transformation than the present.
Juliet Walker is the Head of Marketing for the International Business Division of Orange Business Services, driving growth and profitability for businesses around the world. She joined from the Globecast subsidiary where she was the Chief Marketing Officer. Juliet has a degree and PhD from the University of Cambridge and enjoys hiking and cycling with her family and a little bit of gardening in her spare time.