Transforming for a digital “new normal”

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith,” Steve Jobs the founder of Apple once said. This is how many companies will be feeling when they eventually come out the other side of the pandemic – and their savior may come in the form of digitization.

Companies that have already invested in digital transformation have found it easier to cope with global lockdowns that have forced entire workforces into telecommuting. These companies have demonstrated an agility through their digital maturity. It has helped them keep up with rapid workplace and supply chain changes together with unpredictable business needs that the pandemic has raised.

Enterprises that have cloud platforms and remote working infrastructures in place have been able to scale up VPN capacity from a few hundred to thousands in days without too much re-engineering. Those that have yet to register on the transformation curve have struggled to operate.

“The current crisis will test the reality of organizations’ readiness to support a distributed, offsite workforce – and our research suggests that the technology reality has not kept pace with the policy.”

Holly Muscolino, Research Vice President, Content and Process Strategies and the Future of Work at IDC

Fast tracking digital transformation

One of the biggest, and in some cases hardest, lessons companies have learned from this pandemic is how critical it is to stay ahead in digital transformation. For companies that have made investments in digital channels, such as large high street banks and stores, switching to remote operations has been less of a disruption.

Undertaking digitization, however, needs a well-thought-out strategy built on the selection of sustainable, robust and scalable technologies. Companies will be examining these transformation roadmaps much more carefully over the coming weeks and months.

Two areas projected to see growth as a result of the pandemic are infrastructure spend, which is forecast to grow 5.3% this year driven by cloud services according to IDC, and software, which is also expected to see a growth of just under 2% overall, again largely due to cloud investments. Telecom spending will also be less impacted than other technology areas as there is still a strong demand for broadband.

Preparing the digital road to the new normal

Most companies have shored up their IT infrastructures and cybersecurity to enable mass remote working as the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded. The savvy ones are now investing in their technological infrastructures to put themselves in an even stronger position as they emerge into the new normal.

Where should CIOs start? Companies will first need to run an audit of their current digital health so that they can prioritize IT projects. In most cases, these projects will be of the highest value and urgency to business operations. They will need to be designed to make companies more agile to cope with fast decision cycles. Gartner warns, however, that agile isn’t a “pick and mix” methodology, and to be successful, it must be used across all processes.

The goal is to become more agile and be able to adapt to the new and unanticipated. The pandemic has given CIOs an opportunity to make a difference outside what Serge Findling, Vice President of Research at IDC, calls their historical domain. “CIOs must urgently rework their plans and adapt to the unknown business environment laying ahead,” he says.

CIOs are already beginning to figure out what their priorities will be under the new normal. According to research by McKinsey, top of the agenda will be collaborative tools, training and end-point security.

Harnessing the power of cloud

Cloud has undoubtedly shown its muscle during the crisis, keeping businesses operational. It has the ability to scale up dramatically without any major outrages as a direct result of COVID-19 and the necessity for mass homeworking programs.

It is of little surprise, therefore, that companies are looking at increasing their cloud usage. According to a report from Flexera, 30% of large enterprises said they expect their cloud usage to increase significantly post pandemic. In addition, 47% of companies said they plan to increase their cloud investment based on their experiences during COVID-19. The survey also found that up to 60% of companies are looking to move most or all of their sensitive data to the cloud.

Migration to the cloud may have been made more urgent by the pandemic, but companies shouldn’t skip on planning their cloud strategies. Cloud migration can be complex as it embraces new models and adds new layers of technology. Going it alone can be arduous, which is why many companies are turning to experts to help them plan their end-to-end cloud journey.

47% of companies said they plan to increase their cloud investment

The future of collaboration

Companies that prior to the pandemic used only cloud-based collaboration solutions internally are now repurposing them to interact with external parties such as customers, partners and suppliers, according to Gregg Willsky, Principal Analyst at GlobalData. These companies have seen for themselves how invaluable these tools are in minimizing disruption and maintaining supply chains and external relationships during an emergency.

In the longer term, CIOs will need to develop strategies around collaboration tools that will “ensure continuity of operations, empower employees and improve efficiencies,” according to Gartner. This includes the ability for employees to create custom workflows that can automate routine assignments. In addition, CIOs will need application integration capabilities designed to make remote working for teams as transparent and seamless as possible.

This unprecedented health emergency has tested the resilience, robustness and security of every companies' IT infrastructures and business continuity plans. Consequently, many companies that have taken a steady approach to digital transformation will be accelerating these initiatives.

Read more: Data will help drive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and AI chatbot takes the strain off helplines.