Today, any individual can pick up a scratch pad and jot down the lessons learned from 2020, in the early days of January of 2021. A central theme across all the conversations I had with CXOs last year is that digitization is non-negotiable for survival.
However, expectation from the pace and outcome of digitization efforts is an altogether different story. Even before the pandemic hit us and stress-tested our systems, companies were investing heavily in digital transformation. The pandemic has merely sped up the pace of change and digital adoption, forcing us to achieve over five years of consumer and business digital adoption in under 2 quarters. According to IDC (International Data Corporation), IT spending from digitization is forecasted to reach USD 6.8 trillion by 2023.
From telecom and banking to education, business leaders of all organizations had to put aside their misgivings, rethink their business models, and aggressively pursue digital transformation initiatives for their survival. For example, while telco’s have shifted to digital platforms to run their stores, schools and universities have pivoted to online learning and virtual classrooms.
With massive structural changes to the way we operate businesses, the challenge before business leaders is in delivering stellar user experiences in an increasingly digital world.
Shifting mindsets from product-centricity to customer-centricity
The driving force behind business strategies should always be the customer and making their lives easier.
Customers, especially millennials and Gen Z who are brought up in a digital world, crave a seamless digital experience and convenience. The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced those traits in customer behavior.
Companies that change their business strategies to adopt a customer-centric approach and plan their digital transformation initiatives to suit customer needs and convenience will gain an edge.
A case for education
Another sector that underwent tectonic shifts in the way it operates is education. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), over 1.6 billion students — 91% of all students in the world — have been affected. The demand for virtual learning has skyrocketed, evidenced by the 644% increase (within weeks) in the online education platform ‘Coursera’.
As we move on to a post-pandemic era, virtual learning is here to stay. With an economic downturn affecting incomes globally, students and parents are left wondering whether a four-year residential experience is even necessary.
The higher education ecosystem will have to transform the entire education experience, putting students first to stay resilient in the aftermath of COVID-19. That means leveraging digital technologies (cloud, mobile, AI) to construct immersive digital experience classrooms, employing machine learning to make courses relevant and hyper-personalized, or tapping into immersive digital technologies like AR/VR to simulate real-life scenarios (especially useful in fields like medicine or engineering).
To successfully bring about these digital capabilities, business leaders must rethink the underlying IT infrastructure.
A case for online commerce on digital backbone of telecom services providers
Instacart, an e-commerce app for home delivery, clearly demonstrates the benefits of adopting such an approach.
According to its CEO Apoorva Mehta, Instacart has already delivered USD 35 billion worth of groceries this year — a target projected to be achieved only by 2022. The Information reports that Instacart made a net profit of USD 10 million in April as customers bought USD 1.4 billion worth of goods within the first two weeks of April 2020 — a 450% increase from December 2019. That is how much Walmart or eBay would make in the pre-pandemic e-commerce world.
Two factors powered Instacart’s mercurial success.
The first was its business model, which focuses on bringing local grocers onboard as partners, equipping them with a digital marketplace to reach a wider audience, and providing them with data-driven insights for optimizing costs and efficiency.
The second was doubling down on customer experience by setting up an enormous customer service team and offering customers the means to communicate through chat.
Both factors required a significant technological investment, from advanced data science and analytics to in-app messaging. As businesses reopen, in-person retail stores can learn from Instacart and invest in upping their digital experience game with IoT, big data and analytics, the cloud, and smart devices.
What would a reimagined retail in-store experience look like? Smart shelves for more relevant inventories, data-gathering beacons and smart mirrors for hyper-personalized experiences, and lastly, self-checkouts. A Fortune report estimated that automated checkouts could reduce yearly retail costs by USD 380 billion.
Banking on microservices for enterprise digital transformation
Future-proofing your enterprise is the biggest lesson learned from the 2020 pandemic.
That is why using modern architecture such as microservices and cloud and building with a digital-first mindset using scaled agile development models is crucial for businesses to thrive and stay resilient to disruptions in the digital future.
That includes building resilience to calamities like security breaches and cyberattacks — a well-publicized challenge even in the pre-pandemic era. For instance, even a simple sensor is a potential entry point for cyberterrorists with IoT systems. As companies accelerate their move to the cloud, building data protection capabilities to prevent security breaches should be a top priority.
With rapid advancements in developing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine, the pandemic might be manageable in the upcoming quarters.
However, the lessons from the pandemic have rebooted businesses worldwide. Everything from business models to the digital technologies and infrastructure used to build digital platforms and applications have been reimagined for an uncertain, digital future.
The need of the hour is for business leaders to focus on customer experience and leverage the power of the cloud, microservices, and digital technologies to flourish and gain an unbeatable edge over the competition.