We’re all aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the already rapidly evolving field of digital communication. Whilst the world complied with the ‘stay at home’ message, companies embraced a range of digital tools to maintain collaboration, surveillance and communication. The change of pace is tangible but not so many people are aware of the subtle change of direction.

Prior to the pandemic, digital innovation was driven by the desire to meet customer needs in a more efficient way. Now, the motivators stem from safety concerns, the need for more frequent digital communication, and social distancing regulations. The urgency with which the changes are required, and the potential losses if they are not achieved, has added to the already challenging environment.

What businesses need to know

Digital transformation is no longer something that you can embrace in your own time or put off until you feel like tackling it. It’s no longer an investment that could make you more money – it’s an essential adaption that could be the only thing that makes you any money at all.

It is now essential that you digitise your business to retain the clients you already have and to attract new ones. In order to do that, you need to understand how the dynamics of this sector are changing.

The most influential change is the shift in focus towards health and safety. For the foreseeable future, infection control, workflow and social distancing will mean that our previous office-centred approach to business will have to change. Your digital assets are now part of your infection control initiatives. They will protect your clients and workforce from harm and will help to prevent localised outbreaks. This is also the time to be investigating in new digital technologies such as the Internet of Things, integrated solutions and wearable technology.

Companies that had not embraced digital distribution channels had to start fairly rapidly. In order to survive, they had to find digital ways to reach their client base. However, it is still important to find the most suitable channel for your business and to fully understand the rules and customer expectations that each channel brings with it.

Expertise will also be an issue. If you do not have in-house personnel who can introduce these changes for you, you will need to buy that expertise in. These skills are in great demand at the moment and you may struggle to find software developers, QA outsourcers and other experts at a budget that you can afford.

The pandemic has clearly illustrated how rapidly customer demands can change and how quickly businesses need to respond if they are to survive. Digital solutions can not only integrate e-commerce into your business plan, they can overhaul your customer support, distribution methods, and payment arrangements.

Offices may be empty but communication and collaboration are still key to a successful enterprise and this is where digital transformation is vital. Remote working was possible pre-COVID but now it is essential. Tools such as Zoom may not meet the complex needs of your industry and other innovations such as hybrid clouds and custom software may be required.

Rising to the digital transformation challenge

There’s a lot that companies can do to rise to the digital transformation challenge and thrive in the post-COVID environment. Commitment from everyone in the business is essential and all key players must be highly motivated. It should not be seen as simply a way of beating your competitors, it should be viewed as promoting sustainability and diversification in your field.

If you fail to monitor your progress, the success of the digital transformation will be impossible to quantify and is less likely to be sustained. Success breeds success and if you can show your team that this is working, it will reinforce their commitment to the project. Surveillance and monitoring require metrics (variables) that can be accurately measured and compared over time. Each business sector will have its own metrics and a brain-storming session may be required to choose the most appropriate.

Be prepared for there to be some push back. Digital transformations disrupt traditional workflows and established ways of doing things and some colleagues may find this stressful. It is worth putting the effort in to get everyone on board and excited about the project. If you can prove that it is working, this will help.

To sum up, digital transformation is not new and was not triggered by COVID. It has been going on for years. However, the pandemic has shifted both the speed and direction of that transformation. There are also new challenges to overcome. Nevertheless, with a clear plan and with the commitment of everyone in the team, your business can rise to the challenge and thrive in these challenging times.