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Digital transformation is happening; With or without you.

Digital transformation is happening; With or without you.

by: George Iacovou

Amidst the past couple of months of the COVID-19 shock, businesses, and people all over the globe have been digitally transformed either by choice or need. “We saw 2 years of digital transformation happen in 2 months” were the words of Satya Nadella [Microsoft CEO] last week. I think that this pretty much gives the extent of the change that has been happening. 

From comfort zone to riding at the edge of chaos

Back in my uni days “complexity” was quite hip in management theory and strategic thinking. Drawing from hard sciences studying how living systems work and operate. Among other concepts it advocated that equilibrium [comfort zone] means death for organisations and that situations of instability [the edge of chaos] can drive innovation and creativity and urged managers to create situations of bounded instability within their organisations to help them evolve.
Covid-19 is not what we would describe bounded instability, but it has definitely led people and businesses out of their comfort zones. 
My mom, a 72 year old retiree, learned how to make video calls to see her grandkids, how to connect YouTube on tv to watch Andrea Bocelli’s wonderful performance and used Viber to order her groceries. That’s in  2 months time. 

Retailers and brands that have been hesitant or afraid to move into online commerce for several reasons had to respond to the demand and found solutions to meet it. They jumped in the deep and most of them are not only surviving but are doing well – given the circumstances. They dealt with their fears of the unknown - technology, logistics, people. They now know what it takes and their decision whether to keep it going is better informed.
At the same time new retailers have emerged where retailers failed to respond. Distributors and suppliers of products filled in the gap by enabling the missing link to the direct consumer – the online shop. Most of the rest required were more or less in place. 
Courier services and logistics had to lift up the game and provide solutions to the ever-increasing demand. In some countries they could not respond to the massive pressure. This can be an issue for the local ecommerce market – if international marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba can deliver faster than the locals then it adds another barrier its evolution.
Small or big organisations, local or international, selling essential or not products they have found a way be open for business and let you know they can deliver to your door.
Even for services considered “difficult” to deliver online such as online conferences and summits, physical training, or teaching at scale, businesses and entrepreneurs have found ways to continue deliver them remotely and people willing to pay for them.
At the same time transformation has happened in the way businesses have been operating internally most important of which is not the adoption of technology to be able to communicate and work remotely rather than the imposed need to move away from a time keeper mentality to task oriented organisations. The latter concerns as much the employers as the employees.

Prepare to be forever changed

No one really knows how far this situation will run. Countries are in different stages of this timeline and that is prolonging the situation for everyone. It is at the same time prolonging the need for people and businesses to operate in an almost fully digital manner with minimum human interaction. 
This is further establishing the transformation that is taking place and how businesses will need to reflect, assess, and act towards the post crisis era. And I am not just referring to the ability to sell products though full-blown ecommerce shops rather than any form of digital enablement. From the good old send me an email request to the live video shopping or the pay for a recorded training session. From the digital seminars and the virtual conferences and summits. Everything has been transforming.
Make no mistake. These behaviours are here to stay on both ends; Consumers and businesses. A lot of the “barriers” or “excuses” have been now tested and put aside and gave place to must haves.
Think of some of the most common objections or concerns of these two major categories:

Consumers Businesses
Safety of transactions – as safe as it can be anywhere  Transaction costs and delivery costs are accepted services fees
The need to physical presence to buy – shoes, clothes Set up costs
Transaction costs and delivery costs are accepted services fees Up sale/cross sale cart size is bigger in physical – not the case think of Amazon 
Transaction costs and delivery costs are accepted services fees Users are not savvy
Businesses don’t deliver Users will not use it
Convenience has a price Convenience has a price
It is not necessarily cheaper It should not necessarily be cheaper

And the list can go on. I am not saying everything has been resolved or overcome but everyone is in a much more advanced and educated position to evaluate the way forward.

Fast is good but good is better

Speed and agility in adapting has been key to a lot of the businesses out there. It has admittedly been easier for smaller organisations that did not have the decision, processes, structures, and security issues to consider before adapting. It is easier for a small business owner of a bakery shop serving a local area to put the products online and serve a bigger market than a chain of baker shops to take the company online across a country. And don’t think that is just about the technology side of things. It is logistics, inventory controls, quality assurance, changes in packaging, and a lot more that come with online enablement.
And as important speed has been so far, setting up for the long run will be as critical. Along with markets maturity and change come increasing expectations to deliver better solutions, better and more services, be in more channels and be available.

In this context Digital Experiences matter more than ever. All the experiences a customer has when interacting with our company and brand will matter more this time as the stakes have risen. Everything; the messages we send out, the products we put on the market, the way we sell and what takes place after that, how we work together as team, the way the management leads. The end game is to be able to communicate and interact with our customers in a way that the “whole” of those experiences is greater than the sum of all those experiences, to paraphrase the Aristotelian quote.

Take a moment to reflect and plan for the long game

Whether you feel good of what you have pulled out of the hat or whether you still stare at the hat in total confusion this is the time to reflect and plan for what is coming.
Digital transformation is not an abstract fictitious notion. It is a collection of solid activities that follow a solid plan. Create a Digital Strategy and plan for its execution in context of what you have or have not done. This will include aspects of technology, data, marketing and communication, processes and people all interrelated. Put down where you want to be and plan for it. 

As Henry Ford said ‘Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it to small jobs’. 

Think of your digital presence. Is your website serving its target audiences? Does it sell your products or services? Does it provide the information its users require and urges them to engage with you further? Do your social media channels help you engage, inform and sell your offering? Has your digital communication key measurable objectives and follows a clear plan of actions? Have you set in place a mechanism of data collection and understanding of your customers? 

There are ways to initiate the implementation of the strategic vison by parallel, complementary and smaller projects. Strategic implementation of these project bits, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, will in step wise manner build-up the company’s goal of total digital transformation and by extension improve the overall outlook of customer experience. All that is required is a crystal clear inventory of the aims, objectives, and ambition of the company backed-up by a detailed schema of how it plans to achieve these set goals.

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