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Using digital transformation to thrive rather than survive

Crisis has accelerated digital transformation, but its real scope goes far beyond survival

digital transformation cloud illustration

Despite economic turmoil and the disruption caused by COVID-19, the drive for digital transformation in the enterprise is, if anything, getting stronger. In September last year, Gartner reported that 69% of boards of directors in the US, EMEA and APAC had accelerated their digital initiatives following COVID-19 disruption, and were looking to increase their spending on technology. PwC's 24th Annual Global CEO survey also found that nearly half of CEOs were expecting to increase their long-term investments in digital transformation by over 10%, and that a further 34% expected moderate increases of up to 9%.

However, there's more than one kind of transformation. Much of the digital transformation of 2020 focused on continuity; using digital technology and new working models to maintain operations through repeated lockdowns. Where pre-pandemic talk of transformation centred on innovation and disruption, last year's was all about day to day operations. Now, though, this leaves enterprises with a choice; do they hunker down and consolidate on their existing technology investments, or do they use them as a springboard for further transformation? Can they use new digital tools and capabilities not just to survive, but to thrive?

In their article The Next Normal: Business Trends for 2021, McKinsey's Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal make the case for continued transformation. 'There's no going back' they say. 'The great acceleration in the use of technology, digitisation and new forms of working is going to be sustained.' The article explains that many executives have reported moving up to 25 times faster than thought possible on things like building supply-chain redundancies, improving data security and increasing the use of advanced technologies in operations, and argue that this provides 'the 'imperative for companies to reconfigure their operations – and an opportunity to transform them. To the extent that they do so, greater productivity will follow.'

The professional services company, Accenture, is even more bullish, suggesting that while tech leaders who doubled down on tech were growing at double the speed of tech laggards pre-pandemic, they are now growing at 5x the rate. Accenture argues that 'leaders don't wait for the "new normal", they build it themselves. Big changes today require bold leadership – and prioritising tech. And it's not just about fixing the organisation but upending convention and creating a new vision for the future.'

It's a point backed up by Ant Morse, Head of Digital Solutions at O2, in an interview last year with Mobile Magazine. 'Some look at digital transformation as a transition from a manual process to a digital service, for example' he suggests. 'In my opinion, that's digital progress rather than transformation.' For Morse, real transformation is about introducing and using digital solutions to transform how an organisation works, both as an organisation internally, and, in terms of how it services its customers. It's something that impacts the whole company across every organisational function.

Most importantly, transformation provides scope for real innovation, so that companies can find new ways to reach, win and retain customers while improving their internal operations. 'I believe that the companies that will thrive in the future are ones that prioritise innovation' said Jo Bertram, MD of O2 Business, at the 3rd annual Blue Door Expo in October 2020. 'Where once we might have discussed, debated and evaluated each new idea before taking action, now we must react to trends and opportunities, try out concepts and adopt new ways of working, faster than we have ever done before.'

So, how can organisations ensure they stay on the leading edge of change? Much of that comes down to the people within the organisation, having the right, digital savvy leaders in place and promoting collaboration between them and between their teams. Some of it also comes down to priorities. Transformation doesn't mean technology for technology's sake, but remaining focused on the customer and employee experience, and on the opportunities provided by new technology and the use of the growing volumes of data available to organisations to enhance both.

That starts with giving workers the capabilities they need to work efficiently in today's dynamic workplace, both inside and outside the office. New Device as a Service and Unified Endpoint Management solutions from O2 are revolutionising this area, making sure that every employee has the most appropriate device for their role irrespective of their working location. Devices arrive set-up and pre-configured without the need for hands-on intervention from IT. These solutions can help companies deliver a consistent, highly productive experience to employees from the day they start to the day they leave, while reducing the burden of management and administration on the IT team.

What's more, Mobile Device Management and UEM solutions can combine with advanced communications and collaboration services to help bring a geographically disparate workforce together and foster a spirit of innovation and teamwork across the organisation. Remote updates and managed security services, like O2 Digital Defence, can help organisations ensure their employees get secure and reliable access to crucial tools and resources, while protecting corporate data and maintaining compliance. This creates a solid foundation for future growth.

Transforming to thrive also means rethinking the organisation's technology stack and infrastructure, to ensure that it's making effective use of new cloud-based services and capabilities, and that the organisation is agile and equipped to scale. A more remote and dynamic workforce, converged wi-fi, mobile and fixed-line networks, such as O2 Gateway, could be the key to enabling employees to work effectively wherever they are, without compromising security or performance. What's more, moving to new managed SD-WAN solutions could allow enterprises to develop a more agile and scalable network infrastructure that's a better fit for a dynamic organisation than the old, office-centric WAN.

Most of all, transformation leaders will be looking to take advantage of the opportunities presented by new data-analytics, AI and machine learning applications, not to mention automation and the Internet of Things (IoT). The PwC report we mentioned earlier notes a surge in the adoption of advanced analytics and AI, and says that 'partly as a result, the gap between AI leaders and laggers is widening' with 'companies on the leading edge more deeply embedding AI in customer-focused applications, back-office applications and risk management.' From customer-facing bots to the automation of simple, repetitive tasks, organisations can make the most of these technologies to augment and empower their workforce. This in turn frees workers to focus their energy on the customer experience.

In a recent blog, Chris Stephenson, Head of Complex Digital and IoT Solutions at O2, discussed how smartphone-based digital assistants could work with IoT devices to help office-based workers meet the challenges of working in the 'new normal.' Stephenson suggests that the digital assistants we rely on for day-to-day tasks in the home could 'do the same at work. Your smartphone could communicate with your virtual receptionist to gain entry to your office, guide you to your workspace, switch on the lights and boot up your PC.' What's more, these digital assistants could run schedules and deliver information in a way that made every worker more productive.

IoT technologies could also have a wider impact. For example, many organisations are already using O2 Smart Vehicle telemetry to give them visibility of their fleet performance, producing a wealth of data which can help the organisation make smarter choices about which vehicles or drivers to assign to a job, or plan out smarter shift patterns. IoT can also help organisations monitor and preemptively fix crucial equipment, improving visibility and minimising the risk of any breakdown. This could mean quicker, more reliable deliveries, optimised production and reductions in operating costs.

All this takes is investments in the right technology and a desire to maintain the pace and drive innovation as a means to achieve their goals. The necessity of accelerated transformation in the pandemic led many organisations to realise that they could be agile and responsive when needed, and this should be embraced to keep the foot on the pedal during this next phase as we emerge post-lockdown. Organisations can look beyond necessity to what could be further enhanced or accelerated to grow their organisation and support employees and customers.

Find out how O2 can help you on your digital transformation journey

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