Podcast transcript: Digital stagnation in a post-COVID world

Read the full transcript for this episode of the IT Pro Podcast

Podcast transcript: Digital stagnation in a post-COVID world

This automatically-generated transcript is taken from the IT Pro Podcast episode ‘Digital stagnation in a post-COVID world’. To listen to the full episode, click here. We apologise for any errors. 

Adam Shepherd  

Hi, I'm Adam Shepherd.

Jane McCallion

And I'm Jane McCallion.

Adam  

And you're listening to the IT Pro Podcast where today, we're asking whether the tech revolution brought about by COVID-19 could stall businesses technological progress in the long run.

Jane  

It's no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic sparked something of a digital revolution. We've spoken about it multiple times before on the podcast and have published a number of articles about it on the site. company's condensed five or 10 year digital transformation projects into just 12 months, while others went one step beyond typically by implementing permanent work from home policies, and in some cases, abandoning physical offices for good.

Adam  

Overall, this has been seen as broadly speaking, a good thing. Digital transformation is something companies of all shapes, sizes and ages need to adopt. But with what were long term projects now completed, could we be on the brink of a new period of digital inertia?

Jane  

So Adam, digital transformation has been the talk the focus of the IT industry, if you like, for years and years. And typically it's been quite a long term project that people have had planned, but COVID-19 has meant that all of those plans and ideas went from being, you know, kind of like maybe five years, maybe 10 years to just like now. And it's all happening right now. And I think there's a bit of a dichotomy here that some companies might see this as a springboard. But I think there's a real risk that the other companies are going to kind of go, Well, that's it, we've done our digital transformation. That was good. It didn't cost us as much time or money as we thought. So yeah, brilliant, kind of let's, let's have a rest. And yeah, that's, that's what it is. Is that something that you think is a risk as well?

Adam  

Yeah, I think that's absolutely a risk, particularly with, as you say, how, how expensive and how demanding digital transformation is, as well. You know, the, the pandemic wasn't easy on any organisation really, and setting up the kind of infrastructure that was needed to cope with remote working and with lockdown in terms of things like collaboration platforms, cloud file sharing, all of that kind of stuff. That's a big ask for an IT team to set up. And it's a big ask, you know, candidly, for a board to justify in terms of expenditure and cost as you as you said, a lot of these projects were things that were planned out and scheduled and budgeted for across multiple years. So the the concept of asking the board off the back of, you know, what is really quite a major time and financial investment, to authorise another set of big digital transformation initiatives, that's going to be a hard sell for a lot of IT departments, I think, and I think a lot of boards are going to go no, well, we, you know, we don't need to do anymore, we're as digitally transformed as we need to be now.

Jane  

Yeah. And I think it probably depends on where kind of in their digital transformation journey organisations were For us, I think, as we've spoken about before, Dennis Publishing, home of IT Pro, already had a lot of that kind of SaaS-type stuff going on, a lot of collaboration stuff. But there will be plenty of other organisations who had absolutely none of it, and will have had to have made a massive outlay in 2020, in order to just get the basics in place. And I think for those companies in particular, the idea of then continuing to spend more on this is going to be a difficult pill to swallow. I mean, do they need to, can they just take a break?

Adam  

Well, it depends on what they what they want to do. You know, I mean, there are many organisations who had historically been resisting rolling out things like Slack and Teams and SaaS tools in general, because they didn't really see the need for it. And while there are a lot of great things that can be achieved with digital transformation, you know, many of which we've spoken about already on on the podcast, and I'm sure we'll speak about a great deal more use cases over the course of this episode. But you don't need to do any of those things. If you're content as a business, to just trundle along the way you've always done things and just trust essentially that you're not going to have a competitor coming in using digital transformation to eat your lunch. If you're willing to take that business risk, then no, honestly, you don't always need to keep reinventing yourself and keep pursuing these kind of digital transformation goals.

Jane  

Yeah, and I think a lot of the sell of digital transformation, and I really mean the kind of marketing side of it, has been a sort of perpetual revolution type thing. And that might not be so appealing for organisations, depending on kind of the kind of organisation that they are, if they are up for continual improvement, continual tweaking around the edges, because yeah, it doesn't have to be a big bang, it can just be like, okay, well, let's make incremental improvement over here, let's make an incremental improvement over there. And if they're up for that, then good, if they're not, then you it's going to be not in their nature really to do any more digital transformation unless they really, really need to. And I also feel a bit like, for some organisations, I typically think kind of small organisations for whom this will have been a much bigger hit, than perhaps some larger ones. That actually, this whole process may have been quite intimidating. Actually, you know, if you've been through this kind of thing, you might want to kind of carry on down that road, or at least, leave it for a bit before you look at, like you say, kind of moving your applications to the cloud or deciding to offload everything to public cloud or, or whatever it is you're going to do next.

Adam  

It's also worth bearing in mind that while we talk about, you know, the establishment of all these SaaS tools is something that's, that's done now, that companies have been through, they kind of haven't really finished. Yeah, the functionality might have been stood up. But for these systems to be sustainable and effective over the long term, there's a lot of tweaking, and, you know, monitoring and maintenance and adoption work that needs to be done to make sure that they can bet in in a sustainable way. They're not done like the rollout isn't done by any manner of means just yet.

Jane  

Maybe uncovering that will be the thing that gives any kind of more reluctant organisations, a bit of a shove in the direction of actually, no, this is a continuing process, versus something that has a finite end.

Adam  

Ultimately, it depends what outcome businesses want their IT departments to deliver, you know, if all they want is kind of a little bit of additional productivity, then those kinds of SaaS collaboration tools will probably more or less do the job. If they want more kind of flexibility across the board, there's a number of line of business tools that can be bought in; cloud accounting software, for example. If they want to actually expand into newer business models, that's when you need to start looking at kind of more serious initiatives that are going to take multiple years and significant amounts of investment in terms of things like standing up new applications, modernising existing ones, deploying more data driven thinking into how you bring your products to market.

Jane  

Yeah, and I think perhaps this is very much dependent on the kind of organisation we're talking about. For example, if you are a hairdresser, then you might have an app and a website booking system and that kind of thing, maybe some kind of integrated payment system. But that kind of might need to be as far as you need to go, you're not going to necessarily need to think about how like, right, okay, how do you transform it so that, you know, kind of whatever is blah? You know, that might be for now at least as far as far as you need to go, which is also fine, just the acknowledgement that, okay, well, we have everything we need now. Let's keep an eye on things. Let's see if we can maybe update our app further down the line to make it more user friendly or whatever, versus something that a more tech focused, perhaps larger organisation might want to do around that you say, kind of standing up apps or you're adopting more and more and more cloud services that do more and more things that if you are a smaller business, you just might not need, you just might not need that functionality. Not everybody needs Salesforce - sorry Salesforce. Not everybody needs Workday. So you know, if you've got a relatively small team, you might not need that stuff.

Jane

So I think we really need to talk about the other side of this when we're thinking about digital transformation. So so much of  what's been highlighted by by us in the past and indeed in the present, and more widely is the whole working from home revolution that so many people are doing it. A lot of businesses who may have been reluctant have gone actually, you know what this is kind of great. And this has been a core part of why get all these solutions were implemented in the first place, why there has been such an acceleration in digital transformation. The idea that that is the accelerator is kind of predicated on the idea that we're not going to go back to the office, or most people won't, or it will just be a tiny bit. But there is a real pull in some companies. And most recently, the government really, really, really want people back in the office, like, they really want people in the office. And if you have that kind of pull back to physical premises, is by and large, successful, back to everybody being in nine to five, whatever, then that's going to significantly undermine this particular driver of digital transformation, the fact that you have people who are, or a large number of people who are working remotely, this distributed workforce, if you like, and that a lot of collaboration tools, a lot of new video conferencing tools, all of that kind of thing, is there to facilitate that. So could we even see a step backwards, do you think?

Adam  

No.

Jane  

Well, that's it for the IT Pro Podcast this week!

Adam  

Well, there's a bit of a misconception that collaboration software, and, you know, Slack, and Teams, and all of those kind of platforms are built for facilitating remote working, which is not entirely true. They are great for remote working, and for enabling remote workers to connect with their fellow colleagues. But they're also really good for just, you know, in office collaboration, you know, because while talking over the desk, for example, is great and an excellent way to collaborate and whatnot, the ability to rapidly communicate with even other other people within the same office, in different departments to share files and folders, to ping over links, to collaboratively work on documents, for example, all of that stuff works equally well, whether you're based on the next desk over or in another country. And it's it's that level of agility, that digital transformation is trying to get to, it's trying to lift organisations out of the quagmire of having to collaborate via long rambling email threads.

Jane  

Yeah, and that's a very good point, you know, you and I, if and when we eventually go back to Dennis Towers, can easily speak to each other across the desk. But if I want to go and speak to somebody in sales, it's like, oh, are they on floor two? Are they on floor five? I can't remember; whereabouts do they sit on these floors? Have they decided that actually, they're going to sit in a different part of the company today? And so it's a lot easier to just message them than to start some kind of manhunt across all floors of the business.

Adam  

I mean, candidly, we've both been in offices where we would be having, you know, full on team wide conversations on Slack with people who are within arm's reach. Because it's just more convenient than opening up our meat holes and saying words.

Jane  

Well, yes, I think we're gonna we're in danger of falling into the whole kind of like, why don't people talk to each other anymore? You kind of like texting your partner who is upstairs in your house, please bring me tea. 

Adam  

Well, because it's more convenient.

Jane  

Please bring me tea; as if my kitchen is upstairs.

Adam  

Oh, no, you want him to come downstairs, make you a cup of tea, deliver it to you and then go back upstairs.

Jane  

It's true. It's true. I don't want much in my life. Just a husband who is also a butler.

Adam  

But beyond collaboration tools, there's a lot of digital transformation, kind of adjacent stuff that actually not only works well within the Office, but also kind of needs the office to a, to a large extent, some of the bigger transformation projects around things like data and applications, for example, work a lot better when you can brainstorm in person.

Jane  

Yeah. And actually, do you know what you've, you've kind of prompted me to think of something, which is that there are certain digital transformation elements that actually are only relevant in the office. So for example, meeting room booking systems that are online or via apps, that is a purely office focused thing. That is easily part of digital transformation, rather than calling up in whoever it is in central booking or your facilities department to say, you know, can I can I book it for next Wednesday at nine rather than being able to say, okay, right, okay, this meeting room is available at seven. I have late or early meetings. And just book it now; the convenience of digital transformation, even in the office shouldn't be underestimated.

Adam  

Yeah, absolutely. So we've touched on this a little bit already. But one of the biggest factors in this whole question is the fact that digital transformation projects take a long time to plan out and to enact. It's, it's a big undertaking, you know, you've got to roll out something that is quite, you know, technically complex to set up, even if it's something as comparatively straightforward as a SaaS solution. And you've got to manage budgeting, adoption, all of these kinds of things. Now that organisations have had to condense all that into realistically, like a couple of months. Do we think that they're going to be willing to immediately start diving in to another one? Or are they going to effectively want to take a bit of a break?

Jane  

Yeah, I was gonna say, I think it's a totally legitimate attitude for everyone to want to take a bit of a break, not a permanent break, but just take a pause, and actually kind of assess the lay of the land, what's working? What isn't? Yeah, what of our previous digital transformation plan has been implemented? What hasn't? Is it still relevant the stuff that we didn't put in place yet? Or, you know, so do we want to roll it out over the course of five years, you've got some foundation set to build on, or actually just that need to go in the bin, and we need to reconsider the kind of organisation we are now. And the way that we work now. So I think that everybody take a little break, ever can do with a little break. Just kind of, in general, it's been...

Adam  

Step back, take a breath,

Jane  

Everybody go outside, look at a tree.

Adam  

Touch some grass. 

Jane  

All of that kind of thing. You know, take a moment in this crazy two years that we've had, and then go, where are we? What do we want to achieve? How do we want to get there? What is the period that we need, almost kind of back to basics type thing, the way you will have started your digital transformation plan in your when you first decided to do this, and also presumably something that you had in mind for the end of your first phase. If it's a five year project, the five years you're not going to be like well, it's great job guys. Well done. Speak to you never, maybe see you at the watercooler.

Adam  

But it's worth you know, speaking of that kind of back to basics approach, it's worth remembering that there's a significant amount of organisations who will have had to adopt new business models and new revenue streams in order to keep themselves afloat over the course of the pandemic. And in this is the time now, now that things are just starting to open back up again, this is the time to look at those new revenue streams, or even, you know, revenue streams that some of your competitors may have opened up that you haven't yet, to reassess. Okay. Which of these do we want to keep? Do we want to pursue and expand some of these new areas and some of these new models that we've started exploring? Do we want to kind of put those on ice and go back to focusing on our core business, because a lot of those considerations will be affected by the technology that you have and the technology investments that you're willing to make?

Jane  

Yeah, example that I can personally think of is So during the pandemic, a greengrocer local to where I am teamed up with a cheesemonger. And as far as I can tell it called a shop to offer delivery of. You can get your cabbages and your strawberries and whatever, and a nice, you know, kind of slice of Brie, and some Fairy liquid delivered all together. And I guess for those guys, for all three companies, the question will be, do we want to carry on collaborating? If so, how are we going to do it? Do we want to upgrade our website in the meantime? Because it's a little bit on the basic side? And, and that that counts, that counts as digital transformation. It doesn't have to be something called like big and whizzy and wow. 

Adam  

Yeah, absolutely. 

Jane  

And is it genuine business question for their future.

Adam  

So the question that I keep coming back to is, now that organisations have got a bit of breathing room, you know, the immediate need to set these programmes up has sort of passed. Should organisations keep up the momentum and keep investing in digital transformation? Or is it time to take a bit of a breather and take stock in the current lay of the land and assess their next move?

Jane  

I don't think it's really workable, to keep up the momentum. For most organisations. It was a state of emergency. That was why they brought everything forward, or indeed, brought in stuff they've not thought about previously. And I think that no, you can't keep up the same momentum. But that doesn't mean that you should let yourself stagnate either. Taking a breather is fine, as I say, to kind of assess where you are, in fact, it makes total sense to do that. Take a little period of recovery. And then you get ready to plan your plan, start doing your initial assessments, you need to keep some momentum, you need to do some stuff, because this is a continuous work in progress. But you don't have to do it all as rapidly or frantically as you have done over the course of 2020 specifically, and also probably going into 2021. Hopefully not 2022.

Adam  

Fingers crossed!

Jane  

Our Christmas episode, and new year episode for 2020 will be a bit bleak otherwise.

Adam  

Yeah, and for any organisations that are, you know, having their first experience of digital transformation over the last 12 months. This isn't how it's always meant to be.

Jane  

It's not normally like this.

Adam  

But yeah, I am inclined to agree with you. It's definitely worth slowing down, not stopping necessarily. But organisations should absolutely slow down, take their foot off the gas and just think about what they want, what they need from their IT and how they can sustainably put in goals and programmes to achieve that without having to burn the candle at both ends, as they have been doing for the last 18 months.

Jane  

Well, unfortunately, that's all we have time for this week. But do check out our show notes where we will have links to all of the relevant articles and podcasts on this topic.

Adam  

You can also follow us on Twitter at @itpro as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Jane  

Don't forget to subscribe to the IT Pro Podcast wherever you find podcasts, never miss an episode. And we'll be back next week with more analysis from the world IT and until then, goodbye.

Adam  

Bye. 

Featured Resources

The definitive guide to warehouse efficiency

Get your free guide to creating efficiencies in the warehouse

Free download

The total economic impact™ of Datto

Cost savings and business benefits of using Datto Integrated Solutions

Download now

Three-step guide to modern customer experience

Support the critical role CX plays in your business

Free download

Ransomware report

The global state of the channel

Download now

Recommended

LogMeIn GoToAssist Remote Support 5 review: A great support package
business software

LogMeIn GoToAssist Remote Support 5 review: A great support package

17 Sep 2021
Podcast transcript: Are foldable phones more than a fad?
Mobile

Podcast transcript: Are foldable phones more than a fad?

17 Sep 2021
Five top benefits of a dynamic work model for both your employees and your business
flexible working

Five top benefits of a dynamic work model for both your employees and your business

15 Sep 2021
Podcast transcript: Why techies shouldn’t become managers
Careers & training

Podcast transcript: Why techies shouldn’t become managers

10 Sep 2021

Most Popular

Zoom: From pandemic upstart to hybrid work giant
video conferencing

Zoom: From pandemic upstart to hybrid work giant

14 Sep 2021
What are the pros and cons of AI?
machine learning

What are the pros and cons of AI?

8 Sep 2021
Apple patches zero-day flaw abused by infamous NSO exploit
exploits

Apple patches zero-day flaw abused by infamous NSO exploit

14 Sep 2021