When it comes to digital transformation, COVID-19 has been a massive accelerant, writes Thibault Dousson, GM of Lenovo Southern Africa. Businesses with long-term transformation deadlines have been forced to bring them forward dramatically: what was once planned for 18 months’ time, now has to be ready immediately.
Consumers are engaging with businesses that are digitally astute now more than ever before. Those that are able to innovate, and to make their products and services available quickly, easily and reliably, are sure to succeed; those that aren’t sufficiently transformed will likely be left behind. This digital transformation drive has far-reaching implications: for how we work, for the tools we use, and for businesses’ long-term relevance. It is shaping the future of our working world.
The evolution of office space
COVID-19 has fundamentally altered where and how we work. Organisations that had never considered remote working have been forced to make it a reality in order to stay in business. For some, the transition has been easy. For others, it has brought with it a variety of challenges. But even for the latter, adapting to remote working has been relatively swift – so much so that many businesses are starting to reconsider how they use their office spaces.
During this time, we’ve learned that we can work productively and collaboratively without needing to be in the same physical space. And while some people need face-to-face interaction in order to conduct their work and others simply can’t work from home, this doesn’t mean that offices always need to be able to cater to a full staff complement. In the future, work spaces could cater for smaller numbers of employees at any given point in time, which would offer huge cost savings.
The drawbacks and benefits of our digital tools
However, the pandemic has also made the inadequacies of many of our digital tools blatantly evident. We’ve seen the need for improved sound and camera quality in our conference tools, and the urgent demand for better connectivity and the democratisation of access. In a country like South Africa, the massive schism between those who can access technology and those who can’t has had serious ramifications in the COVID-19 era.
The South African government is not unaware of this issue, and is making the budget available to ensure that people have increased access to technology, including in schools and higher learning institutions. Online education, which has been a governmental priority for some time, has been ramped up significantly, and will continue to be an investment focus for a long time to come.
Many of our connectivity issues will be addressed through the deployment of 5G, which will also offer other benefits. 5G allows for the instant capturing and analysis of data, which, when combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence, can help businesses to make informed decisions that benefit customers immediately.
What digital transformation looks like in practice
Implementing major digital changes have to be carefully thought through in order to be successful, and must have a strong and strategic business focus. Businesses need to search for new opportunities to innovate within their existing ecosystems, develop better and more precise offerings that cater specifically to their customers’ needs, and ensure that the customer journey is smooth and pleasant.
Communication during this time is critical, and employees have to be businesses’ first priority. If the relevant teams don’t understand and support the digital transformation process, they’ll likely experience it as a threat, which could slow its success. Businesses need to take the time to explain the changes to come, what these changes mean for employees’ work, and how the tools they have at their disposal will help. Investing in digital training during this time will be key.
Of course, engaging with customers and partners is equally critical. Businesses that use the data they have available to fine-tune their relationships with their customers and partners, and that develop innovations that their customers need, will differentiate themselves from others.
Digital transformation is a journey – but the current crisis has forced it to happen quicker than anyone anticipated. Although an initial resistance to this shift is to be expected, businesses that implement the necessary changes quickly will benefit from the profound value of digital transformation and reap its many rewards.