What the Pandemic’s Taught Us About Digital Transformation

Today, technology is a business imperative. It was already a fundamental, integral part of organizational communications and workflows, but now the business culture–technology relationship has intensified because of the crisis.

Maribel Lopez, technology industry analyst and strategic advisor, Lopez Research

Maribel Lopez, technology industry analyst and strategic advisor, Lopez Research

At the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations quickly deployed technologies to enable basic remote work. But some things just broke when people couldn’t sort out issues face-to-face, says Maribel Lopez, technology industry analyst and strategic advisor at Lopez Research. And that’s forcing leaders to completely rethink how they use enterprise technology.

To meet new and rapidly shifting needs, companies are working to adapt and accelerate digital experience delivery. “Even if they were digital, it’s a new digital,” says Lopez. “So out of this very tragic event, there will be some positive outcomes.”

How Industries Drive Future-Ready Transformation

Purely physical processes were obvious targets for change as companies pivoted early in the pandemic to respond to digital-only engagement. A few examples include SaaS-based web conferencing apps and cloud-based e-commerce websites.

Despite the digitization of some key processes, Lopez says, “Now business leaders are being reminded that many processes are still physical and must become digital if their companies are going to thrive.”

Fixing those gaps serves as a catalyst for organizations across industries to take a closer look at what digital transformation has taken place and what still needs to be done to future ready businesses. Here are a few examples. 

Healthcare

Modernization of the healthcare system has been underway for years. Due to the pandemic, however, providers rushed to enable non-essential staff to work from home. They also built pop-up hospitals so essential doctors and nurses could better care for patients.

Simultaneously, healthcare organizations are launching app-based consumer solutions, such as telehealth services, to ensure the continued health of patients and vulnerable populations.

Retail

Out of necessity, the retail industry shifted its focus to help shoppers get the products they need as quickly as possible—online, at curbsides, and in stores. To completely transform, though, requires a better understanding of the end-to-end customer experience, for example, why loyal consumers add to shopping carts but never complete a transaction, and the building of modern apps with associate-friendly workflows such as real-time inventory checking.

Financial services

In an industry built on relationships, in-branch banking and in-office advisor experiences once dominated. Personal engagement and regulatory requirements created a culture of heavily controlled IT. Now, financial services teams are looking for ways to stay in compliance, while supporting distributed advisors and clients from anywhere.

Education

The pandemic forced colleges, universities, and primary and secondary schools across the world to move learning online. This proved the distance learning model can work, but it will need to be further examined and modified to prioritize equity for all.

The New Digital: The App Experience as the Customer Experience

While we know now that digital transformation isn’t failing, per say, have organizations fully embraced the idea that the app experience is the customer experience?

Lopez isn’t so sure. “I think the app experience was always supposed to be part of the customer experience. What happened was the rest of our experience was so broken that in most cases, we couldn’t do cross-channel well.”

She cites two examples:

  • When ordering products via the web is faster than navigating 10-plus clicks on a smartphone, why would people use an app?
  • When changing airline reservations is faster through the app, why would people pick up the phone?

True digital transformation means delivering the same one-or-two click experience across every channel—web, mobile devices, tablets and more. Lopez believes, “Teams now have to focus on pervasive experience. No matter where you are, you have a similar feeling that you can get the same things done no matter the device.”

Traditionally, developers have been unable to give people everything they can get in a PC experience because so many processes are highly customized,” she says.

Enterprises must step back and examine the parts of each process to find the pieces delivering the value. For example, do customers come to a business for its highly customized supply chain process or its product? Chances are it’s the product, she says. This should be a signal for the organization to reduce some customization in favor of providing more consistent cross-channel experiences.

The Power of Design Thinking

The way to uncover an app’s essence is to take complicated applications through a design thinking process. This ensures teams distill each app to its core value with the optimal workflow—whether that’s enabling dynamic pricing or expense report approvals.

A workflow is an action. And when you see organizations with really good workflows, you’re looking at very good business processes. Under the surface, those workflows touch multiple apps to fully complete a process. Think about service technicians with iPads, for example. They can tap into one app and seamlessly launch three or four different workflows. According to Lopez, this capability “becomes very interesting and very powerful.”

“I see teams redesigning this way now and a big move toward the concept of human-centered design. For example, in automotive companies this is now pervasive thinking, which is really important,” she says.

In short context, connection through integration and cross-channel consistency will make modern apps more impactful and useful. Only then can the app experience truly be the customer experience.

The Third Dimension: Infrastructure Implications

Enabling connected workflows in and across apps will require more than development skill sets. “It’s going to take a rethink of infrastructure and security, too,” says Lopez.

When the pandemic hit, nearly all organizations were doing some form of a cloud strategy. “Everybody was looking at public, private and hybrid cloud. Everybody was thinking about or already building a multi-cloud strategy,” she says. Multi-cloud involves having parts of infrastructure on-premises and parts in the cloud.

The biggest challenge facing teams was adding and migrating workloads between cloud options. Now that work is different, Lopez believes we’ve entered into “the third dimension, which is some portion of always-distributed workers—but not always the same group of them.”

Productivity is paramount in all cases, so the infrastructure has to change. Teams can no longer optimize computing resources for work across a single building or campus. Instead, they must consider how to scale resources and end-user access at different periods of time and locations using clouds with virtual desktops (VDI), as an example.

In this new world, IT will have to reimagine what infrastructure gets served from where and how security can be maintained but done differently—without burdening workforces. IT has to consider where workloads live (e.g., AWS, Azure, Google or another cloud platform) and how to take previously locked down workloads to other places. Enterprises need a clear multi-cloud strategy and understanding about how to integrate points that previously weren’t considered part of the corporate enterprise, Lopez says.

As a result of this shared experience, Lopez believes the whole concept of infrastructure and how it’s managed will be more diverse. “Less centralized, but still very directed just not all in the same way,” she says. For example, enabling employees to have access to everything they need will be important. Yet, resources are likely to be delivered a certain way when someone is in the office and a different way when working from home.

Technical support structures must change, too. Without human-to-human interactions, how do employees and customers get queries answered and challenges solved when there is no one to call? This is where chatbots come in, says Lopez. She cites a recent example where chatbot technology enabled the automated distribution of information without going through redundant questions. This streamlined interaction made the person-to-person engagement, once it did happen, more effective.

IT leaders embracing third-dimension thinking will be the ones leading the most adaptive organizations.

Maribel Lopez, technology industry analyst and strategic advisor, Lopez Research

The Best Human-First Enterprise Tech Platforms…Wait for It…Aren’t Even Built Yet

Although teams are trying, Lopez hasn’t seen an ideal human-first technology platform for the enterprise. “They aren’t built yet. But we’re getting closer with some human-first mobile apps and aligned IT and business leaders willing to take on the bigger issue, which is the process,” she says.

It’s possible now to deliver faster, easier access to data and apps in technologies like the digital workspace. But if the experience with individual apps is still poor, people will be frustrated. Part of the challenge, says Lopez, is terminology, which is often too technical and not human-centric. The other is the end-to-end process.

Technology will need to get simpler and self-service has to become the norm, not the exception. Yet, teams can’t use automation as a crutch to avoid rethinking broken processes, says Lopez. Apps and devices must be so easy that anyone can troubleshoot them. It’s going to be impossible with flex remote working schedules to scale effective tech support at work. And it’ll be even harder for industries like retail to help non-tech savvy customers to navigate grocery shopping online, she says.

Emerging technologies like chatbots and artificial intelligence can help, she says. But the key to success is on her wish list: better conversational and natural language interfaces.

Embracing Future-Ready Business

Despite the debate, digital transformation efforts are succeeding. But it can be even more successful when businesses embrace a new digital. Yet, how they get there will depend on their willingness to envision customer and employee experiences differently. Ultimately, successful future-ready businesses will find the connections and redefine the workflows that matter. And only through this reimagining will app experiences truly become the customer experience.