When I sat down to write this article, a follow-on to my previous article on common leadership oversights on the path to digital transformation, the coronavirus’s threat to global business had not reached the magnitude that we feel and see today. In a few short weeks, the pandemic has forced a new virtual work reality on businesses and entire operating models have been shifted – and in many cases, upended.
A business environment that is changing so dramatically and rapidly requires speed, innovation on the fly, and the need to scale thinking beyond anything we might have previously imagined. Now is not the time to back-burner digital initiatives but to ramp them up.
Now is not the time to back-burner digital initiatives but to ramp them up.
When the crisis eases, we will have entered a new digital normal. The strategies we use to run, change, and staff the business will need to reflect this shift. Consider the following factors as you plan for the longer term:
1. The right financials
Any business that isn’t digital by now likely won’t be a business for long. Learning to embrace and adjust is imperative. Continuing – or starting – a digital transformation will be more important than ever, and you’ll need to rethink your business’ capital allocation strategies for digital initiatives and the staffing that supports them.
To figure this out, become best friends with your finance team and think for both the short- and long-term. In the current climate, it can be easy to be either too short-sighted or too far-sighted, but you need to plan for the next week, month, quarter, year, three and five years.
Become best friends with your finance team and think for both the short- and long-term.
Consider how your company may bounce back from the pandemic when stay-at-home orders are lifted, kids go back to school, and consumers begin to mobilize again: We will have entered an entirely different digital world, with new digital expectations from consumers. Is there potential for a rapid and significant surge, followed by a normalization? Will you be facing a slow rise? Digital transformation funds need to be allocated to react appropriately to these various scenarios; staffing discussions should follow based on these decisions.
2. The right tools
It is likely that at least some of your employees will remain virtual, even when the majority can get back into the office. How will you support them? You may have sacrificed some tools or technologies in your move to quickly get employees out of your building and into their homes; you may have also overpaid for the sake of quick deployment.
You’ll need to rework your strategy for the long term. This could include better or more consistent access to networks and servers, the capacity to host formal business meetings online, new portable equipment, virtual collaboration and communication software, and more.
For many, this will require working with your corporate legal team to change their thinking. Where they may have once been risk-averse for the sake of the business, they will now need to take smart risks, also for the take of the business. State your case, find common ground, and move forward.
In some particularly dire situations, you may even need to become comfortable with making decisions first and asking for permission later.
3. The right staffing
You’ll need to continue to make smart staffing decisions – quickly. You likely have three types of talent available:
- Employees who are great at running the business
- Employees who are hungry for more
- New talent that may not yet exist in your business but needs to be brought in
Unfortunately, this global crisis may have created gaps in your workforce.
Identify the individuals in the first two groups and work with your talent management team to assess whether you need to advance digital investments previously planned for. Do these individuals have the right type of skills for their teams? Are they collaborative and communicative? IT cannot work in a silo, and team members need to be able to communicate what they are doing and why, and be clear on how their actions are aligned to larger goals.
When you’ve completed this review, identify the additional skills you will need for the future. This might include teams familiar with building out cloud deployments or working with microservices, etc. Push the rest of your leadership team to break through capital allocation constraints to bring in new employees who not only have the right experience but also can quickly teach your existing teams on new tools organically.
4. The right brand permission
As you work through your accelerated digital transformation, you’ll start to think about your business as a truly digital brand. In fact, you might already think so, simply because you’ve been able to get your staff up and running remotely.
But is this the perception all your stakeholders have? According to the Yale School of Management, “Brand permission defines the limits of customers’ willingness to accept a familiar brand name in new marketplace situations.” For example, you can’t simply say, “We are digital now, world!” and expect your market to immediately accept that if you haven’t been digital historically. You need to earn this right.
You can’t simply say, “We are digital now, world!” You need to earn this right.
Brand permission is something you and the rest of the company will need to work on – largely focused on delivering useful and impactful digital products and services – in order to attract the new talent you need. Start thinking about this now.
The global pandemic has thrown us into an entirely new world. Business leaders can no longer rest on their laurels and, certainly, can no longer put off or draw out a digital transformation. Making the right decisions now will help to ensure your business is positioned well when this crisis passes.
Sustainable datacenter region coming to Sweden in 2021, accelerating the country’s digital transformation
Microsoft is investing in Sweden thanks to the Scandinavian country’s strong commitment to sustainability and innovation.
In May of last year, Microsoft announced plans to develop new data centers in Sweden. The goal? Making them “among the most sustainably designed and operated in the world.”
The company is now making good on their pledge with a press release from November 24, confirming they’ll launch a “world-class, sustainable datacenter region in Sweden in 2021 with presence in Gävle Sandviken and Staffanstorp.”
Today, we’re announcing plans to launch a new, sustainable cloud region in Sweden next year. The datacenters will be powered by 100% renewable energy + @Microsoft’s hyperscale cloud will be the first with hourly matching for renewable energy consumption. https://t.co/LVnsLx6sOr
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) November 24, 2020
The news comes on the heels of Microsoft’s announcement of a significant digital transformation investment in Greece, involving the construction of new datacenters. This also includes a plan to skill approximately 100,000 people in Greece in digital technologies by 2025.
“Building on Microsoft’s 35-year history in Sweden and strong partnerships across the energy, manufacturing and retail sectors, we are looking forward to delivering the Microsoft Cloud from this new datacenter region in 2021,” said Jean-Philippe Courtois, Executive VP and President of Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing and Operations.
“We believe that digital transformation should always be both inclusive and sustainable.”
Elaborating further, Hélène Barnekow — General Manager of Microsoft Sweden — explained that Sweden is an ideal environment for such an investment because of its renowned leadership in sustainability, innovation, and gender equality:
“It is one of the places in the world where IT and tech have the greatest potential to create new opportunities for the individual, the organization and society, she said.
“In this time of change, we invest in the digital infrastructure and our Swedish ecosystem to accelerate digital transformation that will empower public and private companies to innovate, providing a strong digital foundation for the country’s future growth,”
As a result of these datacenters, Microsoft explains, Swedish businesses can “empower employees, engage customers, transform products and optimize operations — all through connected experiences and supported by advanced data privacy and security.”
Microsoft will also invest in skills development, providing digital skills training for up to 150,000 Swedes.
Investing in digital resiliency
A new index from IDC shows growth in cloud, collaboration, and security investment.
Is your business digitally resilient?
IDC’s new Digital Resiliency Investment Index is a look at the progress of organizations in their investment towards digital resilience. This is especially important now with this year’s digital transformation acceleration.
Results from the initial index show an overall steady increase in investment toward resiliency.
Organizations have placed priority in cloud, collaborative, and digital transformation projects. Thanks to the pandemic-related shift to work-from-home and the aforementioned increase in cloud adoption, significant investments have been made in security.
New IDC Digital Resiliency Investment Index Shows Steady Growth for Investments in Technologies That Improve the Ability to Respond and Adapt to Business Disruptions Learn more at https://t.co/vM9KtPMfB3 pic.twitter.com/DVK3MANFnn
— IDC (@IDC) November 5, 2020
According to IDC prediction, investment toward digital resiliency will increase in 2021, in tandem with economic recovery.
In terms of geography, digital resiliency investment had the fastest growth in the Asia/Pacific region. While US investment increased in October, Europe’s had a slight decline in the same period — as the continent was experiencing a significant surge in COVID cases and restrictions.
Two factors make up the index:
- Digital Core Investments, described by IDC as “spending on the core components of digital resiliency: cloud, security, collaborative support for remote workers, and digital transformation projects.”
- Digital Innovation Investments, which are “measured using a monthly survey of enterprises on their current and anticipated IT investment focus, including how much new or reallocated spending is targeted at digital resiliency and business acceleration versus crisis response measures.”
“Digital resiliency refers to an organization’s ability to rapidly adapt to business disruptions by leveraging digital capabilities to not only restore business operations, but also capitalize on the changed conditions,” explains Stephen Minton, VP in IDC’s Customer Insights & Analysis group.
Organizational success in the midst of a global pandemic has largely hinged on the ability to react quickly to change, he says. The difference between rapid adaptation and simply responding to disruption? A plan.
“Investments in digital capabilities not only enable an organization to adapt to the current crisis but also to capitalize on the changed conditions.”
“The next several months may put increased pressure on some organizations to respond to second waves of COVID infections and economic lockdowns, which will be reflected in our monthly surveys throughout the winter,” adds Minton.
“What we have learned already this year is that the organizations which were among the early adopters of cloud, digital, and collaborative technologies were best-positioned for a crisis no one could have predicted.”
Digital transformation for economic recovery
“With the right steps and actions, businesses and governments can take the crisis as an opportunity to build for the future,” explain two World Bank economists.
Digital transformation is having a moment.
Over and over, widespread reports and surveys show that — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — DX efforts have accelerated. “Business-savvy CIOs who deploy highly adaptive strategies and technology to rapidly respond to the impact on their firm’s operations and customers will lead from the front,” explains Forrester’s recent Predictions 2021 report.
Can the momentum keep going? How can DX be leveraged so everyone can be better off, post-COVID?
As two World Bank economists argue in Harvard Business Review, “technological advancements were already changing the world over the past two decades,” and that in the midst of threats from automation and offshoring, it’s important to realize that tech can act as a job creator for economic recovery.
According to Federica Saliola (Lead Economist in the Jobs Group of the World Bank and co-Director of the World Development Report 2019) Asif Islam (Senior Economist for the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank Group), “to reshape technology as a job creator, it’s important to understand what, exactly, the current wave of technology is changing, and how policymakers and businesses can adapt to it.”
Where we were
The economists laid out three foundational truths about the pre-COVID state of technology:
- It has always been a disruptor. Tech has been “challenging the traditional boundaries of firms, changing global value chains and the geography of jobs.”
- As tech evolved, there have been massive changes in what skills are needed by a successful workforce. “The premium for skills that cannot be replaced by robots has been increasing,” they explain. What are these in-demand skills? Critical thinking and socio-behavioral skills, for starters, as well as adaptable skills. This leads to point three.
- Thanks to tech, the very nature of work has been changing over the last few years. The standard of permanent and full-time work has given way to a gig economy.
Simply put, “it is likely that the pandemic will reinforce these pre-existing trends and increase the urgency of corresponding policy responses,” explain Saliola and Islam.
Digital-first companies are thriving, the gig economy certainly isn’t going anywhere, and “firms may also have more incentive to invest in automation and reshore production to shield against value chain disruption.”
The aforementioned barrage of surveys and reports showing the acceleration of DX efforts reported on the mostly-successful shift to work-from-home. Saliola and Islam reference World Bank and World Economic Forum reports that show (unsurprisingly) positions and organizations that have put WFH measures in place are more prevalent in wealthier countries and regions, and that women and young people are more likely to hold positions where WFH isn’t feasible.
Ultimately, Saliola and Islam explain, organizations and governments have to turn to policy to ensure that digital transformation can lead to a more successful economic recovery.
What does this look like? Reskilling and upskilling on the part of businesses, and “incentives and regulations to infrastructure projects and taxation” for governments.
It’s similar to the approach of the recent OECD report showing that DX is critical for recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean — but on a global scale.
“Technology can be a boon to society if businesses and governments prepare and adapt,” they write. “With the right steps and actions, businesses and governments can take the crisis as an opportunity to build for the future.”
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