At the core of ongoing efforts to develop the digital workplace is building resilience and efficiency into modern business. This is particularly true with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen an explosion in remote working as millions of workers shifted from the corporate office to home.

Much of the digital transformation focus has been on that shift but the real focus should be on building digital resiliency for after the pandemic. Here's what organizations need to do.

Ensure Infrastructure Is Resilient

Building resiliency requires adoption of collaboration and communication platforms, remote access technology, analytics and automation to help employees work smarter and keep business moving forward, even in times of uncertainty, said Kris Beevers, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based NS1.

However, it's important to remember when shifting to a smart workplace that the foundational infrastructure in many companies is brittle, restrictive and unable to scale to support these modern applications, he said. While the COVID-19 pandemic compressed years of modernization projects into months, companies need to ensure these efforts include the underlying core infrastructure that ensures elasticity and scalability.

Shifting to software-defined versions of technologies like DNS, DHCP and IP address management (DDI) provide important capabilities necessary to support these future-proofed workplaces. As an example, software-defined DNS is crucial for managing workloads and maintaining availability and performance for remote work technology like VPNs. It is also required for managing traffic across distributed cloud and hybrid infrastructure and ensuring optimal performance for smart workplace applications and connected devices.

DNS is an important lever in the tech stack, allowing for automated routing around network outages or problems with cloud resources to ensure the smart workplace remains resilient. Likewise, Beevers said, software-defined DDI allows for the automation of network tasks such as scaling up and configuring new resources to address fluctuating demand created by a distributed workforce.

Related Article: Building a Dynamic Cloud Strategy: What It Means and How It Changes in the Wake of COVID-19

Invest in DesignOps

While these initiatives have been in the cards for some time, the initial economic downturn caused by COVID forced companies to make difficult budget cuts, said Mark Troester, vice president of strategy at Progress. Simultaneously, COVID drove these companies to fast track digital efforts due to accelerated customer demand, limited in-person interactions and remote employee needs.

According to data his company collected this summer, 74% of companies increased focus on supporting or improving their digital experiences as a result of COVID-19, and 73% made financial investments in the resources to support it, Troester said.

"In fact, 55% say that digital experience initiatives that had previously been delayed have now been accelerated because of COVID," he said. "As we move into 2021, I predict that digital technology initiatives will still be at the top of Board of Directors' priority investments."

He also said a specific area of investment will be DesignOps capabilities, which integrates the designer into the digital experience development process. Ensuring design is a key component of the web development process ensures ease of use for both customers and employees in a remote world.

“I’d even go to say that failing to implement a DesignOps approach that permeates all elements of the UX delivery lifecycle will derail any further digital technology investments,” Troester said.

Related Article: How Edge Computing Will Transform the Digital Workplace

Adapt to Accelerating Transformation

The most obvious effect of COVID on development of the digital workplace is the brutal acceleration of the process. This is a transformative moment for business globally, said Udo Waibel, chief technology officer at San Francisco-based Oomnitza. Digital transformation is no longer a long-term goal or an abstract concept, it is happening right now in a "very Darwinian model," he said.

Those companies that adapt quickly will thrive. Those that do not will become cautionary tales. One example is Pinterest which effectively went from 35 offices to more than 4,600 individual employee offices in less than a month and has no plans to return to the old working model. That is digital transformation with speed and adaptability under harsh conditions.

Learning Opportunities

"Some business will no longer exist in their present form, some will slowly come back, new models will surface that are born in a remote working environment, but whatever the post-COVID world looks like for the enterprise, it will look nothing like what it was pre-pandemic,” Waibel said.

Meet the Needs of the Digital Customer

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to re-focus their digital transformation efforts at the point of customer interaction because it is at that point that the most dramatic and painful disruption has occurred, said Geoff Webb, vice president of strategy at Cypress, Texas-based PROS.

Businesses lost their ability to reach many customers through traditional means and so the role of digital officers is to redefine, enable and optimize the use of technology to re-establish that connection through e-commerce and other digital channels.

“We’ve seen a huge drive to transform that connection to the buyer, and as buyers have moved en masse to remote buying through digital channels, that means e-commerce has become the long pole in the transformation tent,” he said.

He cites the example of one of the company’s clients called Saint-Gobain, which moved from traditional selling modes to e-commerce channels to manage the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Saint-Gobain, a producer of construction materials, saw only a fraction of sales come through e-commerce. Now, more than 80% of business is transacted online. When a company sees that kind of pressure to change and a critical jump on their business online, they must move quickly to fully adopt the new channel.

“Equally critical that the move is done as part of a top-down, integrated change in their go-to-market strategy," Webb said. "This is where digital transformation officers really come into their own, by providing that centralized point of strategic vision across the entire business, not just deploy technology that ultimately fails to meet customer needs."

Future-Proof Business With Data

At the end of the day, future proofing is really a result of being able to effectively analyze the data that comes out of digital workplace tech, said Chris Bergh, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based DataKitchen. This enables organizational leaders to follow and then stay ahead of trends as they emerge.

"There are so many channels employees use, with new ones cropping up on a seemingly monthly basis,” he said. “For example, speech technology via mobile is arguably one of the most critical and fastest-growing channels in the workplace. The amount of data that comes pouring in via speech tech is like a fire hose."

The trick for nursing this increasingly crucial data channel is being able to effectively extract and analyze the data, as well as marrying those analytics to the rest of the data the organization has via other channels like mobile, web, apps, collaboration platforms, virtual assistants, social media and other digital technology. All this data is collected in separate ERP, MRP, CRM, web analytics, DMP, workflows and other systems. When companies interact with employees, they need a unified view of all interactions and related data.

This means integrating all the various operational systems that collect customer data as well as any third-party data feeds. The problem is that none of these enterprise systems talk to each other. Data in different silos can be difficult to match and combine on the fly. The result is lost history or loss of critical information from internal or external sources, or in the case of a newer area like speech, misunderstanding the data and missing key insights.