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COVID-19 changed how we work and changed what we work with. It's even changed the strategies that have been put in place to move enterprises from traditional business models to dispersed digital workplaces.

Digital transformation is no longer what it was. The days of long-term development of transformation strategies and their slow, careful implementation are a thing of the past. Transformations that in the past would have taken months and even years were done in a matter of days as COVID-19 sent millions of workers home to work remotely.

The result is that digital technology initiatives will be the top strategic business priority for enterprise directors over the next two years, followed by customer engagement and managing the remote workforce, according to research from Gartner. Eighty-six percent of respondents to the 2021 Gartner Board of Directors survey, conducted from May through June 2020, said technology has a transformational role in addressing strategic business priorities. Rapid digital transformation, the research shows, is now a key priority.

Embrace Rapid Digital Transformation

More than ever in his 20 years in the content capture space, Stephen Boals, head of strategy and evangelism at Irvine, Calif.-based Ephesoft, said there is a heightened commitment by businesses to move from planning to implementation of digital transformation solutions. 

“We've seen a shift from lofty dreams of complex, long-term digital transformation plans to implementation of realistic digital transformation projects that solve problems in real time,” he said.

Organizations are realizing they need pervasive, secure access to business applications to help make remote workers successful despite the challenges that come with the fallout from COVID-19. Accounts payable, for example, is a traditionally paper-laden process but it needs to be fully digital, from customer invoices to payments. Companies need to solve digital mailroom problems and process accounts payable invoices remotely. And they need these solutions now. 

Companies are asking for digital transformation solutions that accommodate immediate frontline paper and data challenges. They need solutions they can implement quickly and remotely with automation tools like intelligent document processing solutions, especially ones that are cloud-based.

Related Article: Digital Transformation Came for HR. Where Do We Go Now?

Continue Pre-COVID Transformation Trends

To identify how COVID is changing digital transformation, first consider the growing role of technology pre-pandemic, said Talha Waseem, tech content editor at InvoZone, a Toronto-based outsourcing software development company.  

These three strategies had already emerged before COVID-19:

  1. Technology and digital platforms were already challenging traditional businesses. The latest business models now highlight the need for social media and digital platforms for advertising and gaining customers/clients.
  2. Digital transformation backed via technology also made businesses realize that certain skills have greater value than degree or job-specific skills. Employers now value premium skills like how to run Facebook and Google Ads or how to edit and render videos.
  3. Some workers are more into short-term work because of how much freelancing has increased. Upwork, Freelancer and Zhubajia have 60 million users.

“When looking at COVID-19, I believe the pandemic only reiterated these three strategies for individuals and businesses to grow,” Waseem said. “The strategies were already at play before the pandemic. Digital technology only enabled people to effectively work from home and enjoy the benefits of remote work as added benefits."

Protect Transformation Initiatives

If changing established operations is difficult on an individual level, for businesses the struggle is amplified significantly. It is becoming increasingly clear that businesses must enable a digital transformation in order to move forward but many balk at the notion of messy, drawn-out change management, said Raj Narayanaswamy, co-founder and CEO of Replicon, a San Francisco-based maker of time management software.

When businesses equip themselves with the right approaches, they can embrace digitalization and forge ahead without jeopardizing their carefully crafted ecosystems. These include:

  1. On-demand cloud: Manual and on-premise solutions no longer make the cut as these legacy systems cannot provide the safety and accessibility found with cloud adoption. Cloud-based ecosystems will become more mainstream as companies continue to implement remote work policies and accelerate automation.
  2. Accessibility: Supporting every worker requires implementing modern, mobile-first solutions, especially for those working remotely or out in the field. Visibility into every minute of employee time in detail is necessary to see emerging patterns hidden within complete data sets.
  3. Open collaboration: Organizations must enable employees to work together, supporting collaboration and communication using workflows across teams, departments, regions and countries.
  4. Enhanced flexibility: By combining the benefits of a cloud-based system with advanced configurability, businesses can skip the complicated customization process and meet all localization and complex requirements necessary for driving a digital transformation.

Related Article: Reimagining the Digital Workplace of Tomorrow

Monitor Progress Using Advanced Analytics

So how do you assess enterprise digital transformation progress? "As we begin to emerge from the acute crisis phases of the pandemic, the use of analytics can help government agencies and businesses reimagine approaches to a new and changed landscape,” said Steve Bennet, director of the global public sector practice at Cary, North Carolina-based SAS.

It is no longer sufficient for digital transformation, in both government and the private sector, to be part of a planned change in the future. It's expected by citizens and customers right now. "One government agency we spoke with told us they had a seven-year plan for digital transformation which COVID-19 forced them to execute in about four days," Bennet said. "Changes like this will be enduring after we emerge from the pandemic."

Transformation, and simply re-imagination, can be difficult. But business and government leaders can use analytics to unlock the potential of the data within their organizations to make informed decisions that will improve results.

Analytics, including advanced data visualization, AI and real-time streaming analytics, are critical to this transformation. They help government and business leaders prepare for the unexpected, “future-proof” their organizations from unknown risks and threats, and build resiliency into operations.

Make Tough Investment Decisions

Digital technology initiatives will be the top strategic business priority for boards of directors over the next two years, said Dean Guida, founder and CEO of New Jersey-based UX/UI tools developer Infragistics.

Managing teams that may not be physically located together is a critical skill to drive company performance. But investment in collaboration software is not enough. These digital platforms need to focus on team and company alignment on goals, decision making with analytics, team and individual accountability and keeping everyone in the know.

In the coming years, strategic investment in digital transformation must be maintained to stay competitive and balance long term growth and cost during the COVID-induced global recession.

"If executive teams do not make these tough investment calls, they will be surpassed by businesses with sophisticated digital capabilities," Guida said.