Remote work is reshaping business through 2020 and likely for many years to come. However, the rate of digital transformation to cope with this new remote working world has been breathtaking. Not all transformation initiatives work out though. This has become clear over the past eight months as COVID-19 has forced millions of workers’ to stay home.

The pandemic has also made clear that that there is no one, single digital transformation strategy for every company and that companies must tailor their digital needs to the market conditions they are navigating.

So, what else has the  taught us about digital transformation?

Fast Tracking Digital Transformation

Mark Troester is VP of strategy at Raleigh, NC-based Progress. He points out that the initial economic downturn caused by COVID forced companies to make difficult budget cuts. Simultaneously, COVID drove these companies to fast track their digital efforts due to accelerated customer demand, limited in-person interactions, and remote employee needs.

Citing data the company collected this summer, he said 74% of respondents say their company increased focus on supporting/improving their digital experiences (DX) as a result of COVID-19, while 73% of those respondents say their companies have made financial investments in the resources to support it. In fact, 55% say that digital experience initiatives that had previously been delayed have now been accelerated because of COVID.

“As we move into 2021, I predict that digital technology initiatives will still be at the top of Board of Directors' priority investments. I also predict that a specific area of investment will be DesignOps capabilities, which integrates the designer into the digital experience development process,” he said.

Related Article: Is the Hybrid Workplace the Future of Work?

Digitizing Customer, Employee Experiences

There has been one major change in the way digital transformation happens, Iain Scholnick, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based automation platform developer Braidio, pointed out. The COVID-19 pandemic has compressed the cycle for digital transformation initiatives and will require that organizations to respond in an agile manner, revamping their efforts to adapt and remain competitive in the post-COVID-19 era. The digitalization of the customer and employee experiences has emerged as a critical mechanism to ensure business continuity, during and following the pandemic.

This, he said, will require a more agile response, resulting in more process transformation coming from low-code/no-code engagement tools sitting on legacy systems rather than large-scale systems transformation. A key factor for organizations looking to adapt to the new reality will be the digitalization of both the employee and customer experience, enabling new levels of data abstraction that allow capabilities such as unified access and the aggregation of tasks into workflows delivered via mobile app or to the desktop.

“Providing more efficient and customer outcome-driven access to existing back-end applications will effectively extend the useful life of legacy applications. This allows a more verticalized product and services approach that avoids a ‘one size fits all’ model, enhancing the ROI of underlying technologies,” he said.

Rapid Digital Transformation

Udo Waibel CTO of San Francisco-based Oomnitza agrees. The most obvious effect of COVID-19 on digital transformation is the brutal acceleration of the process of moving to digital. This is a transformative moment for businesses globally, digital transformation is no longer a long-term goal or a notional abstract, it is happening right now, in a very Darwinian model.

“Those companies that adapt quickly will thrive, those that don’t will become cautionary tales," he said. In this respect he cites the example of Pinterest. This company effectively went from 35 remote/home offices to over 4,600 remote offices in less than a month and has no plans to return to the old model post-Covid. That is digital transformation and shows speed and adaptability under harsh conditions.

The result, Eric, DevOps engineer at RapidAPI, said is less time for mistakes and less time for experimentation. Digital transformation has pushed forward the agendas for businesses that are looking to change their models and become more competitive. There will hardly be any more pilots now and fewer opportunities for experimentation, he said.

Amid rapid digital disruption, management processes are already being transformed. CIOs are the center of the process and are tasked with navigating the risk involved with the pandemic. Firms are also looking at outsourcing strategy making with regards to adoption of technologies, even if that comes with a higher cost.

Learning Opportunities

From employee management to productivity enhancement, and from product development to software deployment, digital strategies need to be streamlined to catch up with changing times.

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-19 world looks like for the enterprise, it will look nothing like what it was pre-pandemic.

Digital Workplace Requirements

The requirements of these new workplaces are overwhelming Sanket Shah, the CEO of India-based InVideo, said. For companies that adopted remote work in response to the pandemic, the requirements of the new workplace were overwhelming, he said.

Many of these companies had to make drastic changes, so they adopted transformation initiatives that looked good on the surface but did not pan out. But companies that were already using a remote workforce or that were already using these digital tools seemed to have fewer difficulties.

The biggest problem with digital transformation has been the speed and panic with which it was adopted, not the tools or techniques themselves. Done well, chatbots look and feel natural and helpful. Marketing automation is efficient and timely. Productivity automation is invaluable and accurate.

But when these tools are thrown hastily into the mix, they do not work correctly. Integrations do not always work right. Tools do not communicate accurately. Workers spend more time fiddling with the tools than the tools save, and you often wind up buying a tool that does not work for your company’s needs.

“Digital transformation is coming, and the events of 2020 have only accelerated that transition. But the companies that will succeed and thrive after this pandemic are the ones that can slow down, re-assess, and implement these new tools carefully and elegantly," Shah said.

Innovation Required

Digital transformation is going at a faster and higher rate than any of us would have imagined. That was always going to happen, but now with the pandemic, everything is accelerated, concluded Henrich Long of Restore Privacy, an online service dedicated to education people about online privacy.

“Think about it like this — right now, there is no other option, we have to innovate — and innovate, we did. What we learned is that we rely on digital, now, and in the future,” Long said. “Everything is happening faster than we anticipated, because we’re all counting on technology making things easier for us to operate remotely." He expects to see innovation and breakthroughs in 2021, and beyond that will sustain and support a more uniform switch to remote work.