A digital technology agenda driving an accelerated transition to the new normal

Olaf Acker Partner, Strategy& Germany 15 June, 2020

The economic and societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic far exceeds that of previous crises. Both consumers and businesses are altering their behaviors in ways that were previously unimagined. And many of the behavioral shifts are expected to persist for years to come. Business leaders must respond and adapt in strategic and structured ways.

Despite the significant challenges ahead, the global pandemic has also presented opportunities for digital optimization and transformation. For many companies, accelerating their digital transition is the only way forward. Exponential technologies can play a leading role in digital transformation, allowing businesses to gain a competitive edge, improving not only operational resilience, but enabling flexibility in a new reality characterized by rapidly changing market dynamics.

A strategic, digital technology agenda driving the accelerated transition to the new normal should therefore focus on three key imperatives.

1. Digitize collaboration and achieve operational resilience

The COVID-19 crisis has created a forced opportunity like no other, requiring businesses to consider new collaboration and service delivery models. Lockdowns, although limiting person-to-person contact, are amplifying global team reviews and workshops to digitalize every aspect of business from product information and initial customer outreach to after-sale support services. Multiple technologies can enhance the way companies operate in the new normal:

  • Embrace the digital workplace using collaboration tools and new ways of working
    Platforms like Zoom and Slack are now supporting millions of users in team communication, file sharing and document editing. Levels of remote work have skyrocketed, with ~90% of firms globally requesting people to work from home versus 5% previously. Even after the worst of this crisis is over, these new forms of collaboration are here to stay and companies should incorporate them into their established ways of working for all employees.
  • Deploy deeper foresight in operations leveraging analytics/AI, IoT and blockchain
    Unpredictable market dynamics require deeper insights into business operations that enable higher visibility and flexibility during changing circumstances. Advanced analytics and AI enable detailed scenario modeling to better manage working capital, inventory and CAPEX. Combined with intelligent algorithms, IoT sensors and blockchain’s distributed ledger, users can gain end-to-end visibility throughout their supply chain and logistics networks.
  • Accelerate automation to improve cost efficiency and process accuracy
    While the capabilities of automation and chatbots were overhyped in the past, first movers in industries like financial services, healthcare and retail have adopted the technologies in smart ways. Applied to specific applications, integration of artificial intelligence and robotic process automation can improve process efficiency and accuracy, reduce repetitive tasks and offer guided, personalized experiences to consumers — especially during periods of massive operational pressure and atypical working conditions.

2. Accelerate to digital-first business and customer engagement models

Due to lockdowns, the “unmanned supermarket” concept is now more relevant than ever, and the impact on retail is significant, accelerating the transition to digital stores. Recently, Chinese online vegetable deliveries increased by 600% and online grocery sales grew by 215%, while U.S. online grocery order volume increased by more than 200%.

Similarly, digital champions have been improving digital customer service and online experiences. Due to uncertainty around the post-COVID-19 recovery, organizations that have not realized such changes will likely need to catch up quickly.

  • Revamp digital payment and banking solutions
    There will possibly be an increase and accelerated adoption of digital and contactless payments, voice-enabled mobile banking applications and robo-advisor-powered solutions. The share of online banking interactions, for instance, has risen to 90% during the crisis, from 10% before, with no drop-off in quality and an increase in compliance while providing improved usability and customer experience.
  • Adopt digital health and virtual care at the forefront of patient experience
    Autonomous service capabilities such as drone delivery of medical products, IoT-based diagnostics (e.g. connected thermometers) and telehealth solutions (e.g. KRY, an app-based service allowing patients to schedule online video visits with doctors) are expected to gain traction to increase speed and efficiency of operations, providing staff with more time to address urgent needs and allowing patients to receive high-quality care.

3. Pursue partnerships and M&A to boost digital capabilities

While the implications of COVID-19 continue to pressure organizations to adapt rapidly, business leaders should perceive this crisis as an opportunity to outmaneuver peers and competitors in technology uptake and digital strategy. Partnering with or acquiring firms with strong, complementary digital offerings or capabilities can enable faster recovery and an edge in digital innovation and value creation.

  • Build partnerships and ecosystems to bridge digital capability gaps and create value
    The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a shift in corporates’ understanding of the nature of competition and the benefits of new collaboration models. Where building in-house digital expertise and platforms is not feasible in terms of speed and scale, partnering and joining new or existing ecosystems of market peers and technology providers can provide the necessary capabilities to deliver innovative digital products and services, substantially improve customer experience and increase competitiveness.
  • Acquire or launch new digital businesses in high-growth sectors
    The crisis can also offer less affected organizations with cash on hand the potential to build up digital capabilities and fill innovation gaps via the acquisition of technology-enabled assets. However, acquiring or launching a new digital business is a highly complex process driven by the unprecedented market complexity and COVID-19 impact. To identify the most attractive opportunities in high-growth technology-enabled sectors, corporates need to decode and understand demand trends and drivers for digital solutions and map those to the recovery trajectory of a sector. Corporates looking to acquire or create new digital businesses should focus on robust business models and attractive assets. Digital health, biotech, fintech, edtech, digital commerce, collaboration, automation, cloud and cybersecurity platforms currently present some of the most attractive opportunities.