Necessity is the mother of invention:  How COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation

Juan Miguel Pérez and Yasmine Benjelloun
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As we all know, change is inevitable, and we have certainly seen a significant amount of it in recent months following the outbreak and spread of COVID-19. As nations have declared states of emergency to safeguard the health and safety of their citizens, businesses and people around the globe have had to find new ways of working in order to minimise disruption to daily operations, and digital technologies are at the heart of it all.

Over the past few years, numerous companies have come up against internal and external resistance to digital transformation, as some stakeholders have been reluctant to see innovative digital processes replace more familiar and conventional methods.

However, in the last few weeks and months, COVID-19 has forced us all to re-organise our daily lives around the restrictions and social distancing measures that have been put in place. Companies around the world are focused on navigating their way through these unchartered waters, from retailers who are now relying on e-commerce after closing their physical stores, to manufacturers who have had to significantly reduce factory activity and introduce remote working.

This has proven to be much more difficult for organisations that do not have strong digital technologies and solutions in place. The outbreak has firmly brought digital transformation to the top of the business agenda, demonstrating that, in today’s world, it is an operational necessity, not just a “nice to have”. This is paving the way for significant changes in business models and structures and providing an opportunity for companies to shift to a new digital reality.

E-commerce is an obvious example of digital transformation, but digitalisation has a multitude of applications, depending on the industry it is being deployed in. For example, manufacturing companies could leverage digital tools to help them efficiently meet remote working and social distancing requirements. This could include providing employees with remote access to real-time factory data, such as the tracing of assets or products, which reduces the need for human interaction to the absolute minimum and enables contactless activity.

It has been reported that the European Commission has concluded on Shaping Europe’s Digital Future that fields such as “e-Health, digital education, e-Government, data sharing and broadband connectivity should receive particular attention following the current coronavirus crisis.” This is not surprising and perhaps the resulting development and implementation of digital solutions across the globe will encourage governments and other public entities to not only advocate more innovative, technological approaches, but also facilitate the creation of the infrastructure that is required to support them.

Beyond the health threat that it represents, the unexpected magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on businesses and economies worldwide has shone a light on how fragile some areas of our current digital ecosystem are. Digital transformation might not be the solution to all evils, but it could be a way for organisations to better face the challenges ahead, safeguard themselves against unforeseen circumstances, and to reinvent themselves in a new reality.