No one could have predicted what 2020 would bring. Across every industry, we have learned the true meaning of digital transformation. That is, reimagining businesses to better serve customers and understand their needs, and having the agility to respond to changing circumstances. Where many organisations may previously have thought that digital transformation was a nice-to-have, today it is an imperative.
With a new year will come a new set of challenges. While there will always be unknowns, we can expect businesses to increasingly look to technology to help them survive, recover and grow. Flexibility will be key to delivering the digital-first experiences that customers and employees demand. Access to data and artificial intelligence (AI) tools will help companies to revolutionise their customer experience.
Serving the digital-first customer
In 2020 we learned just how quickly consumers can adapt new technologies to stay connected with loved ones, to shop, and access essential services online. As market trends and customer expectations evolve faster than ever, in 2021 businesses must innovate at pace. We’re likely witnessing the end of the two- to three-year digital transformation project; value needs to be delivered within months. In the digital economy, speed of implementation, cost and value to the organisation and to customers, as well as competitiveness will measure the success of digital transformation.
As demand for online retail and consumer goods increases, with global digital revenues having grown by 54% year-to-date, so will companies’ use of AI-powered technologies to engage and serve customers. Beyond restaurants and health service providers, for instance, we’ll see the continued rise of the appointment economy, guaranteeing convenience virtually and in-person. Bots, too, should become an integral part of company strategies to support customers 24/7. From virtual try-ons to smarter delivery and pickup options, every customer experience must be connected, personalised and seamless – from whatever device they’re using, and whichever store they’re visiting.
Fuelling the needs of today’s customer
Covid-19 presented a moment of truth for businesses. Many were not as streamlined and resilient as they thought. In 2021, saving costs while boosting resilience will be top-of-mind for every chief information officer and business leader. We can expect the simplifying, streamlining and digitalising of processes – including channel portfolios. Take, for example, the financial sector where banks may close a significant proportion of brick-and-mortar branches. How companies seek to provide all of the services and experiences that customers expect on their smartphones instead will have far-reaching impact upon their business models.
Companies leveraging cloud computing have shown us what it means to be resilient in times of crisis. These migrations will only accelerate in 2021 – enabling scalability, availability and accessibility of information from any location. When, where, and how a company deploys these tools will set leaders ahead of the pack. Increased automation, AI, as well as forecasting models will help them to better predict and prepare for what the future may bring. To make the most of these technologies, data literacy skills must be foundational to every role at every level of an organisation.
The evolution of work-from-anywhere
It’s fair to say that how we work has changed forever. Take health and safety, for instance. While many people will continue to work from home throughout 2021, ensuring the wellbeing of those who do return to physical workplaces will require a huge cross-functional effort. We can expect the office experience to be recreated, to become more intentional. The ways that companies communicate will evolve also. Those which have opened unprecedented access to their leadership team, providing regular updates to keep teams informed, engaged and productive, will want to keep these lines of communication open as we emerge from the pandemic.
With regard to where we work, this year has shown that working from home can be a legitimate option. In 2021 and beyond, it’s important for employers to continue to explore new, flexible work models. At my organisation, we recently created the position of “VP, Work From Anywhere”. This person will be in charge of developing programmes and policies to support new and inclusive ways of working for those people who continue to work from home (or anywhere). We can expect businesses to create new HR packages and technical capabilities to attract and retain the hybrid worker as well as brands to market new products which tailor to their lifestyle needs. Flexible arrangements can offer greater work-life balance and create a more equal workplace by increasing talent pools.
Platform for change
We are in the midst of several crises at once: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and climate crisis. The importance of a business’s role in corporate citizenship has been cemented and the urgency for businesses to give back to communities has never been greater. Solutions like technology, trees and collaboration will all play an important role in reimagining how we do business and create the change that the planet needs. Together, we can take this moment to invest in a more resilient and inclusive economy. In 2021, the role of business as a platform for change will no longer be the exception, but the standard.
Note: The writer is the Asean head of an international software company that provides customer relationship management solutions.