Digital Transformation in a COVID World – The More Things Change…
The mad spring rush for capacity is behind us, and now companies are assessing how the pandemic impacted their businesses. While we are starting to see some clients return to normal with their data and application transport requests, entire segments, such as hospitality or small and medium businesses, remain cautious.
It’s a good time to take pause and figure out what’s next. I recently attended a conference on Technology, Media and Telecom where I was asked what I thought had changed because of COVID-19. I offered what might be a contrarian view for most people. A lot of what we think is new is really just stuff that was already in place before the crisis hit. Truth be told, we’re probably giving the corporate response to COVID-19 too much credit for driving digital transformation. Here are a few reasons why:
Companies around the world didn’t become digital overnight because of the pandemic. Like I said, the pandemic shows how far along companies have come on their digital journeys. For years, we defined companies from the products and solutions they sold. Now, it’s more about the customer experiences they provide. Companies who embraced this idea are thriving, like Starbucks, which upgraded the simple act of buying a cup of coffee into a “luxury” experience. Digital transformation allows them to bring the idea of customer experience to a brand-new level by reinventing a network of coffee shops into a shared digital community for coffee enthusiasts. It’s easy to assume that our most digital savvy customers are start-ups, but many of them are leaders in traditional industries, such as finance, logistics, and manufacturing.
We knew companies were going all-in on digital. COVID-19 created a need for remote connectivity. We fulfilled that need because the technological investments were already in place to make it happen. The pandemic expanded a global awareness of a new digital reality and the possibilities that it represents. Networks have become smarter and faster, can handle more data, and can leverage new solutions to ensure smooth, latency-free connections. Customers already saw the advantages of migrating to the Cloud. COVID-19 helped make them less hesitant to do so. In response, we are rapidly expanding our edge computing capability by putting space, power, and “bare metal” in the right spots to make sure enterprises can stay close to their centralized data and applications.
It was all about human experience anyway. The whole point behind digital transformation is to improve the human experience—at work and at play. We were changing the way that human beings were interacting with technology long before the pandemic appeared. A recent report by Accenture used the word “intimacy” to describe one of the fundamental changes we may soon see develop between businesses and their human stakeholders. Many technology companies have received kudos for supporting humanitarian efforts for both customers and employees. A growing corporate awareness of the value of monitoring employee health and safety will create an exponentially higher demand for more personalized data and networks robust enough to deliver it in real time.
The pieces were already in place to redefine what collaboration truly means. In some ways, the debate between working from home and working from an office misses the point, because physical locations have become less important than the actual process that leads to the completion of the work. We were starting to identify the types of work that require physical environments and the types of work that don’t. Business managers have seen the wide range of productive activities that do not require direct human interaction or a centralized physical presence. In many cases, people will return to their offices, because they miss being around their colleagues, not because they need to be there to get their work done.
A human-centric approach to technology will also lead to more customization. People don’t care about what’s in the toolbox or how it works. They just want their own solutions, not something “off the shelf.” They will look to telecoms to be their partners, to understand the technology, to anticipate marketplace opportunities, and to provide specific solutions in real time. Frankly, for those of us who live in marketing and solution development, none of this is new. It’s just more critical than ever before.
Radiohead bass guitarist Colin Greenwood sums up the debate between what is old or new this way: “The trick with computers I think is to approach old and new things with same reverence as you would like your favorite chair and not be seduced by the constant innovation.” At the end of the day, when it comes to technology, determining what’s old or new is never as important as determining what our customers need right now.
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