The COVID-19 pandemic has taken millions of lives and triggered trillions of dollars’ worth of economic wreckage. And while news regarding vaccines is encouraging, now is not the time for the world to turn its back on safety measures proven to help slow the spread of the virus.
Nevertheless, vaccines are taking hold at various rates worldwide, and there is every reason to believe the grip the coronavirus has held on the world for over a year is easing.
Early in the crisis, as the following figure shows, we explored steps businesses should take to eventually emerge from the pandemic in a strong position. We believe that advice has held up, and that now is the time for forward-looking companies to accelerate digital initiatives.
A year ago, “becoming digital” was seen by many as a desirable elective, but now — in our new world — it’s mandatory. The most common questions from business leaders from every industry and region have been: “I get the theory, but where do I start? What specific steps can I take today to ensure a healthy tomorrow?” These eight critical tactics will help:
1. Modernize data
It’s more important than ever to turn data from a liability into an asset. Companies that haven’t gotten control of their data are already behind, and the new economy will make it harder to recover. It’s no longer justifiable to pay to maintain terabytes (or more) of data and then not use it for business outcomes. Improving decisions and experiences — and growth — with applied intelligence is infinitely more difficult (or impossible) without data that is relevant, accessible, secure and used to improve decisions or customer experiences. A data audit — figuring out what data is available, being accessed and for what purpose — was a no-regret decision 13 months ago. Now it’s a condition for survival.
2. Unshackle from legacy applications
Roughly $3 trillion of economic value per day still runs on COBOL. That’s a staggering reliance on a programming language dating back to 1959. Going forward, business pressures will make it unsustainable to be trapped by this heritage software. Consumer relevance, faster time-to-market and cost savings have never been more important. Many companies feel trapped by their legacy software, but there are new tools, processes, engineering methods and partners to help unlock value that is trapped in data centers. The first step is a complete software audit to understand which applications make the most sense to modernize, which should be left alone and which can be turned off.
3. Modernize how employees work
Remember going into an office? Getting on a train? The TSA pat-down? We’ll do all that again, but ideas and practices about how we work together will never be the same. The pandemic shock accelerates the imperative to be able to work from an office, the home, the car, the … well, anywhere! Today’s employees seek the same high-quality experience as a consumer using the best software. Old, difficult-to-use interfaces and systems hinder how employees interact and collaborate, and store and exchange information. Seamless, secure connections across web, mobile, voice, collaboration systems, platforms and processes have made great strides during lockdowns. We aren’t going backward, so the time is now to extend the modern employee experience.
4. Modernize consumer experiences
In just a few painful weeks in 2020, elegant, secure, scalable online content and commerce went from critical to essential for every consumer-facing industry. Content has always been important, but with more transactions online, the ability to deliver that content to the right person, at the right time, in any place, via any device, via beautiful software is now and forever a business imperative. Regardless of industry, expectations for engagement have shifted. The immediate reaction for too many businesses was to throw cash at front-end consumer-facing apps. A better bet is to take a step back and understand how the lifecycle of demand can be changed longer-term. That starts with deeply understanding how human wants and needs are likely to unfold in line with specific products and services.
5. Engineer software for the new economy
Every modern business needs software that can be built quickly and scaled effectively to deliver modern (human-first) experiences across the value chain for employees, partners and customers. It’s not necessary to be better at software engineering than Google or Microsoft, but it is necessary for every company to become more software-centric. Tools, engineering methods and technologies already exist to help an enterprise become a better bank, a better insurer, a better retailer. This requires rethinking how core IT teams are structured, how they work and how they are incented, plus reevaluating the partner ecosystem critical to the business. Every major company is building software all the time, but it’s now time to explore new methods. Starting small can show near-term progress while mitigating risk.
6. Virtualize core work
The total impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will take years to become clear. However, one irrefutable shift is the new requirement for companies to modernize core process work. Middle- and back-office work that is slow, labor-intensive, expensive, opaque and unchanging is no longer allowable. Nearly every organization we know of can improve supply chain management, HR, finance and industry-specific process work. Notably, the pandemic unlocked virtualized medical care as medical workers used technology to provide at-home solutions or even in-hospital solutions more safely and effectively. And that’s just one example. Automation, applied intelligence and worker enhancement have all moved from “helpful” to “critical” during the COVID crisis. Now is the time to begin exploring which points on the value chain make the most sense to modernize today.
7. Modernize the cloud foundation
For years, IT has been chipping away at costs by moving work to service providers and pushing centralized computer loads to the cloud, but that was really just Phase One. The unprecedented economic downturn has shone a spotlight on how much more can be done, and how rapidly. Threadbare arguments against reducing IT costs — e.g., by more aggressively moving into the cloud, deploying cost-effective software-as-a-service platforms, reducing operating costs of non-core work – must be overruled. We recommend a pivoting from, “What can we move into the cloud?” to, “What can’t we move to the cloud?”
8. Make every space smart (and safe)
For years, sensor-enabling industrial equipment has improved productivity, reduced downtime and paved the way for more “as-a-service” business models. In the post-pandemic economy — as demand evolves and our expectations and concerns about staying safe in public spaces remain top of mind — nearly every company that operates in physical space will have to adopt the same philosophy. COVID accelerated the development of technologies that assess occupant health and help us maintain safe distances, clean surfaces, etc. This takes a coordinated solution linking sensors, analytics and software. Business leaders must continue to be proactive in applying instrumentation, analytics and software engineering to make every space intelligent, less expensive to manage, more comfortable and safer.
To learn more, read Cognizant’s report From Chaos to Catalyst.