Digital transformation: 3 keys to a digital-first strategy now

How can CIOs shape a sustainable digital-first strategy to please customers post-pandemic? Consider these key priorities and investment areas
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Many Fortune 500 companies - perhaps as many as 20 percent of them - may not survive this year, Forrester Research has predicted. As companies transition to a post-pandemic recovery, savvy CIOs understand that their organizations must continue to accelerate intelligent automation initiatives to thrive in the new digital-first era.

Most are looking to remain digital-first even as the crisis dissipates. According to a recent Statista report, spending on the technologies and services that enable digital transformation worldwide is expected to amount to $2.3 trillion.

Digital-first strategy: 3 essentials post-pandemic

But what now? How do CIOs maintain momentum and ensure they have a sustainable digital-first strategy in place to meet new customer expectations post-pandemic? The digital transformation journey starts with prioritizing where to focus and invest in order to build your digital-first landscape.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

1. Start at the 'people' level of digital transformation

2021 brings an opportunity for leaders to enable a lasting business transformation and instill a digital-first culture. However, companies face the challenge of equipping employees with the tools and skills they need to do their job in a digital-first environment. About 30 percent of an employee experience score is rooted in technology and how that technology enables and empowers them, Forrester's data says.

Additionally, the number of remote workers is expected to increase by 300 percent from pre-pandemic levels, which means leaders must be aware of remote challenges employees face – from performing manual, repetitive tasks that decrease productivity to experiencing broken processes and workflows that leave them frustrated.

For example, employees can’t simply walk to someone’s desk and ask them to sign off on an approval, so it's important to rethink procedures and processes for better collaboration and workflow, particularly for a dispersed workforce. Implementing digital intelligence tools like task mining can enable companies to automate and streamline operations by identifying best practices and then disseminating them across an organization. This reduces waste, allocates human resources more efficiently, and enables faster responses to changes or issues. It ultimately helps CIOs see and understand the way processes really work and interact with other processes.

It's also essential for leaders to understand what employees want and what they’re doing through technology. Augment worker’s knowledge with digital assistants, chatbots, and conversational AI that will speed access to customer data. (Forrester predicts that by the end of 2021, one out of four remote workers will be supported by an RPA bot combined with conversational AI and other intelligent automation platforms). The ability to provide technology to employees with the data and information they need will make their life easier and help give them a better experience.

[ Are your digital transformation metrics up to date? Read also: 10 digital transformation metrics to measure success in 2021. ]

2. Focus on the customer journey

Many want to talk tech first, but it’s really about the human (customer) that you’re trying to impact, beginning with a commitment to their experience interacting with your company. Technological advances in the consumer world have set the standard and that same experience today’s digital customers expect those same experiences when interacting with their healthcare provider, insurer, financial institution, and other service providers.

According to McKinsey & Co., more than half of customer interactions are part of a multi-channel, multi-event journey, reflecting that the customer journey is not as straightforward as it once was. They may first engage with your company via a smartphone, have initial queries answered by a chatbot, and complete a transaction by email.

Understanding how your customers engage and complete transactions can be achieved with process mining and creating a digital twin of the processes. You’ll be able to identify where band-aids to workflows have been placed and where the most bottlenecks exist, how to fix and improve them, and offer continuous monitoring and predictive capabilities. By understanding how processes are working, you will be better able to map the customer journey and offer a better experience.

[ Want to learn more? Watch the on-demand Harvard Business Review Analytic Services webinar to see how companies are measuring the business value of end-end customer experience. ]

3. Invest towards the edge

According to IDC, more than 50 percent of new IT infrastructure will be deployed at the edge by 2023.  Edge computing brings computing closer to where data is generated and will be essential for keeping up with customer expectations. 5G networks and IoT devices will have the power to process AI capabilities at lightning speed, as well as execute machine vision capabilities to capture and process documents that enable customers to complete more self-service transactions. This will enable organizations to transition experiences from being forms-driven (artifact-driven) to conversation-driven experiences with a mobile bias or via an interactive chatbot. After all, millennials and Gen Z expect to engage in real-time conversations.

[ Need to talk edge with colleagues, customers, or partners? Get a shareable primer: How to explain edge computing in plain English. ] 

For many, the hard part is finding the right partner to turn digital-first ideas into reality without the necessary tools and skills available in-house. Partnerships are a necessary component to digital success, so it’s crucial that “team fit” is front-of-mind and your goals are well-considered and aligned with the potential partner or stakeholder.

Choose a partner that can establish a hybrid toolset strategy that solves your specific problems and leverages the cloud, perhaps including no-code/low-code platforms with drag-and-drop features that help reduce complexity and time needed to deploy. Companies can also consider doing a small-scale project together to test how the working relationship goes.

Pizza companies, many of which have been working with delivery and technology service partners for some time, offer a good example of how a business can benefit from the edge and a digital-first strategy. For example, Domino’s transformed and shifted from being a pizza company to a digital-first software company and e-commerce powerhouse whose product is pizza. They adapted and created an immersive digital experience where customers can search, select, personalize, transact, and have real-time monitoring of the workflow process. Simultaneously, employees have the right digital tools to ensure the accuracy of orders and the speed of delivery. 

Ultimately, technology needs to be embedded in every part of your business. The difference between thriving and failure for many firms will be the ability to apply technology to adapt to new changes. As enterprises continue to see the shift in employee and customer expectations to more digital and mobile experiences, it’s essential to transform business operations using industry-leading digital platforms to become increasingly agile and maintain a competitive advantage.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Anthony Macciola is the Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company. He holds more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing, and process automation, and is leading AI initiatives at ABBYY.