The Silver Lining

The coronavirus pandemic may still be plowing its way through the country, leading to business closures, shut downs and social distance rules, but it’s also been the harbinger of technological breakthroughs as people shift the way they function. From AI to remote work tools to workforce shifts, this pandemic is breaking through technology barriers at a break-neck speed. That old proverb has never been truer: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Translation: the driving force for most new inventions is need.   In a time when people were forced into a new normal in a matter of days or weeks, the demand for change brought about some pretty cool breakthroughs in technology.

As businesses shuttered and sent their employees home, a new way of thinking was needed — FAST. Born from this pandemic came an innovation spurred on by tragedy. The technology race has always been there, but its progress has been somewhat slow, until now. Indeed, this accelerated change has restructured workplaces, redefined roles, and instituted rapid learning, all while organizations were being challenged — and still are — to embrace a new way of thinking. The rush to virtualize business operations continues as social distance directives have taken the top spot on the best practice list.

Coronavirus as an Accelerant

Who would have predicted that COVID-19 would be the catalyst for such business transformation just a few months ago? As companies are forced to adapt to the future of work at an accelerated pace, they’re increasingly embracing culture and purpose as they pivot team operations to enable remote working on a grand scale, says Forbes. Fueled by coronavirus, technologies are making breakthroughs at a rapid pace, in a variety of ways — not just in the virtual conference room.

• Online Meetings: As employees vacated their corporate campuses and set up shop at home, they turned to online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts to meet up, collaborate, and get work done. After all, the show must go on. 

• Virtual events: It’s not just business meetings that are taking place virtually, it’s events, too — coordinators of which have never faced such a big challenge before. But they’re bringing it all together and it’s working. For instance, Mobile World Congress held a one-day digital event, Google Cloud Next became Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect, Facebook F8 is all-online, Starbucks is even holding its shareholder meeting completely online for the first time ever, and colleges the country over are holding virtual orientation sessions for incoming freshmen.

• Schools: Google Classroom and Zoom have been a godsend for education nationwide. With schools being forced to close their doors in March, that’s four months of learning that would have been wasted had these online platforms not been available. Teachers had to learn in a pinch how to adjust their curricula and hold virtual classrooms, while students had to adjust to a new way of learning and communicating.

• Healthcare: Networks of epidemiologists are tracking COVID-19 using low-cost gene-sequencing technologies, which are coincidentally driving promising vaccine candidates. Researchers are using machine learning to search through repositories of published scholarly articles about coronavirus. Informal networks of manufacturing firms and hobbyists are utilizing 3D printers to make thousands of face shields to protect front-line healthcare workers. Apple and Google — in an unprecedented move — partnered together to develop a contact tracing application that is embedded in the operating systems for smartphones, according to Newswise. On a related note, Apple’s latest iPhone update, iOS 13.5, will make it easier to wear a face mask and use Face ID to open your phone. 

• Network and mobile communications have enabled online medical consultations to prevent the need for in-office visits, giving first responders high-speed telecommunications to provide support where it’s needed most, and disseminating vital information around the world to enable local governments so they can make more informed decisions related to the health of constituents. Perhaps most pervasively has been the way these communications advancements have transformed social connectivity with family and friends in lieu of gathering together physically, through online videos, social media and FaceTime.

• Artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality and data management technologies have all played an important role in anything from tracking the outbreak and planning out scenarios to rapidly building medical devices and supporting research in coming up with viable treatments. In fact, artificial intelligence and genetic applied science are making it faster, easier and more affordable to understand how the virus spreads, how it should be managed and how its effects can be contained. AI can even warn us of upcoming epidemics so we have enough time to prepare. As one example, BlueDot — a global artificial intelligence database company, — uses A.I.-powered algorithms, natural-language processing and machine learning to analyze information from a variety of sources and track more than 100 infectious diseases.

Perhaps the silver lining from the pandemic is the emerging technology that allows us all to stay in touch, make advancements, and ensure the world spins on. Organizations from all sectors are crafting new technical capabilities, harnessing digital technologies and evolving their business models at a pace that would have been unheard of just a few months ago.

Digital transformation in the business world refers to the efforts of companies to keep up with changing environments spurred on by customer demand and technology. Because digital tools and technology are constantly evolving and affecting how people interact with one another, this in turn changes the way in which we conduct business. How you transform your core business processes using digital technology will determine how you can achieve competitive advantage and gain differentiation in your market segment, says Techopedia. It’s essentially the third component of how businesses embrace digital technology, following digital competence and digital usage. With an ability to bring on new elements of innovation and creativity, digital transformation goes beyond enhancing and supporting traditional strategies.

What Spurs Change?

On the quest to find true digital transformation, one must understand the drivers that affect this change, namely profitability, customer satisfaction, and increased speed-to-market. There’s a general understand that CIOs should be the driving forces implementing this transformation for their businesses, but is this really happening? In reality, it doesn’t seem to be that cut and dried. In fact, digital transformation has many motivations and is the responsibility of many people, from top executives to lower-level employees, says CMS Wire.

According to research presented by MediaPost, poor customer experiences caused an estimated $83 billion loss by U.S. companies every year due to defections and abandoned shopping carts. With so many options these days offered by cloud, mobile, Internet of Things, and others, it’s easy to lose sight of quality of the data in favor or hyper personalization.

So the question remains: how can companies find true digital transformation with leadership from their CIOs?

Insights

Companies that can harness the power of true digital transformation will enjoy the fruits of their labor by being at the top of the heap in terms of competitive advantage and differentiation. That’s what we’re all striving for anyway, right? Here are some suggestions:

Have a real strategy ready to go. If you’re still grappling with how to come up with an operational plan that works for your website and social media platforms, you’re not going to get very far. Approach this goal not operationally but strategically, focusing on how your organization will be impacted by digital or how you can channel those new capabilities to broaden your overall business strategy. Lisa Welchman as quoted on CMS Wire says companies that have been disrupted by digital have become that way —  not because they didn’t have a CIO in charge of the transformation — but because they lost that 360-degree view of how digital would impact their digital models.

Recognize the full value of all digital assets throughout your company. CIOs all too often get into a file-centric mindset that puts them in a rut they can’t quite get out of. Instead, use flexible data models that will work to engage new streams of revenue in order to encourage innovation. This will go a long way towards creating important digital transformations such as attracting new clients or driving new sources of revenue.

Focus on the customer as central to your success in the digital age. As the CIO, you have to re-examine your thinking and accelerate your reach via the enhancement of the customer experience. Crafting a solid foundation on which to illustrate this transformation is key for longevity of purpose. As such, you must re-evaluate traditional roles and make sure you are incorporating the best talent and infrastructure to build a platform for your new targeted strategies.

Imaginative thinking, coupled with just the right amount of spot-on execution, will be the catalyst for true digital transformation.

No one always likes change, but change is a necessary catalyst to improve the fundamentals of any organization. Transformation requires strong, authentic leadership in order to be successful; if not, failure is a very real possibility. CIO.com says that in many transformation programs, sufficient checks and balances exist so that failure does not readily occur; however, if not managed well, transformation programs can be delivered late, over-budget and far off the track of the original vision. Statistics show that less than 40 percent of transformation programs are successful, due to a disconnect that exists in the goals of such programs and the reality of resources that can be devoted to it (time, money, personnel, etc.).


Implementing a Transformation Office

That’s where the implementation of a Transformation Management Office (TMO) comes in. Someone has to be at the helm of the operation who not only recognizes the inherent challenges that come with implementing enterprise transformation and the work that must be done to achieve it, but who also can guarantee streamlined, spot-on execution at just the right pace with all eyes on the finish line. Combining strategy with clear-cut goals for implementation is critical for the TMO.


What Does a TMO Do?

This part of an organization is the crux of any successful transformation, with the central duty being to implement the complex task of adding value and accountability to the process. In general, the TMO will:

  • Lead the charge in coming up with creative, workable ideas designed to fuel the transformation effort and ensure it has the steam to move forward.
  • Offer a simple yet detailed approach to the process so executives and other key personnel can take those ideas and run with them.
  • Analyze how the transformation will take place and align with corporate vision.
  • Ensure the program has clear objectives.
  • Utilizes a streamlined operating model where efficiency and cost effectiveness take center stage.

The bottom line is, organizational transformation is disruptive. It’s uncomfortable for many, and it takes time. That’s why a TMO must be brought on board to concentrate on the specific tasks involved in orchestrating this endeavor, following it through to its completion despite such roadblocks. Putting this task on front-line staff and executives too entrenched in the organization already is a recipe for disaster. This is why a traditional project management office (PMO) is not a good choice to lead such an initiative. They deal with administration and compliance on a regular basis, and therefore would not be a good fit for the challenges that are part and parcel of a large transformation initiative.

The difference between success and failure of an organizational transformation often comes down to action. Your TMO needs to walk a fine line between strategy and clear objectives on one side but also implementation and action on the other. Anyone can sit in a boardroom and contemplate goals. It takes a strong leadership team to take those talking points and apply them in a value-driven way for success. Which side of the line will you be on?

Fostering a culture of innovation begins and ends with an open mind about change. In order to promote an innovative workplace, no matter what the sector, there should be a continual exchange of ideas to result in the right balance for your company. Yes, you need creativity at the forefront of it all, but this isn’t something that can be forced. However, positioning your firm to achieve a successful approach to innovation takes a few key motivators, from flexibility in the work environment to hiring team members for a vision that aligns with yours. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to foster an innovative workplace.

Building a Creative Mindset

This all starts from the ground up with the people you decide to bring on board to take this journey with you. The wrong employees can prove to be toxic to your overall vision of creativity, change and flexibility in the work environment. It doesn’t mean you have to only hire people who agree with you all the time; it’s more than that. You want to encourage different perspectives by hiring people who are passionate about what they do, with the flexibility to spur on productivity without being hampered by rigid thoughts, ideas or scheduling parameters, says Forbes.

Here are some tips to achieving that sought-after creativity:

  • Give employees incentives to care and thus share your company vision
  • Involve your employees in the process, listening to their ideas and getting them pumped about a new project, company direction, etc.
  • Brainstorm to help new ideas emerge
  • Broaden perspectives and encourage change through practices like short-term job swaps
  • Encourage trying new things, tweaking them to make them fit, discarding them or embracing them as a result
  • Avoid penalizing those whose ideas don’t end up working out
  • Reward and encourage the flow of ideas and new thoughts

Does Technology = Innovation?

There’s no denying technology is a big piece of the innovation puzzle. After all, how can you expect to compete in today’s global market if you’re not on board with the latest technology? Innovation often goes hand in hand with technology, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can be innovative at little or no cost. Innovation, at its very core, is something more than that. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, put it best in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: “

In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” You can have all the strategy, marketing, technology and financial management skills in the world, and although all those things will help get you on the path to success, it may not necessarily keep you there. Bottom line is, you won’t get far if innovation, flexibility, and creativity aren’t ingrained in the company’s soul.