Digital Strategy in a Crisis Period

The COVID-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world, one in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organisations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight…..and might I add that many business organisations have been caught with their pants down from a digital strategy and adoption perspective.

We are now in a world in which digital channels have become the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model. A world in which agile ways of working are a prerequisite to meeting seemingly daily changes to customer behavior.

If a silver lining can be found, it might be in the falling barriers to improvisation and experimentation that have emerged among customers, markets, regulators, and organizations. In this unique moment, companies can learn and progress more quickly than ever before. The ways they learn from and adjust to today’s crisis will deeply influence their performance in tomorrow’s changed world, providing the opportunity to retain greater agility as well as closer ties with customers, employees, and suppliers. Those that are successfully able to make gains “stick” will likely be more successful during recovery and beyond.

Now is the time to reassess digital initiatives—those that provide near-term help to employees, customers, and the broad set of stakeholders to which businesses are increasingly responsible and those that position you for a postcrisis world. In this world, some things will snap back to previous form, while others will be forever changed. Playing it safe now, understandable as it might feel to do so, is often the worst option.

Few companies seem to be able to pilot new digital initiatives at the scale and speed suddenly required by the COVID-19 crisis. As the COVID-19 crisis forces your customers, employees, and supply chains into digital channels and new ways of working, now is the time to ask yourself: What are the bold digital actions we’ve hesitated to pursue in the past, even as we’ve known they would eventually be required? Strange as it may seem, right now, in a moment of crisis, is precisely the time to boldly advance your digital agenda. What does it mean to act boldly? Below please find some pointers and areas to focus upon. What is extremely important is that you approach this beyond any simple digital project as an add-on to your business model but as a way towards innovating entirely new digital offerings, deploying design thinking and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) at scale across your business. Hence the time to be BOLD!

  1. Immediate Action & Quick Wins

In the immediate term, most organisations are looking for virtual replacements for their previously physical offerings, or at least new ways of making them accessible with minimal physical contact. The new offerings that result can often involve new partnerships or the need to access new platforms and digital marketplaces in which your company has yet to participate. As you engage with new partners and platforms, look for opportunities to move beyond your organization’s comfort zones, while getting visibility into the places you can confidently invest valuable time, people, and funds to their best effect. Design thinking, which involves using systemic reasoning and intuition to address complex problems and explore ideal future states, will be crucial.

2. Reinvent your business model at its core

Going beyond comfort zones requires taking an end-to-end view of your business and operating models. Even though your resources are necessarily limited, focusing on areas that have an impact on the core of your business will give you the best chance of success, in both the near and the longer term, than will making minor improvements to non-core areas. Organisations that make minor changes to the edges of their business model nearly always fall short of their goals. In particular, organisations rapidly adopting AI tools and algorithms, as well as design thinking, and using those to redefine their business at scale have been outperforming their peers. This will be increasingly true as companies deal with large amounts of data in a rapidly evolving landscape and look to make rapid, accurate course corrections compared with their peers.

3. Fast Learning during the crisis

Moving boldly doesn’t mean moving with thinking things over well. Bold action and the ability to learn are highly interrelated. The real-time ability to learn during a crisis is in fact the one ingredient that can turbocharge your ability to scale quickly. In situations of extreme uncertainty, leadership teams need to learn quickly what is and is not working and why. This requires identifying and learning about unknown elements as quickly as they appear. This fast learning aspects is extremely important and here are some areas that companies need to learn fast on as we move into the new normal:

(i) Quicken your data reviews: Start by evaluating the frequency with which you review the available data. You should be reviewing multiple sources of data on a weekly (or more frequent) basis to evaluate the shifting needs of your customers and business partners—as well as your own performance.

(ii) Focus on technology: The abrupt shift to virtual operations and interactions, both inside and outside your organisation, also provides an opportunity to accelerate your pace of learning about, and adoption of, technologies with which your organization might have only begun to experiment. As experimentation scales, so does learning. The rapid shift to digital can also reveal potential trouble spots with your organisation’s current technological setup, especially with regards areas like Data security – Are you experiencing breaches as you move to remote working and data sharing?
Scalability – Where are the breaks and crashes happening as 100 percent of your interactions with customers, employees, and business partners go virtual? Usability – Right now customers often have little choice but to access your products or services through your new digital offerings. Their options will expand as we move beyond the crisis. How well will your new offerings stand up? If your current usability is low, experiment to improve it now, while you still have a captive audience to partner with and learn from.

It’s often the case in human affairs that the greatest lessons emerge from the most devastating times of crises. We believe that companies that can simultaneously attend to and rise above the critical and day-to-day demands of their crisis response can gain unique insights to both inform their response and help ensure that their digital future is more robust coming out of COVID-19 than it was coming in.

At EMCS ( we have dedicated persons who specialise in digital strategy advice and how such digital strategy fits with your overall business strategy, in these challenging times. Feel free to get back to me on to learn more on how we can help in thsi regard.

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