The pandemic put a spotlight on corporate digital strategy as a strategic survival tool, revealing many new strengths and weaknesses along the way. Now, we start to look past the immediate crisis response: How are corporate leaders leaning into digital to create new value in the new normal?
While no two approaches are identical, we are starting to see some success formulas start to emerge as we head into the ninth month of pandemic-driven rewrites to the conventional business playbook. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing a fair share of new challenges mounting as many companies struggle to convert their emergency COVID-19 workarounds into sustainable strategies.
Increasingly, the key ingredient separating these two groups is flexibility. Companies that recognize that they are going to be living through a period of sustained volatility and start building flexibility into their strategies are finding their way. Those looking for rigid, “set-it-and-forget-it” solutions are struggling every time economic sentiment changes, new COVID-19 cases spike, or geopolitical tensions flare.
This is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been writing about the need for agility in the professional services space ever since the first AI-enabled tax audit was conducted and the U.S. was withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Looking back now, these disruptions seem almost quaint. But, just as companies needed a fluid response to changes in the regulatory and technological status quo four years ago, they now need a plan that lets them keep changing direction.
Only faster. While working from home. With no end in sight.
Based on our work with a wide range of companies that include multinational corporations, the Big Four, Am Law 100 firms, mom-and-pop tax preparers, and small-to-mid-size law firms, we’re seeing three areas as the key success variables in this new normal period: cloud-based collaboration tools, advanced analytics, and adaptability.
Let’s start with the cloud, which is arguably the easiest change to adopt. It’s hard to imagine now, but just one year ago we were still spending a great deal of time arguing with accountants and law firms about the merits of cloud-based versus on-premise technology. Today, the results have been clear. Companies with cloud-based technological infrastructure in place have fared better than those without.
But real cloud-based infrastructure is about more than just being able to access e-mail in a work-from-home scenario. Done right, cloud-based technology makes it possible for disparate teams to seamlessly collaborate, sharing documentation in real-time without wasting time on things like version control or clicking into multiple different locations to find the right information. During the pandemic, especially, seemingly small workflow issues mean the difference between efficiency and burnout.
In fact, we recently conducted a survey of professional services workers to gauge the biggest pain points they’ve encountered in the transition to work-from-home. Among the biggest challenges reported were issues with technological overload from having to use too many different technology platforms. All told, 31% of respondents said they experienced challenges with technology, 21% said they downloaded tech solutions that they never ended up using, and 16% said they had to use too many different technology tools to access information and complete their work.
Getting the balance right between cloud-enabled accessibility and centralization of resources is critical. Companies of every size need to address it we continue to adapt to new ways of working.
The other major ingredient separating winners from losers in this climate is reliable data and analytics. The real secret to agility is being able to anticipate changes, and the best way to see what’s coming before it happens is with robust data on things like customer behavior, macro- and micro-economic trends, and risk exposures to multiple political and economic scenarios.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Gartner reports the prescriptive analytics software market will reach $1.88 billion by 2022, representing a 20.6% compound annual growth rate from 2017. Increasingly, the ability to validate trends, detect anomalies, and forecast demand will be critical for every business.
The last key to unlocking digital value creation is arguably the hardest because you can’t buy it. But adaptability – the part cultural, part technological, part philosophical ability to accept the fact that things are going to be uncertain for a while is critically important for business leaders. While the right tech infrastructure and analytics capabilities can make volatility a little easier to stomach, the ability to get comfortable switching on a dime is a skill set we’re all going to have to develop.
Brian Peccarelli is co-chief operating officer of Thomson Reuters.