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Whilst viewed as undertakings that are undoubtedly essential, the development of digital transformation strategies have suffered from the same fate as so many similar tasks. Devoid of the immediacy that can be attributed to plans that can be actioned and effective within short periods of time, as well as demanding significant deliberation, their creation is consistently de-prioritised.
The veneer of short-term gain has now been all but stripped away, however. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the vast majority of organisations to embrace digital practice, drawing insufficient preparations into sharp focus. In transforming digital practice into something indispensable, though, it has also brought about its rapid implementation.
ROCK have, since February, been at the forefront of such adoptions. Our efforts have, amongst other things, minimised disruptions to supply chains, allowed organisations to remain in contact with their customers, enabled our clients’ employees to work safely and effectively from home, and delivered solutions that have allowed stakeholders in multiple locations to collaborate. Amidst this tragedy, two of the business community’s longest-standing challenges could well be addressed, specifically the dearth of digital capabilities and our flawed national infrastructure.
In March 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published a policy paper concerning the UK’s existing digital infrastructure. This paper stated that enhanced infrastructure that provided faster and more reliable connections could, by 2024, add an additional £17 billion to the nation’s economy. The same report added, however, that whilst the market should be encouraged towards pervasive high-speed connections ‘the costs today of providing the infrastructure’ should also be given the utmost consideration.1 Approximately two years later, a survey revealed that 61% of the UK’s largest companies by turnover believed that our digital infrastructure was inferior and in need of public investment.2
The digital skillsets of employees and the need for them to be continuously developed have also been identified as an area where improvements are urgently required. In June 2019, The Open University revealed that 88% of companies throughout the UK reported that they suffered from a shortage of digital skills. Further, the same study discovered that 85% of senior decision-makers in businesses agreed that, due to the pace with which technology is progressing, it will soon be necessary for them to provide their employees with training to ensure they’re au fait and capable of using software, devices, etc. effectively. Organisations that had already begun upskilling their workforces had noticed both increased productivity and improved engagement.3
Whilst responsibility for improving our nation’s digital infrastructure rests with elected officials (and I’ll discuss why I believe that recent events will bring about greater investment in this shortly), developing a digitally-savvy workforce – and, indeed, reliable internal infrastructure – should have been brought to the forefront of decision-makers’ minds in recent weeks.
Playing it safe in times of crisis is far less logical than it would seem. Research conducted by market intelligence analysts IDC revealed that spending on digital infrastructure is, in spite of the current pandemic, still expected to grow by 5.3% in 2020.4 In addition, a survey conducted by OpsRamp found that 73% of IT operations and development leaders believe their spending on digital transformation will either remain stable or increase in the coming months.5
Those in the know are aware that now is not the time to withhold investment; to try and shore up existing models and aim to match what was achieved previously. Rather, now is the time for ambitions to grow. For new opportunities to be identified and preparations undertaken in advance of competitors returning to their respective status quos. The figures cited above serve as clear proof of the fact that a digital transformation strategy – particularly one that seeks to improve both employees and Infrastructure – is more than worthy of fiscal devotion during these challenging times.
As I have mentioned previously, I am certain that recent events will bring about increased investment in digital infrastructure on a national level. State spending has reached unprecedented levels in response to the economic imbalance brought about by COVID-19 and, whilst this may lead to some reasoning that spending will slow when its retreat becomes apparent, I feel think tanks such as Bruegel are correct to claim that central spending will increase in order to facilitate economic recovery.6
Equally noteworthy is that news provider EURACTIVE – who specialise in news concerning the European Union – claim to have had sight of a leaked document stating the bloc’s intention to invest heavily in tech when COVID-19 is deemed to be under control. Digital education, broadband connectivity, e-health and e-government are all, the publication claims, amongst the areas set to receive considerable upgrades.7
Whilst the UK may have left the EU earlier this year, any investment in digital infrastructure put forward by the bloc is certain to affect our economy by proxy. It is also likely that, eager to avoid providing remainers with potential ammunition, the UK government will – particularly as they, too, will spend in order to stimulate our economy – invest in our infrastructure.
Governments outside of Europe are also certain to look to enhance their digital foundations. The UN have previously indicated that they view access to the internet to be a basic human right8 and this outlook is unlikely to have changed following events that have stressed just how capable this medium is of affecting quality of life. Claims that a lack of infrastructure and connectivity has hindered healthcare workers’ efforts to tackle the virus in parts of the world have also gained traction.9 There is cause for public spending, both to stimulate economies and to invigorate technical frameworks. Vitally, there is certain to be an appetite for both amongst electorates and businesses around the world.
As stated previously, the majority of decision-makers in IT and development have no intention of reducing outgoings concerning tech – they plan to do the opposite. These individuals – amongst those likely to have observed the positive impact of digital transformation first-hand – recognise that now is not the time to shy away from investing in infrastructure. Instead, now is the time to leverage a culture shock that has compelled organisations and their employees to develop their digital competencies.
A 2018 survey, undertaken by the Harvard Business Review, revealed that 71% of organisations are either ‘not very’ or only ‘moderately’ digital.10 Organisations that look to invest in digital transformation – in their infrastructure, tools and employees’ skillsets – whilst operating within an environment that makes them more receptible to major change, however, will emerge with a lean and agile workforce in possession of digital skills, powerful tools and advanced internal and external infrastructures.
Big data, AI and automation are just a few examples of tech that, when combined with strong leadership and a willingness to innovate, have consistently provided organisations with a competitive advantage. Today, with so many businesses focusing on the here and the now, those that look to the future to determine how they can join the 29% of those described as digitally-savvy will also be those whose long-term success shapes the post-COVID-19 global economy.