Technology moved from a growth enabler to a business continuity factor in lockdown. As businesses readjust for the future, it needs to do both.
Technology played a critical role in mitigating the impact of the virus. Whether helping employees to perform their jobs or providing a platform for fulfiling products and services, technology enabled new ways of doing business. However, looking to the future building resilience through digital transformation requires balancing short-term necessity with realising the long-term opportunity.
Few businesses can be in doubt that technology, digital transformation, and innovation are essential enablers of operational resilience. Now is a critical time to assess how far into the future your current technology programmes can take you.
Indeed, According to Grant Thornton’s IBR data, 45.6% of global respondents said they would need to make more use of technology and digital transformation following the COVID crisis. At the same time, 78% of businesses intend to maintain or increase their levels of investment in technology over the next 12 months.
Reassess IT systems for capacity and security
Following rapid adoption of technology in the first phases of the crisis, it now pays to review what measures and systems were put in place and assess whether they are sustainable on a new scale and for new ways of working that allow secure and efficient operations.
Ian Pascoe, CEO and managing partner at Grant Thornton Thailand, says: "A lot of businesses have found their technology to be inadequate. So going back to revisit the basics and of how good your systems are is vital. For example, doing video calls are great, but you've got to make sure it all works and that your bandwidth is adequate."
Consider performing a remote hardware and software audit to ensure that workforces have the necessary tools to perform their jobs over an indefinite period. It’s also vital to stay on top of your IT security and continually assess any vulnerabilities the business might be exposed to through remote working.
Look to automation to execute routine tasks
One aspect of the crisis is the level of pressure staff have come under to fulfil specific routine processes from home while often juggling family commitments.
However, essential tasks still need to be completed and are often time-sensitive. Trevor Dunne, head of technology consulting at Grant Thornton in Belfast says: "This is where automation through robotics can help. Building automations in a few days can offer real value and allow you to remove pressure from staff. Furthermore, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can deliver consistent service." Outsourcing the implementation of RPA can be a quick and affordable way of achieving productivity gains.
Take time to make the right technology investments
Pre-COVID some businesses may have needed convincing that certain technologies and digital upgrades were necessary, now digital transformation has moved from a desirable aspiration to an essential across the board. But in coming to that conclusion, businesses need to make investment decisions wisely.
Pallavi Bakhru, partner at Grant Thornton India, says: "When it comes to long-term impact decision, people want to know what is coming down the road. If you put a particular system in place today – such as digitising your entire indirect tax compliance – will it be contemporaneous two years down the line. Will it be compatible with the government's interface?"
"Businesses need to deliberate, but there is a lot of support and benchmarking available about what is best suited for you, for the price point of the investment that you want to make. It is interesting that while businesses are deliberating, they are not holding back on the investment. It is not a mindless embracing of technology; there is a lot of questioning and discussion and desire to know and understand things. But the hesitation that there was earlier on about whether a business should go down the tech route or not has gone, that is now a no-brainer."
Use technology to provide you with actionable data
Once transformed into usable information, data is a valuable asset in building resilience and retuning your business when matched with your scenario planning. Ensure that you have the right analytics, dashboards, report sets and data structures to help with decision-making.
Dunne says: "Data has always been critical to business success and keeping up to date with the changing environment. Regardless of the scenario you face, getting accurate reports of what is happening in your business is critical and will continue to be so well after this pandemic has passed."
Leaders need access to a range of indicators outside their business that will help them find and realise new opportunities, such as a rival facing financial difficulties that may be open to selling. Use sources such as customer insights, employee surveys, information from trade bodies or market analysts to help shape your understanding.
Stay vigilant around cybersecurity risks
The large number of employees likely to be working remotely in the future, will increase cyber-criminals’ attack surface – the opportunities to hack into businesses systems, as well as compromise individual employees - will increase. Cyber risks are continually evolving, and businesses face unprecedented security and compliance risks through data leaks as a result of remote working. Businesses must now ensure their cloud systems across and infrastructure are secure and that there is clarity as to who is responsible for securing and monitoring them.
Businesses should also implement privacy-by-design and data segmentation policies, so they have insight and control over who has access to data in both first- and third-party environments. They must also ensure suppliers of technology services meet basic security standards and that they have an understanding of the risks through the supply chain.
Lead technology change from the boardroom
The future opportunities associated with technology involve training, upskilling and acquiring the right talent, but that also requires a certain level of understanding and knowledge at board level. Susie Crowder, head of human capital advisory at Grant Thornton, Channel Islands, says: " I think there's a skills gap in the tech space at board level. Take something like AI; it is not a new phenomenon, but when we look at why it hasn't been embraced or utilised to its full capacity, it's because there's been a lack of understanding at the top as to what AI could do.
"Those companies that can embrace technology and use it will strengthen their competitive advantage and will build resilience back into their balance sheets once more. But organisations that copy and paste what they've always done and leave IT to the IT team without putting it as a boardroom agenda will fall behind."
The emerging winners will be businesses that have adapted their technology capacity and vision most quickly in this period. Those with a clear sense of future opportunities as well as the risks technology mitigates are well-positioned to prosper in the new operating environment.