Catalysed by COVID

Not all of our “new normal” is completely new. We’ve had (some of) it coming for a while now. It just got here a little sooner than expected.

And maybe it looked a little different when it arrived.


Business responses to COVID-19 have brought expectations of new ways of working (“touchless”, online, remote, distributed …) to every corner of every industry – accelerating pre-existing cultural and economic trends towards a tipping point. In many areas, they’ve ushered in behavioural shifts much sooner than we would otherwise have anticipated pre-pandemic.

However, whilst many organisations were perhaps ill-prepared for the speed and scale of change – the trajectory was, at least, familiar. … To some.

Customer expectations of high quality “phygital” experiences (seamlessly marrying real life with its virtual counterpart) had already caused us to remake established structures and connections – in all walks of life. We’re now seeing a much more complicated picture of how processes execute in multi-party environments, how information and value flows, and how organisations and people communicate (and how they become motivated).

Origin story

The value of technology (and its place in the business) was already shifting.

It used to be all about how (and where) you stored information. Now it’s all about how you communicate and share that information with partners to improve the way you collaborate. It’s also about how you integrate systems so they can share that information as well.

It’s all about how you “put that information to work”. Especially where customers are concerned.

The business world used to focus on optimising individual or team productivity. Now it’s much more about an end-to-end picture, which could encompass contributors and services across the business, and indeed across an ecosystem of partners – all working towards the delivery of a seamless customer experience. They expect you to “know them”, so you focus on providing service instead of asking the same questions over and over.

enterprise to ecosystem

Source: Independent Thought

We’re no longer just talking about protection and utilisation of information-at-rest and individual productivity, we’re talking about an ecosystem-wide view of how technology can drive efficiency and effectiveness. Now, we need to utilise that information to drive change and increase our ability to be agile in the face of change.

Also, management control hierarchies, some of which were created decades ago, are being overlaid with (and sometimes eroded by) much more cross-cutting, horizontal information and business networks formed around ecosystem communities of practice and communities of purpose.

hierarchies to networks

Source: Independent Thought

Any or all of these communities may be globalised, dispersed, virtual, and boundary-less. They may be fairly free-flowing in nature (with transient membership); or they may harden into more formalised consortia (with all the attendant structures and governance arrangements that conveys). Or indeed they may exist on a continuum between these states – with founding members working with (on a needs basis) parties intent on a more “casual” consumption of services who may indeed be light-touch members of many networks in the same (and related) spheres of business concurrently.

Less forward-thinking organisations may try to “UI themselves out of a problem” without futureproofing their underpinning infrastructure (cloud and on-premises). However, a fancy new front-end (on its own) isn’t enough to save you now. You need to pay much closer attention to what’s going on (and where) under the hood.

Count what counts (not just what’s easy to count)

The pandemic has sped up the digital transformation journeys that many organisations had already embarked upon (albeit rather recently and reluctantly, in some cases). But COVID-19 constraints (and the “crisis innovation” measures initiated in response) have inevitably exacerbated any pre-existing flaws and fractures in technology and process architecture. And in a networked world, that’s not just your own internal architecture; your partners need to measure up too – lest they drop the ball on your behalf (and on your watch).

Beware however, that in response to tough economic times, organisations “under siege’” tend to adopt something of a blunt approach to cutting costs across the board in an effort to shore up business fundamentals and day-to-day operations. However, this poses a risk that those technology initiatives which are, as yet, unable to unequivocally prove their worth (in terms that matter to top and bottom lines) are seen as fair-game costs to be cut in any “bonfire of the vanity projects”.

However, the right combination of technologies, deployed across the right use case areas, in a way that best suits existing talent and technology postures, fits the budget and timescales, and satisfies governance policies and risk profiles can provide not just a way out of a crisis; but also the way into a more resilient future.

It’s therefore imperative that post-COVID initiatives (especially those deploying emerging tech, often seen as less “battle-hardened” than their more traditional cousins) build business cases that punch above their weight (and do so earlier in the proceedings). Even tuning near-term goals to establish that first pay-off sooner (and more demonstrably) than would otherwise have been attempted in “peacetime”. Focus on the most achievable net gain against the most visible pain for the organisation as a whole – whilst clearly articulating who benefits, how, when, and by how much.

Broadly speaking, every organisation has to survive by doing what’s “good enough” now in order to buy sufficient time to stave off impending doom. Only then can it start to even consider what might be the longer-term best action that enables it to bounce back stronger.

More esoteric or niche use cases will flounder without a compelling business case that articulates short-term (as well as longer-term) benefits. Certainly, anything running too long a timeframe will struggle for continued investment in the post-COVID climate – even if it has the potential to move the dial further in the long run. (Because that counts for nought if the business isn’t around then to reap those rewards.)

A future in flux ada accessible website

However, the picture can be more nuanced than this. Despite the re-focusing of roadmaps around post-COVID priorities, an organisation’s erstwhile longer-term objectives (which had hitherto been expected to enter the equation further down the line, or over a longer time period) haven’t vanished completely. Instead, they may become rolled-up into shorter-term requirements, because those horizons are starting to arrive sooner (and more frequently).

But be mindful that whilst such an approach may secure much-needed funding and senior sponsorship for modernisation initiatives, they also risk marrying together competing objectives that weren’t originally drawn-up with symbiosis in mind. And these may struggle to maintain alignment from pilot to production without sufficient attention being paid to cross-cutting interference and unintended consequences.

Before such a project runs its course, circles may need to be squared that re-emphasise precisely what the organisation’s priorities are in any one regard – so that the most overall beneficial technology and process decisions can be taken (rather than continuing the ride under triage conditions).

Our use case understanding is currently in flux, however, as we await the hardening of new habits and attitudes. And we’re likely not done changing yet! It’s therefore essential that businesses re-examine their marketing strategies and campaigns to ensure that they still align with what people are now willing to spend money on. Organisations need to recognise and respond to new needs (and anticipate further changes) as people settle down into their own “new normal”, and, indeed, as that new normality settles down into a more long-term, steadier state.

Organisations should remain clear about what values they wish to uphold and demonstrate to the world. A consistent cultural compass will lend credibility and authenticity to evolving and emerging positions – whether acting in response to, in anticipation of, or as an agent for change across a whole industry.

It’ll also help when defining a new “digital differentiation” against everyone else who’s going through the same things, as organisations adapt and adopt these new technological approaches and ways of working (and make them “their own”).

Call to action

With everything else going on, it’s important not to underestimate the cultural implications of change on long-held and familiar ways of working – both brought about directly by immediate responses to the pandemic (under “survival instinct” tactical business continuity plans) and also as a result of more strategic programmes, enacted with more longer-lasting transformational change in mind.

There will inevitably be winners and losers (both perceived and actual); some parties may not believe they’re seeing the benefits they expected, or at least not soon enough. The new technology may work on paper, but beware of yawning gaps between policy and practice when people enter the fray!

Emerging tech is going to find the most fertile ground not only where a use case ticks the most COVID-recovery boxes and has the most affinity with new ways of thinking and working, but also where it’s supporting a wider (and perhaps pre-existing) digital transformation initiative that can give it some “top cover,” and wider buy-in across the business.

You’re then not having to sell an emerging tech advantage per se; you’re using it to bring about a digital transformation advantage for the business as a whole (and one already grounded in post-COVID context) which you couldn’t otherwise do, or do so cost-effectively.

For blockchain and cloud-based apps, this means liberating on-premises content for multi-party collaboration and operating business processes across organisational boundaries; re-orientating business models towards ecosystem approaches that remove costly and inefficient intermediaries; and/or providing the means for self-sovereign control and sharing of data in a no-trust environment.

To learn more, read Independent Thought’s new whitepaper for Hyland, Thriving in the new normal: The role of emerging technologies to find out how emerging, collaborative technologies (like cloud-based apps and blockchain) are helping organisations thrive in the “new normal” business environment. Discover how they’re gaining a foothold and prominence post-COVID, and how organisations can use them to survive, thrive and differentiate in a differently digital world.

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth is the co-founder and research director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how organisations can best embrace emergent technologies in their own particular business context – to... read more about: Craig Wentworth

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