Digital transformation is a marathon, not a sprint

Digital transformation is a marathon, not a sprint
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Over recent months the way we live and do business has transformed forever. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen business strategies rewritten and technological innovations implemented within weeks which previously would have taken years. The shift to digital shows no signs of slowing down, yet our economies risk prioritizing short-term results over sustainable success.

According to a recent Salesforce survey of business leaders across Europe, 82% of respondents say that they have digitally transformed their business as a result of the pandemic, however nearly 60% believe these innovations are only temporary. The top concerns they raise include ensuring cybersecurity, serving customers effectively, and engaging their workforce. All of which are only going to become more complex as the digital economy evolves.

We cannot know what the future will bring, but it is clear that the digital transformation journey is more like a marathon than a sprint. In a digital-first, work-from-anywhere world, a transformative mindset, readiness to innovate and upskill is required at every level of every organization. Even the role of the CEO is expanding to encompass responsibilities akin to a Chief Digital Officer. In addition to ensuring that businesses stay connected with customers, capability to share information securely and get the best out of distributed teams will only become more important in determining success.

Planning for the short- and long-term

Just as the pandemic will continue to evolve, the digital economy will present organizations with new opportunities and challenges of doing business. At the onset of the public health crisis, in addition to taking care of their employees, a key focus for business leaders was to stabilize their operations: to appear online, communicate effectively with customers, and redeploy teams where necessary. As we look beyond the reopen and recovery phase of the crisis, to approach the future with confidence, company-wide transformations are required.

This transformation journey will be just as relevant in twelve months time as it is today. The vast majority of businesses (87%) state that they are struggling to plan for both the short- and long-term. In addition to wanting to win new business, businesses say they need trusted advice to address challenges around leading teams and maintaining and boosting employee morale. Transforming how businesses appear and operate online is one thing, but conducting business securely, effectively leveraging revenue streams, and investing in resilience is another.

Customers want consistent service

Consumer expectations that were transformed during the pandemic, will have long-term implications for businesses of all sizes. Over recent months, many customers have embarked on their own digital transformation journey, adapting new technology to stay connected with loved ones and solve problems fast. Yet, although improving the online experience for customers is a priority for most businesses, almost half of companies (47%) say they are concerned by the prospect of overwhelming customers with changing technology solutions and processes.

As the demand for online services and more flexible customer experiences continues to grow, companies have no option but to innovate. The stark reality is that if companies do not use this moment to transform how they do business - and empower customers to adapt with them - they will be left behind.

Engaging and retraining employees

In contrast to the speed at which customers have become accustomed to new realities, companies need to get beyond the ‘coping’ stage of this crisis. This is particularly true around how they engage and retain employees. Whilst 57% of our survey respondents agreed that remote working will be a permanent fixture of business, 68% of companies say they experience challenges with leading and managing these dispersed teams; 63% with maintaining employee morale. Each, of course, have negative knock-on effects on productivity, collaboration and customer service standards.

When it comes to skills, 61% of business leaders say that due to the pandemic they will permanently require new skills of their employees, but less than half - 49% - have identified means to increase investment in digital tools. Given the pace at which organizations and services are having to transform, it’s fair to say the future of work is now. Leveraging technology and cultivating a culture of lifelong learning won’t just help companies to plug existing skills gaps today. It will totally reinvent how businesses upskill employees and serve customers tomorrow.

Change is here to stay

In the digital economy change is here to stay. Just as COVID-19 highlighted the vulnerabilities of organizations lacking a digital strategy, the next crisis we face will expose those business plans which choose to prioritize short-term results over long-term success.

As opposed to a sprint to rebuild what we had before, as a society we are embarking on a marathon to invent a new economy entirely. There will be no finish line for the innovations to come. On the digital transformation journey, from winning businesses to learning how to lead teams effectively, organizations are going to need trusted advice every step of the way.

Adam Spearing

Adam Spearing, EMEA Field CTO, Salesforce.