The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it - with nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures upending the lives of people everywhere and driving economies into the ground. The virus has not discriminated, and no corner of society has been immune to its effects.
In the midst of crisis, many businesses have frozen spending plans and pulled funding as they have attempted to cope with the effects that the outbreak has had on their operations and revenues. However, that said, the pandemic has been a strong facilitator of creativity and innovation. And while it is true that the virus is likely to have a significant impact for years to come, there is at least some cause for optimism when it comes to the future of UK businesses.
Working practices have rapidly adapted, with many employees now working from home. There has been a push for companies to digitise their processes, and for customer-facing businesses to develop online offerings to ensure sales did not plummet.
This has pushed businesses across all sectors into unchartered waters, but these changes have not been without long-term merit. The intense period of innovation ignited by the global pandemic has proved that although we are living in unprecedented times, organisations can deliver on successful digital transformation even against all odds.
To explore this phenomenon further, Studio Graphene recently polled over 500 UK business leaders to uncover the impact that COVID-19 has had on innovation and creativity. The research found that almost half (47%) of the businesses surveyed had successfully migrated their offering from in person to online since March 2020, with similar numbers (50%) stating that the virus had prompted them to adopt a new digital solution that they had previously been hesitant to embrace.
As history has shown, when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, business leaders and entrepreneurs are often at their most creative. To avoid the prospect of having to close operations or see sales fall off a cliff, many companies have clearly made daring and necessary decisions in order to survive.
This poll suggests that the pandemic has prompted many organisations to think outside of the box when it comes to delivering digital transformation.
Strikingly, half of the respondents stated that they had taken on new digital solutions to enable them to continue delivering their product of service. An additional 39% of businesses stated that they had done so by investing in a new area of technology that they have never used before, such as artificial intelligence or augmented reality.
And for many businesses, these investments have been a long time coming. Great leaps have been made in this domain in recent years, but it is often the case that organisations end up bogged down by internal hierarchies and red tape when trying to implement new tech.
Naturally, most leadership teams will run into some anxiety about the prospects of change; it is always easier to stick to the status quo rather than invest resources into new products, services or ways of doing things. Indeed, almost half (45%) of the businesses surveyed agreed that a risk averse culture has hindered their efforts towards innovation in the past.
Even for businesses that have previously opted to embrace digital transformation, mitigating risk has remained a focus. With so much careful planning and consideration, large-scale digital transformation projects often involve become drawn out, taking months or even years to realise.
However, recent events have shown that this needn’t be the case, and businesses have cut these timescales down substantially. Although the final products might be a little bit rough around the edges and still require some refining, organisations will undoubtedly have learned some important lessons from these fast-tracked initiatives. This ought to stand them in better stead for the challenging months ahead.
With many success stories of organisations acclimatising to this new reality, the looming question now for business leaders is how to avoid the trap of reverting back to laborious and overly cautious processes once the pandemic has passed.
Companies would do well to consider their accomplishments throughout this trying period carefully and incorporate the lessons learned into future implementations.
Thankfully, the research is encouraging; the findings of Studio Graphene’s poll suggest business leaders have already recognised the positive impact that digital channels and automated processes can have on their day-today. Over half (55%) of the business leaders surveyed said that fostering innovation has now become a keen focus within their organisation. The vast majority of respondents also stated that they are now more likely to invest heavily in technology for their internal operations going forward.
All in all, the coronavirus pandemic has posed many challenges for businesses and their operations. But in the same breath, these difficulties have also exposed the need for organisations to invest in pioneering solutions.
• Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene