The Future of Digitalization is Now the Present

How today’s challenges can drive tomorrow’s solutions.

Young businesswoman looking in spyglass on sunrise at horizon

by Jill Steinhour

posted on 05-20-2020

Some of the most useful inventions were largely accidental. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is a famous example. In 1928, he came home from vacation and found that a mysterious mold had killed some Staphylococcus bacteria he’d been growing in his messy lab. Alexander himself described the discovery as accidental. But as a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWI, he’d seen countless soldiers die of sepsis, and so he made it his goal to find antibacterial substances. Even if the mold weren’t the direct outcome of a deliberate experiment, it solved a consequential problem that had been on Alexander’s mind for over a decade.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as the world rushes to squelch this virus, we are also undergoing a forced experiment in rapid digitalization. Right now we’re in the “messy middle” — to borrow a phrase from Adobe’s own Scott Belsky. But at some point we’ll be able to look back and list all the useful technologies and practices that emerged during the pandemic. Many of them will solve short-term problems arising from the crisis itself — and some will also move us closer to solving other problems we’ve been thinking about for years. If we’re lucky, a few may be in the league of Alexander’s discovery of penicillin, which transformed modern medicine.

Embrace the new speed of digital transformation

The future of digitalization is not only arriving sooner but also taking a different shape than many expected. Across all industries, including high tech, the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating companies’ digital transformation plans. It’s also forcing them to reinvent workflows and experiences they never intended to digitize.

Beginning in March, digital workflows have abruptly replaced processes that previously required in-person inputs and interactions. Existing digital workflows are being amplified, and new digital workflows are being created. Video conferences are now the standard medium for live collaboration. Transactions that had eluded digitalization are now getting swept in. The shift has been especially disruptive for tech companies that relied heavily on live events and in-person sales meetings.

Post-crisis, marketing leaders expect greater use of social media, digital commerce, and proactive communications (Gartner).

When the current crisis eventually ends, many of the new digital processes will remain — especially those that save companies money or provide needed agility to protect them from future crises. Some of those innovations may even help solve broader social or economic issues.

For example, many workers will be happy to return to a traditional office environment. But some, now that they’re used to the work-from-home lifestyle, may ask their employers to expand remote work options. Many employers could save money and enjoy similar or even better productivity by having some of their employees work from home. And citizens who are now enjoying cleaner air because there are fewer vehicles on the roads may pressure governments to get serious about reducing air pollution, leading to tax incentives for companies with liberal remote work policies and more funding for clean energy technologies.

Build business resilience with security, agility, and scale

With digital transformation in hyperdrive, what can you be doing right now to embrace it while making your business more resilient at the same time? Here’s the short answer: first, identify applications and services that can be transitioned to the cloud (if you haven’t already done so). Second, adopt tools that simplify and digitalize your workflows, with a special focus on those that will help you serve your customers more efficiently. If you provide mission-critical services to other companies, you should assess and shore up your own business resilience to instill more confidence, which will, in turn, help your customers build trust with their own customers.

If your organization has already invested in a cloud infrastructure and scalability practices, such as a serverless website, you’re likely well-equipped for the recent increase in online interaction. And you’re in a good position to add features that are suddenly needed to support your customers or employees — especially if you’ve invested in automation, which streamlines deployment and makes it easier to monitor applications remotely.

If you haven’t yet made those investments, your web platform is a great place to start. If you’re currently using an on-premise content management system ( CMS), you should be thinking seriously about moving to the cloud. Both cloud-hosted and cloud-native solutions will make life easier for your IT team since more responsibility for maintenance and security shifts to the vendor. But a cloud-native platform, which is built on a microservices architecture, is the most agile and resilient option.

A cloud-native CMS is designed to auto-scale when there’s a spike in traffic, so you never have to worry about your site going down due to traffic overloads. And since new capabilities are added continuously and validated automatically, your system is always up to date. A cloud environment also streamlines workflows for both marketers and developers. In our dynamic world, you need to be able to quickly stand up a new site, microsite, landing page, or marketplace, or absorb material increases in site traffic — and that’s doubly true in a crisis situation.

Here are two examples. Esri, a leader in geographic information systems, reduced development time for web projects by 20-50% by moving to Experience Manager as a Cloud Service, Adobe’s cloud-native CMS. And Silicon Labs, which makes silicon devices and software, is responding faster to changing market demands since adopting Adobe’s cloud-native platform — and their developers can spend more time designing new features since they don’t have to manage an on-premise environment.

Set up your tech to support innovation and versatility

Beyond website security and agility, you likely have several new business problems that you’re trying to solve. For example, if you have a direct sales force, you’ll need to enable them in new ways now that they’re spending more time trying to engage with customers through digital channels.

Look at tools that give sales and marketing more visibility into each other’s activities — anything that promotes better collaboration between these two teams will yield benefits far into the future. For example, Extreme Networks, a global provider of wired and wireless network infrastructure and security solutions, used Marketo Engage to build stronger alignment between marketing and sales and improve the quality of leads passed to the sales team. After implementing Marketo across the organization, Extreme Networks increased their outbound email volume by 1,400% in just a year, with a 25% increase in deliverability.

If you’re moving marketing events to a virtual format, you’ll benefit from an event planning tool that uses real-time updates based on a customer’s behavior and opportunity status. And if you’re thinking about shifting your go-to-market strategy, perhaps to expand online sales or add a direct-to-consumer online sales channel, you’ll want a commerce platform that is inclusive enough to serve both business customers and consumers.

Whatever your situation, as you’re buying or building tools to solve an urgent problem, think carefully about the long-term value each solution could provide once the crisis is over. Going forward, make resilience a part of your business strategy that you assess on a regular basis, rather than waiting until another crisis hits to think about it again. And remember Alexander Fleming. As you’re working on one problem, be open to ideas that might emerge — when you least expect it — to help solve even bigger challenges for your business, your customers, or a new market you’re not currently serving.

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Topics: Digital Transformation, Industry, Future of Work

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