Digital Transformation in the Midst of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 on the workplace is undeniable. In the past few weeks, companies around the world have abruptly shut down their offices and moved their workforces to remote work with no clear end in sight.

A sweeping economic downturn further complicates matters, as hard-hit industries face unprecedented shifts in operations.

To manage these changes, business leaders have accelerated adoption of digital tools to maintain operations. Communication and collaboration solutions like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams have experienced an uptick in usage, as companies strive to keep their business moving in uncertain times.

Though it’s unclear how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, the global pandemic has sparked widespread digital transformation efforts that will make a permanent impact on the way we work.

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation involves reimagining how technology, people, and processes can come together to impact business performance.

At its core, digital transformation enables organizations to meet specific business outcomes, for example: driving greater efficiencies, increasing the quality of customer experiences, or creating new revenue streams.

In the case of sudden remote working requirements spurred by COVID-19, many digital transformation initiatives have included implementing virtual conference software or creating secure VPNs. While fundamental, these solutions don’t address the larger problem companies are facing.

Big picture, the critical challenge for businesses is making decisions in light of an uncertain and changing landscape.

How can digital transformation enable the essential decision-making that will help companies weather the storm?

How Digital Transformation Enables Faster Decisions

Access to timely data is critical for companies to understand what’s happening in their business at any time, but it’s especially important during the COVID-19 crisis.

With daily — even hourly — updates about the virus, consumer behavior is changing rapidly. To react effectively, companies need to quickly assess the situation, understand changing customer needs, and make data-driven decisions.

From Manual Analysis to Augmented Analytics

In this landscape, spreadsheets and static dashboards just won’t cut it. These legacy tools rely on manual, time-consuming analysis to understand and interpret business data.

Without digital transformation, many organizations depend on analysts to manually:

  1. Gather, cleanse, and prep data
  2. Develop research hypotheses and test each assumption individually
  3. Build data visualizations and dashboards
  4. Interpret these visualizations to find insights
  5. Develop a story or narrative
  6. Present their findings to key decision-makers

This process can take days or weeks. In the COVID-19 world, these insights could be rendered completely irrelevant by the rapid pace of change. Businesses simply don’t have time to wait; critical decisions must be made today.

To get to faster decisions, businesses can look to technology like augmented analytics. Cloud-based augmented analytics solutions complement the need for remote accessibility, allowing business people access from both mobile and desktop devices.

Pushing it further, augmented analytics platforms enable business people to ask questions and receive answers on demand, leveraging AI and machine learning technologies to perform the heavy lifting of data analysis.

This capability is incredibly valuable in today’s remote work environment, making it possible for business people to pull analysis and generate insights without relying on an analyst. It’s even more relevant in times of uncertainty, when data analysts are inundated with high-priority tasks, such as ensuring data pipelines operate effectively.

Self-service analytics can alleviate analysis bottlenecks since both business people and analysts can use this technology to get insights in seconds. Compare seconds to the days or weeks of manual analysis. Faster insights enable faster decisions.

How Digital Transformation Enables Better Decisions

Faster insights are critical, but in-depth, actionable insights are just as important.

To deliver more value to business users, digital transformation initiatives can go beyond implementing simple natural language interfaces that allow business people to ask questions.

Today’s AI-enabled augmented analytics solutions are capable of automating entire analysis workflows to deliver exhaustive analysis and richer insights.

Insights Grounded in Domain Knowledge

AI-driven analytics leverages machine learning algorithms to perform analysis based on a deep understanding of the user’s domain. Essentially, business people can ask questions specific to their team, function, and industry.

For example, category managers in the CPG industry are particularly invested in analyses that divulge actionable category insights, such as market share, competitor analysis, and key performance drivers. Analytics that delivers those insights as a complete narrative brings immense value because it applies the right frame of reference to the data.

This level of insight is a competitive advantage as companies scramble to stay ahead of market changes. AI allows humans to understand data in context, without sacrificing the speed of insights.

Unbiased Analysis

In unpredictable circumstances, it’s especially important to remove bias from analysis to understand the root causes behind changes.

Consumer needs can be overlooked or misunderstood when analysts, facing unprecedented urgency, make assumptions to get the business closer to actionable answers.

Assumptions can surface in unexpected ways when it comes to data. Take, for example, this data set regarding technology and loneliness from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Economist’s survey on loneliness, and Gartner’s Consumer Values Survey.

While survey participants perceived that technology use increased loneliness, the data indicated that the strongest contributing factor to loneliness was location. Technology use, in fact, increased feelings of both connectedness and loneliness, based on self-reported data from the same survey.

Machine learning algorithms identified these insights, addressing questions that many people wouldn’t think to ask.

The changes brought by COVID-19 evade safe assumptions; we’re in uncharted territory. The previous example shows how easy it is for biases to take over, especially when correlations seem obvious on the surface.

Companies can take advantage of unbiased, exhaustive data analysis that tests every data combination in a matter of minutes to uncover hidden data relationships, like key drivers in performance.

Indeed, many digital transformation initiatives have recently been borne out of urgent necessity in response to COVID-19. Organizations are doing their best to adapt to a new way of working.

Regardless of the impetus for these changes, investing in digital transformation will certainly leave many companies in a better place to drive toward business outcomes and mitigate future disruptions going forward.

Digital transformation is one way to gain more control and understanding in an unprecedented situation; however, the challenges of COVID-19 are not easy to overcome, and there are no simple solutions.

Hopefully, understanding what digital transformation offers can help companies factor these opportunities into their decisions. Knowing where companies can gain ground in the future can help inform next steps as employees at every level work through this uncertainty together.

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