Built for Change Perspectives: How business transformation has accelerated in the age of Covid-19

By | 4 minute read | September 16, 2020

No one can dispute that 2020 has brought disruption on a global scale. That disruption has accelerated investments in business transformation and required agility and resilience on the part of organizations everywhere. IBM has experienced that transformation itself and has shared and applied those lessons with its customers worldwide. Bloomberg Media Studios spoke to business leaders, industry analysts and technology experts within IBM. This in-depth Q&A series dissects how transformation is being applied inside businesses to create lasting and meaningful change.

These conversations explore the most pressing questions that businesses are wrestling with today: How are other businesses responding to the pandemic? Will these changes permanently alter how business is done? What specific areas inside a business can be strengthened despite this disruption? How are emerging technologies being applied today to transform businesses?

A new sense of urgency

Before 2020, many business leaders had plans to pursue end-to-end transformation across their business through the use of technology — cloud, AI, automation, real-time data analysis, and more. For many, those plans stretched out over years, but Covid-19 compressed those plans into immediate priorities. “We’ve been talking about digital reinvention and intelligent workflows for quite some time, but in the past six months, it has very much resonated with more organizations as something that they really needed to achieve before the crisis—and now, something they need to do with urgency,” says Dominique Dubois, Partner, IBM Services.

As the implications of the pandemic became obvious, some companies responded by suspending modernization plans. Many companies decided that the time was right to halt many or most of their transformation programs and to enter ‘defensive mode’. However, for those companies who forged ahead with a vision towards the opportunity, they are finding themselves in a position of strength and preparedness. The opportunity that was presented to plan for the long-term vision of their company offered and opportunity no one could have predicted to come out of a pandemic. This transformation of operational approaches leading towards resiliency and success in the new normal is ultimately what will set those who are thriving apart.

Putting transformation into practice

Talent management, customer experience and supply chain operations are some of the essential areas that businesses have reimagined in recent months. Those changes have been simplified through the use of key technologies.

Amy Wright, Managing Partner for Talent & Transformation for IBM, has noticed a change in the approach to hiring. “Rather than hiring from outside, companies are trending toward reskilling their employees for different roles across the organization,” she says. Employees are noticing this change as well and have noticed how emerging technologies can help. She notes, “AI can aid this by, say, looking at 30,000 employees who have similar skills to yours, and then looking at the roles they’ve taken and seeing if they were successful or not. This could help you choose that next role or more targeted skill training.”

AI can expand how employees view their roles, and also strengthen the relationship between a brand and its customers. By approaching every customer experience from a new perspective and striving to produce a simple, frictionless and personalized experience, customers’ expectations are more likely to be met. The old ways of doing things is not going to set brands apart in today’s marketplace. Consumer experience begins and ends with insights from AI and uses technology to better create and delivery memorable and meaningful experiences.

The pandemic has also forced organizations to rethink processes that have deferred investment and innovation for years. Jonathan Wright, Global Leader and VP of Supply Chain Consulting for IBM, observes, “Clearly, the pandemic taught many organizations that they’ve under-invested in supply chain technology.” He says, “Beliefs around the way supply chains should be run are being challenged, because the future doesn’t look like the past.” Modern supply chain management means using AI, automation and blockchain to form intelligent workflows that can respond to the complexity of supply and demand shocks, which the pandemic has revealed can happen at any time.

Transformation as a long-term strategy

To view the disruptions of 2020 as short-term shakeups misses the long-term lessons that can be gleaned from this experience. The quick fixes that businesses have implemented need to be seen as opportunities for growth and market share gains. “Brands are losing longtime customers because another company stepped up and was able to deliver that service or product when they needed it most. Companies that are smart will use that opportunity to build relationships with these new people,” says Paul Papas, Global Leader of Digital Strategy & Experience Design for IBM.

Business transformation is not a simple task. It helps to work alongside those who know what the process is like and have ushered others through it. “It’s important to choose a partner that has gone through transformation so they have experienced it personally. That’s one of the things that I think makes IBM special—we’ve undergone transformation with our 350,000 employees, so we have that personal experience,” notes Wright.

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