As the world begins a tentative look toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that some trends that became central in the last year are here to stay, and others have dramatically accelerated. In the case of digital transformation, both points are true.

The real challenge for enterprises today is to unlock the value of digital transformation. The key term here is ‘transformation’, which is why Gartner specifically focuses on this as a process that unlocks new opportunities, efficiencies and potentials for growth.

Merely supplanting an analog process with a digital one does not achieve transformation unless the new digital process brings these added benefits that move the enterprise in a fundamentally new direction.


Why CEOs are Embracing Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is trending upwards as businesses prepare for the post-COVID future. Although some enterprises are slow to accept the potential long-term impact of digital transformation, Forbes reports that:

  • 56% of CEOs say digital improvements have led to increased revenue.
  • Digitally mature companies are 23% more profitable than their less mature peers.
  • Digital-first companies are 64% more likely to achieve their enterprise growth goals than their peers.

Revenue, profit, and enterprise growth are compelling indicators, so the question then becomes: where and how do we pursue digital transformation strategies and not simply surface-level digital adoption or acceptance?


1. Unlocking the True Value of Flexible Work

The adoption of new digital tools increased significantly in the last year as many businesses were forced to transition to remote or hybrid working. This adoption is likely to continue fueling the shift to remote work as many companies aren’t likely to regress or return to their pre-pandemic operating model after the pandemic. In fact, a study by Upwork reports an 87% increase in the number of remote workers from before the pandemic, with 26.7% expected to still be working from home through 2021 and 22% of the workforce expected to be working remotely by 2025.
Many experts note that the growing reliance on remote work was an inevitable trend, with the global health crisis simply speeding up what would have occurred at perhaps a little bit of a slower and piecemeal pace absent the pandemic.

The flexibility and geographical fluidity of remote work capabilities makes it a shift most companies would have had to adopt anyway if they wished to remain competitive, so embracing it now is an opportunity to capitalize on its many advantages in bringing your organization into the future with continued relevance and profitability.

The difference between companies merely adopting remote work and engaging in flexible work as a transformation strategy is important to note. While many employers are tentatively accepting the long-term role of remote work, others are embracing the potential that comes from this change. For example, global CRM software company HubSpot has literally rebuilt its talent strategy from the ground up to make hybrid a core element in their talent model — specifically recruiting, equipping, and supporting employees and work teams through investments in a digital work ecosystem.


2. Driving Customer Experiences That Are Better, Not Just Different

Two areas of enterprise focus that benefit dramatically from integration are customer experience (CX) and digital transformation (DX). Companies are rapidly discovering that customers will abandon undesired experiences and adopt new and preferable ones in record time. In fact, Forbes reports that two-thirds of a company’s competitive edge comes from its customer experience and 67% of consumers will pay more for a great experience.

For example, Walmart Stores just announced that it is rapidly removing in-store order pickup towers that only a year ago represented its state-of-the-art in customer experience innovation, because customers overwhelmingly preferred curbside pickup. While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly drove this shift, it is also true that Walmart’s original strategy focused on digital transformation that primarily reduced the company’s own labor costs, while leaving customers with essentially the same non-digital experience (only with a machine, rather than a cashier).

Many firms initially assume that making a process digital automatically ‘transforms’ it, only to later learn that customers expect added value, greater convenience, and better insights when they are asked to switch to a digital experience. As Harvard Business Review has reported, companies who commit this error often struggle to re-engineer their digital transformation initiatives to actually embrace the customer, rather than alienate her or him.


3. Enabling Transformation with Cloud Computing, 5G, and WiFi-6

Ultimately, however, workforce flexibility and customer experience enhancement can’t be sustained without a far more robust and capable wireless digital infrastructure. In order to make that possible across the enterprise, the pressing shift toward the cloud — accompanied by truly transformative wireless broadband — must take place.

Cloud computing has quickly gone mainstream for businesses and personal use alike. However, it’s proving to be particularly useful for scaling enterprises as it provides added flexibility, efficiency, and a strategic edge in reliable and efficient operations. The year-over-year growth of cloud computing also signifies its continued use and adaptation moving into 2021. Hosting Tribunal reports that experts say “60% of workloads are running on a hosted cloud service in 2019 [up from] 45% of workloads in 2018.” In 2021, it is expected to reach as much as “94% of workloads [and] at some point in the near future, traditional data centers will be obsolete.”

It’s important to note that not all clouds are created equal, however. Companies often move in the cloud-like direction by utilizing remote desktop capabilities, or they place a cloud ‘skin’ on top of legacy systems. Ultimately, these approaches shortchange the enterprise’s ability to master digital transformation as the inherent limitations of the legacy platforms being used cannot be overcome, as CIO magazine has reported.

And in this context — with the need for more robust native cloud access now front and center — the need for 5G and Wi-Fi 6 to deliver on the promise of the cloud has become more pressing.

The benefits of 5G — the first truly transformative high-speed broadband standard — have been circling digital conversations for a while now. Still, it wasn’t until digital communication started playing a significant role in our daily lives that its low latency, increased capacity, reliable connectivity, and greater speed became genuinely crucial to almost everyone. Put simply, 5G enables the long-awaited transition to a truly wireless real-time digital infrastructure for public and private digital ecosystems.

In the same sense, Wi-Fi 6 is a long-awaited companion effort offering increased speed, longer battery life to wireless devices, and better performance in crowded areas. How to Geek explains, “Wi-Fi 6 will improve each user’s average speed by ‘at least four times’ in congested areas with a lot of connected devices,” and “If you’re using a Wi-Fi router with a single device, maximum potential speeds should be up to 40% higher with Wi-Fi 6 compared to Wi-Fi 5.”

With more remote and hybrid availability in businesses, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will be significant trends to watch and adopt going into 2022.


4. Making Digital More Secure from End to End

Digital security is also at the forefront, and when we think about it this makes sense for both the employee and the customer. More employees are working from home and aren’t under the same secure network they’re used to when working onsite. This leaves many organizations vulnerable to attacks from hackers who are more than willing to take advantage of the circumstances provided by the pandemic.

At the same time, customers are transacting increasingly sensitive business on their phones, tablets, and other cloud-connected devices. These two components — employees working outside the firewall and customers engaging from unsecured devices — lay the end-to-end security risks of the cloud environment bare if action is not taken.

Forbes reported that there has been “a 238% rise in attacks on banks, and a 600% increase in attacks on cloud servers from January to April 2020 alone,” and looking into the future, they “expect software, cloud and hardware makers to all be amplifying efforts to make their products and services more secure to deal with certain growth in threats that we have seen throughout 2020.”


Digital Transformation: The New Normal

These four trends are only a taste of what’s to come with the acceleration of digital transformation. Catch up on DigXchange events like Digital Transformation: The New Normal that cover the significant changes caused by the pandemic and what to expect in the coming year, and sign up for the next virtual conference to stay up to date on the latest strategies for the new normal. Want more insight and support? Contact us for the most relevant and topical experience in DX.