Tom Niehaus is Executive Vice President, North America, at CTG.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is often credited for saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly qualifies. Over the past few months, many organizations have had to go into extreme lockdown mode, at least temporarily, and adjust the way they work as they scramble to remain viable.
The temptation in a situation like this is to hunker down until the crisis passes and life goes back to “normal.” Yet, times like these also present an opportunity for leaders with vision to seize the high ground. Because when things are already rough, it is often easier to make changes to processes and digital technologies that would meet strong resistance in better times.
We already see this occurring in some areas. For example, many organizations that are dependent on direct interaction with consumers, such as retail outlets, are reimagining those relationships. Yes, they may have had an online component before, but it was generally viewed as “in addition to” in-store contact. Now, they are bringing out new and improved digital technologies, such as mobile apps (including interfaces between their consumer-facing and back-end technologies) that give equal priority to their online sales channels.
Another example is warehouse automation. An increase in online ordering, coupled with the realization that a Covid-19 outbreak within a warehouse could cripple the organization’s ability to fill orders, gives new urgency to the ability to pick, pack and send orders faster while reducing the dependence on human workers.
The same is true for telehealth. Many aspects of an in-office visit can be accomplished through video visits. But while the technology has been around for years, many within the healthcare industry have been slow to adopt it for a variety of reasons, particularly a lack of infrastructure and inadequate reimbursement. Now, however, the urgency around minimizing the risk of Covid-19 exposure at the doctor’s office, as well as the desire to keep frontline healthcare workers safe and healthy, has created an industry-wide digital shift toward virtual care that is highly likely to continue even after the all-clear is sounded.
Of course, the common thread in each of these examples is that those organizations made a change because they had little choice. But what about those that are not in such a precarious position? It’s actually an opportune time for them as well. Here are a few projects organizations should consider implementing now that can help them come out of the pandemic ahead:
1. Improving processes
In most organizations, processes are often established and grown organically. If they are working, changing them can be difficult because there is a risk the work could slow down before it speeds up. The current pandemic has already taken care of that risk, so now is the ideal time to look at what and how your organization operates and determine if there is a better way.
This is particularly true of robotic process automation (RPA). For example, rather than paying people to pull data from one system and key it into another manually, RPA can automate that function, freeing your staff to perform higher-level, higher-value work while preparing for future demand.
2. Testing and prioritizing workflows
Even if processes must remain manual, it is worth looking at how they’re performed to determine if they can be improved. Changing a process to match a workflow, for example, can pay huge dividends quickly. Testing every workflow manually to look for inefficiencies, however, is inefficient.
A better, digital approach is to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to uncover and test all the permutations from the thousands of workflows followed by hundreds of different roles within the organization to prioritize which need change most critically and which would offer minimal impact.
3. Moving to the cloud
If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the importance of moving data and applications to the cloud. Organizations that previously resisted implementing a remote work option found themselves scrambling when it was no longer safe to go to the office. Many struggled as a result.
The cloud (and the digital technologies to access it) enable the same technological experience no matter where the work is being performed, keeping organizations running smoothly. This is a good time to begin that transformation, especially for back-end systems, since remote work is likely here to stay.
4. Investing in cybersecurity
This is an area that was strained even before the pandemic. Now, the onset of remote work has created thousands of more entry points to protect. Organizations should either be shoring up their own internal cybersecurity expertise or partnering with outside firms that not only understand how to protect digital technologies against conventional cyber threats, but also those created by our newly virtual world.
5. Planning for disasters and recovery
While many organizations may have had plans in place for natural disasters, such as fires and floods, it is fair to assume that most had not factored in a global pandemic. Now that we have seen the disruption an event like this can cause, organizations will need to step up their games.
Establish committees and perhaps work with outside experts (or read a few Tom Clancy novels) to think through every possible scenario that could hurt the business and put plans in place to manage them. For production industries, such as oil and gas, it is also a good time to begin developing digital twins of critical and remote facilities.
The current global health crisis has been an eye-opener for many leaders. Painful as it has been on so many levels, it also presents an opportunity. Organizations should seize this opening to implement technologies and other improvements they might have hesitated to make in better times, and prepare their organizations to not only perform better today but hit the ground running once the pandemic becomes part of history.
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?