You can’t predict the next pandemic, but this is how you can be ready for when it comes

You can’t predict the next pandemic, but this is how you can be ready for when it comes

Over the past 12 months, businesses have been forced to undertake significant changes across almost every facet of their operations, with practically no industry left untouched. Retail has shifted almost entirely online; restaurants have converted to takeaway only; and tourism has all but flatlined.

The impact of the pandemic has served as a widespread stress-test for business agility and adaptability - and the results are telling. In fact, it took less than three weeks from the UK’s first lockdown on March 23rd 2020 for businesses to suffer, with data showing that almost one quarter of businesses in the UK were forced to temporarily close or pause trading in that period.

In the wake of unprecedented circumstances, with no rule book or manual to turn to, many businesses have understandably and unfortunately been unable to adapt to such conditions. However, even amongst the chaos, there have been stories of triumph - enough that may help provide guidance for business owners that are unsure where to turn to next.

Digital Transformation: more than a buzzword

For years, technology vendors have spoken about how their software can help businesses “digitally transform”, enabling them to be more responsive to customer demand, and more efficient when rolling out new services and product offerings.

While businesses can also purchase off-the-shelf solutions from larger tech vendors, vendors offering custom solutions would argue that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't allow for a true digital transformation (DTX), and the benefits that that would bring.

While the term digital transformation is often thrown around loosely, the common benefits typically boil down to:

  • Speed of response
  • The ability to pivot
  • Efficiency and optimisation
  • Automation of manual processes

While this may manifest itself differently in each business, examples of this include: being in a position to roll out new services quickly (speed); technology as an enabler of using the same resource and operations to meet new challenges (pivot); loss making areas that can be easily identified and addressed (efficiency and optimisation); and processes that can be changed on the fly, minimising need for retraining (automation).

But what of real-world examples? How have businesses used technology to their benefit in the wake of the pandemic?

Surviving in a time of crisis

For that, you need look no further than taxi companies. Needless to say, their services were made almost completely redundant in the wake of the first lockdown, with few people travelling anywhere for any reason. However, those in the industry who’d already invested in a custom solution were able to work with their technology partner to diversify their offering and keep their business open.

In the UK for example, certain couriers created entirely new booking channels to handle new offerings, such as Covid-safe individual travel for NHS staff and key workers, click and collect services, or courier deliveries.

Similarly, security companies that lost business from home alarm calls would have been among the worst hit when the pandemic first struck, with the majority of buildings vacated. However, some UK-based companies in the industry were able to pivot and quickly develop and roll out new services to run patrols around the now vacant high street premises. This not only allowed these businesses to keep their existing customers, but also eased some of the pressure on the police force, too. There was also the very human benefit of being able to keep staff morale high, in a world where many were being furloughed or made redundant on a daily basis.

The common denominator in both examples is the previous investment in a custom-built software solution. This enabled both businesses to roll out new services far quicker than their competitors could ever hope to. Not only was the technology already in place to adapt and build on, both businesses had been working with their software partner for years prior to the pandemic, meaning they had direct support from a team that knew their business, customers and technology inside and out.

Had they instead invested in an off-the-shelf solution - or no solution at all - the development and rollout of entirely new products and systems would likely have taken months - a period of time which could well have been terminal for the business, or at least one that would’ve seen staff being sadly let go. Instead, they were both able to establish first mover advantage, leading to customer retention and even business growth in a time where others were struggling to hold onto what they already had.

The long-term and bespoke approach to technology has already paid off, and both businesses can move forward safely in the knowledge that they’re able to adapt to any future national or global crisis.

The precedent has been set

The saying goes that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now. Something very similar can be said of investing in technology.

While virtually nobody could have foreseen a global pandemic, the claims of the technology vendors in recent years have been almost entirely vindicated over the past twelve months, with businesses that had already invested in technology reaping the benefits of their digital maturity.

Ultimately, that investment leads to a more agile, nimble business - one that can rapidly iterate, pivot and provide a better service to its customers. All of this adds up to happier customers, more customers, retention of staff, and a higher bottom line.

So the question for businesses is not whether they should invest in technology, but rather when, what technology, and who with.

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