The transformative impact of the last six months cannot be underestimated. The pandemic and its aftereffects have redefined business, society and the way we live our lives globally, including Canada. Among enterprises, it has poured gasoline on a number of shifts that were already smoldering across industries. Engaging with customers digitally has gone from an important priority to an imperative. In fact, 85% of Canadian companies now can’t see a future without technology, according to a recent Salesforce survey that sought to understand how decision makers are building resilience in the face of change. Sectors that were already evolving, such as healthcare and retail, are now reinventing themselves at an unprecedented pace to meet customer needs. The growth in demand for digital skills has exploded, and the employee experience is attracting overdue attention. And a focus on purpose, trust and values among corporations has moved front and centre.
In the face of this accelerated change, companies have had to urgently rethink how they do business. Some have embraced this moment to implement better ways of operating, while others are holding on to old models. Even businesses that were already on the journey to digital transformation tend to retain some structures that were based on the demands of the past rather than the needs of today. The organizations that don’t adapt right now will be left behind. But with the right approach and tools, companies can position themselves to overcome current business challenges and rebound stronger in the future.
Here are five key steps that companies struggling with outdated systems can take to thrive through digital transformation:
1. Draw on the full force of your organization
Business processes are only as effective as the people implementing them. The best data-driven models will struggle to find a foothold in organizations where business units are siloed and employees lack the skills and technology they need to succeed. The shift to an all-digital world has made these gaps more apparent and critical. Salesforce’s Global Stakeholder Series: Future of Work, Now surveyed 20,000 global individuals across 10 countries, including 2,000 Canadians. We found that 68% feel they lack in-demand hard skills and 54% wish they had access to free technical training. Nearly half of respondents (43%) said they have become more interested in online training opportunities since the pandemic hit. At the same time, many workers are under stress and concerned about health, with 80% of respondents in Canada saying workplace safety should be a high priority for businesses.
For the promise of digital transformation to materialize, companies need to enable their employees to become effective digital citizens through continuous opportunities for learning. Business leaders also need to invest in employee safety and well-being in order to attract and retain talent. Instead of relying on top-down directives, companies can create pathways for those closest to the customer, to feed information up the chain. They must break down walls between marketing, sales and service to allow better collaboration and transparent information flow. They also need to consider creating new roles that enable the company to succeed in an evolving world.
2. Know your customers
Many businesses still focus on building the best product and getting it on shelves, without knowing much about who is buying it. The flaws of this product-first mindset became clear during the pandemic, when companies without a direct relationship with customers struggled as normal supply channels faltered. These days, every business needs to know its customers well and understand what they want. Building a culture focused on gathering data and turning it into insights can allow leaders to reconfigure a business around solving customers’ needs. This isn’t about a one-off project, but rather creating a flywheel that builds on data insights over time and translates them into action. Having a culture of data centered around the customer is key to remaining relevant during this crisis and beyond.
3. Leverage data to inform business processes
Just having good information isn’t enough. The next step is to incorporate data insights into business processes that truly reflect serving customers at scale. Business processes are essentially habits, many of which were designed to serve the old model of “build it and they will come.” In a customer-first world, companies have to rewrite business processes around creating engaging customer journeys. Today, the experiences that companies deliver are as important, if not more, than the products they sell. Many organizations are brilliant at designing products, but don’t invest nearly as much in designing customer experiences. Imagine a car maker that spends years perfecting the best piston on the market, but loses customers due to a glitchy web form. Companies must draw on what they’re learning from the data to craft customer experiences with as much care as they make their products.
An excellent example of this is D2L, an education-technology company. Like many other institutions around the world, when COVID-19 emerged, they realized that they urgently needed to adopt online learning tools. To move forward and onboard new customers at scale, the D2L team made a counterintuitive decision – to look backwards and analyze historical data; to look at times of the year where their platform had faced increased demands. This included, for instance, exam periods in schools. Using this data, D2L were able to understand how to allocate IT resources to help meet new sales expectations, and deploy these solutions to onboard new customers at scale.
4. Harness the power of technology
Every company must now become a technology company. Instead of just strengthening the IT department, businesses should empower employees across the organization to take advantage of digital tools. Our Salesforce survey found that nearly 60% of non-remote workers in Canada today lack the technology to effectively work outside of the office. Companies that want to take their technology infrastructure to the next level should focus on moving to the cloud, providing training and tools that enable low-code and no-code development, and creating reusable APIs instead of building from scratch. With the pace of innovation accelerating, solutions are constantly evolving, and something you build today could be out of date tomorrow. Companies should look for platforms that enable customization rather than configuration, so that the latest updates are incorporated with the click of a button.
5. Take a proactive approach to serving society
The past six months have heightened demand for true corporate social responsibility. According to our survey, 61% of Canadians feel that businesses should make addressing global inequalities a high priority. Half of Canadians believe it is critical that their employer gives back to the community. In the past, the public didn’t demand much more from companies than jobs and wealth creation. Now, every business needs to play an active role in moving the needle on critical societal issues, such as diversity, equity and sustainability. Making progress on these challenges isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also a significant business opportunity. For example, research has shown that more diverse organizations are more innovative and perform better than more homogenous ones, and leading on sustainability can create a lasting competitive advantage.
An Ongoing Evolution
Business leaders today are facing changes of unprecedented scope and speed, and the overhauls needed to adapt can feel daunting. Digital transformation is necessary, but it can’t be achieved overnight. Instead, it requires a mindset shift that embraces a constant state of evolution. That means recognizing the need to change, painting a vision, building an operating model, and setting off on a journey. Over time, the company will become more agile, capable of anticipating the needs of tomorrow and adapting to whatever comes next.