Thoughts on Digital Transformation during COVID-19
On March 11th, the WHO declared the spread of coronavirus a global pandemic. Worldwide, governments, businesses, and individuals have had to adapt to the new and very unfamiliar situation to counter the spread of the virus. And when it comes to digital transformation, the crisis has simply set the agenda for what we should prioritize. In the following, I will use the in-demand technology, Microsoft Teams, as an example of how many businesses have made a quick digital transition and reflect upon what made such a transition possible in the first place.
The basis of this article actually came to me one day when I scrolled through my LinkedIn feed and stumbled upon a thought-provoking survey. The survey asks:
Source: Blake Morgan (LinkedIn)
I think it's remarkable. In just a few months, COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of many companies and broken through the heavy processes and silos that have otherwise made change difficult.
With a common denominator, businesses in different industries have made substantial changes faster than ever before and have found solutions to keep the wheels running – despite most of the workforce being isolated at home.
During this time, our use of technology has been crucial to whether we succeeded in delivering great solutions to customers, and coordination tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and Zoom have exploded in demand.
While "digital transformation" covers more than just being able to facilitate a meeting online, there might be important lessons that we can learn from the crisis in terms of how we deliver solutions to customers in a growing digital world? And with the virus being an accelerator of our use of technology, for instance when it comes to coordinating projects online, what can we learn from it going forward?
To make my reflections more concrete, I will use Microsoft Teams as an example of a technology that many have adopted due to COVID-19 as part of their digital transformation.
More than just hype
There is no doubt that the state of isolation has increased the use of Teams. Initially, it is therefore relevant to ask how it is possible for businesses - almost from one day to the next - to change its set-up so that all coordination takes place via the platform?
Here, it is relevant to include IT research and consulting company, Gartner, and their work on The Hype Cycle. Their model is a representation of the life cycle that technologies goes through and it can help you to understand the promise of an emerging technology.
A potential technology breakthrough normally kicks things off and the hype increases. After reaching a peak of publicity, the hype decreases as implementations fail to deliver. Only when the value of the technology becomes crystal clear and the risk associated with using it decreases, it reaches a stage where broader market penetration is possible.
The technology that Teams build on (i.e. Instant Messaging and Voice-over-internt-protocol), have made it through the cycle and reached what is called The Plateau of Productivity, which means that it has great market penetration and can be used without any major risks.
With Office 365, many have gained access to Teams in 2017, so the first reason that businesses have been able to quickly transition to COVID-19 is that the technology was somewhat secure. It was available to us at a time when it was no longer just a hype, which has helped its existence in this period.
That being said, not everyone adopts new technology at the same pace. People are different. With The Innovation Adoption Curve in mind someone will always be at the forefront of the new technology, while others lag behind. The model classifies adopters of innovation into different categories – from the ones who crave new tech developments and quickly adjusts to trends, to the ones who has had the same device for the past century.
Source: Nextgear Solutions
When considering Teams, Early Adopters are for instance the ones who after just a few days use the chat rather than email, can share their screen as well as send files during calls, while Laggards, which are typically slower to adapt, have trouble just logging on to the platform.
Not surprisingly, these two innovation models coexist. The industry's Innovators tend to jump on the hype of a new technology in its publicity uprising, while the defining moment is called the Chasm. Made famous by Geoffrey A. Moore, the Chasm is the gap between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority, i.e. the breaking point for a disruptive new technology to be bought by the mainstream consumer.
Source: SAP Community
As a consequence of where Teams – as a technology – is in the innovation curve, we have reached a point where we do not think of online meetings as technology. And the interesting thing about this is that the most revolutionary technologies are those that “disappear”.
Think about it. At some point a somewhat stable WiFi connection was a groundbreaking leap in technology. Now, it’s just a prerequisite. It just works (and might even be more vital for you than physical needs such as food, sleep and shelter - especially if you are a Millennial like myself).
Smaller, faster, better, cheaper
Another (and slightly more underlying) reason why we have been able to transform our day-to-day physical meetings into virtual ones, is that we are already used to it. Today, we are constantly exposed to new ideas and innovations, and our ability to adopt new technology faster has increased significantly in recent years. 20 years ago, you would have to use three different devices if you wanted to take a picture, send an e-mail and write a text message. Today, we can do it all in one.
This development is also referred to as Moore’s Law. Gordon More was a co-founder of Intel and he suggested that the number of transitions that can be packed into a given unit of space will double every two years. The result? The effects of size become less over time, meaning that we can do more in less space at a cheaper price.
And I think that this law has too had an impact on how we have become so good at adopting new technology – from the first large and slow landline phones to the monster of a small mobile device that we all carry today.
Positive Network Effects
In addition to the maturity of the technology, we can also consider network effects. The fact that all of the employees at an organization are suddenly forced to use a platform such as Teams due to COVID-19 has a value-adding effect. This effect is called Metcalfe's Law. The law states that the value we can get from a network can be encouraged by the number of users who can access it. As a network-based technology, Teams requires a lot of users before it makes sense to work with. But in the case of a workforce being isolated, coordinating on the same platform bring immense value to the ones using it.
To briefly sum up these laws of innovation that influence our digital transformation:
Use Gartner's Hype Life Cycle to understand the promise of an emerging new technology, so you know when to invest in it
The Innovation Adoption Curve can be used to identify how fast the people in your organisation (or your organisation as a whole) adopt new innovation
Remember that new technology must be thought of holistically, as Metcalfe's Law states - the more people have access to it, the higher the value will be of using it
Keep More's Law (that size and price become less over time) in mind, because it explains the pace in which technology develops and our adoptiveness towards it
Technology implementation going forward
The digital transformation has come to stay. The processes that has been digitalized due to COVID-19, such as talking to colleagues and coordinating meetings online, have been done so knowing that the alternative might not be possible. But going forward we ought to consider a few general points of action to better implement technology in the future. A few of these include:
1. Get a permanent representative
Especially in smaller advisory businesses, IT-related responsibilities tend to fall between different stakeholders in the organization. While an IT function has the technical competence, they might not have the operational responsibilities, which is why I would advise anyone to appoint a representative with ownership of the new technology. People need a go-to-guy, who can answer the most urgent questions and point you in the right direction. If no one is responsible for the technology and its succesful implementation, it will hardly float.
2. Use creative dissemination tools
These could be small explainer videos, a Q&A document with the most frequent questions or even interactive elements that makes it easier for people to break down and understand the technology from you company’s point of view. With the established providers, such as Microsoft, you will always find heaps of different tools to use. E.g. Teams Customer Success Kit which is perfect for the before mentioned administrator to use in roll-out.
3. Define how you are to use the technology
Generally, it’s important to discuss how exactly you are to use the specific technology in each different team. As for Teams, you might need to find out if you are doing all internal communication and coordination in Teams, while all client contact happens via email and so on. Establish a workshop where you discuss the technologies implications for your work, its opportunities, flaws and how to overcome them.
I hope you found these reflections useful. If you want to read more about digital strategy, check out my post on how to develop a digital strategy. If you are more into the executional aspect, you might like the 5 best free digital marketing tools or the top 5 trends for digital marketing in 2020.
Wired (2016): What is Moore's Law? WIRED explains the theory that defined the tech industry. Available here.
Moore, G. (2014): Crossing the Chasm - Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. Collins Business Essentials.
Fenn, J. & Raskino, M. (2008): Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time. Havard Business Review Press.
Beal, G., Rogers, E., and Bohlen, J. (1957): Validity of the concept of stages in the adoption process. Rural Sociology 22.