The initial adrenaline-fuelled response to Covid-19 restrictions is giving way to an acceptance that there won’t be a quick return to how things were. Right now, there’s much uncertainty over what the new normal will look like.
We know that employee and customer demands, preferences and expectations have shifted. But the extent and duration of this remains to be seen. Supply and distribution chains are still volatile, and the threat of an unprecedented recession is in the air. Moreover, there’s an underlying fear that a second spike of coronavirus cases could create a new wave of problems.
With so many unknowns, planning is arbitrary. Yet waiting for the storm to pass is not an option. Businesses must act purposefully and decisively, while remaining alert and ready to adapt fast when the need arises.
This is a big ask for traditional enterprise organisations where decision making is historically governed by lengthy processes. However, actions taken in the coming months will underpin success (or failure) for years to come. Productive and persistent collaboration between business and IT leaders will enable an effective and timely response to the challenge.
Roadmapping the next normal
As the lockdown took hold in the UK, McKinsey published an insightful article about the path to the next normal. It suggests this health crisis will result in a restructuring of global economic order, and considers how leaders might respond.
The authors outline five key stages of an economically and socially viable path to the next normal: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagination and Reform. They say the crisis and resultant changes will reveal not just vulnerabilities, but opportunities to improve business performance:
[The] impact on how we live, how we work, and how we use technology will emerge more clearly over the coming weeks and months. Institutions that reinvent themselves to make the most of better insight and foresight, as preferences evolve, will disproportionally succeed. Clearly, the online world of contactless commerce could be bolstered in ways that reshape consumer behaviour forever.
So, what can be done at a practical level as this crisis and its aftermath continue to unfold? As we enter the return phase, the main emphasis needs to be on reimagination. However, we must not neglect resilience or forget the need to drive reformation in some areas.
Reimagination and transformation
The enormity and complexity of driving change in a large, established organisation cannot be underestimated. Challenges come in many shapes and forms; some can be planned for and others crop up unexpectedly.
Yet it’s clear that change is essential in the current climate. Moreover, enterprises have a unique opportunity to dovetail digital transformation with post-Covid-19 business reimagination. The two are intrinsically aligned in the shared goal of boosting resilience and adaptiveness in a volatile environment. They put people at the heart of everything, seeking to create a new world where business can pivot and evolve with ease to meet everchanging customer needs.
Many organisations that haven’t yet moved the majority of applications and services to the cloud will be looking to accelerate the transition. The crisis exposed the vulnerabilities of being tied to on-premise infrastructures.
Evidence from our customer engagements and those of our industry peers shows organisations which had embraced cloud and DevOps adapted to the Covid-19 challenge faster and easier. They could scale up services to meet new demand or scale down to control costs. We worked closely with one of our cloud managed services customers to launch an entirely new service in a matter of weeks. This wouldn’t have been possible without the flexibility cloud-based hosting provides.
Nevertheless, while technology has an important part to play in this reimagined world, it is no silver bullet.
In other words, the entire business ethos needs to shift. This requires a sea change in the way business and IT leaders interact and engage. IT must be allowed to step-up to a new challenge; acting as a strategic enabler, not just a service provider. For this to happen, senior stakeholders across the entire business need to get on board, embrace the opportunity and drive success.
The enterprise as a cohesive entity
This isn’t about new systems and processes. It’s about encouraging a leader mindset so people become more autonomous and empowered. It’s about introducing new ways of working that eradicate barriers between teams and bring the psychological safety of employees to the fore. And it’s about nurturing organisational culture while giving it space to flourish.
In this way, the many disparate areas of the business can become a single living organism, responding quickly and intuitively to mitigate challenges and seize opportunities.
An excellent article by Mark Settle published on Forbes looks at IT spending priorities following the lockdown. He says many challenges experienced during lockdown were not simply technology problems that can be addressed with new tools and services. They are business problems that can only be solved if CIOs partner with business leaders:
CIOs need to reflect on the ways in which their companies’ operations were disrupted by the crisis and work with their business partners in developing initiatives that can address the strategic deficiencies in operational capabilities that were revealed during the past five months. These initiatives will invariably require changes in business procedures, organizational structures, leadership assignments and a host of other business considerations to be successful.
Covid-19 has been a classic black swan event. There is a natural human tendency to focus on how it may have been predicted or prevented. But right now, that is irrelevant.
The best we can do is learn from the crisis and use it as a catalyst to take us to a better, more adaptive and resilient future. In organisations where business and IT leaders work in true partnership, the next normal might just be the best normal yet.