Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
5:00 AM 26th September 2020

Saturday Essay: What Lessons Can Businesses Learn From The Pandemic?

Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene looks at what lessons businesses can learn from the pandemic

It’s safe to say that the outbreak of COVID-19 has sent life as we know it into disarray. With nationally enforced lockdowns and social distancing measures forcing people to stay at home and shuttering businesses across the country, these are trying times indeed. Described as the greatest challenge likely to be experienced by our generation, the current coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for societies and economies worldwide.

Although the impact of the virus is far-reaching and is likely to stay with us for months to come, still, there is a silver lining to be found. The many success stories of entrepreneurs and business leaders who have successfully pivoted their product or service in an effort to survive under threat throughout this period should inspire businesses to innovate more in the long-term.

In particular, there is cause for optimism where digital transformation is concerned. Certainly, investment in tech hasn’t just been limited to the search for a vaccine or equipping the front-line; with so many employees working from home, organisations across all sectors have been spurred into a new era of digital transformation. In an attempt to withstand the pandemonium, many businesses have now migrated their processes from offline to online, and in doing so, have completely rebuilt their business models from the ground up.

Nowadays, with members of staff swapping their offices for their kitchen tables, it is clear that organisations have done all they can to embrace technology throughout this trying period. For the businesses without the right infrastructure in place, there has been substantial investment in laptops, video conferencing tools and advanced telecommunication systems, enabling workers to continue to do their jobs from the safety of their homes.

Although overcoming the financial and operational hardships posed by the virus might seem like an impossible task, organisations have proven that they are more than capable of responding with tact and ingenuity, even under the direst of circumstances. To this end, businesses have made daring and necessary decisions in order to survive the pandemic and bounce back even stronger, with many finding solace in tech.

To investigate this phenomenon further, Studio Graphene recently polled over 500 UK business leaders to uncover the impact that COVID-19 has had on their approach towards cultivating innovation. The results are more than promising, with almost half of the businesses surveyed (46%) stating that since March 2020, they have successfully migrated their offering from in-person to online, with an additional 42% suggesting that the pandemic has resulted in the most radical digital transformation in their organisation’s history.

Turning the tide on digital transformation projects

This is a far cry from the usual run of events. In the past, it has been no secret that larger organisations have understandably proceeded with caution when implementing new tech. And although ‘digital transformation’ might have been on the horizon quite some time, many businesses have continued to shy away from risky new ideas, instead choosing to rely on the familiarity of outmoded legacy systems for their operations.

The aforementioned Studio Graphene survey found that 45% of British businesses cite their company’s risk-averse culture as a barrier to innovation and embracing new ideas. And even for the businesses who have already opted to digitise their processes, this remains an issue. It is a well-known fact that large-scale digital transformation projects can take months, and sometimes even years, of rigorous planning and careful consideration.

But in situations like these, time is of the essence and reverting back to old ways of working just won’t do. With the luxury of time stripped away, organisations have had to adapt on the fly and implement new technical solutions in just a fraction of the time. Certainly, for 48% of business leaders, the coronavirus pandemic has been telling, with the companies surveyed stating that it has highlighted just how outdated their business is (or was) in its use of technology.

If anything, the triumphs of many successful initiatives throughout the pandemic suggest that we should no longer allow red tape and bureaucracy to stand in the way of fostering innovation. Although the final products might still be in need of some fine tuning, they should nevertheless act as an important learning curve for business leaders going forward; with the right mindset, projects can be completed effectively at pace.

Reflecting on fast-tracked initiatives

Reassuringly, businesses are already taking notice. A staggering 65% of the firms surveyed said that COVID-19 has pushed them to act more decisively when it comes to embracing new technology, with a further 50% emphasising that the pandemic has had a positive impact on their organisation, incentivising them to make further improvements to their business infrastructure.

Particularly in the education and healthcare sectors, where there has been a much greater urgency to employ intelligent solutions to recommence business as usual, the mantra ‘necessity is the mother of innovation’ is pertinent. With schools recreating their classrooms in the cloud, and GPs offering remote consultations, it is unsurprising that a sweeping majority of business leaders in both sectors have stated that the pandemic has encouraged them to explore and deploy digital solutions much faster than they would have otherwise.

An overwhelming majority (71%) of businesses in the education sector admitted that the pandemic has accelerated their uptake of new digital solutions, with this figure rising to 79% of organisations in the health industry.

It can’t be denied that the pandemic has exerted an unyielding pressure on the operations of many companies. But at the same time, the crisis has provided bountiful opportunity for innovators the world over to think creatively and pursue ingenious solutions. But the question now is how business leaders can sustain this renewed determination for digital change going forward, as society slowly returns to some semblance of normality.

The future of innovation

Careful contemplation and reflection are advised, and organisations would do well to remind themselves of what went well within their companies throughout this difficult period. By deliberating over their successes, businesses can best plan for the future with digital transformation in mind.

The good news is that business leaders already seem to be taking this on board and are shifting their goals accordingly. The research suggests that over half (55%) of businesses have said that following the events of the pandemic, fostering innovation has now become a prime focus within their organisation. The vast majority have also stated that they are now more likely to invest heavily in new technologies and systems for their internal operations going forward, with similar numbers vowing to commit more of their funds to developing improved customer-facing technology in the year ahead, too.

Ultimately, the coronavirus crisis has underlined the crucial role that technology has to play in our society. Whether that comes in the form of teleconferencing software that helps us to keep in contact with our friends, family and colleagues, or online services that allow us to order food and medicine to our homes, it is safe to say that digital tech has been an invaluable source of both comfort and utility.

And for business leaders, the need to leverage such advancements to safeguard their organisation has become critical. The truth is that the success of a business venture isn’t just measured by how it is run when things are going well, but by how their leaders are able to step up and rise to the challenge when things are more difficult.

Whether finding ways to stay in business or creating much-needed medical supplies, these efforts to bolster innovative tech should give us hope. It is in trying times like these that businesses can truly think creatively and learn the biggest lessons, and organisations should therefore think carefully about how their response to the crisis can feed into their long-term plans for digital transformation.

Ritam Gandhi
Ritam Gandhi
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.