Digital Is An Imperative For The Future Of Business

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One of the lessons of our 2020 shelter-in-place experience is this: Digital business is more than an opportunity for process improvement and cost efficiency. It can be a matter of survival and operational continuity when a crisis closes down traditional business channels.

Let’s hope that COVID-19 is brought under control sooner rather than later and the world does not experience another pandemic for many, many years to come. However, no one can guarantee the future. There are also plenty of disasters that can disrupt business and commerce on a local level — from hurricanes and floods to earthquakes and fires. In addition, there can be temporary but more common disruptions to physical brick-and-mortar businesses, such as moving locations, redecorating, or removing asbestos. When your physical office and/or storefront is affected, how will business continue?

Business leaders need to be prepared to keep their organizations running and customer interactions and transactions flowing when normal business processes are disrupted. While some businesses were more ready than others, many companies were unprepared for the COVID-19 lockdown. If you are among them, take action as soon as possible to ensure you are ready and resilient in the future.

It behooves all of us to begin migrating from a brick-and-mortar mentality to a digital business mindset whenever and wherever possible. While companies like Netflix, Google and Amazon are leaders in the shift to digital business, virtually every company can benefit from digitization, particularly during times like these.

Fortunately, most of the proactive steps companies can take to ensure better business continuity in a disaster or shelter-in-place scenario will also pay dividends in improved performance, cost efficiency, transactional agility and customer service in normal times, as well.

Digitize Sales And Customer Service Processes

Every business should be thinking about ways to enable digital selling and customer self-service. Digital technologies can create and help innovate services and processes that will allow your customers to utilize your products and services more efficiently without leaving the house. A variety of mobile apps, email processes, web self-service capabilities, digital document technology and electronic signatures can be developed and implemented to keep internal operations and revenue flowing when normal processes are negatively impacted.

Here’s an example from my area of expertise: Many transactions for banks, insurance companies and other financial services have gone online to make business easier for customers. However, opening an account with a bank traditionally requires a new customer to show up at a branch to sign the required forms and paperwork in person. Transforming those documents into digital PDF forms with fillable fields, e-signatures and electronic identity verification can allow new customers to sign up for services without showing up at the branch.

This also includes government services as well. Wouldn’t we all be happier if we didn’t have to wait in line at the DMV?

Market To Customers On Digital Channels

At the same time, the way companies market and communicate with their customers and prospects needs to move to new digital strategies and approaches. The pandemic has shut down virtually all industry gatherings and events — a traditional channel for B2B companies to engage their customers and generate new business leads.

Digital content and online data-driven distribution of that content to the right customers is now essential for the continuity of your marketing and sales efforts. This can also improve efficiency and return on spend in normal business times.

Empower Employees With The Right Tools

When employees cannot come into the office, they need the right tools and access to applications, information and documents to remain productive and connected to their teams and workflows. At a fundamental level, that means your employees should be on laptop computers, not desktops, to ensure they can easily keep working when they can’t be in the office. It also means that knowledge workers should have access to and be trained in using a variety of cloud collaboration tools — from team communications chat apps to video and screen-sharing conferencing platforms, project management tools and file-sharing servers.

Moving other enterprise applications and services to the cloud — such as storage, data management, financial planning and reporting, office apps, workforce management, cybersecurity, billing, and many others — will also empower employees who are working remotely with easier access to the technology, processes and information that runs the business.

Another critical step companies should take to ensure business continuity is making sure that critical documents and forms are accessible online. Again, digitizing your documents is essential. Paper documents back in the office are inaccessible when your employees are working remotely.

The current lockdown is both a wake-up call and an opportunity for companies to move away from old brick-and-mortar business practices to the new world of digital business — both for internal operations and revenue generation. Companies would be wise to take a long, hard look at their internal and external workflows and customer engagement and fulfillment processes and create a plan to transform them to ensure both operational continuity and improved performance in future.

source: forbes