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Covid-19 is accelerating the adoption of digital

Where IT sparks employee engagement, it can be a driver for cultural change

Digitization is more than tools. Processes and business must be organized differently

Home office during Covid-19 is making managers re-evaluate the traditional performance management model

Projects can be set-up remotely at a much lower cost

The Corona crisis is not so much disruptive when it comes to digitization. But in boardrooms, IT has moved center stage. The current situation doesn’t take us from an ‘old normal’ to a ‘new normal’. That ‘new normal’ is increasingly becoming an 'ever-evolving normal', where change is the only constant.

Has Covid-19 accelerated disruption for IT?

Covid-19 has sent a shockwave through the global economy. Its impact has immediately become visible in technology, varying from simple solutions like chatbots used to inform visitors about Covid-related business restrictions or the widespread adoption of online conferencing, all the way to structurally supporting business continuity by home office work. But has Covid-19 accelerated disruption for IT? Is it the ultimate stress test, revealing new IT opportunities? And is the workforce actually digital-ready?

During the 4th TriFinance virtual expert session, Tri-ICT Client Partner Nick Willemstein discussed crisis-related issues at the crossroads of IT and business with participants from different industries, private and public.

The big shift towards home office has created high expectations in employees

For organizations that had not started their digital transformation yet - like the retailers who launched their first website during Covid-19 - the crisis actually might be disruptive. For the CIO of a provincial administration, disruption depends on the organization's overall degree of digitization.

Though many employees in the administration's main entities had already been working flexibly (i.e. a combination of home and office work), offices in the periphery had not yet switched to remote work before Covid-19, a hybrid situation that was met with appreciation from the central administration and with frustration from the decentralized offices. It eventually pushed the CIO to roll out remote working technology during the first days of the lockdown. A more even spread of technology amongst the different offices less bumps in the road.

For Tri-ICT project manager Michael de Jager, IT isn’t really driving change because its main focus is not innovation but supporting ‘business as usual’. Where IT sparks employee engagement, it can be a driver for cultural change. Covid-19 is now actually forcing managers to re-evaluate the traditional performance management model where an employee’s performance is measured against their physical presence at the office.

Remote work demands clear KPIs, a culture of trust, and management by results. ‘The big shift towards home office has created high expectations in employees,’ Nick Willemstein said, ‘accelerating the introduction of a real culture change.’

Remote work demands clear KPIs, a culture of trust, and management by results

Digitization is more than tools and online meetings

Technology appears not to be the biggest challenge. For a city administration, one participant connected 10.000 people to Microsoft Teams in two days. The effort for employees to adopt the right mindset proved to be a lot bigger. Digitization is more than tools and online meetings. Processes and business must be organized differently, which often appears to be the biggest challenge. The lockdown has accelerated this learning process. At the city administration, projects now have been executed from concept to delivery without business and IT meeting in person.

An International Business Development Manager who develops software for the agricultural industry also saw rising demand for digitization, especially in activities involving client contacts. Documents that are now handed over manually will be digitized in the near future, he said.

The software sector itself might face serious disruption. The days are over where a client rents expensive office space at La Défense, installing 50 consultants to work on a project. People who in the past spent 60.000 kilometers on the road, won’t have to do that any longer. Many admit they work more efficiently. Simply calculating the cost makes the best business case.

The lockdown has proven that projects can be set-up remotely at a much lower cost. Digitization makes it logistically and financially advantageous to work remotely in commercial settings, during the analysis phase, or when designing software or systems. The software developer, however, had not yet figured out how to organize the real-life physical start-up of projects in Spain, Canada, and Argentina.  

The business case for working remotely
The days are over where a client rents expensive office space at La Défense, installing 50 consultants to work on a project. Simply calculating the cost makes the best business case.

Is Covid-19 the ultimate stress test for IT?

All things considered, one could assume the Corona crisis is the ultimate stress test for organizations, revealing new opportunities for IT. Business continuity under Covid-19 might legitimate speeding up investments, bringing services to the cloud, for example.

One opportunity for the provincial administration’s head of IT support had been created by end-users’ growing tech-savviness. At the very start of the lockdown, many had suggested different collaboration tools to the IT-department. The question, of course, is how IT & Systems must deal with that wealth of suggested solutions and grassroots initiatives.  

A similar experience was shared by the security company. They too had noticed that customers were quickly tuned towards the new, more flexible way of working. Instead of demanding an on-site visit, clients now happily accepted an online conversation with the security expert through Teams, with both parties emphasizing increased efficiency.

The security company is also tapping into a growing market concern with cyber-attacks. With literally hundreds of thousands of people working remotely, cyber risk has increased significantly, as did the demand for a real-time Artificial Intelligence solution against cyber-attacks the company is actively promoting in the market. Companies want to handle this security risk with care, at the same time safeguarding the newly won flexibility.  

The Financial Director of a pharmaceutical company explained that his firm continuously trains employees on products, regulations and IT systems. His challenge due to the Corona pandemic lies in the enormous number of orders and the fact that digitization is not yet sufficiently established for some customers.

Tech-savvy and digital-ready

But is the workforce digital-ready? A striking experience was shared by a large food supplier’s Group Controller. The state-of-the-art cooperation and communication platform that had been in the making at the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, had not yet been executed because other projects had always been prioritized. The lockdown literally forced the company’s administrative workforce to work from home. The project was implemented in barely two days, with IT during that brief period mainly adopting the role of enabler.

Because of the massive switch to teleworking, the company suddenly faced a whole range of specific digital issues. But the employees were flexible and tech-savvy enough to use the new platform without any support or training, earning them a lot of praise from management.

Maybe the degree of the workforce’s digital readiness is a lot higher than employers tend to think. People shop online, use a lot of online services and enter their tax forms online. In ‘normal’ times they tend to be change-averse when new technology is introduced into their working routines. But in the case of a real emergency like Covid-19, change can happen really fast.

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