What happens when your five-year plan for digital transformation becomes just an emergency strategy for immediate survival? True, the current COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the shift to a digital, automated, contactless future. But that raises a more complex question: what does disruption now mean in a world in which all the surviving companies are already digital?
Here’s the new reality: digital disruption is now just digital delivery. When all your customers are stuck in quarantine, when your employees are working remotely, and your operations are in disarray - embracing digital channels, new collaboration tools, and robotic process automation is nothing special, it is just the price of staying in business. Unfortunately, by next year - that also won’t be enough.
Our real opportunity as we work through the COVID-19 crisis is more than survival; we have to walk the path of reinvention. Whether you are in retail or entertainment, insurance, or education - the companies that thrive in the world that awaits us on the other side of this crisis will have used this time to reimagine what they do.
There has never been a better time to ask dangerous questions of your teams and leaders.
How many of us have been sitting on digital projects that we thought were impossible, but now turn out to be not only doable but absolutely necessary? Take banks, for example. The CEO of NAB, a big Australian bank, recently confessed that they had previously considered allowing their advisors to serve mortgage customers via video calls. Unfortunately, they estimated that changing all their complex internal processes to make that happen would take over 12 months. However, when suddenly faced with losing one of their most profitable products with everyone stuck at home and not able to come into branches, they got it done in 3 days.
Going digital is just the beginning. As we virtualize and automate more of our customer interactions, employee workflows, operating environments, and supplier ecosystems - the resulting explosion of data opens the way for AI to change the dynamics of industries and organizations radically. The second wave of AI-powered disruption will make the business model and marketplace innovations of Uber and Airbnb look trivial in comparison.
We are at the dawn of an Algorithmic Age in which all our experiences and interactions will not only be shaped and personalized by data; they will also be orchestrated for us seamlessly by machine intelligence capable of continuous learning and adaption. When I wrote about this new world in my book, The Algorithmic Leader, I thought we were still 5-10 years out. While COVID-19 has dramatically altered that timetable, the future is still very much up to us.
Bold decisions will be required in the next six months, and many of them will be counterintuitive - especially if we end up sliding into a global recession. But ultimately, it will be the investments that we make today in data infrastructure, AI and automation, talent and employee training, and new algorithmic products and services - that will allow our organizations to power out of this dip, and into new markets and opportunities.
Where we go next is up to what we do now.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch New Rules For A New World, a video series on how leaders and organizations are reinventing themselves in this time of crisis. New episode every Monday.