Covid-19 – A forced march into digitalisation for companies?

Yes, but not any old how!

Company digitalisation, digital transformation, the digital shift…behind these terms lies the integration of IT systems into a company to increase its productivity and boost business development.

While sales departments were the first to prioritise the integration of digital technologies to develop e-commerce sites in the 2000s, other departments such as purchasing, finance and HR soon followed suit. By the late 2000s and early 2010s, digitalisation had picked up pace and been widely integrated into companies.

Digital transformation has now become an essential step for most businesses. For some, lagging behind and delaying the integration of a strategy can have disastrous consequences. Kodak for instance, and more recently Thomas Cook, paid the price for not planning for the digital transformation in their sales strategy and making the digital shift too late in the day. It is all a question of timing. Neither forging ahead too soon, nor waiting too long. It is about considering one’s line of business to gauge how to adapt the company and tailor its strategy to current needs and about being agile enough to adapt to future needs.

With the Covid-19 health crisis, this agility is being put to the test.

Company policy or budget restrictions have often meant that the digitalisation of workstations was limited to the provision of a computer (often a desktop) and sometimes a telephone. As a result, work mobility was only considered for managers and sales departments and neglected for other employees.

While this decision may be understandable in normal circumstances, it does mean that many employees now find themselves at a disadvantage. Applications and software which were designed to be used remotely cannot actually be accessed by the teams when they are outside the company.

This has raised an important issue and poses a serious challenge to companies who now have to come up with a solution in record time to:

1st challenge: Material resources

Provide remote-working equipment to employees (laptop, mobile, 4G internet access, etc.).

This task can be complicated if the company does not have the appropriate equipment. It can even become very time-consuming if it requires installing and configuring dozens or hundreds of laptops in just a few days without an industrialized process.

2nd challenge: Remote access

Open up access to the Information System. This is crucial for companies and for those who have never considered the option, it is not something that can be carried out in a few days. Indeed, IT security cannot and must not be taken lightly. An Information System that has not been designed for this purpose can become exposed to external cyberattacks. A remote access can often create a vulnerability which can be used by hackers.

3rd challenge : Supporting employees

Organise work of the teams and support managers: companies consider that the work is the same and providing means of communication will enable employees to create an identical work environment. Most of the time, this issue is mistakenly overlooked, it involves a number of personal issues which must be taken into account:

Not all employees adapt well to isolation.

The environment is not always conducive to work (overcrowding, children, family).

Lack of motivation.

Difficulties in personal organisation, separating personal/professional time/space in an environment usually dedicated to family and leisure.

Lack of maturity and autonomy which may be a problem for some employees.

Companies have had varying reactions to this forced march into digitalisation that they have endured over the last few weeks. Some companies have chosen to close down their sites entirely and halt activity. On reflection, this is probably the best choice since integrating digital technology for remote working is not a simple task. It involves a major change in corporate culture.

For those who did take the plunge, it will be important to support their teams and managers to avoid them feeling isolated. They will need to know how to keep their distance, even more so in crisis management, to ensure that they have a global vision of the issue (equipment, finance, human aspects) to keep the business running. But for all businesses, now is time to change strategy in the mid- and long-term to ensure that they can anticipate future crisis and to adopt an agile approach.