Column

A pandemic opportunity for CIOs

Digital strategy should be built to evolve, not last

value chain
  • The pandemic exposed weak “value chains” and disconnected workflows
  • Reconstructing these value chains starts with identifying the right digital experiences for employees and customers
  • Smart digital strategy helps prepare companies for continual change

The COVID-19 pandemic will pass eventually, but the imprint it leaves on the enterprise will be long-lasting.

Most companies weren’t prepared to face the demands of disrupted supply chains and a suddenly distributed workforce. For many businesses, even those that invested heavily in digitizing their business processes, it wasn’t just their supply chains that broke down. It was their value chains.

What do I mean by “value chain?” It’s how a company delivers high-quality experiences by coordinating and integrating relationships across its entire ecosystem of customers, employees, vendors, and partners.

As companies work through these life-changing events, CIOs should be looking at how to define “next normal” after the crisis subsides. Determining how to reassemble those broken value chains will be a key element of that. Doing so creates what I call adaptive digital resiliency.

Focus on the experience

Before COVID, many companies took an “inside out” view of digital transformation: By digitizing internal processes, the thinking went, they could discover and deliver new forms of value. What COVID-19 revealed is that CIOs also need to think “outside in,” focusing more on the end result—namely, the high-quality experiences they want to deliver to customers, employees, vendors, and partners.

I talked recently with the CIO of a global entertainment brand who shared how the pandemic revealed gaps in its digital transformation strategy. Before the crisis, the company used a variety of applications to support department-specific processes. This approach automated certain steps in each process, but did not build the end-to-end value chains that could adapt to the rapidly evolving environment.

Then COVID-19 shut down live events—and with it, the critical flow of new content for an audience of millions. At the same time, employees suddenly working from home found themselves unable to access their systems due to IT and security issues. Double whammy: a drought of live content and an inability to create backup content.

[Read also: CIOs should evolve, not transform]

In the first few weeks of the crisis, the company didn’t adapt quickly, the CIO admitted. Traffic took a big hit as consumers turned to alternate platforms for similar entertainment content. Employees, meanwhile, struggled with trying to support processes remotely.

Building digital resiliency

Companies that have rebounded quickly from these kinds of pandemic-related challenges already have some built-in adaptiveness to digital workflows that support both employees and customers. This kind of digital resiliency isn’t just critical for sudden short-term needs, it helps companies adapt to constant change down the road. This is a critical lesson for not just the CIO but for all enterprise leaders.

Digital strategy shouldn’t be built to last. It should be built to evolve. Major events like COVID-19 have shown enterprise leaders that the more adaptability they can build into digital processes and workflows, the more likely they are to serve their customers, employees, and partners.

When the pandemic ends, companies will all adapt to some version of the new reality. For now, CIOs need to think proactively, and build experience-based workflows from the outside in. Now is a great opportunity to build these workflows that are engineered not so much for the processes that support them, but for the experiences they need to deliver.