Become resilient through digital innovation

Making your organization less breakable starts with asking what is most likely to break

The pandemic proved to many organizations how digital innovation can build business resilience.

One of the key business lessons from the pandemic is the speed at which trends like low-code development and digital workflows transitioned from emerging to established. It happened nearly overnight, and companies realized, in the process, how quickly and effectively they could respond to change.

ServiceNow is a prime example. When the pandemic forced our offices to close, we transitioned in a matter of weeks to a fully digital new-hire onboarding process—using workflows to support everything from communicating with HR to setting up payroll, shipping hardware, and filling out legal forms. Like most companies, we had no other choice, and it’s astonishing how fast organizations like ours moved.

McKinsey believes COVID-19 advanced digital innovation by seven years. Intuitively, that sounds right, because for a process like onboarding, the question isn’t whether we would have eventually digitized but rather when. Today, most everyone recognizes we can react more agilely and quickly than we previously believed.

[Read also: The return on business resilience]

I’ll even take that idea a step further to say ServiceNow is stronger than we were 15 months ago, when phrases like social distancing had yet to become a synonym for the pandemic era.

Becoming digitally unbreakable

This last point is the core theme of my Knowledge 21 Executive Track keynote, where I discuss how organizations can use technology to improve resilience and exit crises stronger and better-positioned than they had been previously.

The evidence for this is all around us. It comes from customers like Bridgewater Bank, which used digital workflows to scale from 950 loans processed per year to 60 per day when Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program, and also like the Washington State Department of Health, which used low-code development to quickly set up and staff COVID emergency sites while avoiding employee burnout.

Their experiences illustrate an idea I discuss in-depth during my keynote conversation: that organizations can become more resilient and take advantage of disruption without resorting to bleeding-edge technology or sophisticated development resources. Instead, they must simply adhere to a few fundamental principles of digital transformation:

1). Identify what breaks

Making your organization less breakable begins with thinking about the opposite—what in the organization is most likely to break. Typically, that’s a manual process that is either too slow, fragmented, or reliant on a few essential employees.

In such cases, process handoffs are complex, interdependencies are opaque, and speed is nearly impossible to achieve. And if a key employee or, worse, a whole region is unavailable, your processes quickly fall apart.

2). Digitize workflows and knowledge

When you’ve identified and mapped your manual processes, digitize them to bring people, devices, systems, and data together in one workflow.

That provides the visibility you need to recognize roadblocks and avoid them. It also helps you centralize and codify the institutional knowledge that drives your organization.

For Bridgewater Bank, which previously ran its loan process using email and spreadsheets, the move to digital workflows allowed various teams to work in parallel while tracking the status of each loan. As a result, after the Paycheck Protection Program became law, Bridgewater increased loan approvals more than sixfold, from a weekly average of 18 to 125.

Making your organization less breakable begins with thinking about the opposite—what in the organization is most likely to break.

The same concept applies to most business-critical processes, from supply chain to safe return to workplace, and it helps executives quickly understand situations and react accordingly.

3). Automate to optimize

After you’ve digitized your workflows, you can think about automating them. On a basic level, that could mean self-service password reset so your organization isn’t hamstrung if IT is occupied or otherwise unavailable.

At a higher level, it could involve hyperautomation, which brings together AI, robotic process automation, and process mining so organizations can automate end-to-end business and IT processes.

Hyperautomation, in particular, promises a more agile, efficient, and productive business in which people focus on innovation, strategy, and empathy while computers handle everything else.

Technology is not enough

Digital workflows are key, but technology by itself is never enough. Culture and purpose are equally important, because when your people are connected to your mission, they’re more resilient . They know why they’re working through adversity and understand the impact their efforts will have. As a result, they’re able to find opportunity in the face of hardship which, ultimately, is what it takes to exit a crisis stronger than before.

At ServiceNow, our purpose—to make the world of work, work better for people—pushed us to build the Safe Workplace suite of apps in the early stages of the pandemic. When these apps evolved into our holistic workplace service delivery offering, they further underscored how purpose leads to innovation.

The two go hand-in-hand, and as we begin to think about life after COVID-19, they’ve helped define a company that’s connected by more than just workflows.