Column

COVID-19 won’t be our last crisis

How IT leaders can prepare for the next big one

  • Manual tasks still plague most organizations; digitizing those should be an immediate priority
  • Chatbots and digital self-service tools don’t just improve employee experience, they boost productivity
  • Companies can tackle digital initiatives at a faster pace after surviving the immediate challenges of the pandemic

The pandemic has forced IT leaders to find creative solutions that keep the enterprise running. But many of the systems put in place during COVID-19 were cobbled together fast. They may work for now, but how will they hold up when the next crisis hits?

ServiceNow’s Work Survey asked 900 C-suite leaders and 8,100 employees across 11 countries how COVID-19 is impacting business. We found that the pandemic has fundamentally altered the employee experience in organizations worldwide. Executives and workers across industries agree: These changes, many of them powered by IT, will permanently reshape the future of work.

Now that we’ve had a few months to adjust to the new normal, it’s time to put your systems to the test, so you’ll be fully prepared for the next business disruption. To see if you’re ready for the uncertainties of tomorrow, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you future-proofing your company?

Nearly all executives (91%) and most rank-and-file employees (76%) in our survey report that many routine business processes are still managed offline. From document approvals (51%) to IT tasks like security incident reports (45%) and technical support (42%), a lot of the work involves manual tasks.

[Read also: Employee trust in the time of COVID]

That’s not surprising, as many companies still struggle with laborious, manual processes that should be automated through workflows. However, I was surprised that 47% of executives in our survey said they want to return to how they worked before COVID-19.

Reality check: That’s not happening. Now is your chance to drop outdated technologies and make meaningful progress on digitizing your core business workflows. Focus on reducing your offline work, rather than regressing to the cluttered, disorganized past.

ServiceNow’s in-house legal team once relied on a project intake process involving emails and manual task assignments. By building a workflow using Legal Service Delivery, a set of legal operations tools built on the Now Platform, the team shortened sales cycles, accelerated top line growth, and cut unnecessary emails by 80%.

2. How easy is it for your employees to get stuff done?

Your enterprise must retain top talent in order to thrive. Now is a great time to rate how easy it is for your employees to navigate the enterprise.

Because of the pandemic, employees can’t walk down the hall to ask for help in person. They shouldn’t have to ever again. Here at ServiceNow we use tools like predictive intelligence, improved enterprise search, and Virtual Agent chatbots to make it easy for employees to get the help they need so they can concentrate on their real work.

By creating a personalized, one-stop hub for workplace solutions, we’ve made it super simple for our employees to submit and fulfill their requests. As a result, 60% of all employee requests are now resolved via self-service. Departments that serve employees—including IT, HR, and legal—achieved a 40% productivity improvement at the same time.

The takeaway: Experience and productivity are two sides of the same coin.

3. Are you erasing silos to prepare for the hybrid work environment?

Many enterprise processes touch multiple departments. Onboarding is a good example. When you join a new company, you get your laptop from IT, your payroll signup from finance, your benefits information from HR, and so on. Yet new hires don’t care which department is fulfilling each service request. They just want everything ready so they can start working.

When ServiceNow’s 12,000 employees all started working remotely in March of this year, we switched in-person, new-hire orientations to virtual events in a matter of hours. ServiceNow is customer zero for Global Onboarding and Transitions, a Now Platform app that has helped us cut manual steps by 70% and accelerate IT provisioning by 94%. (Check out the 10 lessons we learned from its implementation.)

We have virtually onboarded 2,000 new hires since March of this year. Today, HR, workplace solutions, IT, and other teams work together on the Now Platform to provide a seamless onboarding experience. The Now Platform supports all the needs of a hybrid workforce by providing digital solutions to automate a safe return to the workplace, onboard new and returning employees, and provide workplace experiences at their fingertips.

What are you doing to digitally erase silos?

4. Are you improving velocity?

When asked about their ability to pivot and adopt new workflows within a month of another major business disruption, surveyed employees and executives were equally pessimistic. From human resources to finance, most departments reported less than 50% confidence. Even IT barely cleared 60%.

Yet the survey also shows that organizations all over the world were able to overcome corporate inertia and adapt quickly in the face of COVID-19. About 9 in 10 executives and employees agreed that their organizations changed faster than anyone had ever thought possible before the pandemic. And 87% of employees say their companies have enabled new and better ways of working.

CIOs I’ve spoken with told me initiatives that would have taken over a year are now getting done in six weeks. Decisions that took four months now only take a couple of hours. That’s because organizations know the only way to thrive is through digital transformation.

This year, ServiceNow has also learned a lot about how fast we can move. In a matter of weeks, we planned, created, and deployed a suite of Safe Workplace Apps, which we continuously update and improve. By having all necessary functions working together in quick sprints, from engineering to QA testing, and from sales to SecOps, we’re able to speed up releases, have confidence that apps are secure, and continuously respond to changing demands. Along the way we worked with Cisco, Zebra, Uber, Juniper, and other enterprises to create a compelling suite of products that just keeps getting better.

5. Are you reinvesting your savings?

One unexpected side effect of the pandemic has been a reduction in operational costs. As lockdowns and social distancing restrictions spread around the world, business travel came to a halt. Many physical workspaces remain closed. In addition, everyone’s saving time. Fifty-four percent of employees in our survey said they value the extra time saved from not commuting or traveling for work.

Meanwhile, 88% of companies expect a decrease in operating expenses going forward. Across the board, executives and employees want to redirect these cost savings into digital transformation. In fact, employees picked digital transformation as the most crucial area for investment—even before benefits and compensation. This finding suggests workers understand the potential of digital workflows to improve their daily lives.

The Work Survey shows that the work innovations sparked by COVID-19 have mostly been beneficial for companies and employees. I think the changes we’re seeing are likely permanent. Even if your organization returns to physical workplaces, there’s no point going back to the old ways.

Here’s my recommendation: Embrace innovations that help your company work better. That way, you’ll be ready for the next business disruption.