The global economy, across all industries, is still in many ways reeling from the financially detrimental side effects of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Changes to the orientation of working environments that were enacted to help stop the spread of COVID-19 — e.g., shifting most or all employees to work-from-home setups, increasing investment in cloud storage solutions, adopting videoconferencing as a standard meeting format and so on — were initially expected to be temporary. However, Xerox's Future of Work Survey from June 2020 found that most respondents (82%) didn't expect their employees to return to office-based work for at least 12 months, and possibly as many as 18.
Additionally, the same report noted that 36% of businesses also paused the digital transformation plans they had in place due to difficulties caused by the pandemic. But there is considerable reason to believe that these times, uncertain though they may be, may in fact be ideal for the implementation (or, at the very least, the serious planning) of a legacy system modernization operation or other type of digital transformation. Here, we'll take a closer look at rising trends in digitization expected to hold fast throughout the next phase of the pandemic era and what key factors you must consider for your organization's specific transformational needs.
Major advances in cloud and telecom
Like many cutting-edge tech solutions, the cloud may have first seemed like a buzzword — an intriguing concept that could be the next big thing or a passing fad. As we now know, it was most certainly the former. Cloud systems, be they public, private or hybrid, support a vast majority of the global web infrastructure, especially given the still-rising popularity of software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service offerings.
According to Forbes contributor Daniel Newman, hybrid cloud platforms seem to be poised to take the leading position in the cloud hierarchy, above their public and private counterparts. This is in large part because so many of the biggest names in tech (Microsoft, Oracle, Google, IBM, Amazon and so on) are funneling significant shares of their budgets into hybrid architectures — the industry has effectively told the rest of the business world that hybrid is where things are going. But that wouldn't matter if organizations couldn't leverage significant gains from hybrid cloud offerings, and it's become clear that they can. Examples of emerging hybrid cloud value include the management of industrial data in internet-of-things environments, as well as the more general advantage of smoothly handling exponential data growth without impugning security or compliance requirements.
Newman's blog post also highlighted the full-scale emergence of 5G high-speed cellular broadband as a major digital transformation trend for 2021: The availability of 5G not only means far faster internet performance for mobile devices, but also means it can serve as a viable backup in parallel-circuit enterprise network setups. 5G can also facilitate significant performance enhancements for IoT infrastructure.
Other trends Newman cited that you may wish to consider as your organization plans its digital transformation include the implementation of customer data platforms, increased use of machine learning, SD-WAN networking solutions for companies still operating remotely and the early rumblings of quantum computing.
Efficiency is the ultimate goal
In a separate guest blog post for Forbes, Xerox executive Joanne Collins Smee explained that a desire to improve efficiency must be one of the core driving principles behind any digital transformation initiative. Without this goal in mind, any new systems or solutions you implement may ultimately be no more than high-end bells and whistles.
Smee also advised that it would be perfectly reasonable for companies to start slow as they go about the digital transformation process: Start by looking at the most inefficient operations that depend most directly on manual processes, and look for areas in which automation or digitization could offer even a modicum of assistance. This could be something as simple as adopting terminal emulation to minimize the direct use of highly outdated mainframes. Once you find success in digital transformation on a somewhat small scale, you and your colleagues can eventually develop the confidence to apply similar principles to bigger operational areas.
Lastly, it's important to keep in mind that digital transformation does not necessarily mean downsizing staff simply because certain processes have become automated or digitized. In fact, Harvard Business Review pointed out that the process can actually be a job creator: Not only do new technologies require the oversight of human IT professionals with significant experience in such systems, but jobs that require skills that automated tools cannot replicate — critical thinking, the capacity for team leadership and other socio-behavioral or cognitive skills — become that much more valuable in a digitally transformed business environment.