For many years ‘digital’ was treated as a separate entity to the core business. It signalled difference, novelty, ‘the future’ a place where hoodies, t-shirts and jeans formulated new approaches that were called ‘test and learns’ ranging from the ridiculous (a bouncing ball app that kept your dog amused) to the sublime (ecommerce and the opportunity to find products cheaper and have them delivered within hours to your door). 

Disruption brought by technology was considered one of the major disruptive forces in business, but business went on and the adoption of digital business models and innovations were labelled unicorns. The pandemic has subverted this and has become a supercharged catalyst for digital transformation. Digital is no longer different or the future; without wishing to sound like a 1950s car commercial, ‘the future is now’. Times are ‘unprecedented’ and the normal is ‘new’. Digital is foundational to helping navigate and succeed in the ‘unprecedented’.

The impact of the Covid pandemic has forced technology into the boardroom, the c-suite and the corridors of politics. Transformation is a necessity – whether it’s access to healthcare, enabling business operations to continue through the sharing of data or the gathering of critical data to enable you to meet the demands of consumers whose behaviour has been driven by a new set of priorities. The ‘Dangerous misspeak of digital transformation’ has been a long-standing issue for businesses. Digital advocates have been on the margins, particularly in businesses considered to be ‘Born Traditional’ whereas they have tended to be in the driving seat of businesses ‘Born Digital’. In the former this marginalisation inhibited truly transformative action; in the latter, typically oriented towards boundless innovation and growth, it inhibited a proper maturing process leading to perceptions of esoteric leadership behaviour, an absence of good governance, and ultimately miss putting in place the solid foundations to enable a sustainable digital business.

The pandemic has, in many respects, brought these two previously distinct groups closer together. While their origins and respective ages may be different, the challenges facing all businesses and business leaders are increasingly similar. Our recent article ‘Five ways born-digital companies can accelerate their post-covid recovery’ outlines five steps leaders (from either type of business) need to consider to get their organisations back on the path to prosperity:

Leadership: Communicating values, demonstrating authenticity, changing the culture to adopt and adapt to digital in the context of the business’s core competencies

Talent: Navigating an unfamiliar and fast-changing landscape, and having the talent that can apply a digital lens to traditional business

Customer engagement: Anticipating and shaping future behaviours, driving engagement models through new channels and leveraging these insights to drive business agility throughout the business

Operational scale and profitability: Eradicating silos to operate more efficiently, and effectively. Adjusting to capitalise on changing landscapes and circumstances. Distinguishing between must-haves and nice-to-haves, and the corresponding commercial models of how to adopt capabilities accordingly to scale and evolve

Data ethics and privacy: Moving these even higher on the priority list to enable the data gathering and sharing from consumers, between businesses or across borders to drive business scalability all safeguarded against new risks.

It’s not digital. It’s just business.