Enterprise & Market Resilience during COVID-19 - Middle East Forum (Session 2): Regaining Confidence with Digital, What Next?

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Enterprise & Market Resilience during COVID-19 - Middle East Forum (Session 2): Regaining Confidence with Digital, What Next?

At Protiviti we believe there is tremendous value to be gained in collaborating and learning from each other during these challenging time. Hearing new and unexpected perspectives from others can help challenge our thinking, provide confidence in our own plans and increase resilience. 

Over 350 business leaders joined us for the second virtual session in the Enterprise & Market Resilience During COVID-19, Middle East Forum series. Held under Chatham House rules, the session facilitated participants to ask questions during the panel discussion.

The aim of the series is to have an hour-long meeting each week and build a community of people from different industries, where they can share thoughts and experiences from operating in ‘the new normal’.

The theme for the week was on the digital response to COVID-19 – deliberating upon how automation, tech, cloud and analytics can help organization overcome the crisis and equip them better post COVID.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital leadership is about mind-set and culture. Take advantage of the learnings during this pandemic and keep the spirit of innovation and collaboration intact as life resumes post crisis
  • Being ‘risk averse’ and not being agile and flexible is in reality the ‘high risk’ path 
  • There are no shortcuts to sustainable transformation – investing in digital, data and automation should be long term goals and not a knee-jerk reaction 
  • Focus on people and process when thinking about digital – too often the focus is on the technology 
  • Digital sceptics and beginners see a huge opportunity under the current circumstances to fast-track adoption and hasten the cultural shift
  • It’s time for organizations to reflect on their preparedness and ensure the next crisis doesn’t take them by surprise like the current one
  • Post COVID-19, it is likely that there will be an immediate surge in tech and digital investments. The key though needs to be on how thinking digital becomes the second nature, as businesses start operating in the new normal

A Binary Response to COVID-19

Protiviti’s Global Leader for Digital Transformation set the stage by summarizing that the current crisis has revealed the true digital maturity of many organizations; there has been one of two responses from most global organizations – the first is the risk averse response mandating a ’change freeze’ and hitting the pause button on digital initiatives and technology investments; and the second where digital thought leaders have seized the opportunity to drive innovation and adoption of emerging technologies to challenge the status quo. The overwhelming global average as far as digital maturity is concerned tends to be at a ‘Beginner’ level, however, the current crisis presents an unique opportunity for sceptics to take a leap of faith to cross the chasm and move towards higher levels of maturity.

Perseverance and Preparedness – The Key to Success

The Chief Disruption Officer from one of the largest K-12 private education providers talked about how their organization has encouraged self-disruption of their brick and mortar operations with a 100 year history, by developing a proprietary Learning Management System and extensive use of online sessions, along with offline asynchronous sessions for remote learning for students across all levels. The years of conscious disruptions ensured that in times of actual crisis the ‘brick to click’ transformation was both swift and seamless. 

The CEO of a large pharmaceutical company based in Saudi Arabia stressed on the fact that investments in digital platforms have always been a cornerstone of their organizational strategy – hence enabling the change wasn’t as much of a challenge as compared to the mind-shift change that was required as their workforce adapted quickly to remote collaboration and flexible working regime. The panel echoed that readiness and preparedness can only be attributed to sustained investment into technology, people and processes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day after all’. 

Innovation is Key – Technology isn’t the only Solution – The Story of the Education Sector

The CDO of the education provider cautioned that innovation is key to make technology effective – sighting that since the first lesson on 22nd March 2020, 9.7 million online sessions had been conducted; 4.6 million offline asynchronous lessons had also been conducted, with 120,000 participants at a given point of time. COVID-19 had become a catalyst for the paradigm shift in confidence and acceptability of different methods of learning and teaching, by parents, students and regulators. 

However, young kids are often found struggling with online lessons since they require physical interaction with teachers and fellow students to keep them engaged. To cope with this, gamification, reward programs and innovation in student engagement was required, which resulted in the development of a new learning interface for the age group.

Which Technologies will see most investments?

The panel then went on to discuss which technologies in specific will see rapid adoption in the wake of the pandemic – the audience poll saw Intelligent Automation, Data and Analytics and Cloud Technologies get the highest votes.

The panel reflected that the specific adoption trends may vary across industries – in general, we are likely to see heightened levels of adoption and investment post COVID-19.

The Group CEO of a large Retail conglomerate talked about the rapid disruption in the Retail Industry. E-commerce giants such as Amazon and Noon.com have changed the playing field opening up new ways of customer engagement, sales and fulfillment. The pandemic has exposed weak links in the supply chain for brick and mortar setups and hence the need for enhanced back office support has become critical. Given the volume of transactions, there is now increased emphasis on using data and automation to bring efficiencies.

The key themes that emerged suggested that tech investments are going to be focused on one of the following - fix the basics, strengthen the building block and accelerate disruption. Data Orientation, Process Improvements, Information Security, Standardization and Consolidation are going to be crucial. Any technology that meets the need of these themes will see an uptake, viz. Mobility, AI, RPA, cloud technologies, BI, and Big Data. 

Cloud Adoption and Key Drivers

Cloud Adoption in the region remains relatively low; the pandemic can act as an accelerator. A panelist shared how their organization started their cloud journey with a lot of skepticism; however, it soon became an accelerator for driving business growth. Mid-sized organizations often struggle with cloud adoption as they don’t necessarily understand the security risks and the regulatory implications well enough – however, those who have embraced cloud are seeing significantly less disruptions in their business. 

Attendees in a poll on drivers for cloud adoption identified resilience and cost optimization as top prerogatives; however the panelists suggested that agility and access to best in breed tech should be an equal consideration.

Striking Balance between Technology and People

The panelists commented that investments in technology cannot be at the cost of investing in people and skillsets. Digital Transformation after all is not only about technology – people, process and business model transformations are equally essential.

Drawing from his experience, one of the panelists reflected that finding the right talent to make digital transformation work has been most challenging. Encouraging the workforce to adapt and upskill and create a foundation for themselves to be successful in their new role, can makes or break the success of digital investments. ‘Technology and Money are commodities, People are not’. 

Keeping the Spirit of Innovation intact as we get busy with life post COVID-19

Digital leadership is about a mind-set. Creating a culture of innovation and investing in innovation programs is important. 

As organizations have been forced to innovate – there is an opportunity to build on it. However, we need to understand that emergency response cannot be equated to a cultural shift, as we tend to forget the past quite easily. Innovation must be nurtured and encouraged. This can be achieved through sustained practices as a part of core organizational values. An important consideration should be to break down hierarchies; often the freshest ideas don’t necessarily come from the top. 

COVID-19 can act as a sense check for those who are willing to pay attention – it provides a unique opportunity to reimagine your business if need be and start afresh on the journey of digital transformation.

Parting Thoughts

  • Go back to the drawing board
  • Articulate the business impact of tech adoption to your ExCo – resources tend to follow the business case
  • Keep an eye on security and emerging risks
  • Keep the well-being of your workforce and your customers central to your strategy
  • Don’t be shy to ask your peers and colleagues – nobody has all the answers


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