The Covid-19 pandemic has proven the increasing need for organizational flexibility more than ever before. Many businesses had to plan for disaster happening. Some organizations examined their previously constructed continuity plans and recognized the paucity of their efforts.
The different approaches taken by governments to enact a lockdown during the pandemic have accelerated the VUCA which is an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA highlights the effects of uncertainty that all companies have had to contend with. During this pandemic period, the hastening of VUCA strained the ability of traditional companies as they needed to pivot their current business practices rapidly but was unable to do so. However, we have seen the ability of digitally mature businesses to be relatively immune to the harmful effects of the pandemic because they had created internal environments that provided a panacea to the VUCA world.
Digitally mature businesses
In the broader sense, the challenges being faced during the Covid-19 pandemic have revealed friction between digitally mature organizations and traditional businesses. Digitally mature organizations recognized that change was inevitable and have made themselves able to respond strategically. Granted that raising an organization’s digital maturity cannot be completed rapidly. Moreover, successful digitalization is not just about introducing new systems into an organization. And, introducing technology during a global pandemic without considering the long-term view may not probably be the right time to do it. However, the critically, academically, and systematically informed analysis of what transpired in companies during the lockdown reflected the inadequacy of organizations to respond to the crisis.
As the public health emergency brought on by Covid-19 has progressed, there are lessons that organizations can learn from it. These learning will help shape new organizational planning and approaches to better respond to any future contingencies. Concerning organizational digital transformation and digital maturity, the period of lockdown offers 3 key lessons. Organizations must enhance their digital maturity. Companies that are not digitally mature are more fragile. Companies who have attained high degrees of maturity in term of their digital presence are more flexible.
1) Organizations must mature digitally
As the scale of the pandemic became increasingly apparent, the condition has also reinforced that digital conversion is a strategic and complex activity that encompasses the entire company. It involves processes, communications, people, software and hardware choices. The pandemic was a wake-up call for many companies. They found out that they lacked proper video conferencing facilities and had static organizational structures. Their systems and processes could not be accessed off-site. Furthermore, many workers lacked the mindset and skills to conduct their business remotely. Without this organizational infrastructure, no company can be digitally mature. These programs and processes often enhance the productivity and efficiency. But it should not be a short-term activity. Transforming a business digitally is a strategic venture with a lifespan of deliverables measured in multiple years.
2) Less digitally mature companies are more fragile
The early pandemic scarcity of toilet paper made major news headlines around the world as tangible proof of the lockdown impact on all consumers and suppliers. It revealed how most companies maintain a fragile form of resilience. On the other hand, in the case of some big retail supermarkets, their ability to bounce back has shown a very conscious understanding of the balance between resilience and fragility. With supermarkets introducing apps to reserve slots to shop instore there are signs that digitally mature companies can move and bend against the VUCA world rapidly. That this has been an issue long before the lockdown is evidenced with companies falling into administration during this period.
The holistic need for change means that companies cannot become digitally mature simply by building an e-commerce website. The online offering has to be embedded within a social media network and provide a compelling consumer experience with excellent infrastructure. A digital transformation is a holistic approach to continuous changes with the flexibility that only the right data and skill set can drive so that the workforce can respond to VUCA. These criteria go far beyond a website.
3) Companies with higher degrees of digital maturity are more flexible
There is increasing evidence on ways in which fluid and elastic business models allow organizations to continue, which is particularly true of smaller companies. While bigger companies have long supply chains, smaller companies can work at a more local level allowing them to explore alternative options rapidly. Some businesses are already seeing the effects of failing to learn these lessons.
The global lockdown has no favourites, and it impacts everybody in some way or the other. VUCA is still unpredictable and the global recession is looming. A major observation is that the pandemic has made digital transformation obligatory. Digital is no longer an add-on or a choice. It is a necessity. However, it is worth recognising that the world was not expecting the present situation . Hence, we need to have compassion, as no amount of horizon-scanning or forecasting would have predicted such a catastrophe.
Gordon Fletcher and Marie Griffiths, International Journal of Information Management,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2020.102185