No going back: COVID-19 is catalyst for digital transformation


COVID-19 is driving digital transformation.

As the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more business leaders are focused on preparing for future crises. This is driving a workflow revolution as companies strive to stay both agile and resilient.

Against that backdrop, ServiceNow Chief Innovation Officer Dave Wright facilitated a panel of experts from the public sector, healthcare, and technology industries. Panelists agree what began as an emergency effort to manage a global health crisis has permanently altered what consumers and employees expect from businesses and government.

"There's no going back now," said Simon Brunger, divisional support director for Capita Software in England.

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Pushing a digital-first mindset

When the outbreak began more than a year ago, companies and organizations had to shut down physical operations, forcing employees to work from home and consumers to do everything via mobile devices.

Joseph Cevetello, chief information officer for the city of Santa Monica in California, said the city had to lay off 30% of its workforce. But, in a way, Cevetello had already been preparing for that moment.

When he started the CIO job two years ago, he was amazed the city exclusively relied on paper. Santa Monica's 311 mobile app, which allowed citizens to report problems, wasn’t connected to any back-office systems. Using the Now Platform, Cevetello digitized many of the city's services, enabling Santa Monica to save 130,000 employee hours and millions of dollars.

Since the city closed its offices, the pandemic has forced more citizens to use those digital services. Cevetello doesn't expect that will change once the pandemic subsides. If anything, the pandemic has narrowed the gap between what people expect of government and what they expect of business, he said.

"The key here is appreciating that in an Amazon world, what does a government look like? If an entity like Amazon could transform, say, the permitting process, and they can do it better than us, why do we need to do it?” he asked.

"How can we become more like Amazon? How can we have a frictionless environment where people get what they need, and they get out?"

Improving the patient experience

Michael Warden, senior director of business IT for Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said the pandemic challenged the notion that physical space is always the focal point of healthcare.

For example, COVID-19 forced large numbers of patients, many of whom would normally prefer to see their doctors in person, to communicate through virtual platforms. Now that patients know they can receive effective care remotely, necessity will turn into preference, Warden said.

"Those patients are going to expect a very, very different level of digital interaction with Michigan as a healthcare provider," he added.

COVID-19 also demonstrated that hospitals can quickly run out of space. In future pandemics, Warden said, hospitals can rely on remote devices to monitor patients at home while preserving beds for those who need them most.

"We will have more capacity for that new patient that's coming in with an emergency diagnosis if the one that we just discharged can be monitored better at home," he said.


Expanding the talent pool

The pandemic has helped companies innovate in unexpected ways. Going 100% remote actually helped Capita Software better identify talent within its ranks, Brunger said.

"I definitely think there's been a change in mindset in that we've tapped into skills that we had previously discounted because of unconscious or geographical bias," he explained. "Instead of just looking at people in a physical office, you can cast your net further and give more opportunities to more people."

Keeping the momentum

Now that COVID-19 has validated digital services and accelerated demand, it's up to companies and organizations to keep pace, the panel agreed.

"As we come out of COVID, the question is, “How do we not let go of that willingness to rapidly innovate?" Warden asked. "How do we sustain the momentum? There's a real appreciation for the speed to deliver, without going back to older practices."


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