Coronavirus Halted “Digital Transformation” Projects. That’s a Good Thing.

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The days of colossal IT projects are over. Long live nimble, accelerated digital initiatives.

A quick skim among the tech press shows what on the surface looks to be troubling news - spending on "digital transformation" projects globally is down in the wake of the coronavirus.

IDC reports that IT buyers globally expect total spending to decline by more than previously anticipated due to economic concerns from the pandemic. Growth in the DX market is forecasted to grow by 10.4% in 2020, down from its 17.9% growth rate in 2019, IDC says. Gartner predicts a similar 8% decline in IT spending in 2020, as companies “prioritize spending on technology and services that are deemed ‘mission-critical’ over initiatives aimed at growth or transformation.”

Taking a closer look, this news is positive for companies and customers alike. The term “digital transformation” is meant to represent faster, more convenient, and more cost-effective ways that companies conduct end-to-end business through digital means. Instead, it mostly conjures up images of arduous and expensive IT projects that take years. Mention digital transformation to a CFO, and you’ll likely get push-back about big expenses and little ROI.

In this context, it makes sense that traditional digital transformation initiatives are largely on hold in such a tumultuous time. Companies are focused on business continuity and readjusting their business for what will be “the new normal.”

Guess what’s mission critical for IT and the rest of the organization in the COVID-19 age? Cloud. Remote workforces. Intelligent automation. Messaging. Omnichannel. Asynchronous employee training.

Why are they so important? Because they don’t break the bank. They can be deployed quickly, often without IT resources. And they show immediate outcomes, recouping costs and generating ROI, sometimes in a matter of days. What’s more, they serve a pressing need and customers and employees prefer them because they’re faster, more easily accessible, and make experiences more effortless.

These nimble, incremental investments represent the essence of true digital transformation. Business leaders aren’t trying to build a utopian version of their business led by a complete digital overhaul. They are trying to keep up with market, environmental, and consumer demands in a way that works. If they do it right ¬-- with a customer focus -- they will one day step back to see that they have digitally transformed their business and created an entirely new and better way of doing business that’s led by digital.

Digital transformation isn’t a one-off big spend. Rather, it’s a state of mind that continually evolves as organizations adopt new digital solutions to solve business problems over time. There’s no “end” to digital transformation. Instead, always be asking questions like, “How can we help clients with quick wins that have low effort and high impact” or “What can we do to prepare for the future?” Make decisions that answer these questions through the lens of reducing the effort it takes for customers to do business, employees to do their job, and for the company to reach its goals. Then continue to roll out on a larger scale as you spread across the business.

Companies don’t have the luxury or appetite anymore to weigh down their business with large-scale digital transformation projects. The pandemic busted open the digital front door. It’s up to companies to walk through and settle in with an incremental and outcome-based digital-first approach.