Thought Leaders

From Chaos To Catalyst

high street coronavirus

We are now all involuntary participants in the seismic disruption shaking the foundations of society, technology, economics, healthcare and more.

In the context of today’s chaos – including the inevitable business and economic implications – it is already getting hard to remember that this crisis will pass, just as they always have.

It is not time to give up on humans, but things will never be exactly the same. Instead, there may well be an “after,” a next phase, a future state for businesses.

For now, it is helpful to think about the pandemic not as a single Big Bang but as a series of three shockwaves – epidemiological, professional and socioeconomic – that need to be managed individually.

The three shockwaves

  • Physical/epidemiological shock: this is when you worry if you become ill, are getting better or have been caring for COVID-19 patients. The first step is to take care of yourself as a priority, as well as those closest to you.

    For businesses, this means taking care of their operations, employees, partners, and customers, creating or updating their business continuity plans and activating HR and talent management to address employee health and safety.

  • Professional shock: unemployment has increased as the UK’s lockdown has relaxed and the true economic situation continues to reveal itself. Thousands of companies, large and small, are equally facing an existential crisis.

    This shock may potentially accelerate the need for businesses to apply new technology to undertake cost savings while simultaneously driving growth.

  • Social/economic shock: employees who were not key workers or were easily able to work from home are getting back to their However, we may see a profound and long-lasting impact on capital, industries and even society.

    The danger today is that we may feel overwhelmed and therefore focus on worst-case scenarios, things most of us cannot control, rather than finding creative solutions. Now is the time to focus on the things we can shape in the near future: time, investment, mind share.

The path ahead for business leaders

Many of the business challenges faced by companies today are not so different from those that existed pre-pandemic, they just require faster thinking and immediate action. To make the best near-term, no-regret decisions, it may be helpful to envision the path ahead in seven steps:

  1. Modernise data

Paying to maintain terabytes (or more) of data and then not using it for business outcomes is no longer justifiable. Improving decisions and customer experience with applied intelligence is infinitely more difficult without data that is relevant, accessible and secure.

  1. Unshackle from legacy applications

Many IT leaders are trapped by their legacy software. Modern society has new tools and processes to help unlock value that is locked in data centres all over the world.

The first step is a complete software audit to understand which applications make the most sense to modernise, which should be left alone, and which can be turned off.

  1. Modernise how your employees work

The pandemic shock has accelerated the imperative to be able to undertake office work from more or less anywhere. Virtualising work, collaborating from across the street, country or across the globe, and creating an inclusive culture at a distance are now all key for business and technology leaders.

  1. Modernise your consumer experience

Content has always been important. With more transactions online, the ability to orchestrate and deliver content to the right person, at the right time, in any place, via any device, is more imperative than ever for businesses.

Companies should take a step back, obtain a deeper understanding of their customers’ wants and needs, and try to grasp how the lifecycle of demand could be changed longer-term.

  1. Engineer software for the new economy

Modern tools, agile engineering methods and technologies already exist to help banks, insurers, retailers, all organisations, to be better. This requires rethinking how core IT teams are structured, how they work, how they are incentivised and the partner ecosystem critical to the business.

Starting small can show near-term progress while mitigating risk. If it works, a new method is more easily scaled up or down than building out long-term services contracts.

  1. Virtualise core work

Middle- and back-office work that is slow and labour-intensive can be made more efficient. Seen as impossible even a few months ago, it is no longer an unrealistic idea to virtualise the work a company does.

Ultimately, nearly every organisation can improve its supply chain management, HR, finance and industry-specific process work.

  1. Modernise your cloud foundation

For years, IT leaders have been chipping away at costs, moving work to service providers, and pushing centralised computer loads to the cloud, but that was really just phase one. There is no longer a need to postpone moving into the cloud and deploying cost-effective SaaS platforms to reduce operating costs of non-core work.

Every business leader today should be a true explorer, among the first to navigate the unique and formidable shockwaves facing us all. Given the incalculable variables, we may not be able to predict the future with complete accuracy. However, we do know there are steps we can take to strengthen business health.

Paul Roehrig is head of strategy and growth for Cognizant Digital Business.

Paul Roehrig
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