This spring, there was a meme on LinkedIn with a poll asking who leads digital transformation in your company.
Surprisingly, the choice was not a CEO or top manager, but the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This picture perfectly illustrates how, at the beginning of the pandemic, many companies were forced to urgently implement new technologies or rebuild their business model to survive.
But today, when some countries are experiencing a second wave of the virus and implementing social distancing restrictions again, new questions arise. Should companies invest in long-term innovations in such an uncertain and difficult period? Or wouldn’t it be better to focus on the core business and save capital on costly investments until more stable times return?
This summer we, with the help of independent research company Savanta, spoke with heads of innovation in enterprises. Here are the three main points that they believe have been a benefit to their work during the pandemic.
A moment to support your customers
The pandemic outbreak meant that everyone, both businesses and individuals, found themselves in completely new circumstances that they could not predict or prepare for. People changed their personal plans.
Companies had to suspend or, at least, seriously revise their development strategy, for example, to open new offices or to promote their business at live events. And, as one of innovation leaders noted, customers, both B2B and B2C, are expecting brands to share their knowledge and expertise to help them navigate through these tough times. So, introducing new projects to solve your customers’ problems will help to increase trust in your company.
Such expectations also create a fertile ground for exploring new business opportunities. First, customers are now more open to sharing their needs and pain points. These insights increase the chance that the future project will be in demand. Of course, numerous customer requests may increase the amount of work, but one of decision makers we talked with believes that this is a ‘positive challenge’ for business.
Secondly, enterprises that work with corporate clients noticed a certain mind shift. Previously, customers believed that their usual way of working was quite effective and might be reluctant to try something new.
In the new environment, they are now more eager to test innovations, such as those that promise to reduce costs or make work more convenient. For your business, it is the ability to quickly check if an idea meets customer needs and fine tune it if required.
The heads of innovation departments we spoke to also noted that the business processes within their companies had been modified as well. It is no secret that, despite significant human and financial resources, it can be more difficult to innovate for enterprises than small startups.
There are many administrative processes and approval procedures that prevent a business from falling apart, but all of them take time. As a result, the company may be late introducing a new solution on the market. The survey findings confirm this: 40% agree that enterprises are less innovative because it takes too long to make a decision.
Now though, enterprises cannot necessarily afford to operate in this manner. The pandemic forced their hand and they had to do things differently and quickly.
For instance, one innovation leader told us about a project that was initially estimated to take two years, but it was considered essential for the current climate and was completed in two months. So, do not miss the opportunity to speed things up and cut through the red tape.
Need for new ways of working amid budget restrictions
According to a Gartner survey, 51% of CFOs are expecting a 30% cut in revenue this year. This has the potential to change what companies will invest in and spend money on.
We also asked innovation leaders how investment in their department would change in harder times. The majority of respondents (67%) say that their company’s innovation budget would be protected when facing financial difficulties.
They also believe that innovation has become even more important due to the pandemic, as they mostly see it not as another way to spend money, but as a solution to financial difficulties. An unusual approach to operations can help to save money.
For example, our department responsible for industrial cybersecurity now cannot visit their customers to conduct a pilot project and identify all their requirements and issues, such as vulnerabilities or incompliance cases.
So, the department developed a hardware device that can be easily deployed by customers themselves. The tool collects all the telemetry required for an audit report. As it turned out, creating and sending this tool to the customer is even cheaper than a business trip for one employee.
Experts suggest that some industries may change forever when the pandemic ends. For example, people may alter their behaviour, and instead of going to crowded restaurants or visiting brick-and-mortar stores, they will prefer takeaways and online shopping.
There are even lists of industry verticals that may collapse. It means that affected organisations will not be able to wait and operate as they did before. So, while a ‘safe’ strategy looks like it will pay off in the short term, it may result in more severe consequences later.
All in all, it is the right moment for a company to be avant-garde, innovative and support its clients through this innovation. Enterprises should not just consider how to stay afloat, but what they need to do to prepare for the future.