Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene
Given the events of the past seven months, it would be easy for all judgements to be tinged with negativity. The outbreak of COVID-19 has been devastating for countries around the world, affecting the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere, with no signs of stopping any time soon.
However, there are reasons for a more positive outlook. Not least because as lockdown and social distancing measures forced many businesses to drastically adapt their operations, the virus simultaneously ignited a period of rapid innovation and creativity. Although their hands may have been forced, companies are moving faster and taking bigger risks than ever before in order to cope in the “new normal”.
This should be cause for optimism. When faced with a sink or swim conundrum, businesses have largely responded ambitiously, with many developing online offerings and embracing new technologies to best serve their customers.
The digital transformation of industries has not been put on hold for the crisis. Rather, COVID-19 has catalysed the use of technology and inspired more radical thinking within companies of all sizes and sectors.
To delve further into this phenomenon, Studio Graphene recently polled over 500 UK business leaders to uncover the impact that COVID-19 has had on innovation. Across the board, a staggering 50% of businesses said that they had adopted a new digital solution to enable them to continue delivering their product or service throughout the pandemic.
Perhaps most strikingly, though, almost half (45%) of the organisations surveyed stated that their business has undergone the most radical digital transformation in its history since the start of the pandemic.
The positives we can take from the pandemic
Digital transformation has been on the agenda for most businesses for many years. Older, more established SMEs and large businesses have recognised the importance of updating the processes and systems they rely on. To that end, the pandemic has not necessarily opened organisations’ eyes to the need to move into the digital age.
What the pandemic has done, however, is break down cultural barriers. Indeed, often putting risky new ideas into practice can be cumbersome work; within corporates, large-scale IT projects can take years of planning and consideration due to multiple layers of input, sign-off and buy-in. As a result of red tape and internal hierarchies within organisations, it can be easy for big businesses to fall behind the curve when it comes to digitising their offerings.
The aforementioned Studio Graphene survey showed that 45% of British businesses believe that a risk-averse culture in their organisation has typically made it more challenging to innovate and embrace new ideas in the past. Now, though, businesses seem to be changing this all too familiar narrative; 65% of the business leaders quizzed stated that the pandemic has incentivised them to bolster their efforts and improve on their digital infrastructures.
Looking ahead to the future
It is evident that the pandemic has prompted businesses to trial risky and novel ideas that might have otherwise been shunned in favour of a safer approach. But will this impetus be sustained as we slowly transition back to life as it was?
Although the pandemic has presented businesses the world over with a vast array of new concerns, it is clear that they are already beginning to take on board the lessons learned throughout the crisis. In particular, the research suggests that companies are acknowledging the importance of digital products and services: over half (55%) of business leaders said that in light of the pandemic, fostering innovation is now a key focus within their organisation.
The majority of organisations also stated that they are now more likely to invest in technology to bolster their internal operations, with similar numbers vowing to dedicate more resource to developing new and improved customer-facing technology in the next 12 months.
Ultimately, innovation has risen out of the disruption, and organisations have come together with innovative ideas to solve the many problems presented by COVID-19. This is reassuring news, and the steps already taken by businesses will go a long way to serve their future endeavours.
But it is now up to businesses to ensure this progress is sustained. It is only by ramping up their investment in technology that businesses can safeguard operations in the long-term.
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.