Which tech should your business invest in now?

Why now is the time to put the tech foundations in place for your post-coronavirus future

As the pandemic continues, businesses are asking which technologies they need to invest in to ensure a sustainable and profitable future.

According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), COVID-19 has accelerated the investments businesses are making in their digital transformation, with 90% of managers and 85% of employees saying this is a vital component of what their companies need to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

For many organisations, this is a case of rearranging budgets and making swifter choices, rather than picking out technologies that weren’t previously on their roadmap, as Karalee Close, managing director, senior partner and global leader of BCG’s Technology Advantage Practice, explains.

“Many businesses are re-shaping their tech spending as a direct consequence of the pandemic. Making investments in technologies for the near term are a priority. Technologies to help businesses better use data is a massive focus right now,” she tells IT Pro.

“When I do roundtables across the world with CIOs, they all say they were already evolving the technologies they are using – COVID has just accelerated those developments,” she continues. “They may have been testing several collaboration platforms, for instance. The pandemic has pushed them to make a choice as their workforces moved to mass remote working. So, COVID has crystalised their thinking and forced them to make fast decisions about which technologies to adopt now.”

There are also more possibilities for investment than in the past, though. Dr Alan Warr, chair of the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) Consultancy Specialist Group, explains that a plethora of new technologies have arrived at roughly the same time, “offering the prospect of a ‘golden decade’ in the 2020s for those businesses that invest well”.

“These technologies include infrastructure technologies leveraging global connectivity including cloud services, security technologies, 5G for mobile connectivity, blockchain, IoT and quantum computing,” he tells IT Pro.

In many cases, the changes taking place are a compression of existing planning and digital transformation has clearly accelerated across the spectrum for all businesses, no matter their size. Focusing on supporting employees as they transition into hybrid workforces and equipping them with the tools they need to work, communicate and collaborate, are the critical technology investments that must be made immediately.

Making your investments

In its 25th COVID-19 and the great reset briefing note, published on 30 September 2020, McKinsey talks about how this disruption brought about by the pandemic is forcing companies to rapidly change how and when they make investments in technologies: Those designed to support more agile remote working may have been planned for several years in the future before the pandemic hit, for example, but are now at the top of everyone’s investment priorities.

BCG’s Karalee Close comments: “Businesses are now investing in tools to help them manage mobile workforces and tools to help their staff collaborate, [and] what COVID-19 has done is accelerate those investments. 

“Smaller companies, in particular, have seen their budgets constrained as their revenues have declined. In a recent BCG survey of business leaders, almost half said that they expect their company’s profits to decline by more than 20%, and 90% are planning company-wide cost-reduction programs.”

How business now connects with its customers has also radically altered. Engaging with customers over multiple channels has suddenly become the norm for many enterprises.

Investing in technologies that enable customers to communicate and interact with your business is essential and investing in more automated systems can seem like an easy win. However, the pandemic has shown that consumers want human connections as well as chatbots and other self-service platforms.

Making investments in customer service technologies must not forget the human component. In its Technology Vision 2020 report, published in April, Accenture said: “Leading in the future will demand rethinking core assumptions about how an enterprise works and redefining the intersection between people and technology.” 

So far, it looks like many organisations are setting themselves up to follow this strategy. Research from managed IT services provider Transputec,for example, concluded over half (56%) of businesses would increase their spending on digital skills training as a direct response to COVID-19.

New tech roadmaps

No discussion of technology investments can ignore the cloud. As a foundation onto which many businesses had been building their digital transformation roadmaps, the cloud has taken on a new vital role as businesses develop their post-COVID-19 digital strategies.

Adrian Bradley, director, Technology Consulting, KPMG, tells IT Pro: “Cloud services will certainly be essential, particularly to enable remote working. The Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey (published September 2020) shows that 86% of IT leaders moved a significant proportion of their workforce to remote working and 43% expect more than half of their employees to work from home after the pandemic. 

“This is something that will be with us into the future. 5G is also potentially a strong enabler, but its impact will be more sector specific. In particular, it could empower businesses that need to track and trace goods through the supply chain, delivery and logistics businesses, or retailers looking to leverage IoT capabilities in-store.”

There are other, perhaps less thought of, technologies that are equally as important to success in a post-COVID world as cloud, though. Businesses that invested in microservices, API strategies and low-code approaches to application developments have been better placed to cope with the challenges the pandemic is presenting to their enterprises. 

“Building agile and scalable technology architecture will continue to be a priority as businesses look to grow their resilience,” Nick Smith, consulting partner at Deloitte, explains to IT Pro. “For instance, introducing microservice architecture will allow teams to continuously present new and updated business functionalities, without impacting service availability. Meanwhile, boosting adoption of emerging technologies, such as digital twins, IoT and RPA, will bring the ability to streamline business processes within supply chains and manufacturing in particular, driving operational efficiencies and cost optimisation.”

Making the right investments in technologies is an exercise in integration, too.

“The real transformation begins when businesses invest in the necessary skill sets, re-architect their systems and processes, and integrate their data with analytics and digital capabilities,” says Maynard Williams, a managing director for Accenture Technology, UK. 

“These capabilities far exceed the reduced operational IT costs so often desired. Organisations operating throughout the pandemic have seen that this is where the real value lies. Post-COVID-19, digital transformation will mean building resilient systems which don’t just operate during a crisis, but also continually adapt to support the business as it reinvents itself in line with customer needs.”

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There isn't a technological silver bullet that businesses can fire to ensure they thrive post-COVID-19. The reality is that investments must be strategic and highly focused. For many business leaders, this means accelerating their existing plans with modifications to accommodate long-term remote working and all that entails, including robust and crucially secure communications and collaboration tools within hosted environments.

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