The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered an unexpected shock to businesses of all sizes and all industries across the UK. Our lives, the news agenda and economies around the world have all been disrupted, putting business resiliency to the test.

Now, and several months into our new normal, organisations have the chance to reflect on the pressures of lockdown, which have highlighted the importance of working remotely, business agility and digital customer engagement, which all businesses must pay attention to. In a recent survey of over 300 UK companies, which IBM commissioned from Omdia, 78% of all businesses believed their continuity/disaster recovery plans were inadequate or short-sighted.

They were largely and overall unprepared. But now is the time for businesses to move forward; a chance to apply the lessons they’ve learnt – the data and insights they’ve found – and ensure they use technology to mitigate the impact of the crisis, which 88% of businesses agreed that technology did.

As we emerge stronger from the pandemic, businesses must rethink their business and digital strategies. Organisations of the future must factor in these insights and innovate to reflect changes in customer behaviour, supply chains and ongoing operational conditions to ensure they’re protected against crises going forward. Remaining resilient, flexible and agile is essential, as well as recognising the importance of IT in the organisation to enable this in areas such as customer engagement and product development. These are all essential steps to help organisations thrive in a post-lockdown world and prepare for a future of possibilities unleashed by other emerging technologies such as 5G and quantum.

As the capital unites to celebrate London Tech Week, and I begin my new role as IBM’s new UK and Ireland CEO, I wanted to share some further thoughts that came from our research, as well as to provide businesses with advice to help them go from survive to thrive as they accelerate digital transformation.

Survive and revive

Businesses of all kinds have entered survival mode. In fact, many businesses have used technology as a life-jacket to bolster digital capability and help ensure business continuity for employees, customers, supply chains and operations, and ultimately to help their overall survival.

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Most businesses we spoke to (85%) shifted to remote working through new investments, with more than half expecting their employees to continue working remotely in the future. This investment varied in different industries. For the telecoms and media sector, our results found that only 17% of companies were fully prepared to manage their employees working remotely, compared to 39% of companies in the financial services industry.

Nevertheless, organisations who were further ahead with their digital transformation programmes prior to lockdown have learnt that digital readiness was key. Having the technology already in place to switch from the office to remote working helped them to quickly react to the crisis. It’s therefore important to rethink the role that technology plays in the organisation, as not merely an enabler of business operations, but as critical to business strategy. 

Renew and thrive

There is now a unique opportunity for organisations to refocus their digital transformation efforts on customers. Businesses would be well-advised to place greater emphasis on capabilities that deliver direct value to the business frontline – particularly in engaging customers and better serving the demands of remote customers. 

It’s also an important moment to rethink workflows. Our research showed that the pandemic has led businesses to adopt hybrid strategies and shift many operations to the cloud. Most (95%) UK companies agreed that moving their offerings to the cloud during the pandemic was beneficial, with 94% of respondents anticipating further investment to accelerate recovery, which will also be scaled up with investments in edge computing and IoT to help develop digital platforms.

An example of where this has happened recently is with Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), which has accelerated its transformation to an open hybrid cloud environment. This has consequently reduced CCEP’s operational expenses, increased IT resiliency and leveraged analytics and artificial intelligence as part of its daily operations.

To emerge stronger and smarter from these times, organisations need to align customer needs, digital priorities, funding, skills, capacity, and strategic objectives with these new priorities in mind. Increased use of data and AI has become essential to help organisations garner insights that allow them to be more agile and better serve customers. Our study confirmed this, with 57% of respondents intending to invest in business-wide AI, both embedded in applications and as part of a business data platform, with supply chain and customer insights as primary use cases.

Digital leadership: Using tech for good

We’ve also seen that technology has been used for good, and has been vital to the NHS in handling a myriad of challenges, like the unprecedented number of patient requests hospital staff had to deal with. For Royal Marsden, a London-based specialist cancer treatment hospital, they adopted virtual agent technology and launched Maisie, an English-speaking virtual assistant which ensured that key workers had access to the latest Covid-19 HR-related information and any updates to the hospital’s evolving workplace guidance.

Despite the challenges since the start of the pandemic, we have continued to be inspired by the resilience and creativity of businesses across the UK, as well as government and wider society. We are helping clients by enabling them to navigate this next phase of transformation, as they build an agile organisation powered by data, AI insights and the cloud. Next, quantum computing will become part of the journey to the Cognitive Enterprise.

There still remain many challenges on the road ahead, but Covid-19 has marked a clear step-change in the road to digital transformation. Organisations of the future need to be driven by innovation, and I am proud that technology is at the heart of this, helping to build resiliency for all businesses in the future.

Sreeram Visvanathan is CEO of IBM UK and Ireland

Read more: From construction to engineering, the pandemic shows why digital transformation is more important than ever