Technological change is a major concern for modern businesses. Today, cutting-edge advancements happen at dizzying speed. Upgrading tools and processes is a near-constant process for businesses that want to remain current and take advantage of the benefits offered by innovation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased pressure on companies to take digital transformation even further. The global crisis has led companies to embrace remote work and to adjust hiring models, among other developments. Pandemic-inspired pressures are accelerating digital transformation efforts, and global spending on digital technologies and services is anticipated to grow at a rate of 10.4% in 2020.
Amid an uncertain economic environment and massive market disruption, businesses unable to pivot their operations can maintain them and thrive. The uncertainty created by COVID-19 has shown more than ever that businesses must be agile and adaptable if they’re to succeed in the long term.
What will this mean for 2021 and beyond, especially as the world adapts to the “new normal” following the pandemic? This guide explores how the concept of digital transformation has changed and defines the key components of this revolution that will define the future of business.
Digital transformation redefined: Envisioning opportunities
Historically, the term “digital transformation” referred primarily to an organization’s efforts to implement novel tools. Now, it isn’t just about getting up to date with the latest technology. Digital transformation is a foundational change, reshaping how an organization innovates and operates every day—and ultimately changing how it delivers value to customers.
This expanded understanding of digital transformation creates new possibilities for businesses, especially in the unpredictable post-pandemic landscape. Below, discover some of the specific trends that help to shape the evolving definition of digital transformation and learn how you can harness their power to keep your business agile and thriving in the modern world.
Digital transformation today: Trends for 2023 and the years to come
It used to be that the organizations primarily concerned with digital transformation were tech-specific. Now, digital advances define the future for businesses across a range of industries. These trends will shape how companies of all sizes and across all fields will operate in the coming years.
Artificial intelligence is getting even smarter
Artificial intelligence (AI) is relevant everywhere, from e-commerce to cybersecurity, education, health care, and more. Today, AI helps to power tools like chatbots, smart assistants, and even automated vehicles. In the future, AI-powered technology known as “emotion AI” will focus on understanding human responses and reactions—a significant advantage for businesses wanting to better connect with consumers digitally.
Tech researchers have long struggled with computers’ inability to comprehend human emotions and how they trigger events. However, modern AI embraces human-centered design and adds an emotional quotient (EQ). Human-experience platforms will eventually recognize, analyze, and use emotional data gathered from real people to determine how to respond appropriately.
For example, a wearable device can indicate a person’s stress or anxiety level based on heart rate. Here’s another example of emotion AI in action: Call center agents can use special software to identify a customer’s mood on the phone based on the tone and timbre of their voice and the length of their phrasing. The call center agent gets this information in real time, allowing them to adapt to the other person’s mood accordingly.
The bottom line for businesses: Organizations should start exploring AI solutions now. For example, customer service across many industries can be streamlined with the help of chatbots. It will be easier to implement more advanced AI-driven technology if the existing operational infrastructure is in place to support their use.
Big data is going to bring even bigger value
It’s easier than ever to gather data from the world around us. Modern technology and improvements in computer processing speed and capacity mean businesses can gather mass amounts of data about their consumers—and use this to gain a competitive edge on the market.
For example, say a person downloads a customer loyalty app from their local supermarket. Every time they visit the store, they scan their smartphone to get points and discounts via the app. With this information, the store gains valuable insights into consumer habits, like what days they shop and what they buy. They can then target promotions accordingly. From tourism to retail and beyond, all kinds of businesses can benefit from the valuable insights of big data.
Big data will become more useful thanks to augmented analytics, allowing large swaths of complex data from diverse streams to be quickly organized and analyzed. Say you have a business intelligence platform that gathers data from divergent sources, such as websites and apps. First, IT professionals must prepare that data (export datasets, structure them, and convert them into a usable format). Then, data scientists must identify patterns in the data—a time-consuming task when done manually. With augmented analytics, data preparation and analysis are automated using AI.
The bottom line for businesses: Organizations need to prioritize collecting and using valuable data as soon as possible. As analytic and predictive tools become more powerful, businesses will need strong data management strategies to compete and survive.
Data security platforms are becoming more powerful and proactive
One of the biggest hurdles facing big data is trust. Consumers are becoming increasingly hesitant to share information with businesses. Meanwhile, organizations realize that every technological disruption they incorporate may lead to the possibility of gaining or losing consumer trust. Data security is no longer an issue of legal compliance. It’s become a business-critical objective.
As such, data security platforms are gaining importance. The great news is that this means these platforms are also becoming more powerful and proactive. For example, blockchains and distributed ledgers offer a more secure means of data storage and protection. These technological advancements will prove especially useful in facilitating trust-based transactions, such as payments. Given that almost every business now uses digital payment methods, this is big news across every industry.
The bottom line for businesses: Organizations should reassess their data security needs and capacity regularly. Running simulations now can identify gaps that existing and future tools on the data security market should be able to meet.
Automation will continue to streamline critical business functions
Robotic process automation allows for repetitive business processes, like some elements of data management, to be automated. This frees up workers to concentrate on more complex tasks. The shift toward automation will impact every industry and many facets of business.
Take marketing, for instance. Marketing automation enables marketing teams to increase efficiency. For example, modern tools allow email campaigns to be sent automatically at a set time and date and for teams to track a campaign’s success. Automation can also be used to collect data and better target consumers accordingly.
For example, say a consumer visits a content marketing website. They want to download a white paper from that website about search engine optimization (SEO) marketing, so they sign up to the website’s email list. In exchange, they receive the white paper for free. This can trigger a marketing automation workflow in which future emails are tailored to the website visitor’s previously expressed interest, covering topics like “How to Use SEO Keywords,” “Top SEO Trends,” etc.
The bottom line for businesses: Organizations should get comfortable with automation now. Identifying sectors in your business that can benefit from automation, like sales and marketing, is a good starting point. Around 30% of workers say their businesses have saved money due to automation, and agree it’s well worth investing in.
Global collaboration is becoming more widely accepted
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are transitioning to more remote work. Google even proactively announced its teams would be permitted to work from home until summer 2021. The trend toward telecommuting is also opening organizations up to collaborating with individuals located further afield. If you’re going to talk to someone via Zoom instead of in-person, it doesn’t matter whether they’re sitting in the same city—or even the same continent—as you.
Even after the pandemic ends, businesses are likely to continue employing more remote workers. This uptick in digital hiring and communication tool allows for distributed, global teams and facilitates successful collaboration with independent talent. Video conferencing technologies make real-time collaboration easy, while project management platforms easily accommodate asynchronous communication.
The bottom line for businesses: In the future, hybrid teams are likely to become part of the “new normal.” Organizations can start building and managing hybrid teams now to prepare for the shift to this new norm. Upwork provides a streamlined portal to access global, independent tech talent and other skilled professionals worldwide.
The digital and “real” worlds are continuing to merge
Don’t assume that the whole world is going digital. The “real world” is still very relevant to businesses, and organizations that manage to find ways to bridge the physical and digital are thriving. The success seen in interconnecting brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores is one positive example.
“Digital twins” are expected to pave the way moving forward. A digital twin is simply a copy of a physical object, ecosystem, product, or process. With a digital twin product, a business can test alterations without running the cost-risk associated with making such adjustments to the actual physical object.
When it comes to complex and expensive items, like cars, for example, this is a big boon. Digital twins will optimize manufacturing, streamline supply chains, and more. Digital twins can further be used for innovation in terms of big-picture operations, such as testing out entirely new business models.
The bottom line for businesses: The promise offered by digital twins shows how important it is to be bold when setting the scope for your digital transformation. Continuously identify areas in need of improvement, whether it’s products or processes. Finding ways to make small tweaks now will prepare you to tap into the promise of digital twins technology later.
Advancement is becoming increasingly exponential
COVID-19 has forced organizations to be more proactive about digital transformation. It’s also shown more clearly just how fast advancement occurs nowadays. In the future, different types of technology will evolve more and more rapidly and in parallel.
Advancement is no longer linear but exponential. This means businesses can tap into an ever-growing suite of technological and digital tools to streamline and improve operations, innovations, and consumer interactions. However, it also makes it harder to keep up with the rapid rate of change.
Take the rate of computing power, for example. In 2003, the first full genome sequencing was completed, costing billions of dollars. In 2006, it cost mere millions. In 2015, it was thousands. Today, you can run a full genome sequence for a few hundred bucks. Businesses now expect a rapid rate of change in computing power and will proactively include the capacity for such advancement into their products.
The bottom line for businesses: Organizations must implement digital transformation now, keeping in mind that this is not only about adopting new technologies but also reformulating their day-to-day operations and the way they connect with consumers. Given the increasingly rapid pace of development, businesses can’t risk falling behind, as they’ll quickly get in over their heads.
Transformation requires the right talent
Keeping up with these significant changes will require organizations to reconfigure how they channel their resources. If you need help accelerating your digital transformation in 2021 and beyond, turn to independent professionals.
You can use digital staff augmentation to fill gaps with external talent. Upwork gives you access to the top technical talent and other skilled professionals you need from a global talent pool. Find out how you can use Upwork to implement and accelerate digital change today.
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