COVID-19 may be the tipping point that forces businesses to abandon the familiar and embrace change, according to Olivia Bushe, CEO of Irish process automation software company FlowForma.
With people losing their jobs and so many companies struggling to survive, it’s hard to take positives out of coronavirus, but the crisis is forcing organizations into new ways of working that will benefit them and their employees in the long run.
The harsh reality is that the companies that have invested in remote working technology are in a much better position right now than those that haven’t.
For the best part of 20 years, businesses have been talking about how increasingly fast and resilient communication networks will enable us to work remotely. The evolution of the cloud and the ability to access services from anywhere further eroded the idea that work was a place you go, but it took Covid-19 to truly break down office walls.
With ubiquitous networks, better communications and cloud services comes digital enablement, a ‘hot tech topic’ that’s topped CEO to-do lists for many years. In business jargon it’s the ‘digital transformation journey’ that everyone is talking about, even though they’re not sure if they can afford a ticket or know the destination.
For the many organizations that stick stubbornly to the familiar, Covid-19 may prove to be the most compelling business case yet to jump onboard, not least because they have no choice if they want to stay in business. I suspect there will be no turning back after the next few months, and changes in the way companies operate and their employees work will become permanent.
Change will start with remote working solutions and quickly expand when companies discover the benefits of a new wave of digital solutions that are about more than working through a pandemic.
Some long-standing bastions of business may start to crumble, from an over-dependency on paperwork to the fundamental role of having an office in the first place.
From Paper To Digital
For twenty years, organizations have clung on to paperwork despite the best efforts of vendors to sell them the concept of the paperless office. Not even the first mutterings of a ‘green economy’ a decade ago could stop the relentless use of printers and fax machines.
More recently, the transition has picked up pace with the advent of digital processes and automated workflows, moving documents and forms around a business without recourse to printing, breaking down silos that have traditionally separated departments.
Companies that have explored these new types of document solutions will have seen ‘business as usual’ benefits in the current crisis that firms with empty offices and untouched paperwork are missing. Is there a CFO in any business that won’t now be willing to at least entertain a move away from paper, particularly as the green agenda has been reinvigorated by climate change?
Olivia Bushe, Chief Executive Officer, FlowForma
From Data To Insights
GDPR and regulatory compliance was the last time big change was forced on businesses, and it also pushed a move to digital. Necessitating greater transparency around the processing of data and the way personal information is stored, it instilled in businesses a need for greater oversight and better governance – easier with electronic records than paper ones.
Once you take this step, the destination of the digital transformation journey becomes clearer. You’re heading towards better business intelligence through data analytics, turning information into insight for more informed business decision-making.
The great enabler for this is the structured data captured in business systems, and increasingly, the unstructured data on the internet. Now you are into a whole other journey, involving AI, machine learning and predictive analytics.
From Office To Home
Along with broadband connectivity, the single biggest enabler for people working at home is the cloud. The many companies that have signed up to Software-as-a-Service applications like Office 365, Salesforce and FlowForma Process Automation are able to ensure their employees have access to familiar tools.
It’s not just applications that are available as a subscription services – communication solutions, compute power and storage have all been migrated from on-premise locations to various cloud platforms. With all the systems and solutions migrating to the cloud and data centres, employees were becoming the last best reason to have an office, and now that’s up for grabs.
As a lot of employees prove they can work from home and be trusted, company owners might be inclined to rethink the role of a physical building in their business and consider downsizing. The ramifications could be far reaching – a boost for rural Ireland as homeworkers relocate and the end of urban congestion among them.
Another view is that little will change, that employees will be thrilled to get back to their workplace and the company of other human beings.
I’m sure there will be that bounce when all this is over, but my hunch is that it will be a small blip at the start of huge change. The way we work will never be the same again.