Digital acceleration in the time of the coronavirus: Europe

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No business strategist could have predicted that the world would have been plunged into the economic and social crisis brought on by a rapidly evolving pandemic, even in Europe, where the spread of covid-19 began to wreak havoc almost two decades ago. ‘a year. Even those with the clearest crystal balls would not have been able to avoid the impact of a virulent disease that cost the global economy 14% of its working hours in the second quarter of this year. , according to the International Labor Organization – that’s equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs. A recent survey of 600 tech decision makers around the world, conducted by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with VMware, found that 67% of European respondents had business continuity plans in place, although less than half of ‘among them find them effective.

That said, a segment of technology leaders have seen their continuity efforts bear fruit: European organizations that have already invested in digital transformation – defined in the survey as efforts to integrate modern technology into processes and strategies. to achieve business goals. These organizations have fully implemented at least one digital transformation project, all say their stimulus plans have been effective, and more than a third say they are very effective. This cohort of “digital leaders” – representing around 15% of European respondents – demonstrates an important intersection between planning for business disruption and a commitment to invest in enabling technologies. These efforts have allowed digital leaders to absorb the brunt of the pandemic and move to remote work processes and e-commerce with relative ease.

‘We had to reinvent ourselves’

Digital leaders in Europe and elsewhere were therefore largely prepared for what they hadn’t expected: an almost complete shift to e-commerce and working from home. “We have seen over the last few months a dramatic change in the way businesses operate and the way people operate. We all look through the glass: using digital channels to work from home, bank from home, shop from home, interact socially from home, ”observes Mike Dargan, IT director of Zurich investment bank UBS . The company’s investment in technology of around $ 3.5 billion per year has given its team the capabilities to make the change. “The way we operated, we could have virtually anyone working from home – over 95% of our employees can work remotely.” UBS received up to three million calls on the Skype communication service per week and, at one point, a 70% increase in customer engagement thanks to its mobile app.

UBS’s experience was largely in line with the survey results: Ensuring that the infrastructure remains strong and that critical applications stay online throughout the lockdowns that followed were top priorities for European respondents. A total of 73% say their responses to the pandemic have led them to step up their digital transformation efforts. But they have a solid foundation of digital investment – and that, in turn, has helped them get through the upheaval. “Fifteen years ago it would have a completely different outcome: we wouldn’t be culturally or technically prepared,” says João Günther Amaral, director of development at Sonae, a Portuguese retail, communications and finance conglomerate. “We wouldn’t have the capacity to send 6,000 people home and get them to work immediately and efficiently.”

Amaral says “digitally assisted detention,” as he calls it, has worked surprisingly well, in part because expectations for working almost entirely online were low. “We were really surprised by the quality of everything: the quality of the video conferencing and collaboration tools that most of the employees had never used before, the quality of life without travel. With all this technology, we manage to create a good overall quality and a good experience for our employees and customers.

Sonae’s diverse activities – from closed shopping centers to open food stores – have had to adapt to the new reality. “We had to reinvent ourselves. We had to be creative, ”says Amaral. “People have started to contact their customers through all digital channels. People started to open windows in their stores. So the store was closed, but you could shop safely through a window.

Amaral describes how the company developed an existing e-commerce app into a fully mobile customer engagement tool: “Our app already supported contactless payments, but it was really important for our customers to be able to use their phones throughout. of their journey, both in and out of our stores: providing information, supporting new events and helping people feel safe. The growing demand for online retail has placed enormous pressure on Sonae’s supply chain management and other IT management systems. “Suddenly our IT systems had to support eight times what we were supporting before,” says Amaral.

Download the full report.

This content was produced by Insights, the personalized content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial staff of MIT Technology Review.

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