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Couriers delivering hundreds of hurriedly purchased laptops, family bandwidth issues, password resets, new hacking tactics and trying to conduct business without physical contact. The last few months have been an acid test for business continuity plans. The results have been hugely varied across our Islands with some businesses having a seamless transition to home and remote working, and at the other extreme, some being unable to do so for many weeks.

Prior to this recent episode, digital was the new buzzword at board level, having finally moved out of the IT basement. It is clear that board room members are now fully cognizant of the need for remote working capability. Therefore, it is imperative for senior management to maintain the digital transformation momentum gained over the last couple of months. A successful digital transformation initiative will require the whole leadership team to engage with it – not just the IT team.

What has been interesting are the ancillary challenges that accompany the new method of working. What do we do with regards to printing, wet ink signatures, internal controls, use of cloud, document management systems and online interaction platforms? The list goes on. Key decisions have been made on these points in short order and in many cases, this has accelerated projects that had previously been simmering on the back burner. 

 According to a KPMG research on COVID-19 Insights for CIOs and IT executives, over 40% of companies were actively investigating automation, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Since February 2020, early indications show that the number has increased to over 55%. Closer to home, our sense is that this proportionate increase is considerably greater but focusing on matters such as the cloud, single source of truth and the use of Robotic Process Automation.

 The rapid adoption of remote access solutions, remote collaboration tools and cloud services helped businesses build resilience in the face of COVID-19 induced challenges. Several businesses are allowing employees to use personal devices and have enabled the use of home networks for an extended period. Local regulators such as Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GSFC) and Jersey Financial Services Commission (JFSC) adopted the use of electronic signatures on applications made to the commissions. The retail sector was not spared either with many outlets resorting to e-commerce and “contactless” delivery. There has also been a greater acceptance of digital transactions as cash exchange is a hygiene risk. It is undeniable that businesses are adopting and leveraging digital technologies and tools to enable them to meet customers’ evolving needs better and compete effectively in the marketplace.

Clearly, there has been an increased acceptance of digital transformation initiatives but as we prepare for the new reality, post-COVID-19, there might be a strong temptation for businesses to pull back on transformation programs to improve cash flow and contain expenses. Cutting digital transformation programmes may seem appropriate in the current environment but this may be counterproductive if future productivity is sacrificed. When reviewing one’s transformation program during times of uncertainty, it is better to ask, “how can our transformation program best serve us in tomorrow’s environment?” Rather than slashing transformation programs, a better response is to rework the transformation backlog to prioritise today and tomorrow’s needs and continue to deliver on high priority outcomes that enable the business for the future.

Assuming you pull back on digital transformation initiatives now, what would you do in the wake of a second wave, a third or some other unimaginable eventuality? We can all do something to be better prepared to ensure flawless transitions and minimise impact to the business. In fact, those that embrace digital transformation, as we have seen with a number of businesses, can do even better during a crisis, not only because they are better prepared than the competition, but also because they can offer services in a more efficient way.

Much has been said about digital transformation, but to date, many local businesses have been slow to embrace it. In part, this is because the phrase itself creates images of complexity that tend to induce decision paralysis. COVID re-prioritised the items in the backlog based on their business impact. KPMG recognises that CIOs and IT leaders are now faced with complex demands and challenges in implementing digital transformation strategies and this is where we can help. Our professionals help businesses to harness new technology and maximise the strategic value of their technology investments. 

In conclusion, remote working is only a small part of the digital transformation. With a continuously shifting landscape, embracing the full potential of digital transformation is one of the best ways of enabling our businesses to survive the impacts of disruption.

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