digital covid19


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COVID-19 is a human tragedy – yet, also a ‘digital’ opportunity

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COVID-19 is a human tragedy – and Belgium is hard hit. Even taking into account the ongoing discussions about the way how death rate is counted in Belgium, it is clear that we experience a social and human tragedy. Currently, the urge to relaunch the economy is getting bigger and bigger. It is high time we ask ourselves what kind of economy we will support. Are we going to spend time, money and effort on a dead horse, a falling knife, an international concern that provides no guarantees where it will be next year?

If it was up to me, it would be a digital business. Preferably my neighbour. In short: my digital neighbour.

In Belgium, we live in a country where +/- 40% of companies doubt they will be able to live up to customer expectancy in the years to come. Around 3% of our (Belgian) companies are digital leaders. 18% (3% x 6!) are so-called digital laggards. They do not have ‘digital’ on their agenda. They have no digital plans. They have no initiatives. They do not invest. ?Not-at-all.

In the world around me – a young guy is bringing food to a family living next door from a great restaurant nearby, my wife is buying flowers online from her favourite local shop – I see a lot of change. I see – especially from small businesses – a strong sense of survivakl, swift decision making and quick go-to-markets.

Companies are like humans. We tend to re-invent ourselves when needed. When no need, we graze on the green pastures of convenience. In this sense, and a little cynical, Covid-19 is a big wake up call for those believing thatb digital would simply go away or thos having other priorities on their mind.

Historic reasons why digital did not take off in a lot of companies, such ‘as we do not have the necessary budgets available’, ‘rules around security & privacy are difficult’ or even ‘complex regulmation’ seem to have evaporated in just a matter of weeks and are replaced by small but bold initiatives. An ‘offline’ but grounded garden centre decided to build an online shop and shipping service in no time, often using free and low cost technology, such as WordPress and Woocommerce and the likes.

It was a painful process – but in hindsight so ‘greatly rewarding’ for all involved. And yes, the first deliveruies were not picture perfect as some plants got shuffled around a bit. They tested, learned, tested again, and – even more – – these iterations seem to continue and will probably never stop. They solved complex regulations and privacy matters on the road. As far as I gathered, they did not ponder but just solved the ‘bloody thing’.

There are a few good reasons why digital – this time – will stick and remain. There is also a good reason why we should support all these small but bold digital transformations and leave alone those that even amidst a pandemic remain laggards. Destiny is not something that happens, it is something you choose.

One. All of a sudden we are aware what sense of urgency really means. We no longer need to discuss how to create and leverage, it is simply there. The same with mandate.. I see few people complaining they do not have a mandate to come up with ideas and get things going.

Two. Strategic initiatives are scoped, planned and launched into implementation and testing in a time span of mere days and weeks. No long brainstorm sessions. NO lengthy discussions and clashing egos. Strategy – or better: a string of strategic initiatives – is brought to life in never seen time cycles.

Three. As digital is conditional to customer engagement in these times, I hear predominantly discussions about customers and customer behaviour. It’s a bit like: if you have no time to lose, you better listen to your customer. Often this is being done in an iterative manner, by building assumptions and immediately learning from customer feedback. Even yesterday, I got a call from one of my favourite restaurants asking whether we like the process. Yes, I said, the food and the process are excellent.

Tech is – at last – here. A lot of people around me stopped having fear from teh tech monster. they are embracing online tools, xml.. And even more: they are learning fast and they enjoy. They are baffled by how easy things are. And they partner up, on shipping, payment, analytics, social measurement…

Five. Perhaps the most visible in daily life: people collaborate in different ways. They skype,zoom, share… Often the so-called ‘walls of departments’ are gone. I hear manu, many conversations about ‘never going back to the old type of meetings we used to have’ or ‘being proud how efficient alignment all of a sudden became’.

I doubt that these digital newcomers will easily get back into their old habits. They ike what they are doing. They are amazed and charmed by their own gut and sense of survival and innovation – righteously so. And they should be supported, by all of us in our buying behaviour, but also by the government.

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