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  • Writer's picturedina mehulic

Digital transformation in the age of Corona

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting millions of lives with a profound impact on social life and the economy.

How can companies adapt to this crisis and will the crisis actually end up driving the digital transformation?

Today there are more people working from home than ever before.  As schools shift fully to online teaching, farmer’s markets transition to online ordering and delivery and actors switch to performing before empty theaters to an online audience; we’re seeing the most rapid organisational change in our history. More than ever, businesses are struggling to keep up with technology and its impact on customers behaviours and despite the great urgency of this topic, decision-makers are still struggling to develop viable digital transformation strategies. Conversely, 70% of digital decision-makers internationally are in agreement: The pandemic will accelerate the pace of digital transformation. (DMEXCO 2020 Trend Survey)

Digital transformation has a wide range definitions as a result of multiple and diverse areas of impact. From the digital transformation of societies, industries, economies, businesses to individuals. The effects of digital transformation span from learning how to become a more flexible and collaborative organization, to building people skills and leadership awareness to commit to lean and agile ways of working. More than the companies technological advancement, digital transformation is built on the strategies that their leaders deploy. Therefore, I would go to define Digital transformation as a constantly evolving and comprehensive technology-enabled business transformation. By addressing the strategic roles of new digital technologies companies can create value through enhancing customer experience, streamlining operations or creating completely new business models and revenue streams.

Successful companies have quickly learnt that digital disruption is the foundation on which new business strategies can be built. The driving motives behind disruptive innovation and transformation are, as we have now (1) a crisis as a strong catalyst for driving change, or other times simply (2) a need for new organisational strategies and ways of working due to changing consumer behaviours. The hyper connected consumers have completely altered the way companies have to interact and create value for their customers.

Todays empowered consumers expect companies not only to react to their demands, but also to anticipate their future needs putting immense pressure on companies to respond both accordingly and quickly. More than ever, technological solutions such as data-driven automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), offer much needed solutions in these times of crises and social distancing. Such an example is the Croatian "virtual doctor" Andrija, the first COVID-19 Digital Assistant powered by AI. This digital assistant advises people on how to diagnose and manage suspected COVID-19 infections and therefore supports the overwhelmed healthcare system ( Andrija the COVID-19 digital assistant)


Moreover, the crises is not only digitising the relationship between companies and customer alone, but urges the transformation of the companies relationship with their employee. Yes, communication and collaboration tools such as Zoom and Slack keep the communication and collaboration running smoothly. But some businesses still intrinsically require physical closeness — think of the tourism industry, hotels, wellness and recreation resorts, restaurants and traditional retail. Here the stakes for digital transformation have increased dramatically. For them the transformation of their operating system is not simply a way towards higher performance, but a fundamental measure for worker employment, public health and overall survival. 

Although each industry and organisation faces its own unique challenges, there are certain common barriers that companies face - resistance to organisational change and low senior executive support. So let’s see how we can lower the barriers of change and define the organisations direction of change. I want to focus on four steps: understand your customer needs, engage your stakeholders, change your culture and build for sustainable change.


As these new times we live in create completely new needs, pay close attention to your customer wants. A key focus of action for companies will be the ability to understand these new user needs and to adapt their offers to their changed behaviours. Using analytics to bring together customer data from various sources will help companies generate knowledge about the customer and better anticipate future behaviour. Human-centric design will be more important than ever. The scope of a digital transformation should be designed to initiate a human-centred change process within the organization’s internal structures as well as their business model.


The first step to mitigating resistance is to identify what (and who) is causing it. In order to make the shift from traditional to new digital businesses all stakeholders and decision makers have to be on the same page. It is the responsibility of the leadership team to recognize frustration and rise above them to create effective, long-term solutions that are scalable, executable, and realistic. The leadership team should clearly communicate the urgency for change and rise above cultural barriers, resistance to change and silo-mentality and create strategic long-term commitments.


Overcoming the barriers of a disengaged culture within a company, as well as managers unwillingness to experiment with new business models can be navigated by communicating clearly and establishing new routines and tools. Changing a employee behaviour and the way things are done, will gradually change the company’s values and ultimately change the culture. Successful execution is reinforced with agents and experts who can develop a business case for change, maintained by executive support, fast decision making and cross-functional teams.


Embedding KPIs into an organisation is a vital factor in sustaining meaningful change and it can empower employees across the organisation to continually iterate and develop new solutions. An agile company with an entrepreneurial mindset will actively support continuous transformation of both its assets and organisational structures.

Regardless of industry, company size, leadership team experience, or digital maturity of the organisation; resistance to change is bound to happen. This means that a transformational process must start by lowering the barriers to change for the key stakeholders and decision makers, by creating a clear understanding of the desired goal. So start by identifying the strengths and weaknesses, build a core stakeholder coalition and build a strategic plan for change. The best thing to do in a time of uncertainty is to keep moving forward, as well as asking yourself how your business can adapt to the new enviroment we live in; because new challenges mean new markets and new opportunities. 

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