Becoming a fully digital company

How businesses can emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with transformed processes and new opportunities

4 minute read


Even companies that thought they were digitally advanced have been offered a reality check by the coronavirus. Take, for example, the digital tokens that many businesses use to enable secure connections to their systems. In some cases employees, suddenly forced to isolate at home, couldn’t gain access because they had left their tokens at their office. Companies without backup plans scrambled to keep crucial processes moving, says Tom Durkin, Global Product Head of CashPro at Bank of America.


Tokens were just the tip of the iceberg. “We’ve been talking about digital transformation for the past decade,” says Daniel Newman, Principle Analyst at Futurum Research, an advisory firm focused on digital innovation. “But this took about 10 years of expected transformation and prompted businesses to do it in a manner of days, weeks and months.” As a result, businesses are adapting quickly and embracing technology more fully. And few are contemplating a return to the old ways of doing things. Rather, as they transition gradually out of crisis mode, they are taking stock of what they have learned and looking at what still needs to be done to become fully digital. 


(source: Getty Images)


Positioning for recovery


As companies prepare for economic recovery, they’re getting better at giving employees full access to essential digital tools, data and other information. They are also keeping track of who has access to what, Durkin says.


Access: With many companies now relying on digital tools to execute transactions, track inventory and interact with customers, managers need to ensure that the right tools are in the right hands. Clarify who is involved and what is needed for all business actions, Durkin suggests, and establish backup plans for times when people who ordinarily handle a particular task aren’t available. Employees who may need to step in to facilitate payments should be trained and have ready access to the necessary systems and tools.


Partners: Partners outside the company may be powerful resources that can aid in digital transformation. Your banker, for example, can provide access to tools that can significantly increase efficiency for treasury operations, mobile payments and other financial aspects of your business. If you use tokens, there are mobile options that can offer alternatives in case you leave them at the office. It is important to establish these protocols before the next emergency arises.

You might already be using digital tools to process payments or track inventory, but there are likely additional features of these tools that you aren’t taking advantage of.


Cyber security: Companies will need to focus on good cyber security hygiene, Durkin says, which could include raising worker awareness of digital assets and establishing multiple approvers for certain transactions. Workers at home may be more vulnerable to phishing and other tools of cyber crime, Newman points out, noting that companies may need to adapt their policies and increase education about the risks of remote work environments. 


Employees need to be sensitive to the data they’re collecting and how to protect it.


Preparing for a long-term digital future


To take advantage of a fully digital future, businesses should actively explore ways to harness digital advances in more aspects of their business. Advances that may have seemed out of reach even a few years ago are now more accessible and necessary.


Data: Businesses can and should invest in applications and tools that help them mine their own data to better understand customers and trends, Newman says. Software tools that analyze data, often using visualization, are widely available. As data capabilities continue to improve, companies that fail to keep up “are competing with one arm tied behind their back,” he adds.


Artificial intelligence: AI has multiple potential applications for a wide variety of businesses, Newman says. Businesses with largely online sales processes can use conversational AI to answer customer questions, gauge the severity of particular customer concerns and redirect questions to the appropriate person. Some software also incorporates AI in the form of recommendation engines, so businesses can make suggestions based on customer preferences. That can be particularly helpful when face-to-face customer conversations may be limited.


Robotic process animation: RPA software can be programmed to perform respective tasks, helping businesses streamline routine processes, save money and free up workers for higher-value work. “These are all technologies that companies should and can be considering now as part of their post-pandemic playbook,” Newman says.


As companies move into recovery, they can benefit from maintaining the flexibility that has allowed them to adapt thus far. “The challenge now is to find how they can embrace what they were able to do to be more adaptive and agile,” Durkin says. Successful companies can emerge from this period of dizzying change stronger and better prepared for whatever lies ahead. 


  • Digital transformation
  • Business continuity planning

Tom Durkin, Global Product Head of CashPro at Bank of America

Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst, Futurum Research