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Even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, there will be no going back from the digital transformation it has wrought, says tech heads of leading companies across sectors

The pandemic has made digital strategy a board-level discussion in companies. It’s thus clear that we have come to a point of no return as far as digitalisation is concerned.

The change is permanent
Even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, there will be no going back from the digital transformation it has wrought, says tech heads of leading companies across sectors.

The change is permanent

Most companies were already pursuing digital strategies well before Covid-19 struck. But the pandemic has forced them to greatly accelerate the pace of digitalisation. It has made digital strategy a CEO and a board-level agenda, increasing the responsibilities of chief technology officers. How has the digital strategy of companies changed with the onset of Covid-19 and the social distancing it has led to? Can earlier workflows be adapted to the new technologies? What are the challenges of the digital transformation journey? What are the main digital needs of team leaders in an organisation?

These were among the questions debated at a discussion of CTOs of leading companies across sectors, organised by The Economic Times and Kissflow, a global SaaS company offering collaborative work management platforms to customers. The discussion was moderated by Alokesh Bhattacharyya, Senior Editor, The Economic Times.

The participants emphasised the increased acceptance of digital processes by consumers following the pandemic. “Digital settlement of insurance claims at our company has risen from near-zero before the pandemic to 92 per cent now,” said Ashish Gupta, CTO, Max Bupa Health Insurance. “Digital acquisition of customers has grown from around 45 per cent to over 90 per cent.” Abonty Banerjee, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer, Tata Capital, agreed. “We were steadily growing in terms of customers who preferred the digital channel, the number rising from 15-20 per cent to 50-55 per cent,” she said. “But when our branches had to shut down, it rose to 100 per cent.”

The change is permanent
Employees have risen to the occasion and acquired new skills to cope with the increased digitalisation. And Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Titan elaborated how employees at his jewellery stores have acquired new skills as they adapted to virtual demonstrations of products. “It is not the same. Selling on video requires mastering the visual medium, knowing how a piece of jewellery being shown appears to a customer seeing it on his mobile.” Customer behaviour too has changed. “Our products are such that customers feel the need to physically check them out before buying,” he added. “But their store visits have become much shorter than before, as they have already checked out the products on our portal and prepared a wish list.”

All agreed that there would be no going back on digitalisation even after the pandemic ended. Panellists agreed that both customers and employees have realised the benefits of digitalisation. Neil Miller, Director of the Digital Workplace Alliance, which is a resource for CEOs who are building digital workplaces for the future, maintained that the physical office would never return to its former glory of being the core of a company’s functioning. “In the future, the physical office will be like an add-on feature, one we can use but not the core,” he said.

But the shift has brought its own challenges, which companies are learning to adjust to. “One challenge is that of handling employees who came on board after the pandemic began and who have never interacted physically with any of their colleagues,” said Banerjee. “Our induction processes are not equipped to handle this, but we will learn.” With employees physically distant, there is also need to improve collaboration processes. “What passes for collaboration now is actually just communication,” said Suresh Sambandam, CEO, Kissflow. “We need to move to real collaboration, which is what a digital workplace provides. We should not have to switch between as many digital tools as we currently do while collaborating. We should be able to bring all of them together in one single unified piece. We need means by which domain knowledge can be directly transferred to workplace processes.”

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