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Business Continuity Series: Why Digital Transformation is More Critical Now than Ever

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Customer experience has changed seemingly overnight and companies of all kinds are being forced to change the way they go to market. If a business can’t reach their customers, do they even have a business? Charlie Lawhorn, a WWT Chief Digital Advisor, talks about how companies must be creative so solve these challenges in a matter of days, what the new normal might look like in a variety of industries and what we’re learning about digital transformation that we didn’t know prior to this pandemic.

Read the transcript below:

Brian Feldt:

Hi there. My name is Brian Feldt with World Wide Technology and I'm pleased today to be joined by Charlie Lawhorn, a World Wide Technology chief digital advisor. Today we're talking about digital transformation in the wake of COVID-19 and how businesses of any kind should be thinking about approaching customers, partners and employees when it comes to resuming operations in what will become the eventual new normal for us. Charlie, thanks for joining today.

Charlie Lawhorn:

Sure. Thanks for having me.

Brian Feldt:

So at the top I mentioned new normal and that's a term that's being thrown around a lot these days by a lot of different people, so it probably carries a lot of different meanings according to whatever group you're talking to, but understanding that it's a very fluid situation, and from our own perspective, what will the new normal be for companies as they look to reopen and reengage with their customers or employees?

Charlie Lawhorn:

Gosh, it's a broad question, Brian. I think it depends on what industry you're in and what part of the country or world you're in. I think we're all going through different phases of this together. Different parts are on the back end now starting to open up a bit more, other parts are just starting to close down.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I think from a normal perspective, or new normal, a lot of it is about safety and security. And I think for customers, that's been their first priority, for employees and employers, that's been a big priority as well. I know we've done a ton of work here at World Wide to ensure the safety of our own teams, making sure that they have access to the right tools and procedures and those types of things.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I think businesses are trying to do the same with customers. Governments are trying to push and enforce policies that drive certain behaviors or change certain behaviors. The push to basically shut everything down and make it all a remote model, remote healthcare, remote retail, where I order online and I pick it up at the curb, those types of things, we've seen a ton of that. I think it will be interesting as we talk about kind of the new normal and what's next, Brian, what's going to stick and what's not? Which of these inconveniences are now conveniences as things change?

Brian Feldt:

So obviously digital transformation took a giant kind of leap forward overnight and every company had to rush to accommodate itself in whatever way it could. What are we learning now about digital transformation that maybe we didn't know just a few months ago?

Charlie Lawhorn:

You know, I was thinking about this earlier that, for years, we've been using technology to push consumers or to change behaviors to drive new patterns, new modes of consumption and new modes of working. What's interesting is over the last month, behaviors changed, and so technology had to jump and catch up very quickly. A lot of people weren't prepared. Businesses and companies weren't prepared for employees to work from home the way that we are.

Charlie Lawhorn:

A lot of retail or restaurant or healthcare, they weren't ready for the remoteness of their customers or their patients and how could they keep the lights on and keep revenue flowing on the business side, where in the healthcare side, it was just a mass movement of people to get pre-screened before you got to a doctor's office or to a hospital. So we worked with some interesting state and local governments on pre-screening. We worked with a lot of hospitals and healthcare providers on remote temperature scanning and monitoring to check people before they got to a facility. Once they're at a facility, new procedures in place.

Charlie Lawhorn:

So it's really spanned pretty much every industry and every technology that we have. It's been interesting. You know, I've got two kids that are being homeschooled now that we never thought we'd be homeschooling, but we're, I won't say we're succeeding, but we're trying. I never thought I'd be a principal of a middle school, but I'm trying to be a principal of a middle school right now too. And it's been interesting to deal with this and to watch how much digital plays a part of all of these changes for everybody.

Brian Feldt:

Yeah, it's interesting you mentioned kind of having two kids at home and never thought you'd be a principal, and I'm sure you're doing a fantastic job in that regard, but on the flip side, the real world principals are having to make decisions now about, like you said, what is the new normal? What types of new technologies are going to be enabled by this type of movement moving forward? So where do you see those decisions and what types of questions are our different organizations or schools having to make right now as we get through this?

Charlie Lawhorn:

First and foremost, again, it's about the safety, safety of their teachers, their staff, their parents, the students, all of the above. It's a challenging time depending on what part of education you're in. If you're in early childhood or younger, you know, grade school, it's been one set of behaviors. If you're kind of middle school and up, you've been forced to understand and build out your own calendar, your own schedule, your own management of how you take classes and how you do your work.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I know my boys are 12 and 13, so they're going through that and it's almost like being in college. They get assignments at the beginning of the week and they have to figure out how to get them done. And we try to help them as much as we can with as much structure as we can put on it.

Charlie Lawhorn:

But in the education space, as we move into the higher ed, I think we're going to see some big changes. I think students are getting comfortable or semi comfortable with remote learning and I think that's going to have an impact on attendance and admissions going into higher ed as we look at that going forward. I think some people will see this inconvenience as something that's passable or even likable, depending on different circumstances.

Brian Feldt:

What about restaurants? I know we do a lot of work with restaurants and certainly that's a very tangible effect that probably everybody across the nation and the world is dealing with. Are we going to see curbside stick around? Certainly online ordering is going to be a much more prevalent thing moving forward, but what is the shift like there?

Charlie Lawhorn:

Yeah, I think restaurants have notoriously, as an industry, they were about service and hospitality, not necessarily about technology. Most restaurants. Even the big chains had started to try and figure out carryout and curbside and delivery, but now everyone down to the mom and pop has had to figure this out.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I do think that a lot of these, what were or are inconveniences, are going to become just mainstay standards. I think curbside is probably here to stay in the restaurant space. Definitely we've been helping customers figure out delivery and carryout and kind of how to bring digital orders from online ordering into your kitchen and how that fits in line with your restaurant staff to make sure you have the right capacity so that you can serve your customers that are dining in and the ones that are now carrying out or doing delivery.

Charlie Lawhorn:

So we've seen a lot of that over the last couple of years. Some of our customers are much further down that path and have had some great success during the challenges that we're going through right now. We've got a couple that had deployed some great digital technologies around contactless pick up, to where, when you walk in, if your app is open, you can walk straight up to an oven and digitally open it and grab your order. You feel safe. You know that nobody's really been able to touch it or it's not been handled by anyone, and I can grab it and go without actually having to touch money or deal with one of the employees taking off gloves and then retouching food.

Charlie Lawhorn:

So we've had some great successes in the middle of all of this and I think we'll see a lot more of those types of technologies deployed in the restaurant space over the next couple of years.

Brian Feldt:

Yeah. Is there lessons to be learned there for other industries as well or even corporate America in terms of, I guess, these companies or retailers or any industry that's going to have to completely relearn their customers or relearn how their employees are comfortable or would like to collaborate?

Charlie Lawhorn:

Yeah, I think so. I think in the world of digital, we talk a lot about personas or the situations that customers go through, and I think now we have a new set of situations and a new set of behaviors that we have to understand.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I think coming out of this, some customers are ready to get out and go and, "Let me get back to my old life." I don't think that's the majority of people. I think it's going to be a slow crawl, walk, run back into some level of normalcy. I'm not necessarily ready to go jump in and sit in a restaurant with a thousand other people with my family yet, but I may go sit in a smaller restaurant that's not going to have a big crowd. I'm definitely not ready to go wait in queues and lines in certain big venues or events, but yet if those events were to talk about how they can manage crowd control, how they could maybe order food ahead so that I can bypass lines, I think there a lot of convenient type solutions that we've talked about in the past with organizations, that are going to need to become normal so that customers are comfortable coming back to either work or to be a customer.

Brian Feldt:

Yeah. I guess a lot of the stuff that we've heard in terms of digital transformation encompasses making things a more seamless experience, and maybe now we pivot or at least have another sidebar aspect that talks about being more transparent in how you're handling things, whether it's crowd control or just in the way you're cleaning your facilities or things like that.

Charlie Lawhorn:

Yeah, I think communication is going to be critical. I think companies are going to have to overly communicate to their employees and to their customers what measures they're taking around safety. I think cleanliness, we're watching it. At least I travel quite a bit, so I'm watching the airlines trying to communicate. I'm watching the hotels trying to communicate about the measures they're taking, the policies they're putting in place.

Charlie Lawhorn:

The challenge is there's not always a right answer. There's not a wrong answer. So there's a lot of experimentation happening right now around what are those tolerances that customers will deal with. We've seen some interesting things in the media around people wanting to push back against some of the safety measures. They feel it's infringing too much on their rights. So I think we're going to be in that testing ground of what's okay and what's not, what's acceptable, what's doable, for the next six to nine to twelve months.

Brian Feldt:

So certainly we've been in communication with many of our customers across a variety of sectors and helping them navigate these challenging circumstances. And we've kind of seen customers in three different sectors, if you will, a quick reaction phase, a stabilization phase, and a kind of a what's next look forward phase. In your experience in those talks, what have been some of the best practices deployed to help not only get through this type of challenging times, but to thrive or be a little bit more successful than their peers? And what are some of the challenges or pitfalls that organizations are experiencing?

Charlie Lawhorn:

You know, in the kind of quick reaction of, "How do I keep my business afloat?" I think a lot of companies have deployed maybe non-scalable solutions. We saw a rush to certain video conferencing tools. We saw a rush to signing up for these cool online tools and SaaS everything. I think those come with a cost. I think that it worked well to get things moving, but it may not be the right longterm solution for a lot of our customers.

Charlie Lawhorn:

So I think that people reacting quickly to keep the lights on and keep things moving and to keep continuity as best as possible is great. I think that now we're a few weeks in, depending on where you are in the world, maybe even a couple of months in, and companies are starting to evaluate whether or not those tools that they've deployed are the right tools longterm.

Charlie Lawhorn:

And I think in the what's next kind of phase coming out of this, I think they're starting to realize that some things can go and go back to normal, and some things need to be invested in or changed. We're watching a lot of our retail customers think that curbside is going to stay. It's a convenience that that helps in rain or heat or snow. It's a convenience that helps if you need some help. You've got your kids in the car and they're crying and you're trying to get home, and, "Please, Target, throw everything in my trunk." I would love that to happen, right?

Charlie Lawhorn:

So I think some of these conveniences will definitely stay and we'll see a lot of businesses trying to deploy the correct technologies that can scale to support these types of behaviors.

Charlie Lawhorn:

I also think that we'll go through another phase of planning for the next challenge. This has certainly cut a lot of people off guard, but these types of events do happen, weather events and other events like that. So I think you'll see people starting to get into a different type of preparedness for the next thing that may or may not happen in the next year or five.

Brian Feldt:

Yeah. That kind of leads me into my next question there too is how can companies, whether it's a restaurant or a retailer or a large manufacturer, you know, pick your company, how can they leverage some of the best practices that you just went over or avoid some of the pitfalls to deliver those quick incremental wins now so that they're moving forward and progressing, but at the same time, starting to lay the groundwork for a successful plan moving forward?

Charlie Lawhorn:

You know, it's interesting. We talked about at the beginning how digital for a long time was about changing behavior, now behavior has changed digital a bit. I think that it's time to reassess some of the strategies, specifically around digital and technology. I think people need to, and businesses need to spend quite a bit of time reevaluating their path forward. What they had lined up as, or earmarked for key investments in infrastructure probably need to be revised. Applications to drive different experiences, either customer experiences, patient experiences, employee experiences, I think a lot of those need to be reevaluated as well.

Charlie Lawhorn:

And I know I'm working closely with like our collaboration team on digital work and remote working, and we've watched a lot of companies come out and say that they're probably not going to return everyone back to the office ever. And so, we're starting to think about what does that hybrid working environment look like? We've watched other companies say everybody's going to come back, but this week you're on a Tuesday, Thursday schedule and next week you're on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then that way they try and rotate their workforce. We've seen a little bit of those things.

Charlie Lawhorn:

So I think that preparing for and planning for the return of the customer is going to drive a lot of these behaviors. I think talking to some of my friends that are small business owners or restaurant owners, they're nervous about bringing their full staff back because they don't know if the customer will be back. And so, what are the implications on their business if they're fully staffed, yet there's only 10 carryout orders or 20 carryout orders? So how do they manage that and how do they kind of phase that back in is a thing that I think pretty much every company is figuring out.

Charlie Lawhorn:

But I think on the inverse, we as people and customers are trying to figure out how far are we comfortable going. And maybe that'll change week by week and you'll get to where you're perfectly comfortable running back into the mall, but I don't see that happening for the next couple of months.

Brian Feldt:

Certainly you mentioned this is a fluid situation, and as it continues to unfold, what are some of the ways that we can help customers or some other organizations get through this type of stuff? Is it just assessing kind of where they're at in terms of technology, or a digital strategy, or is it just helping them come to grips and crystallize their vision on how they want to execute moving forward?

Charlie Lawhorn:

I would say it's a little bit of all of the above. I mean, the real challenge is that behaviors are changing, and so it's time to look at what are the behaviors, what are the new behaviors going to most likely be, and do we have the right tools and processes both in place to support those behaviors?

Charlie Lawhorn:

So if people are more comfortable working remote, then we probably need tech to support those things. If people are more comfortable coming back, but they want distancing, then we probably need everything from signage and communication tools to maybe tech to help with distancing.

Charlie Lawhorn:

You know, a lot of these challenges are tech plus because it's about process change too. And I think that if you look at how we work with most of our customers from the design mindset and thinking about that kind of experience or that process perspective and then applying technology to that, don't think tech first. This isn't a tech issue. This is more of a behavioral and a process issue, and then make sure that the right tech is there to shore it up, whether that's apps and tools, whether that's infrastructure and networking and remote connectivity tools, VPN, those types of things. It's really about thinking through the behaviors first and then applying the right technology to make sure that you're there to meet that demand.

Brian Feldt:

Charlie, those are the only questions I had for you today. I appreciate you taking out some time from your busy schedule, and thanks to the viewers for taking interest in the topic. If you have any more interest in anything as it relates to business continuity, we have a series of videos that goes over things such as remote working, collaborative resources, and things of that nature that you can check out. Just do a simple search on wwt.com to access those. Charlie, thanks again and we'll talk to you soon.

Charlie Lawhorn:

Thanks, Brian.

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