COVID-19 Accelerates the Demand for Digital Innovation

Business survival means harnessing the power of emerging technologies

by Joshua Kanter

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on people’s lives and the global economy, impacting nearly every industry, including traditional and digitally native sectors. But the pandemic has not slowed innovation — in fact, it’s accelerating digital innovation to historic levels as organizations seek new ways to connect with and serve customers. The global disruption has required leaders to rethink traditional business functions and pursue new opportunities for growth through remote and self-serve channels. Strategic investments in core platforms are enabling organizations to serve customers in new ways through personalized, interactive and connected experiences powered by artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

The surge in demand for new technology solutions is a function of the new challenges businesses are facing. In the pre-pandemic economy, commerce took place through the full range of channels: in-store, phone and online. Today, the demand for products and services that can’t be found online has declined dramatically.

Kommando Tech estimates that of the 1.3 million U.S. companies with e-commerce capabilities, nearly 1 million of them are marketplace resellers. This suggests that only about 300,000 businesses have native e-commerce operations that they can use to counteract the adverse impacts of the pandemic. Brick-and-mortar-based businesses now face an urgent mandate to introduce digital commerce capabilities, in order to maintain viability and relevance in 2021 and beyond.

Many companies that are already online are ill-equipped to scale operations to manage online activity and the associated influx of site traffic. They are bogged down by outdated architecture, data fragmentation and corresponding analytical challenges — and need help supporting customers across channels, products and touchpoints. As these challenges mount, the customer experience erodes. For companies that already have strong digital capabilities, COVID-19 is overloading internal software development teams. Increased demands, heightened urgency and unprecedented complexity have made it difficult for these critical teams to keep pace with the demands of the business.

It’s not all doom and gloom. It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and innovation (forced or not) is alive and well. One benefit of this moment of disruption in our global economy is the proliferation of new and innovative solutions by Fast-Growing Tech (FGT) companies. FGT companies are embracing new technologies to adapt to the challenges of the day through digital innovation. These companies are introducing myriad solutions that disrupt traditional industries through novel solutions (think Uber or Airbnb) or the blurring of traditional lines between industries (think Blue Apron or SpaceX).

The disruption arising from COVID-19 is stressing and all too often overwhelming latent weaknesses in business operations. It is a catalyst for change, simultaneously hindering incumbent businesses and opening the door to new players with innovative technology solutions. Consider the heightened demands placed on global supply chains, which have historically relied on loose networks of piecemeal analog systems. Amid the pandemic’s rapidly shifting distribution patterns, friction points have expanded and threaten the reliability of these networks.

Logistics companies are digitizing their core operations to mitigate disruptions in the supply chain through the thoughtful application of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These technologies will not only help prevent major disruption in future crises but can also improve real-time efficiency today through new systems like inventory tracking and automated pallet-handling systems. Even though AI and ML are not new technologies, this moment of economic disruption is challenging business leaders the world over to identify new opportunities to apply them to solve critical business problems.

2020 was a crucible for traditional businesses. With scarce organizational resources, limited technological capabilities and overburdened teams, it has been difficult for many to identify and then navigate the difficult path forward. In the context of revenue risk, it’s harder than ever to fund new initiatives, and hire, train and manage the new teams required to get the work done right, and on time.

How can companies bridge the gap between the strategic imperative for rapid innovation and the reality of limited internal resources and expertise? One solution is Outsource Product Development providers. These providers can nimbly ramp up agile engineering teams to deliver business impacts for clients, deploying solutions across all modern tools and technologies: cloud-based platforms, digital commerce capabilities, AI and ML, UI/UX and data analytics. They also provide coding and development support to streamline code architecture to eliminate bloat that slows core applications and makes them difficult to maintain.

The businesses that make the necessary investments in digital engineering are going to find themselves in a strong position to serve customers during and after the pandemic, with new tools and strategies to boost productivity and profitability. We have departed the pre-COVID economy. Even when the pandemic subsides, the economy will not return to the patterns and channels that dominated just a year ago. Those businesses that wish to compete and win in 2021 and beyond will be the ones who move today to harness the power of emerging technologies to evolve and enhance their core offerings.

Joshua Kanter is an accomplished chief marketing officer, experienced in leading the marketing and customer experience functions across B2B and B2C businesses. As Encora’s CMO, Kanter is responsible for all aspects of the company’s customer engagement strategy, direct marketing strategy, digital consumer engagement, loyalty marketing, marketing technology, customer analytics and brand creative strategy. Kanter has previously served as the chief marketing officer at PetSmart and International Cruise & Excursions, and senior vice president of marketing strategy at Caesars Entertainment.

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