The pandemic forced growing enterprises to make hard decisions: scale back forecasted sales targets, delay future expansion or lay off employees. Yet, many businesses are thriving, having finished 2020 in a strong financial position. When the world paused to slow the spread of Covid-19, companies in industries with little to no direct impact from the pandemic seized the opportunity to assess their operations and learn to do more with less.
In my work helping companies build better visibility of critical business information with technology, I have seen resiliency play out on the ground. In 2020, there were three critical lessons resilient businesses learned to guide them through a tumultuous time.
Be Where Your Customers Are
The customer experience is the heart of everything businesses do. You must anticipate customers' needs and ensure you can conduct business where they are and when they want it. During the pandemic, wholesale distributors seized the opportunity to meet the demand for hand sanitizers and disinfectants in the retail channel. By redirecting bulk-packaged product destined for supply chain vendors, they filled a void where panic left retailer shelves bare.
Retailers also responded quickly to the change in consumer shopping habits. While local health authority regulations kept brick-and-mortar stores shuttered during lockdowns, online shopping led to record sales figures. Convenient ordering options, including delivery and curbside pickup, met customers directly.
Meeting your customer where they are involves identifying gaps in your business system and building bridges to fix them. Depending on your business, this could look like altering or upgrading your inventory management system to better commit inventory to large sales orders. It could mean implementing an e-commerce platform to provide a convenient online shopping experience.
New Year, New Business Models
With the pandemic came a change in customer preferences and buying behavior, and businesses will continually need to reassess their existing business models to succeed. Consider the digital entertainment industry. In the past decade, evolving technologies have provided new ways for customers to consume their entertainment.
Many people have "cut the cord" on cable and satellite TV bundles by subscribing to online video streaming services. Today, subscription-based pricing and on-demand are prevalent, and businesses with a flexible product or service model often have an advantage over those with more traditional models.
Customers like choices and packaged offerings in bite-sized morsels. Giving them what they want can lead to recurring subscription revenue streams to stave off uncertainty during difficult times. The pandemic has provided a rare pause for executives to rethink the business models in their industry; when the dust settles, will that business model still work?
During the pandemic, businesses rushed to get online. Breweries reallocated inventory to make hand sanitizer. When adding sales channels or entering new markets, businesses need to consider whether new software applications are needed to support new processes. Whether it’s an inventory management system or web-based CRM, each new application requires a connection point to transfer data between systems. Whether automated or manual, it's important for integrations to be well managed to avoid bottlenecks, data entry errors and other costly inefficiencies.
Cellular service providers offer a good illustration of the benefits of a tightly integrated enterprise. During the pandemic, mobile device users used web portals to manage their accounts rather than visiting a local store — and the customer experience was often just as convenient. Access to up-to-the-minute details about data usage, billing and new offers is possible via integrating the cellular service provider’s customer portal and their back-end systems.
Having integrated their ecosystem of business apps, cellular service providers continue to offer exceptional customer service despite the challenges of the pandemic. Providing exceptional customer service, reducing inefficiencies and acting on real-time data are just a few things businesses can do with tighter integration.
Becoming A Resilient Enterprise
Executives should heed the lessons from 2020. Much uncertainty remains — we can't predict the pandemic's long-term impact — so instead, control what you can: your internal systems.
What are your business goals? How can technology help you achieve them? Are you hanging on to old software applications? Can your inventory management system keep pace with more sales orders? How do your people and systems interact?
Asking these questions can help you be resilient in uncertain times. It's the first step to understanding the needs you have for technology that can bridge gaps between standalone applications.
Embark On A Digital Transformation Journey
Digital transformation is a term business leader coined to describe the transformation companies undertake to improve their systems via technology. The lessons above indicate where technology is needed. And while sophisticated enterprise technologies have been around for years, the pandemic has motivated businesses to overcome their apprehension and realize the potential.
For example, Gartner recently reported that executives were surprised by how successfully remote workers handled their duties during office closures. Yet, the cloud-based platforms and VPNs (virtual private networks) that allow remote work have been around for decades. The pandemic merely highlighted their value.
Undergoing a digital transformation gives you the tools you need to be resilient during a crisis. It improves business agility and flexibility. Most importantly, it provides a clear path toward growth. But the decision is in your hands as a business owner. Your courage to take the first step toward assessing your situation can move you forward. What’s waiting on the other side for you, your employees and your customers is worth it. Take the next step towards digital transformation, contact a qualified Vision33 consultant today.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.