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Lessons learned from COVID-19

Using technology to transform

In the third article of our Lessons Learned from COVID-19 series, we discuss how digital transformation has impacted the resiliency of Canadian businesses.

The COVID‑19 pandemic forced many organizations into involuntary digital transformations as they shifted to company-wide virtual work arrangements, transitioned in-person services online and reassessed the role technology played across the enterprise. 

More than 45 percent of IBR respondents from Canada said that, post COVID‑19, their business strategy had to be adjusted to include more technology and to make room for an accelerated digital transformation.

While virtually every organization was blindsided by the rapid pace of this change, some fared better than others. Businesses that fell into this camp—and were able to quickly pivot into a virtual setting—seemed to prioritize three fundamental practices:

  • They had a transformative leadership team. You can’t have a digital transformation unless your executive team understands where the organizations needs to go and is willing to take steps to make it happen.

  • They put business strategy first. Companies that were able to accelerate their digital transformation recognized that investment-worthy technology is that which enhances strong existing business processes and helps the organization reach its strategic goals.

  • They sized up the competition. When deciding on a tech direction, leading companies looked at the overall direction of the industry—as well as their direct competitors—to better understand the bigger picture and attempt to identify the technology investments that would have the greatest impact on their business.

This foundation made it easier for these businesses to create a resilient and agile digital strategy.

Tales of innovation: Jumping feet-first into e-commerce

When a traditional bricks-and-mortar shoe retailer saw its foot traffic grind to a halt mid-March as a result of COVID‑19, it knew it needed to act fast if it wanted to keep its business afloat. A month later, it launched a brand new e-commerce site and, by mid-May, it had recaptured 50 percent of its revenue with significantly improved margins. According to the company’s CEO, COVID‑19 forced them to learn an important lesson: “Don’t allow your business model to stand still—invest in technology and understand how your customers’ buying habits are changing and how to better serve them.”

Tales of innovation: A new approach to fundraising

Given COVID‑19, the Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta and Northwest Territories organization  was forced to approach their major fundraising events a little differently this year. Instead of a large in-person gala event, the organization hosted a Virtual Night Out, where paying guests received a catered charcuterie board delivered to their door. Guests also learned a card trick, had access to a virtual silent auction and listened to music by a local musician. By the end of the night, the charity had raised over $50,000.

Tales of innovation: A viral sensation

When your entire business model is built around the in-person experience, “going virtual” isn’t easy. But that didn’t stop a Halifax-based gym from trying. In April, the company started running a 21-day fitness challenge via Zoom classes to non-members and members alike. All the company asked for was a donation—ideally, at least $5—which it then used to buy gift cards at local businesses. The idea was to create a community-based support system for local small businesses affected by the pandemic. The program went viral, allowing the company to surpass its goal of $5,000 and ultimately purchase $65,000 in gift cards from 125 local businesses. At the end of the fitness challenge, they gave the gift cards to participants as prizes. Thanks to overwhelming client support and government funding, the company was also able to grow its team of fitness professionals to meet increasing demand.[1]

The path to resiliency: How to create and implement a digital strategy

As you embark on a technological transformation, it’s important to have a strong digital strategy in place. The goal behind such a strategy should be to:

Enhance how your people work

Technology works best when it either automates existing processes that are already efficient or creates internal efficiencies. For example, one paving company we spoke to began using videoconferencing at its head office. The move made it easier for site supervisors to attend meetings, because they could call in from the worksite, rather than having to leave the worksite to drive to the company’s head office and then return to the worksite after the meeting was over. This move is one that will likely outlive the pandemic, as it resulted in increased internal efficiencies and bolstered productivity.

Improve customer interactions

The purpose of technology should be to enhance existing processes—either by satisfying a new customer need, offering improved business insights, or creating a new product or service offering.

Mitigate new and existing cyber risks

Greater reliance on technology also increases your exposure to cyber risk, which is why it’s important to take a strategic approach to technology adoption. Taking the time to consult with IT security and risk professionals before adopting a new technology can help to expose any holes in your system and proactively prevent a cyber attack.

Approached effectively, a successful digital transformation should ultimately position an organization to meet evolving industry trends by strategically building new digital capabilities. With data properly organized and accessible across the organization, teams will be better equipped to enhance the customer experience and make more informed investment decisions. With the right leadership and strategy in place, businesses can also establish a mindset and culture capable of embracing change—positioning them to respond quickly to both internal and external shifts.

[1] Business Voice Magazine. May 2020. “‘Business as usual’ has an entirely new meaning” by Mina Atia.


To read the full report, "A blueprint for moving forward: Lessons learned from COVID-19," download the PDF.

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More insights in this series

Innovating to keep pace with change

In the first article of our Lessons Learned from COVID-19 series, we discuss the role an innovation mindset has on the resiliency of Canadian businesses.

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Maximizing your human capital

In the second article of our Lessons Learned from COVID-19 series, we discuss the impact a strong workforce has on the resiliency of Canadian businesses.

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Unlocking financial insights

In the final article of our Lessons Learned from COVID-19 series, we discuss the importance of financial modeling on the resiliency of Canadian businesses.

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