As we head towards 2022, business leaders should already be considering their digital transformation priorities for next year, along with the necessary investment to bring them to life.
From cloud-native platforms and hyper automation to 5G and the rise of smart cities, boardrooms are navigating a complex mix of emerging technologies, supplier and customer demands, and conflicting internal pressures as they look to adapt for the long term.
According to a study by SnapLogic, automation looks like it will play a key role in this puzzle. It found 78% of businesses plan to increase spending on such initiatives in the coming 12 months, while the pandemic has already seen 48% of IT decision makers accelerate their automation projects.
Sara Rasmussen, chief commercial officer at mobile virtual network operator Telness Tech, thinks organisations across all sectors are approaching their own “digitise or die moment”. The pandemic supercharged the creation and implementation of new technologies across a range of industries, she says, enabling challenger brands and new entrants to thrive.
“This external pressure, alongside soaring customer expectations, will make 2022 the year when organisations accept transformation is no longer optional, but rather a matter of survival,” Rasmussen says. “As a result, we’ll see businesses transforming their culture and processes in order to increase flexibility and agility throughout their organisations.”
Jessica Nordlander is chief operating officer at enterprise discussion management platform Thoughtexchange. She believes the pandemic’s fallout will intensify the need to reimagine the workplace, using a digitally focused version of the traditional architect and building planner.
“I believe there’s going to be an increasing need for a new category of specialists able to architect advanced digital workplaces,” she adds.
The views of Rasmussen and Nordlander chime with an October study by Ricoh Europe, which shows that two-thirds of business leaders (67%) are increasing or maintaining their levels of investment in digital transformation.
Finance will be critical, Nordlander says. “The most significant digital transformation project that leaders will need to undertake in the coming year is building a technology infrastructure that will support and promote a high-functioning remote or hybrid workforce,” she says.
This isn’t going to demand new technology, she adds, noting that “there’s a lot of that already”. Rather, it will be about using the tech they have intentionally and in a more considered and holistic way.
“The changes that have been implemented in numerous organisations have so far been far more reactionary and haphazard than intentional or transformational,” Nordlander adds.
That haphazardness is perhaps demonstrated in research by Dynatrace. An October report from the software company found that 22% of the 1,300 senior-level development and DevOps leaders surveyed admit they’re often under so much pressure to meet the demand for faster innovation that they must sacrifice code quality.
5G’s transformative potential
C-suites will be keen to ensure this rush doesn’t cause issues for one of 2022’s biggest potential digital transformation advances: 5G communications technology. This could empower working from home, making it faster and more stable. It could also integrate internal 5G networks into operations and buildings to power a smart city revolution, connecting assets like vehicles, buildings, streetlights and roads.
Maria Lema is co-founder of Weaver Labs, a business spun out of King’s College London to democratise access to telecoms infrastructure. It digitises public and private assets like streetlamps, traffic lights and bus shelters to make them connected, working with the likes of Transport for Greater Manchester. The company’s projects have been funded by the UK government and European Space Agency.
Lema believes digital transformation in 2022 will have 5G at its heart. Companies must ensure access to digital infrastructure and solutions - including connectivity infrastructure – is “more open, transparent and secure”. This would allow more people to use it to positively impact their everyday lives.
Unlike previous advanced wireless technologies, 5G democratises access to high-speed, highly reliable connectivity.
“This opens the possibility for businesses across all verticals to use connectivity to advance in areas that would have otherwise been impossible,” Lema argues. “There’s a lot of innovation in new business models for infrastructure investment, something we will see evolving much more throughout 2022.”
Sustainability is also a hot boardroom topic, though the Ricoh Europe research found that 71% of business leaders don’t believe digital transformation can help them achieve their company’s long-term sustainability goals.
Weaver, however, believes sustainability should no longer be seen as a trend, but as an essential part of digital transformation.
“The core fundamentals and objectives of digital transformation are to increase productivity, efficiency and innovation, and in doing so, making improved solutions that inherently address sustainability initiatives, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” she says.
Another key factor that must be considered in digital transformation is the “deskless workforce”, according to Kit Kyte, CEO at intelligent operations business Checkit.
Kyte thinks roles like nurses, cleaners, supermarket staff and field engineers are falling behind those in traditional desk jobs, who now benefit from digital technology’s influence on productivity, collaboration and reporting.
“For all the massive changes technology has brought about, digital transformation has failed to reach 80% of the workforce,” he says. “As a result, the deskless have suffered from tools that are not fit for purpose or manual paper-based processes that exist because of legacy or the lack of a better option. It needs to be addressed.”
We depended on such workers at the height of the pandemic, Kyte notes. Businesses must provide them with greater digital capabilities, which will unlock value, improve retention, cut waste and inefficiency, raise standards and strengthen customer confidence, he says.
“We need diversity in digital transformation. This can be the age of the augmented enterprise – but only if business leaders stop neglecting the digital poverty of their deskless operations.”