Enterprise technology buyers and COVID-19 - what have we learned?

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 4, 2020
Summary:
The COVID-19 pandemic will cause structural changes to the economy and technology investments are front of mind. What have we learned thus far?

Business owner in mask places Open business as new normal sign on door © Chansom Pantip - shutterstock
(© Chansom Pantip - shutterstock)

It is undeniable that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enterprise has been significant. The pace at which structural changes are occurring across economies and in the workplace is placing significant pressure on leadership to both be agile in their ability to respond, but also have the foresight to anticipate what may come next. 

At the centre of all this change are technology buyers. COVID-19 has shone a light on the importance of digital investment, with companies making purchasing decisions and developing projects at an unprecedented speed. The problems are multi-faceted, ranging from supporting newly distributed workforces, to adapting service offerings for customers with new demands. 

We at diginomica have spent the past few months speaking to dozens and dozens of buyers about their experiences during the pandemic, trying to get an understanding of their agenda, challenges and where they are prioritising their decision making. Whilst the conversations obviously vary, often depending on industry and ‘digital maturity', there are undoubtedly a number of common threads that have emerged. 

In an attempt to consolidate some of this knowledge, we thought it may be useful to highlight some of the key learnings that have emerged over the past few months and provide insight for those that need guidance or reassurance about their choices. This may well end up being a dynamic list as things progress, so if you are reading this and feel like I have missed something glaring, or you wish to have a conversation, please do get in touch. 

Vendor decisions being made

The early days of national lockdowns and the consequent fallout for companies quickly highlighted digital weaknesses - from distributed working, to supply chain insights, to customer engagement and support. As such, many buyers are no longer thinking about investment decisions down the line. There is a recognition amongst those that have been slow to adopt cloud, a data-centric culture, collaboration tools and continuous engagement with customers that they need to act fast. 

The result of this is that senior leadership and buyers are accelerating their purchasing decisions and are looking at their technology stack with an increased level of scrutiny. Vendors that are well placed to offer solutions to the challenges that the next few years will bring are being placed front and centre of corporate strategy. Obviously a coherent strategy focused on flexible outcomes is the key, but the vendors well placed to support that are getting extra attention right now. 

Contrary to early concerns, we aren't necessarily seeing decreased spending just yet. We are seeing strategic spending being placed in the hands of trusted partners that can help buyers navigate the storm ahead. And spending is going deeper in a few select areas, rather than being spread across the board. Projects may have been cut, but the projects that enable agility and focus on some of the points mentioned below are being prioritised, with extra funds made available. 

Data is a priority

Arguably the stories we have heard most over the past few weeks and months have been about how companies now have an imperative to get their house in order as it relates to the use of data. The use cases for this are varied - everything from supply chain insights, to customer behavioural changes, to monitoring employees, to managing customer support. But it's undeniable that buyers are looking for answers, as well as have new challenges working in a distributed way, and are looking at how they can use data for insights. Not to mention the demand for automation, given increased pressure on costs. 

This isn't an easy task. Data is stored in disparate systems, there are departmental silo/culture challenges, as well as the need to make data authoritative/usable. The most successful examples we have seen are those that start with a simple use case and recognise that data use isn't an ad-hoc agenda - it requires culture-wide change that needs to be managed and championed. However, those that are ignoring this as a priority are going to find it increasingly difficult to adapt to the ‘new normal', where intelligence will hold an advantage when dealing with new surprises. 

Workforce collaboration 

It's hard to imagine that just a few months ago the idea of some of the world's largest enterprises would be telling their entire workforce to go and work from home for the foreseeable. And this isn't just a short term plan for many, with companies announcing reduced office space and closures going forward. 

However, working remotely using digital tools is a very different experience to working in an office, where you can shout across to your coworker for some information. Not to mention the lack of actual, physical paper. We've seen the proliferation of video conferencing tools and increased use of tools such as G-Suite, but we've also seen recognition from leaders that working from home, in a distributed way, brings new challenges. 

Not every household is the same and different employees will have different demands (parenting, size of workspace, mental health) - all of which need to be taken into consideration. In addition, how you measure work from home in terms of outputs, rather than physical presence, needs intense consideration. We are seeing heightened focus from both buyers and the C-suite on how to make this work effectively for the company and its people. 

My colleague Phil Wainewright has written extensively on how to enable effective digital teamwork in the enterprise and it's worth checking his work on creating a ‘collaborative canvas' for employees

More than ever, it's all about the people

Very closely linked to the point above, and perhaps straying slightly from the technology-buyers angle, COVID-19 has more than ever highlighted the need to invest in your people. Technology does play a role in this, given that tools can be used to manage, engage and sense-check employees and customers - but leaders are recognising that if they want a strong and healthy organisation in the future, they can't just focus on process, product and ‘digital', they need to invest in teams. 

If company borders move beyond physical environments, as we predict they will, then fostering teams that aren't in the same office will be imperative. This will become even more important as business leaders look beyond city-centre locations and hubs for talent, with the option to hire from anywhere now becoming a real possibility. 

Rethinking the workplace 

Whilst we are mostly seeing evidence that companies aren't rushing their employees back to the workplace, there are examples of organisations that need to think about how to manage employees in a physical environment in 2020. Some jobs require you to be physically present. 

This has forced technology buyers to think about things that include contact tracing, supply and facilities management, procurement of PPE materials, monitoring movement in the workplace and rapid testing for staff. All of this obviously links back to the data piece mentioned above, where sensitive information will need to be managed carefully. In addition vendors have responded rapidly to calls for these tools, with many quickly rolling out new solutions for companies that need support in this area. 

COVID-19 is likely to be around for a while, even if a vaccine is approved in the coming months, and digital leaders are thinking about the impact on their physical work spaces. 

Cloud adoption

For those companies that were hesitant about operating in the public cloud have likely had a bit of a wake up call in recent months. Those that had invested already were far more likely to spin up remote environments with ease and continue to keep servicing customers and partners as normal. So many customers we have spoken to based their contingency planning on buildings burning down or other similar emergencies, but not many foresaw the consequences of a global pandemic. 

Whilst the cloud has benefits far beyond disaster recovery and distributed work, it's becoming crystal clear to laggards that operating in the cloud in a digital world is imperative. We expect cloud-native vendors and those accelerating their cloud agendas as the ones to win big, with buyers placing cloud at the centre of their future strategies. 

It's all about experience 

This ties into many of the points above, but customers that are faced with financial uncertainty and more choice than ever are likely to place their hard earned dollars with companies that offer them the best experience and service. Customers want to be able to engage with companies with ease, across whatever channel they choose, and they want to be serviced with empathy and with a clear understanding of who they are. Navigating company silos, dealing with poor availability and feeling like ‘just another number' will not fly in a COVID-19 world. 

Enterprise technology buyers are thinking about how to connect the dots internally and establish workflows and processes that enable quick response times, the responsible collection of data and a personalised experience. This has to be coupled with a pursuit for a positive employee experience too, as the two go hand in hand.

A focus on experience isn't new, but it has become clear in recent months that it can't be a ‘nice to have' on the agenda. It needs to be front of mind in everything an enterprise does, as customer success is the only clear route to financial success. 

My take

As noted above, there are probably plenty more points that could be added to the list, so please get in touch if you've got your own stories to tell. One other thing worth mentioning is that quite a few buyers I've spoken to have said that what has guided them through the crisis and the decisions they are making is their values. Don't lose track of what makes your business uniquely your business - understand those values, embed them across the company and use them to guide your future strategy.