The most successful companies in 2021 will be those that adopt and put into practice a purpose-driven digital strategy for a new “virtual-first” world. This will focus on the societal problems that are a core tenet of a company’s approach, in an increasingly online world.
The impact of Covid-19 on our society – economically, politically and socially – will mean re-examining the role of a digital-transformation strategy. We will need to review how we work, how we engage with customers, and how we develop and run our operations in a virtual-first world at pace. This will raise questions about how we should evaluate our need for physical space against operating a truly virtual service. It will also force us to reconsider how we can ensure that the workforce of tomorrow is effectively skilled and reskilled.
Organisations will need to lead on bridging the digital divide and providing access for all, so everyone can participate.
Accelerated innovation and transformation to meet the needs of Covid-19 over the past year have redefined business operations across all industries and given them a much more digital focus. In healthcare, for example, the shift to telehealth has resulted in 93 per cent of primary-care visits delivered virtually in England alone. Aside from unlocking new business models, telehealth has tremendous potential to address health disparities in rural and underserved communities by promoting preventive medicine and reducing the reliance on emergency and urgent care. Telehealth delivered in this way, and balanced with equitable broadband access, is the essence of a purpose-driven digital strategy.
Every business model and technology innovation will be built on a ubiquitous-data strategy, where information anywhere and everywhere is the standard. The proliferation of connected devices and cloud-based services will allow organisations to capture and harness unprecedented amounts of data. This will drive decisions across their operations, deepen their understanding of customers and help them develop new products and services.
Governments will increase their engagement and role in defining and governing data proliferation, security and privacy for businesses and citizens. As more citizens demand greater control over their own data, corporate policies around transparency in how that data is collected and used will become significantly more important. A prime example is the ability of governments to understand and share results of clinical trials globally, and accelerate solutions in the face of health crises.
We will also have the opportunity to lay a digital foundation that will increase equitable inclusion across the globe. Local technology innovation will hasten economic recovery, growth and trade ability in this virtual-first world. It will enable communities to solve problems locally and apply them globally.
Technology advances and innovation will focus on AI-enabled, connected customer experiences in two realms: interconnected platforms as the transport mechanism; and edge computing and devices as the consume-and-capture service. This will rely on providing wireless-network technology in rural and underserved communities, and offer services where previously excluded. Assisted technology, with a focus on accessibility for all, will be a core customer-experience strategy.
As we continue to address crises, we will have to begin solving today’s problems with a view to the challenges of the future. A big question for 2021 will be how we define our moral compass as a society. The impact of the pandemic on global agriculture – significant disruptions in labour availability, in the supply-chain ecosystem and increases in consumer demand – has highlighted the vulnerability of our connected world.
In 2020 we will have to harness technological innovations and new business models in precision agriculture to address this particular example. The challenge will be to do this in more sustainable and equitable ways.
As we reimagine a virtual-first future and its impact on healthcare, education, environment, infrastructure, policy and commerce, the organisations that harness ingenuity and agility – and anticipate the future from a moral perspective – will be best positioned for success in 2021 and beyond.
Jacky Wright is chief digital officer of Microsoft. She is writing here in her personal capacity