When the pandemic hit and the UK abruptly plunged into its first lockdown, many employees were left struggling with a whole range of issues; a major one being technology. Virtually overnight, employees across the world became completely reliant on whether or not their firms had already begun a digital transformation. For some, particularly in the financial sector, there was a seamless transition to remote working. For others, less so.
The winners were those who had taken early spending decisions to invest and whose company-wide adoption of tech was already underway, or close to completion. According to ft.com, giants KPMG, PwC, EY, Deloitte UK and BDO were piloting tech tools (such as Microsoft Teams) before Covid-19 forced such a major change in working patterns. But, as the CFO of BDO, Stuart Collins, pointed out, “widespread adoption might normally have taken some time”. The pandemic vastly altered the pace of that adoption, with KPMG able to move 18,000 people in its UK and global centres on to the Teams app “overnight”, and BDO integrating the software into working life to such an extent that Mr Collins now says: “It’s hard to remember life without it”.
In the case of early digital investors, the role of the CFO appears to have been pivotal. As businesses increase spend on cloud based and SaaS technology, the buy-in of those in charge of financial strategy and decision-making is imperative. Being IT ready when the pandemic arrived, or at least part-way down that path, was a vindication of their early spending across a broad range of technologies and has left many CFOs fully committed to further investment; which will be music to the ears of Chief IT Officers.
For those in the financial and professional services industry who were less well prepared, however, or perhaps less willing to spend their limited budget on IT, the significance of that decision to their business and its employees has been a lesson hard learnt. The ability of tech to innovate operations and improve both customer experience and employee happiness, even without an excessive spend, has been realised by many firms. The key is flexible thinking, planning ahead and being prepared to invest sensibly in a digital transformation.
The good news is that not everything comes with a substantial price tag and for smaller businesses serious about undergoing a digital renovation, there is a wide – and ever-growing – selection of solutions. Tools like Microsoft Teams, offering compliant calling and collaboration, and DocuSign, allowing electronic signatures, are eminently helpful to the financial and PS sectors and come with excellent security features to help keep businesses safe whilst working remotely or office based. “Digitalisation also makes it easier for firms to meet regulatory demands, such as record-keeping, cyber security and data compliance,” says Richard Houghton, CFO at Openwork, and “digital back-up, servicing and customer access” are becoming a basic requirement (ft.com). It really is a win-win in terms of the investment.
The speed of digital transformation is accelerating, for companies of all sizes, with the pandemic challenging the view of its importance and placing it squarely at the centre of current and future strategic plans. For customers too, their use of tech has rapidly changed, as has their comfort with it and their expectations of it.