As the UK contends with another lockdown to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time for firms to embrace digital.
A study by management consultants McKinsey found that the pandemic has accelerated businesses’ digital transformation plans, making, on average, seven years of progress in a few months.
With traditional ways of doing business upended and social interactions kept to a minimum, it is clear that there is a major market for software and applications to fill the void.
Paul Drake, operations director of digital software specialists Sapere, said: “Digital solutions have always had the capacity to make life easier, never more so than when businesses are trying to operate in this strange new world.
“A simple example would be the ability to sign forms and paperwork electronically; this isn’t new technology but the adoption of these digital solutions has escalated over the course of lockdown.
“Anything that allows the end user to sign, for example, legal documents electronically is much quicker, more efficient and better for the environment – which can only be a good thing.”
The sharing of information has also been a priority for businesses working remotely; with access required by all parties at all times, software can help keep everything in one place.
Paul added: “Electronic document repositories, such as SharePoint and OneDrive, make it easier to find information, and businesses have had to find better ways of sharing this electronically.
“Added to this, web-based client relationship management (CRM) systems, with one source for managing customers, leads, quotations and services, will help anyone involved with customer engagement or reportability.
“A CRM is a must for any business, more so where remote working is necessary. A spreadsheet is fine for small teams, but a web-based solution should really be seen as the benchmark for all businesses.”
However, there is scope for digital transformation far beyond the sharing of documents and CRMs.
With schools closed to most pupils, learning went online, with teachers using apps such as Seesaw, Google Classrooms and Microsoft Teams to set and mark work, as well as hosting virtual lessons.
Entertainment, too, adapted; as live music was banned and theatres were closed, digital solutions allowed some activities to continue virtually.
During the pandemic, Sapere worked with the Tees Music Alliance, which develops and promotes live music events in the region, to create its streaming platform.
Paul said: “The alliance haven’t been allowed to put on live music with an audience since March 2020. As an alternative they wanted to stream live music, but, given that the organisation is not-for-profit, the available services charged too much or took too much commission from ticket sales to make these viable options.
“We created a solution that enables them to stream live music without an audience while managing their own subscribers and charging model so they retain more of the income.”
However, while Paul agrees that the pandemic has led to a greater uptake of the digital solutions that are already available – such as streaming services – he doesn’t feel it has necessarily translated into greater innovation – yet.
And he points to one key element where we could be lagging behind, especially with an increasingly flexible working environment – connectivity.
“One thing the pandemic has really highlighted is our need for better coverage and capacity for broadband and data connections in the UK,” he said, “so perhaps this will be the next greatest innovation that has the biggest impact.
“Anyone trying to work from home will attest to this challenge, with ever greater demands on the infrastructure and 20 per cent of the population living out of large cities.
“The introduction of true 5G will be a great addition to the UK network, although in reality, it’s likely to only benefit big cities initially.”
While the companies that were already on board with digital may have fared better at the start of the pandemic, Paul is keen to reassure all businesses that, as the saying goes, it is better late than never.
“We believe it’s never too late to embrace digital solutions, but, with the exception of enabling staff to work from home, we never recommend rushing into buying any solution without understanding how this fits with the rest of the digital solutions in the business.
“Rushing into buying or using the wrong solution can have a detrimental effect on efficiency, which is quite the opposite of what it’s meant to achieve.
“However, the benefits of adopting the right digital solution at the right time can really enable a business to be more agile in these challenging times, which will only increase once things get back to some form of normality.”
For more information on Sapere and the range of services the company offers, visit www.sapere.co.uk.