To say that digitization has accelerated in this new normal is an understatement. The rapid adoption of digital technologies driven by the pandemic will show no signs of stopping, especially with social distancing and quarantine measures not likely to be going away soon.

Many companies — from the food supply chain to the insurance industry — have digitized or have begun digitizing parts of their business.

E-commerce stores and online grocery platforms were built (almost) overnight. Banks, utility, and a number of firms shifted to offering online and digital services. Meetings pivoted to online syncs and discussions. Digital classrooms emerged. Tele-medicine faced a resurgence. The list goes on.

Winston Damarillo mentioned this on his Pandemic Chapter, a bonus chapter to his recent Ready or Not 2020 book: “The lockdown has brought about a unique situation that has changed the daily lives of every Filipino—and where there’s change, there’s opportunity for innovation. From startups developing a product in a few weeks to entire organizations created from scratch with hundreds of volunteers, Philippine businesses have consistently proven that they can find opportunity within adversity.”

Digitization had played a huge part in addressing these problems.

And now, more than a hundred days past start of lockdown — as the economy starts to re-open — businesses are not just looking to rebuild but really to get ahead (or should I say power forward) given an unstable environment.

And again — to reiterate — digital infrastructure will play a critical role … businesses need to actively scale up their digital capacities if they want to improve resilience and stay alive.

Just as an example, I’ve witnessed the abrupt shift to online insurance enrollments at the second-biggest life insurer in the Philippines. Just a few weeks after the lockdown started, Pru Life UK, had to drive a massive digital transformation in its new business process — a shift away from manual, paper-based documents and workflows to digital. I’d say massive because I’ve always thought of the company was very much traditional in its processes — which really hindered growth.

The potential to make insurance radically accessible through technology is already a reality, through the help of AI Chatbots for instance.

Back to Pru … its new business processes were manual and required significant amounts of time and passing of information from one department to another. In this health crisis, everybody wanted to get insurance, but the agents who had been doing face-to-face appointments and meetings couldn’t do so and close new accounts because of the lockdown. As you can imagine, this presented serious … challenges as the business had to continue and more people wanted to get insured (or take advantage of the market downturn). A solution was badly needed — on that would drive operational agility, speed up the new business process, and respond to consumer demands.

And so the digital transformation started…

By shifting its policies and gradually adopting digital technologies, such as editable PDFs, eSignatures and online conferencing, finance advisors had eliminated all the paperwork involved in the insurance application process, allowing them to sell policies at double the rate it was when everything was paper-based. Now, finance advisors are able to take client information digitally, easily populate fields in editable PDFs, and then send these documents back to clients for e-signatures.

BUT this sort of “digital transformation” seems like it was one of those unplanned moves — something quickly done in response to the crisis. Then again, becoming digital is not easy.

There are many challenges to digital transformation, such as lack of clear vision and strategy, resistance, inflexible processes, and tech stack, limited budget, and many more. And often, to catch up, companies adopt and use technology that’s not valuable for their customers. They end up losing customers.

Another example where I’ve seen “quasi” use of digital technology is related to the use of online forms (Google Forms) to “digitize” the capture of information, such as for example capturing health-related data of employees, as part of the general mandate by the government whenever a person has to enter a particular establishment. I’d call it quasi because sometimes in the end, these companies end up with more work trying to put the data of these forms together … or worse, failing to secure and protect the privacy of their people’s data for that matter.

But there are those (innovations) which are inclusive, that makes real impact.

When an innovation is inclusive, it prioritizes providing access to those who are often not reached by the products and services commonly available in the market. This includes the low-income population who cannot afford the services they need, far-flung areas that do not have reliable ways of connecting to city centers, and other marginalized groups that are often excluded from acquiring basic necessities.

Thanks to homegrown innovations such as SafeForm which enables business owners to create digital forms securely and SafePass, which gives businesses the ability to contact trace when an incident arises, which is made possible through digital health questionnaires and registration forms that visitors accomplish electronically. These innovations bring together the best of technologies and Filipino ingenuity to help businesses — especially MSMEs — operate better in the new normal.

Because now that more people are spending most of their time online and that the preferred interaction is contact-less, the more that businesses need to take action to deliver value now. Businesses cannot afford to be reactive and must rapidly make decisions and mobilize their resources to operate forward through disruption.

For industries with broad customer-facing operations, like retail and financial services, YES — implementing digital solutions is not always an easy undertaking. But working collaboratively with the right partner can propel your business forward during these uncertain times.

How can your business power through amidst the COVID-19 crisis and digitally transform your organizations?

1. Assess existing customer engagement channels. As already mentioned, today’s consumers have shifted towards digital interactions. Businesses will have, on one hand, digital-savvy customers, who will expect and demand personalized conversations, while less digital-savvy customers may feel inundated. As an example, whenever I deal with customer service reps from e-commerce shops — I expect them to fully know me — and that means my purchase history, preferences, on top of the personal details which I already have provided to them.

WHERE your CUSTOMERS want to interact with you today is where you want to be. This means: putting customers at the core of your business — unifying all of your customer’s data so you can then understand customers’ expectations, demands, and behavior and re-thinking about how you engage with them that takes advantage of disruptive technologies.

2. Focus on quick and incrementally-built digital projects with the biggest impact for customer engagement. I personally enjoy banking with RCBC and UnionBank — the way they’ve responded to the market and how they’re able to ease and address even the smallest pain points, ex online check deposits, Viber OTP confirmations. These things from the consumer POV are valuable. But these weren’t quasi-built. These were built because these companies listened to the consumers and they addressed those gaps.

3. Align with strategic digital transformation initiatives. It’s especially important for companies to develop a digital roadmap. There has to be a CLEAR STRATEGY vs just modernizing as you go and one’s approach needs to be disruptive and iterative because the world is always changing.

We can help. We’ve worked with industry giants to help them move quickly and successfully in this digital era, even before pandemic started. Get in touch with us today for a discussion.

Macelle Legaspi is a digital strategist & tech marketing professional.