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Four tips for successful post-pandemic digital innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic was the most disruptive global event in recent history — putting a complete halt to ‘business as usual’ for organizations in virtually every industry. It’s been challenging for us all, and businesses around the world have had to push through major digital innovations just to survive.

With customers on lockdown and physical stores and offices forced to shut their doors, millions of companies had to innovate quickly to meet new customer needs and stay ahead as conditions changed. Whether that meant creating new digital storefronts and experiences, or finding ways to empower remote teams, it’s shown just how crucial digital innovation can be when applied in the right way, at the right time.

Now, with many organizations finally turning their attention towards recovery and the future, digital innovation has retaken its rightful place at the top of their agendas. But, with millions of customers driven away from physical channels and into digital ones, conditions today are very different to when most initiatives were paused over 12 months ago.

Now, the question on many leaders’ minds is, “What does it take to lead and implement successful digital innovation in this new normal?”

While there’s no single right approach to digital innovation, there are a number of emerging success factors that can help businesses find the right approaches for them. Whatever you want to achieve, these tips will help you select the right projects, respond faster as conditions change, and not only recover from the impacts of the pandemic, but get ahead in the new normal.

1. Start with customer needs, and work back to technology

The innovations that have the most impact solve real customer needs while also improving, optimizing, or streamlining internal operations. Take the rise of digital storefronts for example — they meet customer demand for flexible, high-choice shopping experiences, while also enabling you to run a lean, efficient sales and distribution model.

A mistake many organizations make when planning innovation projects is starting with the technology. They see a powerful new tech area like AI or computational linguistics, and look for areas of their business where that technology could be applied. Sometimes that’s going to have good results, but it’s far more effective to start the process by identifying an unmet customer need.

By starting with customer needs, then working down to the technology that could help you solve it, you can ensure that digital innovations deliver meaningful improvements for customers. Plus, because the process began by unpicking what customers need from you, every decision can be made with customer results in mind, so whatever you create will be customer-centric by design.

2. Break down your self-imposed constraints

One of the biggest lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that, in business, nothing is set in stone. Established truths about centuries-old markets and industries have been questioned, and even the most stable and predictable of operations have been brought to a complete halt.

That’s daunting — especially for businesses that have found themselves directly disrupted by those shifts. But, now that recovery has begun, it should also be quite a liberating realization. If nothing is truly set in stone, what else might we be able to challenge and change?

Businesses are very good at creating their own barriers to innovation. Even though innovation is, by its nature, about challenging and disrupting the status quo, every business has elements of its operations, products, or services that it won’t touch, or new areas it won’t explore.

The pandemic has shown us that practically anything can be disrupted or changed. Now, businesses need to adopt that as part of their growth mindset. 

What areas have you been afraid to explore in the past? Which shelved ideas seemed too potentially disruptive to the core of your business? And what seemed too far out of your comfort zone to make a reality? The answers to those questions could hold the key to your success, and enable you to define the next normal on your terms.

3. Foster a culture of innovation

Digital innovation is about much more than just having the right ideas and acting on them before anyone else. To innovate successfully, and stay ahead of the curve, you need to foster a culture of innovation across your business and become highly responsive to changing customer needs.

Nurturing this culture means:

  • Enabling and supporting rapid development, testing, and deployment of new digital services and solutions
  • Constantly observing customers and markets to identify opportunities and respond quickly to changing needs
  • Listening to people at all levels of your business and empowering them to share their ideas to improve products, services, or operations
  • Actively encouraging experimentation right across your team and seeing failure as an opportunity to learn and build upon
  • Making the most of new technology capabilities and re-evaluating tools frequently to discover if a particular capability could be beneficial to your organization

As with any cultural change, this needs to be led from the top. By adopting these qualities at the highest level of your organization, then working down to empower everyone, you can bring a culture of innovation to life — even in long-established, highly stable organizations.

4. Keep looking ahead

During a crisis, everyone’s focus immediately shifts to adapting and responding — ensuring the business can meet the needs of customers, repurpose employees to fill new roles and stay operational in new conditions.

That’s essential to maintain business continuity, but it’s important to not get stuck in ‘response’ mode for too long after the event. At its heart, innovation is all about driving change yourself, not responding to it. If you stay focused on keeping up with what’s going on today, you’ll miss valuable opportunities to shape the future yourself. In other words, you’ll always be the disrupted — never the disruptor.

With pandemic recovery underway, now is the time to look to the future once again, and carefully consider what you want it to look like. If you’re fortunate enough to have fully recovered from this particular disruption, it’s time to start doing some disrupting of your own.

Culture, practices, technology: the recipe for successful digital innovation

Great digital innovation is a combination of timely, customer-centric ideas for change, practices that help you develop and test that change quickly, and the technology required to bring your new solutions and services for life. 

That’s why ThoughtWorks and Amazon Web Services are collaborating to enable digital innovation and modernization. 

By combining ThoughtWorks’ decades of consulting experience and heritage as a pioneer of agile methodologies and continuous delivery, with the flexibility of AWS, we have the insight, capabilities, and tools needed to help you define your next normal.

Find out more about how we’re helping businesses lead customer-centric modernization, and how we can help you shape a better future for your customers, your people, and your organization — visit [https://www.thoughtworks.com/what-we-do/customer-experience-product-design] today.

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