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Why Digital Transformation Is Imperative For Business Continuity With revenue forecasts slashed across most sectors, everyone is being asked to cut operating expenses while at the same time maintaining business continuity

By Marc Caltabiano

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business leaders in general, and CIOs in particular, to move faster than ever before. With revenue forecasts slashed across most sectors, interruptions on both the supply- and demand-side, everyone is being asked to cut operating expenses, while at the same time maintaining business continuity and building a path to returning to work.

Seismic changes—earthquakes—are occurring in both customer behavior and workplace organization. And the thing about earthquakes is that they rarely leave the landscape looking the same as it did before.

Transformation takes on a new urgency

In this environment, digital transformation isn't a project that runs smoothly alongside ordinary business operations. It's a must-do-yesterday component of business continuity that has to be expedited to keep pace with the obstacles thrown up by the pandemic response itself.

After enabling telecommuting and digital collaboration tools to ensure continuity in internal systems, IT leaders face the task of transforming the organization as a whole. In doing so, the decisions made today are going to define the baseline on how to respond to future changes in operating approaches.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than nine in ten IT leaders were undertaking digital transformation projects in the next year. Now it's much closer to ten in ten, and the other nine are undertaking those projects on radically different terms.

Pace and agility are paramount here. Few leaders will be able to afford the blockages that siloed applications and data present to transformation efforts. The average large organization runs more than 900 applications and has less than a third of them integrated. When you're planning rapid digital transformation efforts, it's important to identify key priorities for interoperability and ensure that integrations are performed ahead of time so that they do not affect the cadence of the project.

The same is true of data silos. Information that cannot be accessed usefully by other parts of the business often may as well not exist. If you clear data silos only when they become a problem your transformation efforts will not keep pace with the requirements of an evolving situation. Mapping where data silos are likely to interrupt your programme ahead of time and running concurrent programs to break down those silos before they cause blockages is advisable.

Keep your customers at the front

When directing digital transformation in an urgent or crisis environment, it can be understandable to focus on systems, departments and business units. This is especially true for those CIOs and IT leaders whose background is primarily technical.

Leaders should remember to position the people who are most important to their business—customers—at the centre of all their transformation planning. Every technical decision should proceed from a strategic impetus to either discover or meet the changing needs of customers.

In many organizations this will mean that tools to measure and map customer behaviors and journeys are among the most important. The data they generate will have to be available widely in a usable form, and these tools will have to be heavily integrated across the organization to build a single picture of customer needs and attitudes during a crucial time.

Customers in crisis will seek the reassurance of real-time, accurate information, so ensuring things like supply chain visibility, accurate real-time inventory and frictionless communication of digital service offerings (through digital channels) will also be a priority.

Ensuring proactive communication with customers will be paramount so optimizing systems that communicate orders status and other important information should be near the top of the priority list.

Deploy APIs strategically

If you consider a bottom-up approach to APIs, you're going to have an API programme that is best suited to the immediate needs of technicians and business units. It will be ad-hoc, messy and possibly unsuited to the needs of your organization and its customers.

A top-down approach ensures that APIs that are applied clear potential blockages before they interrupt digital transformation programmes. They can also ensure that their use is always aligned with project goals and customer needs rather than with developer convenience.

Having a strategic, whole-organization view of API deployment will help transformation efforts remain on-course, data become available where it's needed and, where APIs are particularly successful, can even lead to revenue for the company as they're monetized.

Given that you're likely to be performing a series of repsonses at pace, it's often a good idea to build re-usable integration assets to save time and money on overall projects. Ensure when developing APIs that key stakeholders across the organization are consulted and their needs considered. Engagement like this is also the key to using APIs to unlock collaboration between teams, which can move your digital transformation efforts forward more quickly and ensure cross-functional alignment on strategic goals.

Take care of your people

You're not going to be able to convince any members of your team that the next period is going to be easy. There will be more work, it will be harder and you'll be given fewer resources to perform it. But if your people burn out, there's little prospect of success. Your staff are your greatest asset when it comes to digital transformation and you need to take care of them.

A clear strategy that is effectively communicated to your teams, a program for managing stress and burnout, and the capacity to engage some extra support at crucial moments are going to be vital to completing the digital transformation projects that will allow your company to navigate the current crisis and thrive in the new normal that follows.

Marc Caltabiano

Vice-president-Australia and New Zealand, Mulesoft

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