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A look back at 2020 – challenges, progress and the road forward

Updated: Feb 2

Glenn Ballard, CEO of New World Tech, looks back on what has been without doubt a terrible year, and makes a positive leap of faith that 2021 will be much better.

“When I did a review at the end of 2019 of what to expect in the year ahead, I could not possibly have imagined the unique challenges and opportunities that 2020 would bring. 2020 has changed everything as we know it, with the pandemic, political upheaval, and an economic crisis have exploded truths and ideas that a year ago were so fundamental they were beyond question.


Every year there are typically a few defining moments, but this year has contained so many world-changing, paradigm-shifting developments, it is hard to believe that we are not in a simulation that is running every possible scenario at once.


This has been a year of realising that what we thought was solid ground beneath our collective feet was in fact a cliff that could crumble away at any moment – the pandemic and its attendant upheaval have brought the normal lives of virtually everyone to a screeching halt.


By March ‘normal’ was long gone, Lockdown was introduced, the Olympics were postponed, face masks became a familiar sight and social distancing and home working became a way of life. A spring of fearful paralysis turned into a summer of relative reprieve and then as relaxation of lockdowns and public’s loosening of precautionary behaviours saw recorded cases and deaths rise, winter has turned into mounting dread as a second wave of the pandemic hits.


Today as I write this BLOG, Joe Biden is predicted to defeat Trump to win the White House, the UK has the largest peacetime Government borrowing in our history, safe sky corridors for drones have been successfully tested, Elon Musk has become the world’s second richest person and most importantly drug makers have announced that an effective vaccine will soon be available.


History will look back at 2020 as a turning point on how we work, learn and interact personally and professionally. We have all become more tech-dependent and tech-savvy making virtual calls to clients, customers, family and friends. Digital platforms have become the only way for many of us to work, get fit or be educated and entertained.


But the virtual world distributes its favours unevenly. Millions cannot do their work on a Teams / Zoom Collaboration meeting / call, from carpenters to ballerinas, and the online option is disproportionately unavailable to populations who are marginalised in other ways.


Companies are making crisis-related changes with the long term in mind as they switch to digital technologies. For most, the need to work and interact with customers remotely required investments in data security and an accelerated migration to the cloud. Now that the investments have been made, these companies have permanently removed some of the pre crisis bottlenecks to virtual interactions.


Companies are already discussing whether they need large city office spaces with employees relying on crowded public transport anymore. Some, like Twitter have already made the decision that they do not go into the office.


Changing employee demands regarding flexibility, home working and safety are likely to make the rush hour history, which has affected property values in inner cities and satellite commuter towns. However, at the same time, we have to ensure that our employees' welfare remains a priority and despite being disconnected physically they still feel connected to the overall company and its direction. This crisis has reminded us of the importance and value of our people, and we must ensure their welfare.


Companies have had to accelerate the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years and dramatically increase the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios to fill the gaps left by face-to-face interactions.


If the pace of the pre-coronavirus world was already fast, the luxury of time now seems to have disappeared completely. Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.


Today we live in a world in which digital channels are the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model, and automated processes have become the primary driver of productivity – and the basis of flexible, transparent, and stable supply chains. A world in which agile ways of working are a prerequisite to meeting seemingly daily changes to customer behaviour.


At the beginning of 2020, we saw a lot of change. But the speed of change was dependent on the organisational leadership and the degree to which change was needed to survive due to the impacts of the pandemic and the financial volatility of the economy. I believe that it is vital to link the use of new technologies to business outcomes, which is not always the first instinct of tech-savvy business people.


Investing in digital transformation was vital before the pandemic, and those companies that made an investment early were better able to minimise the impact of the pandemic on their business, and in many cases, were able not just to survive but thrive.”


Companies can no longer afford to just dabble at the edges of Digital Transformation. Business imperatives are evolving at breakneck speed, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no longer possible to craft long-term strategies, assign responsibility and performance targets and execute a three- to five-year plan. Companies are also having to reinvent the way that they are operate and are organised to take advantage of the opportunities that will enable them to move forward with confidence for their plans for growth.


Today, businesses of all shapes and sizes need to be able to respond to highly-volatile customer demand and adapt to severe disruption and change at dizzying pace. Events are likely to result in permanent shifts in consumer preferences and buying behaviour, which will lead to changes to existing business models.


NWT provides a portfolio of Digital Consultancy Services that are design to enable our customers to outmanoeuvre uncertainty and gain above market growth and sustainable competitive advantage. We achieve this by helping them implement an intelligent digital transformation journey that balances speed and value and embraces the key digital imperatives that are shaping our world: improved agility, an aligned IT and business strategy, delivering a world-class user experience and ensuring the business is cost-effective.


There is no denying that 2020 has been a terrible year. But while there are no guarantees, there are some predictions: It is going to take a collective, concerted effort to stop the virus and technology and science will assist us. The technology we are already exposed and accustomed to has paved the way for us to innovate further and change our working and personal lives even more. Despite the reality which faces us today, I for one am staying positive and optimistic, and believe that there is a lot we have learnt from the last 11 months that will help us going forward, I hope you are too. Stay safe.”

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