Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Matthew Guarini, VP and senior research director at Forrester.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, firms scrambled to spin up new customer and employee experiences at a time when the economic outlook was becoming more and more uncertain. For some firms, it felt like a race against the clock.
In fact, there are numerous firms that didn't survive the pandemic, and we are still seeing a shakeout today. Forrester predicts that upward of 20% of Fortune 500 companies will sell assets, shut down operations or merge this year in the search for profits and customers.
When it came to technology strategy, most firms fell into one of two camps.
For leaders, the pandemic accelerated their existing digital transformation plans and spending. They adapted their plans and made them happen in a matter of weeks. They digitized processes rapidly and pivoted business models using existing technology roadmaps. They did truly amazing things and put distance between themselves and their competitors as they used the crisis to strengthen their relationship with customers.
For the rest, it was more of a scramble.
The pandemic caught them off guard and put them into a "survival mode" mentality, which drove rushed technology decisions. They implemented technology options that may not have been on their original technology strategy roadmaps.
In many cases, they made choices in the heat of the moment that often deployed the best available option for customers' or employees' most immediate needs. They also stitched together existing systems with APIs and did the bare minimum to get their remote workers access to the tools they needed.
While the pandemic brought significant challenges, it also exacerbated several existing issues.
First, we continue to see high levels of digital sameness. Digital sameness is investing in digital solutions only to find that the offering is highly similar to competitors. This results in stagnating or falling customer experience and means your company struggles to get ahead.
Second, productivity from tech investments has been falling for the past 20 years, according to Forrester analysis. Too often, today's tech leaders make decisions based on efficiency, and those gains are tough to come by. The real value of tech is moving toward effectiveness. Effectiveness better measures outcomes that your business and customers recognize and value.
Third, technical debt continues to rise. While we have best intentions at heart, the fact is that technology is so pervasive that we struggle to control and optimize it for the good of our future.
A tech strategy fit for a volatile future
Today, the world is returning to normalcy. Customers are returning. Growth is strong. Business is booming. But the challenges remain, including changing customer demands and increasing competition from all angles, among others.
With technology serving as an incredible differentiator, it is critical that today's tech leaders define and deliver the right technology strategy. The question technology leaders should be asking themselves today is: "Is our technology strategy able to deliver for customers and employees as we look ahead to a new normal?"
If you are now looking to evaluate your tech with an eye toward a more volatile future, here are some suggestions:
1. Be customer-obsessed in tech decisions
The data is clear: Customer-obsessed companies have better revenue growth, higher customer satisfaction and improved employee engagement. Most companies are lacking, however, when it comes to customer obsession.
Being customer-obsessed means looking at everything through your customer's eyes. And that applies to technology strategy and delivery.
Whether it's a front-end, customer-facing experience or a back-end internal system, evaluate its worth and value based on the customer's needs first. That means building solutions that engage customers on the devices and channels they choose, so it is vital you understand customer preferences and behaviors.
2. Strive for resiliency, creativity and adaptivity
Adaptive firms use predictive insights to get ahead of trends and then leverage flexible technology and changeable operating models to seize advantage before their competition.
Creativity may just be the last true differentiator, and the firms that excel with creativity are different. They leverage new thinking around the mindsets, practices, and conditions that are necessary to foster a creative environment and team. Resilient firms deliver on their brand promise no matter the crisis, leveraging key capabilities including automation, dependable IT and systemic risk management.
3. Think platforms, not point solutions
One of the underpinnings of the future-fit technology strategy is the use of platforms — bundles of enabling technologies and services preassembled to deliver a specific customer experience or business capability.
Cloud technology and APIs are central to enabling economies of scale, while low-code tooling and marketplaces of apps and add-ons dramatically simplify customization and integration. Platforms also impact how organizations tune their practices to assemble and manage their technology (and add relevant skills) as they move from suites to stacks and become more adaptive, creative and resilient (through pre-vetted relationships and elasticity).
When new business opportunities occur, businesses can use these platforms to rapidly assemble new, unique value propositions and experiences for customers that drive significant business for the firm.
Of all lessons learned during the pandemic, perhaps the most important is to expect the unexpected. Shifting to a 100% remote work environment wasn't on most CIOs' radars. Restrictions of in-person dining and shopping weren't, either.
For technology executives, the role is now to ensure that the technology strategy not only adapts to future disruption but allows the firm to make the most of unexpected change. And remember that adaptivity is proactive — market leaders predict the future and change to capture the benefits before the competition.