The Year of Infinite Innovation


The Year of Infinite Innovation

How digital workflows can help business leaders unlock growth in 2021.

2020 was arguably one of the most disruptive years for business in history. And we’re not out of the woods yet. 

In light of the continuing pandemic and the prospect of a recession putting the squeeze on work, there’s no doubt that 2021 will be a make-or-break year for many companies.

As business leaders, we now find ourselves and our organizations at a crossroads. Do we double down on the digitization advances we made in 2020? Or do we wait and see what the next disruption will be? Some companies are facing this challenge head on, embracing the digital workflow revolution as a means to not only survive, but to lay the foundation for ongoing innovation. 

In the newly released CIO Outlook Report 2021, from Constellation Research, 77.3% of surveyed CIOs rated digital transformation as the top priority for 2021. But transformation is hard. New IDC analysis found that European organizations invested $332 billion in total into digital transformation initiatives in 2020, but only 26% delivered any ROI on those investments.

So, if simply throwing money at the problem doesn’t work, what does? 

From my perspective, there are three key steps CXOs must follow to unlock growth and push the envelope on transformation in 2021:

1)    Focus on company-wide digital transformation

If last year showed us anything, it’s that digital workflows make companies stronger.

Organizations that had implemented a digital transformation initiative before the pandemic hit came out of 2020 in a much better position than others. 

Applying a strategic lens on transformation to drive business model innovation is something that must continue into 2021. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. 

CIOs have historically led transformation efforts alone, but this siloed approach is rife with blind spots that can torpedo a transformation effort.

In a recent conversation with a CXO, I was struck by one comment in particular: “Digital transformation is the job of everyone in the C-suite.” This means that whether you’re a CFO, CTO, CHRO, or other C-suite leader, you have an individual perspective that brings immense value to the table. Technology is something we all need and use in our jobs, and all leaders have a unique perspective into the workflows that power their individual organisations.

By sharing these perspectives, as well as collaborating and building relationships with other senior execs around you, you can identify common goals, problems, and opportunities to transform business functions in the long term. That will help your entire business maximize value and drive growth across the board, not just in your department.

2)    Use the learnings of 2020 as a springboard for 2021

Amidst the challenges of last year, there were opportunities and successes, too. 

Data-led insights and next-gen technology have played a crucial role in addressing the fallout caused by the ongoing pandemic, with almost every industry and sector imaginable leaning on digital tools to keep day-to-day operations running

In the early days of the pandemic, companies depended on applications like ServiceNow’s emergency response suite to keep running safely and successfully. Today, customers like NHS Scotland are building upon these technologies to deliver a full-blown vaccine management system that will help them vaccinate 5.5 million citizens in just 90 days. 

Throughout 2021, these technologies and data-based insights will remain critical to success. Business leaders need to analyse the solutions put in place over the last 12 months to determine which ones are scalable for the future, which ones add value, and which ones are best left behind in 2020. 

Preparation is key to success. By consolidating the smart thinking of last year—and outlining best practices and business continuity plans for the next—we can lay down a solid foundation for future growth. From there, we can plan out our new normal, identify the architecture, platforms, and simplifications we need to make our businesses even better, and explore new areas for growth. 

3) Keep the experience top of mind

Covid-19 put customer experience in the competitive spotlight. Whatever solution, product, or service you provide, it’s vital to create a fantastic, collaborative experience that puts customers firmly at its centre. 

Getting that right means we as business leaders need to interact more closely with those customers. It’s not enough to know a customer’s problems. We must ground ourselves in an appreciation of their business: their products, their industry, what’s working well, what isn’t, and much more besides.

Just as important, the more we understand the impact of the employee experience on customer satisfaction, the more we know they are two sides of the same coin. 

New research from ESI ThoughtLab and ServiceNow suggests that digitizing the employee experience boosts productivity while slashing costs, leading to increased satisfaction for employees and customers. In fact, adopting digital processes had a cascade effect, improving both the customer experience (40%) and employee satisfaction (39%).

I saw this in action when UK government department DEFRA used ServiceNow to prepare for Brexit by bringing six citizen-facing applications in house. The result was a 50% reduction in agent call times and a positive trickle-down effect on employees who described the move as a “morale booster.”

Join the digital workflow revolution

It’s easy for advice to sound glib or insincere. Which is why it’s important for me to clarify that all these recommendations have come from many conversations I’ve had with our C-Suite customers at ServiceNow.

2021 holds huge opportunities for growth if we face it in the right way: Not with disparate tools and siloed business units, but with data-driven insights and a digital workflow platform that unites the entire organization.  

By doubling down on digitization, you can make this year the most innovative one yet.

*Source: IDC White Paper sponsored by ServiceNow, IDC #EUR146988320, "Agility: The strategic imperative to survive and thrive in volatile times", November 2020

This article first appeared in Forbes Brand Voice.

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