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Digital Transformation Possibilities

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Picture yourself back on December 31, 2019 as the clock strikes midnight and you enter 2020.   You are on holiday celebrating with friends, enjoying the moment away from home whether you are in warm, sunny territory, on the beach or in a nice, winter cabin.  Or maybe you have not traveled and are r at home celebrating with tens or hundreds of friends. The world looks promising in terms of the stock market at an all-time high, unemployment at the lowest level in decades, a busy election season to come full of debates in various places throughout the US.

Global travel, be it for put business or pleasure, is thriving and you look at the upcoming year to be filled with human, positive, prosperous interaction. You’re thinking about the year ahead with flights to book, travel arrangements and deals to be had, airline special pricing to be obtained for booking in advance, cruise possibilities that you’ve been waiting for a while coming to reality and those many special events to happen away from home.

Would you have thought then about touchless, people-less, virtual change to come? Would you have thought about not being able to get back home easily or safely from where you planned to be? Would you have thought about once you did return having to quarantine at home and then not traveling outside the home for an extended period.

Would you have thought about virtual conferences versus hundreds or thousands of people gathered indoors to go through a multiple-days’ slate of activities?  Did you even know back then of Zoom or imagined the explosive growth of it or Slack or Teams?  Would you have thought about not being able to be with close friends or loved ones or coworkers for months?

The answer to all these is probably “No, those thoughts probably never crossed my mind”, certainly not as quickly in your lifetimes.  Now think about how quickly all of that changed happened that mid-March week here in the U.S. 

In a discussion recently with an executive at a now well-known video / audio company, he shared with me and others the experience of signing on a new client in the COVID-19 era.  His company AND the client, introducing their product to the client’s 100,000+ user based would have collectively agreed that the rollout and changed would take at least 6 months to 1 year to successfully execute.   With COVID-19, they made it happen in a week!

Companies like his who are responding to the challenge are doing what was previously unthinkable, introducing quality change for millions of people overnight or within days, enabling businesses and employee bases to be productive working remotely.  And as airline reservations / seats became scarce, as availability came back but consumers didn’t feel safe, as hotels and timeshares stayed or began to open consumers couldn’t or would get to them, businesses HAD to change to adapt to a “new normal” that is still forming.

Where in the past, keyless, touchless, people-less check-in to a room or pickup / delivery from a retail outlet or restaurant were perks, they became overnight necessities and the pace of change to provide them accelerated.  Within hours, ideas that had been talked about, planned for, debated, and thought to take too long, cost too much or be impossible became must-do-now realities to stay in business.

As we think about travel, hospitality and retail, these industries for survival purposes have had to accelerate change.  Looking at the changes contemplate over a period of months, quarters, years and potentially even decades, that oft-quoted phrase of “necessity is truly the motherhood of invention” has driven us to deliver immediately what we previously thought was unthinkable or impossible.

Arguably, it may be months, quarters, years or even decades before some businesses in these industries return to “normal”.  But to survive and again thrive, the pace and quantity of change we have been through since mid-March will pale in comparison to the dimensions of change, we will go through in the next short-term period of time.  Touchless, people us, safe and verified, secure and readily available are and will continue to be here to stay.

In hospitality, it will be A.I., bots, people-less interactions that will drive business forward. Companies simply will not have the ability and availability to hire back and sustain human resources to keep business moving forward successfully.  While movement to people-less reservations and inventory handling has already happened via mobile applications and web-site traffic COVID-19, that pace of change is accelerating and will continue. That change will impact the kind of work we do and the ways we travel, stay, buy, eat, and interact with family and friends vat restaurants and other social gatherings.

As travel begins to open, requirements of what are safe, clean, and secure will increase dramatically and companies will respond increasingly with automation, verification and guarantees to keep business growing and attract customers back.  The way we fly, drive, take the train or sail by ship will continue to evolve in an automated fashion to remove the risks of viral spreads and infection.

The term “digital transformation” will itself evolve and transform to better focus on the customer experience using digital and virtual, forcing companies to think and act differently to accelerate change end to end, from that customer all the way through to a company’s back office and functions.  The timelines of transformations being strategized, planned out and executing will move from months and years to weeks, days, hours, and minutes.  Think of what Cisco did years ago by being one of the first to virtually close the books every night. Think of Netflix and the hundreds, if not thousands of releases daily that go to subscribers.  The successful companies are reacting to a faster, more sustained piece of change and the importance of great change management grows by the minute.  

The phrase “it’s simply cannot be done that fast at that cost at that quality” is being eliminated. It is not a matter of “if “or “nice to have” or “we’ll get there one day”.  This ever evolving, “new normal” or “new reality” will itself change in an accelerating way.   One need only look at what happened in curbside pickup and touchless delivery that changed the way we dine, shop, and deliver forever.

If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, we’ve now been taught that the pace of change and how we viewed it before was a state of mind, potentially holding us back from innovation and change we could excuse away.  This pandemic “smack in the face” reality has forced us to enable ourselves to do things better, cheaper, faster than we would have ever believed, imagined, or accepted. Technology has been this way forever for a long time. Moore’s law and the pace of change continues to accelerate exponentially.  What did not change pre-COVID-19 to keep up were our mindsets, our processes, our data, and abilities to use it.  Now we are catching up with still so much more to explore and do… better, faster, cheaper.

Where we wanted or liked it or not, COVID-19 is a reality with us for longer than we want and those non-technology changes are shifting into a higher gear, driven by survival necessity.  To not just survive but thrive, the pace of change in these non-technology areas must continue to accelerate.

Ending on a positive note for travel, hospitality, and retail, there probably has not been in our lifetimes a greater opportunity for changes in people, process, and data that when combined with technology will produce explosive growth and success.  And while things look bleak right now for these industries, hospitality, travel, and retail companies, existing and new, that embrace this acceleration will emerge successfully into the “new normal and reality”.