A post-Covid digital era

Often you need a joke to swallow a harsh reality. Here is a nasty one. Who led the Digital Transform-ation in your company? (1) The CEO (2) The CTO or (3) Covid-19? For many, it is option 3. Laugh or wince, the fact is that the best preparation for Covid began even before the crisis struck. As industry after industry and company after company struggle to cope with the crisis, the importance of technology has become painfully real. 

What is emerging across sectors is that companies which had a higher dependence and deployment of technology in their day-to-day operations are managing better than others. Companies which had leveraged technology and automation during normal course have been better placed to manage the situation during Covid. 

Companies that were dependent on physical processes are struggling more than those which had digital processes. Often companies confuse digitisation with digital transformation. Digitisation is simply making business information appear in digital form. Managers often get a sense of achievement once their plants and divisions send them digital data with rising frequency. Digital transformation is far more than that. 

Transformation happens when a company can reorient its processes to ensure that every function is connected through digital linkage. 

Being ahead on the tech curve helped such companies maintain operations even during Covid lockdown. Despite the lockdown, they could achieve what many others could not. 

Oil and gas company Cairn-Vedanta was well into its digital transformation when Covid hit the world. It had been automating decisions using machine learning which were earlier being taken by managers. Rigs are moved around across wells to optimise the extraction. Earlier, all this was done by a set of humans sitting in an office in Gurugram. They would study the information and decide where to move the rig next. Cairn converted the process into a software that would look at all the constraints, opportunities, and with an objective function of maximising production gains. Now it creates a schedule which maximises production in the field. 

“At Cairn, we are spearheading the transformation from digitisation to digitalisation with project ‘Nirmaan’. As a part of this digital journey, we formed a Cairn Digital Council — a virtual team of 30 people, represented by the best minds from our Strategic Business Units (SBUs) and core technical functions. With this cross-functional team, we are able to define, execute, and sustain any initiative with co-ownership with the business," says Anand Laxshmivarahan R, chief digital officer, Cairn-Vedanta. 

There are several ways that companies like Cairn are ahead of the curve by being avid users of technology. Companies which are struggling to shift from physical sales to e-commerce are leaning on artificial intelligence (AI)-powered sales performance solutions. If their internal systems and logistics chain was already well connected, they were able to shift from retailer sales to online sales. 

Many back-office functions can be done by robotic process automation. Companies that had embarked on back office-automation now feel more comfortable than others. Even cash flow forecasting becomes even more critical at a time when sales are low and will rise in spurts. Agile AI systems can help make better predictions for companies. 

Asked about it, companies like Cairn may have a better answer for the digital transformation joke. For such companies, the answer would be 1 or 2. But unfortunately, for many companies the answer has been number 3. The transition to digital transformation will be rapid, painful and probably more expensive. But perhaps this is for the better. The Covid crisis will achieve what an army of CTOs could not. 

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