The top challenges facing CTOs in a post-Covid era and how to solve them

Dr Gero Decker, Co-lead SAP Business Process Intelligence & Co-founder of Signavio, discusses some of the key challenges facing CTOs on the path to rapid digital transformation, and why there are no short cuts when it comes to post-COVID prosperity
Dr Gero Decker, Co-lead SAP Business Process Intelligence & Co-founder of Signavio, discusses some of the key challenges facing CTOs on the path to rapid digital transformation, and why there are no short cuts when it comes to post-Covid prosperity.

With the world slowly returning to normal following the most tumultuous 18 months in living memory, businesses everywhere are finding themselves faced with a new series of post-Covid challenges they must get to grips with as quickly as possible.

Most notable among them is the seismic consumer shift towards digital and online services, which was accelerated by over five years within just a few weeks at the start of pandemic, and has shown little sign of slowing down since. Alongside this, emphasis on customer service has also grown exponentially, with many consumers now placing brand experience even above pricing, in terms of what they look for when shopping online. They want brands to make their lives easier, not force them to contend with redundant steps or bombard them with irrelevant messaging. Supply chain shortages and extended shipping times have sapped them of the emotional strength needed to forgive companies that fail to anticipate and eliminate problems before they happen. 

For some CTOs, this double whammy is a daunting prospect to overcome, particularly for those who were behind the business transformation curve already. Even before COVID-19 hit, direct-to-consumer digital natives like Peloton, Hello Fresh, Dollar Shave Club and more, had been raising customer expectations for seamless, personalised, and convenient experiences. The pandemic has sent this trend into overdrive, creating a ferociously competitive marketplace across nearly every sector. But one thing is clear – consumers that have made the move to digital are unlikely to go back. This means that while they are more open to discovering new products and services, they are also less loyal to brands, especially if they perceive them to be falling behind the competition. There are three things’ CTOs must pay special attention to in order to jump these barriers:

Customer journey mapping can provide a much-needed catalyst for business transformation

Most businesses recognise the need to build digital competency to deliver the seamless digital experiences customers want but plans to transform almost never make it from ideation to execution, or the solutions implemented end up creating even more problems. Companies often struggle to align day-to-day operations with changing priorities and strategies. At the heart of it, there is a disconnect between operational excellence initiatives and customer experience. 

Operational excellence focuses on changing from the inside out. It asks, “How do you optimise what your company is already doing?” But optimisation is not the same as transformation. Continual improvements of course add value, but to transform for the better, companies must also be open to becoming something different. The question therefore becomes, “What does the company need to become in order to solve customers’ problems and meet their needs?”

The natural tendency is to drive change from within, but to attract, serve and retain customers, businesses need to take an outside-in approach. That must start with the customer. Customer journey mapping is how companies bring a customer-centric, outside-in approach to their business strategy. When successfully conducted, it can help CTOs find deep empathy and properly align internal digital strategy to serve customer needs.

Correct use of technology will optimise processes and drive change

While effective customer journey mapping can help businesses identify issues and areas for improvement, effective implementation of technology will ultimately drive true end-to-end transformation. Adoption of digital process automation, dynamic case management, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence has risen significantly in recent years, as businesses seek to optimise customer experience and deliver a seamless end-to-end service.

Forward-thinking organisations are also investing in the tools needed to drive process discovery and analytics at scale, enabling them to quickly identify issues and improve them wherever needed. An increasingly popular way of doing this is through process mining, which involves identifying and capturing tiny traces of previously hidden data from across a business’s process environment and using them to build a comprehensive, highly accurate picture of what is really going on within it. Armed with this information, process owners and managers can then create dashboards and visualisations based on solid facts rather than instinct and gut feeling, leading to better-informed decision making and process improvement prioritisation at the CTO level.

Automation is not a silver bullet and should be used with caution

While automating processes may seem like an attractive way to speed up operations and improve customer service, it is crucial that businesses proceed with caution when considering such a prospect. The reason being that automation is not risk-free and applying it to an inefficient process will only serve to magnify the inefficiency, potentially making it significantly worse. In addition, the more automation gets used, the harder it becomes to fix broken automations, leaving CTOs and engineers alike chasing their tales in a bid to find the original source of issues.

For this reason, businesses looking to harness the power of automation must follow the correct path of accurately mapping the customer journey, mining existing processes and only then, looking at how automation can be implemented to boost both business performance and customer experience. Even once it has been implemented, it is still crucial to retain process experts as part of the team to continually monitor output and modify or refine processes as needed.

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As the world wakes up to the new, post-COVID business landscape, CTOs everywhere are scrambling to adapt their business models to new customer expectations and habits. Rapid digital transformation will play a huge role in this for many, but following the correct process is crucial and cutting corners can quickly cause more harm than good.

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