If you listen to business and technology pundits, you may have heard that the post COVID-19 world will be completely different from the pre COVID-19 world. Sound familiar? In the midst of a crisis, it’s tempting to label any major disruption as ushering in a new normal. However, at least in terms of business models, the new normal going forwards may be a lot more like the old normal than we think.
That’s not to say there won’t be accelerated innovation and plenty of new business models, products and services appearing, but most businesses will likely be able to operate as usual with a few strategic pivots and changes to their standard processes as well as essential safeguards.
In this regard, here are four observations and recommendations for CIOs and business strategists as you look at the near term as well as the longer term.
Plan to pivot
In many cases, small accommodations to existing business models and processes are all that is needed to operate business as usual, and this is already happening. CIOs have been implementing many changes in their playbook, such as shifting spending to remote work, setting up IT resiliency dashboards, boosting customer engagement, and being proactive about phishing scams.
Many non-tech pivots are occurring as well. McDonald’s, for example, has installed plexiglass screens at their drive-thru windows as a protective barrier to help further minimize contact between employees and customers. When restaurants re-open their dining areas post-pandemic, these screens and some social distancing decals may be the sole changes consumers see.
Grocery stores are following suit, installing plexiglass barriers. And we may expect similar changes in other industries, like travel, for example. It’s not economical to fly or drive with half the passenger count, so we may see plexiglass screens or other compartmentalization arrangements on planes, trains and buses.
However trivial, these small pivots can be vital because once tested and proven they can help businesses get back to work quickly and can be a potential model for the long term. CIOs should therefore explore both technical and non-technical pivots and changes that may work in their environment, and among their staff, whether or not they share physical space.
Balancing profit and protection
The new strategic lever for fine-tuning business and operating models will be striking the right balance between profit for the business and protection and personal safety for employees, partners and customers. This is not a “new normal” concept either — just think of the forced labor and unsafe working conditions that we’ve been witnessing in global supply chains for decades.
This balance will be a constantly moving target, much as it is almost daily with coronavirus. Beyond profit and protection, today’s most successful business models are all about achieving the right balance across all variables, including the many stakeholders involved in our business ecosystems and the broader economy.
Is the exchange of value between all stakeholders proportionate or are these business models skewed in favor of customers and investors at the expense of employees, partners and the social good? This is now part of the larger picture that CIOs, as well as organizations at large, need to consider and embrace for future success. Crises like COVID-19 add another independent variable to the mix and will require a new-found balance.
Extending existing business models
Rather than necessitating a net-new business model, social and physical distancing can be thought of as an added functional requirement on top of existing business models. I previously wrote about how the lazy economy is ushering in a new era of hyper convenience. The lazy economy is all about making life so convenient for consumers that they literally don’t have to lift a finger. Drone-delivered coffee when you’re looking tired is an extreme example.
Rather than brainstorming a new process that incorporates physical distancing, for example, it may make more sense to take a new business model such as the lazy economy and incorporate physical distancing into that broader value proposition. An example might be exploring how medicine, packages and groceries could be delivered autonomously. Drones are already being utilized amidst the COVID-19 crisis and the pandemic may well accelerate the longer-term adoption of autonomous vehicles and robotics.
For CIOs with drones and autonomous vehicles already on their radar, it’s time to revisit the timing of adoption and use cases for your enterprise. Things may move faster and in some new directions and areas of opportunity.
Innovate the small things
While some may be innovating for moonshots such as life-saving vaccines, for many enterprises it will be the small things, the quick fixes, the pivots and the incremental innovations that will make a big difference. During your next innovation workshop, as you brainstorm ideas and solutions to opportunities and challenges, be sure to capture incremental ideas as well as the more disruptive ones. Whether you invent the future in one big leap or in many small steps, the outcome can be equally promising.