For some companies that had neither completed a digital transformation nor even cloud-enabled their operations, the pandemic has served as a catalyst. It created an urgency to get moving now if they wanted to operate a remote work environment for employees or connect with customers in a world where so many of the interactions have moved online.
That's where COVID-19 separated the digital natives and digitally transformed enterprises from companies that hadn't made that transformation a priority yet. Some were on their back foot ready to go while others hadn't made their way to the starter's box yet.
But what about the companies that were already in the cloud? What about the ones already operating as a digital entity? Did the pandemic cause any kind of major shift for these companies, or has it really just been business as usual?
For ServiceNow, the company known to many as an engine behind the IT help desk as an ITSM provider based in the cloud, the change has been in how it has adjusted to serve the transformation urgency of its customers, CIO Chris Bedi told InformationWeek.
Read more about IT in 2020:
While ServiceNow's origins as a digital native meant it was quickly and seamlessly able to transition employees to work from home when the pandemic caused office closures, not all of the company's customers were as ready for the massive pivots necessitated by COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic had on business operations across many industries.
"The level of urgency to transform and digitize has increased since the pandemic started," Bedi said. "The only way to stay connected to your customers is through digital services as traditional supply chains have been disrupted. The only way to connect with your employees is through great employee experiences and employee services."
That meant "Speed" became one of the keywords for the year 2020 for Bedi and his team.
The need for speed has become an essential part of the pandemic response across the ServiceNow customer base, Bedi said.
CEOs have changed their priorities, he said. Before the pandemic they may have said, hey, let's deploy Microsoft Teams in a project that would roll out within 6 months. Once the pandemic hit, Bedi said, it was "okay, let's get that done in the next 4 days."
Beyond those urgent internal collaboration and work-from-home initiatives, Bedi said that there are a number of initiatives that are really interesting and make a lot of sense but aren't as clear in terms of immediate business value. Forget about those for the moment. Spending in these areas has been shelved for the moment so that organizations can focus on another big area.
"There's a set of compelling initiatives where the value is just jumping off the page," Bedi said. "Those things are absolutely getting more budget and getting accelerated."
An example is food and beverage giant PepsiCo, according to Bedi. As so many food supply chains were disrupted, this company quickly recognized the benefits of the direct-to-consumer channel and bought the domains Snacks.com and PantryShop.com. After all, just because you don't want to go to the store more than once every week or two because there's a killer virus out there, that doesn't mean you aren't craving some Doritos to fulfill your stress eating needs. PepsiCo jumped on that direct-to-consumer opportunity.
For ServiceNow working with customers like PepsiCo, the directive is to help these companies leverage digital services, Bedi said.
Another area where ServiceNow is seeing an increase is in chatbots. Bedi said chatbot conversations within ServiceNow have experienced a 360% increase since the start of the pandemic closures.
"People are leaning into digital labor," he said. "They need to augment their digital workforces."
At ServiceNow itself, the workforce is still largely working remotely.
"First and foremost, our guiding principle is employee safety and employee choice," Bedi said. The executive team sees no need to rush back to the office. "There is no glory in being first on that one. And we are not motivated to be a fast follower either. We are going to take our signals from health organizations."
Nonetheless, ServiceNow is looking to help other organizations enable workers to get back to the office with a series of new applications that started hitting the market in May. These include Employee Health Screening that offers onsite screening or mobile self-service; Workplace PPE Inventory Management; Employee Travel Safety for pre-authorization of travel based on the safety status of the destination; Workplace Safety Management with distancing floorplans, automated cleaning tasks, and self-service reservations; and Contact Tracing to identify and respond to employee risk exposure with data-driven contact tracing; among others. The contact tracing component incorporates several different avenues, including tracing from wireless access points and looking at individual employee calendars, which enables the system to triangulate a variety of signals, Bedi said.
While speed was a keyword for 2020, expect the COVID-19 pandemic to drive even more change in 2021.
Bedi said he expects the worlds of data, data science, and traditional IT-led process automation to combine into one discipline.
"There's an appetite to accelerate the speed," Bedi said. "I think it will have implications not only on architecture, but also on the way people are organized. Because those are traditionally different disciplines, but those worlds are going to need to come together organizationally as well."