Many of the transformative changes that companies have made to continue business in a pandemic are probably here to stay, a global PwC survey of about 700 CEOs suggests.
That means more digitisation, automation, and remote, flexible working conditions are on the horizon.
More than three-fourths of respondents (78%) expected companies to increase their online business and move towards a more remote and flexible workforce. Almost as many (76%) expected reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning to increase. The pandemic has reinforced the value of automation to in the future enable more people to focus on meaningful work rather than on repetitive tasks, respondents said.
Efforts are already underway.
Nearly one-quarter of respondents (24%) ranked digitising core business operations and processes as their top priority. Seventeen per cent said adding digital products and services was their top priority. Increasing the share of remote workers or contingent workers was top of mind of 15% of respondents, followed by expanding employee health, safety, and wellness programmes (11%). Automation was a top priority for 5% of respondents.
The pace of change is picking up
The pandemic accelerated some existing trends, said Gloria Liu, ACMA, CGMA, financial controller for L’Oréal in China.
“Customers are ever more online, driven by technologies and demographic change,” Liu said. “Their need for more personalised, faster, and value-for-money products and services means companies need to adapt to the e-world yesterday.”
And the increased digitalisation and remote connectivity in turn are forcing businesses to challenge their existing processes and structures, she added.
Lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic affected most customers of Learning Systems Group, an international foreign language school operator based in Poland.
“We responded by creating a new, more innovative way of teaching foreign languages and connecting our teachers with our students via phone and online,” said Rafał Zborowski, FCMA, CGMA, the CFO at Learning Systems Group. “We plan to launch the programme internationally soon.”
Zborowski believes the pandemic will change the company’s customers’ habits permanently.
“Now, our students can use our teaching and educational materials in a hybrid way, online and offline, while staying connected with a dedicated personal teacher,” he said. “That’s our unique value proposition to our students.”
3 strategies to rethink business models
To rethink business approaches and seize opportunities, respondents to the PwC survey, Liu, and Zborowski suggested to consider these strategies and insights:
Run scenarios that explore all aspects of the organisation to establish a flexible business and workforce plan. The plan should allow for options as to where, when, and how work gets done and should address any issues related to equitable distribution of work and employee burnout and wellbeing.
Invest in digital tools that promise to sustain resilience. Build on technology that allows employees to work remotely and customers to access products and services online to improve the organisation’s analytics and digital workforce capabilities.
“One opportunity I noticed is for real-time data track,” Liu said. “In finance, we tend to operate in a monthly cycle. But in the fast-moving consumer goods industry it’s not enough, especially when it comes to big promotions on e-commerce platforms.”
Expenses must be tracked in a timely manner to steer the results of the pre-set targets, she said. Therefore, technologies, systems, and people’s working habits all need to change. Companies that constantly oversee the megatrends and develop their people accordingly are the winners during and after the pandemic, Liu added.
Increase commitment to agility. Review the organisation’s crisis response, catalogue best practice, and make it part of the company culture. Businesses that can maintain the agility to pursue new opportunities gain a competitive advantage.
By delivering services online and by phone, Learning Systems Group was able to start enjoying economies of scale, Zborowski said.
“Suddenly, we have access to a global supply of teachers, and we may use them in a more efficient way using our digital programme,” he said. “Online helped us centralise resource management, generate much higher margins, and therefore be ready for the post-pandemic world.”
— Sofia Simeonidou is a freelance writer based in the Netherlands. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com.