We caught up with Brian Solis, world renowned digital analyst and anthropologist, to talk about his new role at Salesforce. Brian has an insightful take on what the pandemic means for how companies connect to customers, and we discuss his idea around the "novel economy." We get into the details of Digital Transformation, and talk about Netflix vs. going for a bike ride. 


Digital Transformation Landscape

A couple of months ago, a tongue-in-cheek meme was making its way around Twitter. The meme presented a survey, asking people what was driving the digital transformation at their company. There were three choices: The CEO, the CTO, or COVID-19.

The meme was clearly a joke, but it contained a grain of truth. A turbulent 2020 has shone a new spotlight on digital transformation initiatives, by rapidly accelerating the adoption of new digital technologies. For instance, platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams (not to mention Zoom) have experienced a massive boom in users.

But what will the long term effects of this be? How might this year have changed the digital transformation process, moving forward? 

Brian Solis, world-renowned digital analyst and anthropologist, had lots to say about how 2020 has accelerated the need for businesses to move into their digital transformation era. But he also counselled that businesses should make sure that their digital transformation journey is human-centric and creative.

No Return to the Old Normal

We asked Brian how life after COVID-19 looks for businesses, and what it’s going to take to survive the so-called “new normal”.

The new normal could be described as a blank canvas, where we can create the future under disruptive circumstances that no one really saw coming… Even though we are disrupted, we're not bouncing back to what we knew before. We have an opportunity to bounce forward to something new. We have this unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine what we do, moving forward.

For Brian, despite the business challenges, 2020 is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to consider how industries will be transformed and how best to react to those changes. Take shopping, Brian pointed out: E-commerce went from merely playing catch-up with physical commerce, to rapidly overtaking it. This trend will continue beyond COVID-19 and likely never be reversed, Brian said: 

“When we eventually get back to life outside, people are going to be wary of shopping and behaving the way that they used to. This means digital becomes more important than ever before.”

Aside from understanding these new behaviors, Brian believes that companies now have to employ a two-pronged approach to a digital transformation solution. He calls it a bi-modal digital transformation, where you deal with both the digital needs of a remote workforce and your company’s ecommerce. 

“Automation, AI, chatbots—all of these things are now taking priority. And then you have these new customers and new employee behaviors that are emerging. How can we use digital to essentially innovate in new business models and new business services?  These two things become an absolute priority for the organization, not just to serve the necessity, but also start to carve out a new place in these new and emerging markets.”

Digital Transformation Revolution: A Human Lens

The post-COVID “novel economy”, Brian said, has accelerated the digitization of society. In turn, it has brought new focus to what we mean by digital transformation. Thinking back to the 2012 report he wrote about the subject, Brian said:

“Digital transformation requires us to look through a human lens, and that human lens is the digital customer and the digital employee. This gives us a sense of purpose and vision for why we were doing this, where we were going, and what those stages will look like. It's almost like I could republish that research, align it with today's narrative, and that roadmap would still work. Even though we're disrupted by the virus, it's still human-centered, and that is the best sense of purpose to guide us moving forward.”

Challenges with Digital Transformation

The novel economy is exposing new security risks. Global 100 banks and life science companies are heavily regulated industries, and the risks of digital transformation are very real for them. But from March 2020, they are undertaking a full-blown move to WhatsApp and other social media channels, to maintain a constant flow of communication with their employees and customers. Brian addresses this issue, saying:

“[It’s] a perfect place for a security company to be, because you help enable that type of move safely and securely. Especially if there's a reason why those are highly regulated industries.”

With digital transformation, knowing the risks can help you overcome challenges and drive business growth. 

The Novel Economy is Driving Digital Transformation

The novel economy has drastically altered business as we know it. We are experiencing digitization on an all-new scale. Companies need to transform and embrace this new digital world.

As an organization, how you did business, what you stood for, your brand pillars, service and marketing standards—all of that needs to change. It needs to adapt to a new kind of customer in a new world. “This is an opportunity to take all this digital conversation and be more relevant and more empathetic. Be vulnerable and tell your customer, ‘We’re changing, too. And we’re changing because of you,’” says Brian.

We hope you enjoy this digital transformation podcast. Find out more about Brian Solis and the novel economy. You can also visit Brian’s website for more thought-leadership articles and follow Brian on Twitter @briansolis.

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