Last Updated May 17, 2021 —

At the start of the pandemic, some enterprises managed to pivot quickly, becoming more resilient virtually overnight. See how they did it in this blog post. 


As we continue to assess the dramatic effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic on a wide cross-section of organizations and industries, patterns are starting to emerge. At the start of the pandemic, certain enterprises managed to pivot quickly, becoming more resilient and producing solutions virtually overnight.

By the middle of 2020, it became evident that organizations with certain characteristics were adapting at a more rapid pace than others. In our recent webinar on the significant changes in business environments in 2020, DevOps expert Gene Kim added, “While some organizations flourished, others floundered.” 

Characteristics that made the difference are those shared by companies in competitive industries that needed to differentiate aggressively in order to attain an advantage. These organizations were likely to be: 

  • Already fostering a culture of innovation 
  • Delivering value efficiently through digital innovations 
  • Maintaining a focus on UX/UI
  • Demonstrating responsiveness
  • Embracing digital transformation 

Organizations with these attributes typically were better positioned and equipped to quickly identify their immediate needs and then act rapidly to devise solutions.

Adaptability of organizations a major differentiator during the pandemic

The events that unfolded after the global crisis began in March 2020 revealed the ability of organizations to not only pivot but also to rapidly and effectively execute solutions that would allow them to keep delivering value to their customers. 

The learning ability of organizations would become a factor in how successful they would be in two crucial areas: supporting their own remote workforce, and providing seamless support to their customers – at the same time.  

Over the last 12 months, it became clear that organizations who could deploy technology innovations, such as automation and self-service solutions, adapted more quickly than those not as digitally advanced. The pandemic forced organizations to accelerate overnight to support their workforces and their customers. Those who could not keep up with that pace had a more difficult time. The worst performers even found themselves in a crisis for their own survival.

In their report, The Future of Work, Cisco made the same observations about adaptability of organizations, noting those that, “have fared best this year are typically farther along with their workplace transformation and embrace this future of work. Having the right IT architectures allowed them to scale fast and respond quickly to meet ever-changing opportunities and challenges.”

The ability to adapt and pivot largely correlated with an organization’s existing technology culture and performance.

Early adopters of technology saw more seamless transition 

As 2020 progressed, it became evident that companies that were already fostering innovations and technology prior to the pandemic were able to put solutions into place at a much faster rate. These early adopters were already ahead in areas such as automation, apps, and mobile capabilities. 

Many of the organizations identified as early adopters that were in fiercely competitive industry verticals. Due to the highly commoditized nature of their products and services, these companies were already forced to innovate and excel while taking risks in order to differentiate themselves. In these organizations, CX (customer experience) enhanced by digital technologies was already a key unique selling point (USP) and a differentiating factor. Some of the common industry verticals with these traits included retail, quick-service restaurants (QSR), travel, and hospitality. 

We discussed a prime example in our 2021 DevOps webinar: the airline industry, where the low differentiation level between companies gives them incentive and push to innovate, excel and deliver value. the airline industry was already ahead of other industries in areas, such as: 

  • Delivering customer value via innovative self-service methods 
  • Providing excellent CX through mobile capabilities, apps, online features, and automation 
  • Ability to leverage customer acquisition and retention. 
  • Culture of efficiency and ability to create cost savings 
  • Overall digital capabilities achieved through efficient, repeatable processes and best-fit solutions

The result? Certain members of the airline industry harnessed these capabilities to quickly and effectively adapt in the midst of a 90% drop in travel volume that occurred almost literally overnight.

Best UX wins – why UX will remain a focus long after the pandemic

The pandemic and immediate switch to remote work and learning resulted in profound changes in buyer and user preferences. A study from UX research experts Nielsen Norman Group listed some of the widespread changes caused by COVID in the everyday lives of individuals, from work, school, socializing, healthcare, and entertainment. NNG declared, “Each behavior shift may be a short-term change or may have massive, long-term consequences for related industries.”

Organizations were forced to rapidly accelerate efforts to offer a positive digital UX, and within months of the March 2020 shutdown, it was clear that organizations with the best UX would surpass their competitors, particularly in the sectors of online education, shopping, food and grocery delivery and healthcare. 

For healthcare, the change in UX was largely tied to telehealth, which ramped up at the start of the pandemic. Healthcare organizations faced the enormous challenge of having to transform UX for multiple generations of healthcare consumers at once. The use and popularity of telehealth skyrocketed during the pandemic. Research from McKinsey showed that healthcare providers rapidly scaled remote offerings, with telehealth visits rising from 11%  to 46% of health care visits. McKinsey stressed that the extension of telehealth “will require new ways of working for a broad set of providers, step-change improvements in information exchange, and broadening access and integration of technology.” 

Experts further agree that telehealth and other forms of virtual healthcare will remain an ongoing factor going forward. Expansion of these offerings will demand more innovative digital solutions from healthcare providers. 

Digital transformation: digitally mature organizations lead the way 

There’s evidence that, in many organizations, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by a relative pace of three to four years in just a few months, with some companies advancing by as much as 10 years. 

A McKinsey Global Survey of executives concerning technology transformation during COVID showed that companies in their study ”accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years.” 

Digitization includes creating new digital offerings, enhancing existing digital capabilities, and increasing their share of digital products, the survey noted. Many also advanced digitization of their internal operations, including back office operations, production, and R&D. 

Organizations that already had a digital transformation mindset prior to the pandemic were most successful at implementing changes. The McKinsey survey also emphasized that those companies that executed “successful responses to the crisis report a range of technology capabilities that others don’t—most notably, filling gaps for technology talent during the crisis, the use of more advanced technologies, and speed in experimenting and innovating.”

Transformation, by necessity, had to be rapid, and covered areas from collaborative tools to upgraded digital sales and customer engagement platforms. We noted in a recent article on business longevity during the pandemic that, “Business leaders who had projected digital transformation strategies that spanned over the course of years found themselves being asked to make things happen (sometimes literally) overnight.” 

Due to the scope of the transformation required, organizations that were already considered to be digitally mature accelerated more quickly than firms that lagged in technology and innovation. 

COVID forced innovations, and there’s more ahead 

As a post-pandemic world unfolds, organizations continue to navigate the still-evolving landscape. Some organizations had to rapidly pivot and shift to meet their customers’ expectations, while others had to shift to entirely new market segments to remain viable. Those organizations that were prepared to create digital solutions more readily adjusted to the events of 2020. 

A Gartner study reveals that more organizations are shifting funding towards digital transformation, with CIOs reporting an average increase of 2% in IT budgets over 2021. They explained that, “The investment makes sense, as organizational leaders intend to spend more resources more rapidly on digital acceleration to better adapt to the changing economic conditions caused by the pandemic.” 

We now know that some of the rapid changes in preferences, including the shift to remove work and certain customer behaviors, will be permanent. It’s more critical than ever for organizations to keep innovating for digital solutions that will support their own remote workforce and elevate customer engagement. Even without a head start from 2020, digital transformation will remain critical beyond 2021. 

For more about the challenges of the pandemic and managing distributed teams watch this webinar.

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