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There’s a joke that’s doing the rounds on social media these days; one many of us may have heard or read and had a good laugh, and it goes - Who drove digital transformation in your company? Answer - Coronavirus!

The COVID-19 crisis may have slowed down the economy, but it has enormously accelerated components of digital transformation: Mobility, Cloud and Self-service. The current pandemic has brought several companies lagging in digital transformation to the surface with the speed of an air bubble. I guess pretty much everyone has felt this during their grocery purchases. How the mighty have lost the loyalty of their customers with the long delays in delivery time!


Disruption of a different kind

The pandemic is now showcasing disruption of a different sort---the more tech-prepared retailers are steadily devouring the market share of the less prepared. Investment partnerships worth billions with software vendors on complex IT projects by the likes of Kroger and Walmart are now paying off with unprecedented speed. It’s obvious what will be on the agenda for Q3 board meetings in enterprises across the world.  Against this backdrop, the question is how the IT industry will react to this increasing demand? Companies like Microsoft are already doing a lot to make it easier for users to leverage the advantages their products afford. For instance, users can now summarize several virtual conferences, thanks to the simplicity and speed of adoption of these products. You may want to have a closer look at the Microsoft Power Platform for its exemplary self-service approach that allows business users to build applications with nearly no code. One can argue about the flaws in performance and limits of this technology, but there is no debate that this is a trend that’s here to stay.

This raises a tricky question--what is the future for IT consulting? For several decades, this industry has thrived in an area between technology opportunities and business’ competence. This cosy valley is growing thinner day by day. Vendors offering easy-to-adopt technologies and programming skills is becoming a widespread phenomenon. Does this mean the death of our beloved industry? More likely, this is disruption.


Why technology isn’t the hurdle

From my decade-long experience of working with customers on complex digital transformation projects, I can tell that technology is very rarely a critical obstacle. Let’s put it this way—70% of the time effort on a project is not on coding or software. Instead, it’s on change management, process design, tracing maps of informal relations and so on. On one occasion, during the launch, we convinced the client to promote the heads of one production area and that of the fire warehouse. The first one was young and supportive, trying to play an active role; the other a passive-aggressive resisting grumpy veteran. After this move, several hundreds of factory workers felt that the winds of change were strong and there was no way back. Just one action—this one—saved project effort worth a couple thousand manhours which we would otherwise have spent on unnecessary features and swampy negotiations. Is this written in any project management guide? No. It’s tradition to live in silo of product knowledge and even reaching upto change management is considered too risky and counter-intuitive. 

Navigating Industry 4.0 with Columbus

When organisations were progressing at the ‘usual’ pace of digital transformation, issues around change management and leadership were shadowed by daily routine. In this new era of accelerated change, these topics will become increasingly crucial. Let’s draw an analogy. Imagine a small nation of sailors, living on some kind of great river. They benefit on trade through this river and don’t need any maps or navigation tools. Knowledge of each white water is passed from father to son. Suddenly, one clever man comes up with an idea for new sails which will allow to set course to distant lands through sea and ocean. You can easily relate this to any disruptive technology.

It grows obvious that such trade will benefit this nation significantly, but they will have to say goodbye to beloved and honoured traditions. They will also need maps, navigators and more industrial approach to building ships. Sailors will need people with the knowledge of ocean streams never seen before, languages of foreign lands and so on. 

Technological development doesn’t solve all issues--it just gives opportunities and raises more questions. Columbus’ experience in change management, technology adoption and handling project uncertainties will be needed by many more organisations now. IT consulting is not dead—it is transforming to digital navigation, helping customers set course in turbulent waters of Industry 4.0.  Should I then say that our name, Columbus, is more than relevant for this task?

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