Your digital transformation initiatives may have been floundering pre-COVID, but that’s ancient history now.

Like many other firms, the global pandemic likely forced you to shift almost overnight to only engaging your customers virtually, thrusting the digital teams to the forefront of your firm’s business strategy. The impact on digital strategy, priorities, and approaches has been massive.

But what now? Digital is well and truly the beating heart of your organization. How do you maintain that momentum?

To answer that question, we interviewed over 20 heads of digital strategy from a cross-section of organizations across industries and geographies. Forrester clients can access the full report here.

But the bottom line is clear: As digital leaders, you’ll never have a better chance to enable lasting business transformation and instill a digital-first culture. As Paul Siemers from Melbourne Water told us, “There’s a fresh impetus at senior levels for both automation where feasible and remote working, now that both have been forced on the organization and the sky hasn’t fallen.”

To take full advantage of this opportunity:

  • Become product managers. Forrester has long pushed for digital leaders to build a core competency that views customer needs and technology opportunities through a commercial lens. With digital teams now front and center, this need has never been greater. Early in its COVID-19 response, a Singapore-based private bank found that staff were no longer content to be passive recipients of digital capabilities but were proactively reaching out to the digital team requesting more features, capabilities, and services. As the bank’s chief digital officer noted, “When digital responds quickly and delivers value, that leads to even more requests and higher expectations.” The key to successfully embracing your inner product manager? Excel at matching business needs to technology capabilities.
  • Embrace and extend agile. Firms that responded to COVID-19 by embracing digital-only customer engagement, even if only for a limited time, have seen a corresponding acceleration in business change. Why? As Peter Caddy at Medibank observed, “Front-line employees have become more connected to our digital teams, and we are working hand in hand to bring customer insights directly into our teams to deliver improvements iteratively, which is empowering for everyone.” Transform how you work with executive leadership to scale agile practices to the strategic level.
  • Increase transparency. At many less digitally mature firms, the shift to virtual engagement has meant that internal staff in key functions have, as Bupa’s Nick Park noted, “shifted from viewing digital as a ‘black box’ pre-pandemic to seeking to understand the details of how the team operates.” Like all insurance carriers, Sun Life was forced to respond to COVID-19 restrictions on face-to-face client engagement. The firm treated this as an opportunity to accelerate changes in how it works, better collaborate across functions, and become more agile, with the goal to minimize risk while embracing uncertainty and being the quickest and most productive in trying new things. Evolve your approach to account for new revenue models, a shift from capital expenditures to operating expenditures, and fluid planning centered on customer journeys or cross-functional teams delivering new propositions.

Most importantly of all? Don’t over-pivot to digital. Don’t let the massive uptake in digital engagement make you lose sight of key objectives — delivering positive experiences and being relevant to customers’ needs and wants.

The future is hybrid experiences. Stores and branches will be back, and there is still a role for sales staff and financial advisors. The first wave of pure-play digital engagement will give way to hybrid combinations of physical and digital. Forward-thinking firms are already planning ahead, leveraging what they’ve learned to rethink their engagement models, both physical and virtual, for the entire customer lifecycle.

A huge thank-you to the individuals from these companies (and others) who generously gave their time during the research for this report: Audi, Australian Super, Australian Unity, Bupa, Deloitte, Foxtel, Mater, Medibank, Melbourne Water, QSuper, Sembcorp, Servus, South Australia Health, Sun Life, Sunsuper, Sydney Water, and Vanguard.

We explored what the financial services industry needs to do to sustain the digital momentum and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world in the Australian & New Zealand Financial Services Webcast Week 2021 on March 15–19. You can access the replays here.