In 2019, “digital transformation” was not a new concept. Public and private organizations alike were replacing outdated technologies and creating more efficient processes. The year 2020 proved that digital transformation is not simply a buzzword or a slow-moving reality—it is an imperative. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the transition that many organizations were previously easing into. From shutdowns to the division of ‘nonessential’ and ‘essential’ businesses, digital processes were critical in helping organizations survive, adapt, and grow.

While we spent more time than ever apart, we relied more heavily on technology that allowed us to operate with speed, adapt quickly, and give teams the freedom to work how and where they needed to. In this blog, our team of digital experts reflect on the year and take a look forward to a future-focused 2021.

Lessons Learned from 2020

The Importance of Anytime, Anywhere Access

Almost overnight, working from home morphed from a convenient option to an outright necessity as organizations around the globe closed their offices amid the spread of COVID-19. According to the Pew Research Center, in this new era of remote work 71% of workers who are capable of doing their work from home all or most of the time are currently doing so. This shifted the way most organizations had to make technological and process-based decisions in 2020.

“The COVID-19 pandemic created an immediate and sustained stressor on markets, businesses, and people simultaneously,” explained Lawson Ellinor, CEO at Image API. “It provided a sustained force that accelerated enterprise-level risk-taking and operating model changes in order to survive. COVID-19 catalyzed a change that required businesses to adapt operations for an undefined time horizon and with very limited information about the scope of the disaster.”

Government agencies, in particular, were immediately tasked with reviewing technology requirements for essential functions to determine how to deliver services digitally.

“Due to COVID-19, a large majority of the workforce, including government employees, found themselves unprepared and lacking resources that were needed to successfully work from home,” says says Jeff Phillips, Senior Business Development Executive with Image API.

“One of the most immediate discoveries was that many were tied to their offices by paper and paper-based processes, including records requests, file rooms, pen signatures, hallway “walk-flows”, etc. As a nation, and particularly in government work, we were thrown into unchartered territory.”

Many organizations struggled with the inability to access critical information. Entities who had not invested in and/or moved their applications, data, and documents to the cloud found themselves lacking the critical operating agility needed to make the swift shift to remote work. The organizations operating digitally prior to the onset of the pandemic fared much better throughout the transition and had less interruption to their employees and continuation of service to customers.

The pandemic brought about a shift in perspective as private and public sector leaders began to look at digital technology solutions as a key component to create long term value. They needed solutions that improved access, productivity, and collaboration for their workforce.

“At a minimum during the pandemic, companies adapted new models, learned how to sustain operations virtually, and recognized the critical importance and power of operating digitally,” said Mr. Ellinor.

Business Continuity

With a global pandemic that evolves daily, organizations and government agencies were tasked with the development of new and adaptive long-term strategies and to rethink the way they plan for the future. Companies that prevailed quickly sought out a holistic approach to business continuity–they considered the newly remote workforce, fractured processes, diminished oversight, and interrupted organizational systems.

“Business continuity planning (BCP) is a common and required practice for companies. It can be conducted and viewed as an administrative and compliance exercise,” said Mr. Ellinor.

“2020 required companies to both activate their BC plans for a sustained period of time. More importantly, it required them to rapidly mature and expand the scope and problems their BC plans were initially designed to solve. Business continuity planning became a framework to rapidly change business models and a safe forum to innovate and take enterprise-level risks that historically would have been out of scope for BCP.”

Hello Automation and the Beginning-of-the-End for “Walk-Flow”

According to Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020, automation helps organizations and government agencies create a “digital twin of the organization” (DTO), allowing them to visualize how functions, processes, and KPIs interact to drive value. Particularly, government agencies can drive noticeable value from digitizing processes that require manual actions—like the “walk-flow.”

“As we continued to see more and more government agencies make the move to digital in 2020 we began to see the end of the dreaded “walk-flow.” This term is the inefficient process of the interoffice, paper-based, approval that many workers are used to dealing with,” says Mr. Phillips.

Walk-flow

“There was a shift in thinking forced upon everyone last year. When the shutdowns began, walking over to someone’s office for an approval to process an invoice vanished overnight. This forced organizations to create digital workflows, ultimately saving them time and increasing the productivity of their workforce.”

The need for digital transformation has never been greater. Social distancing and disrupted physical operations impacted enterprises around the globe. The current state of the world created two options for organizations: the acceleration of existing digital transformation or rapid adoption of first-time digital initiatives.

“Paper-based anything effectively ‘land-locks’ an operation and can only be unlocked by digitizing physical documents into portable digital assets, websites and/or order entry portals that now need to carry 100% of the client and transaction load,” said Mr. Ellinor.

The COVID-19 pandemic put fierce headlights on this topic. Operations experienced the fundamental limits, costs, and blockers to innovation that paper and paper-based processes presented in 2020. The pressure resulted in more investments in the digitization of critical documents and the automation of manual processes.

“The investment is not about simply creating a digital picture of a document, it must be about “digitizing” – creating a smart digital asset where the data and content can be leveraged to create valuable operating information and more effective and efficient digital processes.”

Looking Forward: Predictions for 2021

The COVID-19 Response Efforts Will Trickle Into 2021 and Beyond

While 2020 hasn’t been easy, a new year will not bring complete catharsis. The global pandemic continues to spread and the world has fundamentally changed.

“COVID-19, and all its health and economic implications, will be a central risk that markets, communities, and companies must consider and address for the next 12 months,” said Mr. Ellinor. “Equally important, companies must consider that many of these changes will become permanent changes to business models, workforces, and in the ways we meet customer needs.”

Remote Work – What’s Next for the New Territory in Government

The rapid shift to remote work was unprecedented. It was thought that remote work for the public sector was not viable long term, however many are now considering maintaining the changes to their work environments after work-from-home orders are lifted.

“Government leadership and workers were forced to react quickly to the global pandemic. Dealing with technology, processes, staffing, families, virtual schooling & safety put us all in uncharted waters. But what happened? They adapted quickly and continued to serve their constituents remotely. Albeit some issues, they pressed on and utilized new and innovative solutions. Computers at home, access to networks, Wi-Fi, Zoom, etc.,” says Mr. Phillips.

As government begins to transition back to the office with the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, there will likely be a continuation of flexibility for remote work and other options to support a distributed workforce.

Cloud-first Will Become the Reality

From the way we store data to the advancements in agility that help organizations go-to-market faster, cloud computing has changed the way we do business. The COVID-19 pandemic, remote work, and the need for distanced collaboration has catalyzed cloud adoption. As a result, CIOs are looking to cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions for business continuity, workforce enablement, modernized security, and more.

“When COVID-19 hit, many systems were put to the test. A record number of people were accessing applications not designed to manage such high loads. Many solutions housed in on-premises servers or in state-run data centers were delayed waiting for additional servers, software development or staff to upgrade legacy applications. Organizations need the flexibility to quickly scale up and/or down to support operational changes and cloud-based solutions provided near immediate adjustments in service.” says Mr. Phillips.

As usage subsides, SaaS based applications are able to ramp down the service and costs while the data centers now have a significant number of extra servers that are no longer needed. Using the lessons learned in 2020, we will continue to see government leadership look first at cloud-based SaaS solutions to provide the agility needed to operate successfully in 2021.

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New Revelations for Optimizing and Protecting Cloud Infrastructure

With reliance on the cloud intensifying, 2020 has led many government agencies to a realization: the cloud is only as secure as the hypervisors that support virtual machines. A greater emphasis on cloud security and data usage and access will define 2021’s cloud conversations.

“2021 will generate more dialogue around who has more secure hardware in powering their associated hypervisors. Cloud providers will continue to enhance and secure access to CPU and memory resources for the client,” says Bill Joy, Director of Technology with Image API.

“With more sensitive information [CJIS, PII, HIPAA] being stored in cloud-based platforms, providers that can definitively prove that compute resources are digitally and physically secure will have an edge. This means that accessing data that is temporarily unencrypted in volatile memory for ‘processing’ is no longer possible.”

Enhanced security, faster innovation, and better performance will be the focus of CIO’s throughout the year.

Operating Budgets Will Face Competition and Shift Towards Technology and Digital Initiatives

Given the uncertainty every company and government agency faces regarding revenue and demand for their products and services, total operating budgets will likely remain flat or decrease in size in 2021. Until organizations can see evidence of more certain tax-based funding, key industries stabilizing, and consumer spending returning there will be significant pressure on total operating budgets to align with revenue forecasts. In turn, it will increase the competition between departments for allocation of operating and capital budget funds and budgets will shift towards technology and digital initiatives.

“State and local government agencies, as well as companies in the private sector, must continue to adapt policies, processes, and technology to support their virtual workforces, create secure digital entry points for clients to access products and services, and massively reduce any operating dependency on paper-based anything,” said Mr. Ellinor.

Given the immediacy of addressing issues which surfaced in 2020, there will be a premium on technology decisions that deliver a quick and measurable return on investment. This means technologies with SaaS subscription models, short implementation cycles (less than 90 days), and the ability to measurable productivity gains and/or reduction in costs will be most advantaged.

“Applications and subscription models that integrate neatly into an ecosystem will be hugely advantaged over multi-year monolithic applications that have long (>12 mos.) labor and capital-intensive implementation cycles and slower access to software innovation and release cycles.” concluded Mr. Ellinor.

Looking Ahead

More than ever, 2020 pressured companies to adapt or suffer. The reliance on digital processes and cloud-first technologies have shifted the way that government and private-sector businesses work and collaborate. What used to be convenient is now necessary, catapulting the adoption of applications and subscription models that integrate into existing ecosystems and replace paper-based processes. At Image API, we look forward to helping organizations work at the speed of digital to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

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About the Author: Alyssa Cuda

Alyssa Cuda is a SaaS and B2B content writer based in Austin, Texas. For more than four years, she has been researching and writing about the latest in B2B technology, focusing on the evolution of cloud technologies and the increasingly digital workplace.