May 2020 | 

Digital Connectivity: Positioning for Post-Crisis

Digital Connectivity: Positioning for Post-Crisis

Before COVID-19, some organizations were already creating advantages with digital connectivity. Schools were offering virtual learning options, and companies were using online platforms to let individuals work from home and manage supply chains sourced from around the globe.

After the pandemic hit, those organizations had an edge on their competition. The unlucky ones who were late to embrace digital tools had to scramble to find ways to share information and get work done. “Now we can clearly see the benefits of having better connections,” says Wharton management professor Nicolaj Siggelkow. “The crisis just accelerated the trend of connecting better digitally. We are creating deeper information flows. Before, we were sharing a lot just to get a few likes on Facebook. Today digital connectivity is making it easier to work and shelter in place, and it might help us all survive.”

The director of the Strategy and Management for Competitive Advantage program says leaders should be thinking now about how to use that connectivity to position themselves better in the future. “It is always hard in the middle of the storm to think longer term. But the strategic issues you had before will not vanish — you can’t completely forget about those longer-term problems.”

One way to start positioning for the future is by rethinking your business model to extend your digital transformation. Siggelkow teaches and co-wrote a book about “connected strategies,” which are most often employed by companies (think Disney, Nike, and 130-year-old publishing company McGraw-Hill) to create deeper connections with their customers. But they can also be used to build those connections between various departments in a firm.

Siggelkow says, “When I am teaching this content, it’s clear that connected strategy should also be in your own organization. How can we use it to be more proactive in the ways we interact internally? Think of areas such as IT that have internal customers. They typically work in a reactive mode, waiting for a request to land on their desk. When you apply the principles of connected strategy, you try to understand the needs of different functions in the organization such as supply chain, legal, and marketing, and work to proactively address them.”

Connected strategies can also help firms take advantage of what is expected to be a long-term result of the current work-from-home mandate. As businesses get the green light to reopen physical workspaces, some workers may not want to come back. For some the decision might be temporary, as fears of contracting the coronavirus linger. For others, the benefits of zero commute time and more family time could be something they’re not willing to give up. The companies that are building better connections, and those who have leaders who excel in a virtual environment, can avoid potential conflicts and retain talent.

Siggelkow says leaders who are investing time during the pandemic thinking about future operations will come out of the situation stronger than ever. “There will be large opportunities ahead. Yes, there are many short-term challenges about how to get through the crisis, but once the economy comes back, you want to be well positioned to take advantage of the resurgence, which will probably happen later this year.” If a digital transformation wasn’t in the works in January, and you’re not doing anything about it now, think about where that may leave your business in December.