One year into the COVID-19 crisis, our newest McKinsey Global Survey on digital strategy1 indicates that the pandemic has increased the pace of business and that technology capabilities will be critical to companies’ COVID-19 exit strategies as well as to what comes next. After seeing how the pandemic had sped up the adoption of digital technologies by several years, we took a closer look at how companies are rethinking the role of digital technology in their overall business strategy and how to conduct business at the quickening pace that’s now needed to operate.
The imperative for a strategic approach to technology is universal, yet some companies are already leading the pack; their responses show that better overall technology capabilities, talent, leadership, and resources (what we call a company’s “technology endowment”) are linked to better economic outcomes. At the same time, the results confirm that many organizations could be missing opportunities to invest in the areas of their business models that are most at risk of digital disruption.
The pandemic has dramatically increased the speed at which digital is fundamentally changing business
Our previous survey showed that across key areas of the business model, companies’ overall adoption of digital technologies had sped up by three to seven years in a span of months. The newest results show that this acceleration is also happening at the level of core business practices: what was considered best-in-class speed for most business practices in 2018 is now slower than average. And at companies with the strongest technology endowments,2 respondents say they are operating at an even faster pace.
At the same time, the pandemic has created new vulnerabilities to—along with new opportunities from—future disruptions. We know from experience that customers, employees, and value-chain partners have all increased their use of technology, which has made the barriers to digital disruption even lower than before the crisis and paved the way for more rapid, technology-driven changes going forward. In our survey, respondents in every sector say their companies have significant vulnerabilities, especially to their profit structures, ability to bundle products, and operations.
We also looked at the areas of their business where industries have been investing and, for the most part, those investments don’t align with the areas that are most prone to disruption (or that offer the highest returns). For example, many healthcare and pharma companies are investing in tailoring their offerings, enabling on-demand access to products and services, and improving overall customer experience. Yet, according to the survey, these businesses face greater risks of disruption in their value chains, the structure of their operating costs, and the types of products they offer.
To meet new demands, companies are making digital and technology investments across the business model
The highest-performing companies made bolder investments in technology and possess stronger overall capabilities
Tech-savvy leadership helped set top performers apart—and will be even more valuable in the future
The corporate recovery from the COVID-19 crisis will involve permanent changes to many dimensions of an organization: the pace at which it conducts its business, the very nature of that business’s value proposition, and the talent, capabilities, and leadership that are necessary for success. With digital and technology-driven disruptions creating winner-takes-all dynamics in more and more industries, only a small subset of organizations is likely to thrive—and even these companies have much more room to strengthen their technology endowments. Our survey results confirm not only that a strong technology foundation is critical but also that leading companies are far ahead of competitors in building theirs. For everyone else, the time is now to make bold investments in technology and capabilities that will equip their businesses to outperform others in a rapidly evolving landscape .
The time is now for companies to make bold investments in technology and capabilities that will equip their businesses to outperform others.