With many of us gradually returning to the office and international travel opening up again, it could feel like we're approaching the 'post-pandemic' era. But the easing of restrictions is still happening at different paces around the world with Shenzhen, a city in southeast China, going into lockdown this week after a spike in coronavirus cases in neighbouring Hong Kong.
The pandemic has allowed many businesses (and employees) to embrace hybrid and flexible working models, with digital adoption at the heart of this.
Data shows that consumer and business digitalisation accelerated five years forward in the first eight weeks of the pandemic. Organisations worldwide accelerated their digital transformation initiatives and began to rely more heavily on digital tools. According to Microsoft, cloud technology led the way, with 50% of businesses saying it played a critical role in their operations during the height of the pandemic. That was followed by technologies to enable remote working (40%), artificial intelligence and machine learning (33%), and the Internet of Things (31%).
Some sectors and industries have been able to adapt and implement these strategies more easily than others and our report, Digital Currents, looks at which sectors and countries are ahead of the curve when it comes to digital adoption - and what businesses can learn from them.
More than ever, digital adoption is a key growth driver for business - not only to improve efficiency and customer experience, but it's an integral part of attracting and retaining talent. Here, we set out some of the key actions for businesses to consider in this new era of digitalisation.
1. Refocus digital efforts on changing customer expectations
At the start of the pandemic, many companies accelerated their shifts toward digital-first models at record speed. One European variety-store chain, for example, established a fully functioning e-commerce business in just three months. The online business was interconnected across all functions (warehousing, merchandising, marketing, customer support etc.) and improved basket size over physical stores by a multiple of three, as well as delivering nearly 3% like-for-like revenue growth in its main market.
As well as digitising, businesses must also reimagine customer journeys to reduce friction, accelerate the shift to digital channels, and provide for new safety requirements. For example, an automobile manufacturer now handles functions traditionally performed by dealers, such as trade-ins, financing, servicing and home delivery of cars. Airlines are introducing contactless journeys focused on passenger health and safety to make customers feel comfortable flying again.
It's therefore crucial to assess how the needs and behaviours of your customers have changed and review your digital strategy to reflect this.
2. Use new data and artificial intelligence to improve business operations
Most modern businesses have several forecasting and planning models to inform operational decisions. It's essential to review these to make sure that they're still fit for purpose. In the same way that many companies had to rebuild risk and financial models that failed during the 2008 financial collapse, models will similarly need to be replaced because of the massive economic and structural impacts of the pandemic. For example, models that use time-series, oil-price, or unemployment data will need to be rebuilt entirely and the data will need to be re-evaluated.
As these models are created, analytics teams will need to bring together new data sets and use enhanced modelling techniques to forecast demand and manage assets successfully. One automotive-parts supplier, for example, developed a forecasting model that incorporated previously unused third-party data. The model will help the supplier spot potential issues with its own suppliers' ability to deliver stock, providing the opportunity for it to reach out to its suppliers to figure out logistics or find another source.
Other business areas can benefit from more sophisticated modelling as well. A leading financial-services provider, for example, is using an AI-powered solution to generate leads for its sales agents, with models calibrated to handle the current environment.
3. Continue to support agile working with remote technology
The pandemic forced the majority of organisations to quickly adapt to remote working and this opened everyone's eyes to new, faster ways of working with customers, suppliers, and colleagues through technology, while helping to maintain a healthier work-life balance for employees.
Working from home has shown substantial improvements in both execution pace and productivity for many companies and a lot of businesses and their employees want to continue to reap these benefits and adopt a hybrid working model where time is split between home and the office. It's therefore vital that high quality and reliable remote technology is in place to support this new way of working and maintain productivity levels.
Download our Digital Currents report to understand which countries and sectors are leading the way when it comes to digital adoption, what you can learn from them and how to apply this best practice in your own business.
 Global surveys of consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis
 New study shows digital preparedness helped organizations adapt to COVID-19
 Building an e-commerce business: Lessons on moving fast