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The self-evident need to operate digitally post pandemic

The self-evident need to operate digitally post pandemic 1

By Rami Cassis, Founder and CEO of Parabellum Investments

The past 18 months have forced all businesses, regardless of size, industry, or turnover, to take stock and re-evaluate how they operate. The pandemic created a set of unforeseeable circumstances in which organisations have had to rethink processes, systems, and in many cases the fundamental ways in which they operate. With consumer spending down to some of its lowest points, shoppers took off high streets, and the global business market in a state of flux, panic began to set in as businesses had to adjust and start to meet their customers where they were, at home.

While digital transformation has been high on the global business agenda for some time and has seen industries such as retail, travel, and consumer banking excel, many have been languishing far behind. While it can sometimes seem the process of greater digital adoption can be to simply streamline a process or certain workflow, the journey to get to that point is far more complex. Organisations need to adapt to a more digital agile approach, as competitors evolve their offering and improve customer service those who do not will likely fall by the wayside.

The need for change 

While many industries have not just survived, but thrived during the pandemic, online retail, and food delivery for example, the same cannot be said for all industries.

For example, the pharmaceutical sector is heavily reliant on the latest technology to ensure it sits efficiently at the centre of a smooth supply chain and can produce global levels of medication securely, the sector is surprisingly poor when it comes to digital maturity. A recent study by McKinsey[1] sees it languishing far below sectors including travel & tourism, banking, retail and telecommunications. When it comes to points out of 100 for digital maturity, the pharmaceutical sector can only manage a humble 27, coming in behind travel and hospitality on 49 points, retail on 42 and banking on 32. One of the few sectors it does manage to beat is the public sector, which received just 22 points.

To ensure pharma is ready to battle another potential pandemic in the future, it must get its digital credentials in order and learn from its mistakes and shortcomings over the past 18 months. The pharma industry overall is conservative, often unwilling to make sweeping changes. Digital however lies at the absolute centre of pharma’s ability to produce locally and repatriate the supply chain for example, which is essential to remove the globe’s reliance on economies such as China to supply its medication.

An example of how critical the adoption of digital processes can be within the pharmaceutical sector, is that of serialisation and digital authentication technologies. Every year, approximately 10 per cent of pharma products worldwide are estimated to be counterfeit, resulting in up to one million deaths. Counterfeit products, including COVID 19 vaccines, can easily find their way into circulation due to inadequate authentication and tracing.

What is encouraging to see is businesses such as advanco and INEXTO, recently introducing both serialization and digital authentication technologies to the pharmaceutical sector, by providing accurate, robust verification, and 100% Track & Trace compliance to pharma’s high-volume production requirement. Serialisation technology such as this is expected to be widely adopted by governments over the coming years, in the ongoing battle against forgeries causing harm to consumers.

Reliable technology is important to ensure machines can speak to each other and complement each other in the roll-out of universal track and trace serialisation technology, which is a major step towards the roll-out of personalised medication supply. The pharma industry needs to learn from this pandemic and prepare itself not just for the remainder of this one, but for any future virus outbreak the world may encounter.

Getting left behind 

As mentioned before, consumer banking in many ways has been an industry that has led from the front regarding digital services and online customer experience. Consumer banking apps now work as portals for users to complete an array of transactions, manage accounts, set up standing orders etc, eliminating a lot of the need to go to a bricks and mortar bank – vital during the pandemic.

But where one section of banking has flourished, the mortgage sector has simply stood still. Digital technology has rewritten the way we interact with financial services providers in recent years. Banking, insurance and even niche services such as motor finance providers have made massive steps forward with digital enhancements. However, in an age of digital advancement, mortgage lenders are trailing far behind and are losing the battle when it comes to customer service levels.

When it comes to liaising with customers who are nearing the end of their fixed-term deals to “persuade” them to remain with them, many lenders are forced to use antiquated systems and pay staff to follow onerous, time-consuming procedures. To overcome these complex and out-of-date systems, and improve customer experience, lenders should look at modernising and updating their systems. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is certainly one of the best systems lenders can implement as a vital part of any digital transformation project, supporting the streamlining of customer processes, as well as reducing costs. An example of this for lenders, could be the adoption of a programme which allows users to digitally switch mortgage products at the point of maturity. This type of intuitive programme will lead to reduced attrition and the costs of lending to improve profitability, as well as providing good customer experience.

Another step involves applying intelligent automation, where customer data is processed not merely by replacing tasks with automation, but by enabling machine learning to “understand” the data and output it in a way that makes more sense. Updating old technology with new is a challenge. However, it is a challenge that can be overcome – and often with very positive results. Benefits include increasing customer engagement and improved experience, providing next-generation features such as biometric authentication and live chat, and helping customers to self-serve.

The pandemic has shifted the expectations of consumers exponentially. Digital transformation is not new, and many have tackled it head-on and are reaping the benefits. But many are still somewhat ‘digitally immature’, and what the last 18 months should have done is make them aware of how quickly customer expectations can change.

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