When we look back at 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, I hope we will see that we went through a major shift, similar to 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and marked the end of the Cold War.

That’s the kind of opportunity we are facing.

One of the themes of my blogs this year has been how we now have the opportunity to reimagine and reinvent ourselves, rather than just carrying on as we were before.

There’s a strong pull to “get back to normal,” when things seemed predictable and stable. But customer habits have changed, employee habits have changed, so it seems short-sighted to ignore those changes.

Some companies and industries are responding as the world around them changes. It seems the largest companies grew larger and the smaller companies suffered. An example of this is how the net worth of Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has grown in this time, with Bezos being the first individual to be worth $200 billion.

We have been served a kind of alphabet soup when it comes to predicting the shape of the economic recovery — will it be a V, a U, or a flatlining L shape? Shopping malls might be looking at an L, whereas the restaurant industry may experience a V-shaped recovery. But some people are talking about a K-shaped recovery — where the gap between the industry leaders and the followers widens even more.

In recent research we conducted we spoke to 460 CEOs and board members, and their twin top priorities were getting more customers and cutting costs. The companies we surveyed are looking for 21% growth in three years — and during that same period, want their costs to reduce by 22%. That seems to me to be the opposite of “business as usual.”

Enterprises which can create another normal and build predictability around a new set of assumptions will probably find themselves on the top leg of the K.

The approach that successful companies are taking to manage the paradox of combining aggressive growth and aggressive cost-cutting is something we call the “intelligent operation.”

Our research is organised around five principles, many of which I’ve touched on in previous blogs:

  1. Innovative talent, combined with a culture that enables innovation.
  2. A data-driven backbone. Over 90% of organizations believe that data-driven decisions will help them generate breakthrough customer insights.
  3. Applied intelligence. Nearly 90% of organizations believe the triple-A trifecta of automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence will become the holy grail of business and process transformation.
  4. The cloud. Nine out of 10 enterprises expect plug-and-play digital services. Some 25% of companies have already modernised or replaced their legacy systems, and another 42% have concrete plans in place to do so.
  5. Smart partnership ecosystem. I know there are other blogs on the South African Accenture website that cover platforms and ecosystems. The idea is for startups, technology providers, platform players and even academia to develop symbiotic relationships to help enterprises achieve their goals.

Will the strong pull to “return to normal” overpower companies’ desire to reinvent their businesses in the wake of the pandemic? The year 2020 changed consumer behaviour permanently, and that will bring pressures of its own. Digital disruptors will also be spotting opportunities to improve the customer experience, bring down costs and increase productivity.

I hope these five principles help guide your thinking.

You can read more of our research by clicking this link.

Rory Moore

Associate Director – Innovation, Accenture Africa

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