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Business leaders banking on technology to drive coronavirus recovery

GDP and IT spending are down, but business leaders see technology as the way to go when it comes to coping with the global pandemic

Business leaders now believe that digital agility is key to becoming more resilient against global crises such as the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, while they recognise this is not likely to be the last global crisis, their attitude to business continuity appears to be relatively low. 

A study from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has found that business executives are not very confident that economies will recover quickly after the coronavirus. But business leaders are recognising the importance of digital technologies to help them keep their organisations operational.

Only 8.1% of respondents who took part in the EIU’s third Global business barometer (GBB) survey said they “strongly agree” that their country is ready to open, and only 6.7% “strongly agree” that their company is ready to return to operating as it had done before the pandemic.

“Those figures are chilling whether you read them as recognition of the scale and scope of the problem or as an indictment of global and country-level responses to Covid-19 (or some combination of the two),” the report’s authors wrote.

According to the EIU, improving confidence among business executives that the economies in their countries will reopen requires the discovery, production and distribution of a vaccine, as well as the need for policymakers worldwide to demonstrate that they can be more effective in containing the virus.

The June GBB, which was supported by SAS, asked executives where they saw the greatest opportunities for their companies to emerge more resilient as a result of the pandemic. The survey reported that the top answer given by respondents was “greater digital agility”, which was cited by 50.1% of respondents.

This was followed by “better customer experience” at 45.0%, and “more innovative offerings” at 42.0%. Rounding out the top five answers were “more informed strategic planning (beyond growth)” at 39.0%, and “more productive work environments” at 38.1%.

Among the possible reasons why executives rated digital agility highest, according to the EIU, is the fact that without digital tools, many companies would have ceased to function during the lockdowns. 

However, the EIU raised concerns in the report over the relatively lower priorities given to strategic planning and business continuity, which only 37.6% cited in answer to the question on the opportunity to improve business resiliency.

Since a global pandemic was not an unknown risk prior to coronavirus, the EIU said few businesses seemed prepared. “This often resulted in a scramble for ad hoc solutions – digital being chief among them – rather than a methodical, step-by-step response,” the report said.

When it ran the GBB survey in May, the EIU found that executives felt the economy and their businesses were very much in a survival phase.

Looking at June’s results, the EIU said: “Another month on and we’re still far from the recovery phase. Whatever shape the recovery may take, many companies now realise just how unprepared they were for a situation like this.

“Given that few experts believe this will be the last pandemic, let alone the last global crisis of one kind or another, building resilience into operations has become a strategic imperative for the private and public sectors alike.”

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