Digital transformation: How can you use it?

9 min. July 26, 2021
Digital transformation: How can you use it?

The pandemic has undeniably changed the market, forcing businesses to rebound to continue their activities. Transformation imposed itself as an appropriate response, and many societies took a 180° degree turn: digital transformation. This challenge has been a subject of discussion for some time now, but the health crisis has certainly propelled the topic to the forefront. With lockdown restrictions lifting, businesses want to ride the wave of digital change and build on lessons learned.

Understanding the digital shift
The emergence of new technologies has changed the face of the economic market and our ears have been buzzing for years about the importance of evolving by digitizing our practices.

What is digital transformation? It means putting the most recent technologies to the service of your business, and thus contributing to your success. This transformation unfolds at different levels of your business with repercussions in operational sectors such as information management, human resources, finances, and many more.

Let’s use human resources as an example. Digital and artificial intelligence can improve access to knowledge and training processes, therefore maximizing the human and organizational performance within your business. In this sense, integrating new practises affects recruiting and especially personnel retention.

Although on the onset implementation of this kind may disturb your way of functioning, in the long run it will allow you to face the ever fierce competition head on and manage your resources effectively, whether human or material.

Digital transformation is at the heart of concerns
New technologies now punctuate the professional sphere, making the digital shift everyone’s business. At the tail end of an economic slowdown or even standstill, evolution becomes urgent, necessary. Fully conscious of the changes involved for entrepreneurs, the governments are taking digital transformation very seriously.

Québec is planning on investing 130 million dollars by March 31, 2022. The goal? Supporting businesses in their digital transformation efforts. The Minister for the Economy, Lucie Lecours, specifies that this fund will make it possible to offer personalized support to SMEs that still have a giant leap to take.

“Intensifying SME digital transformation will position Québec in a more innovative and efficient technology-based economy.”

– M. Fitzgibbon, Member for Terrebonne

And for good reason! As mentioned by the Minister of Labour, Jean Boulet, when it comes to productivity, Québec is lagging in comparison with other provinces. Digitization could therefore be the answer by way of recruiting and retaining young workers, which would boost the economy and make it much more innovative.

Same observation across Canada: In 2020, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario invested 50 million dollars so that entrepreneurs could receive help from key partners throughout the province to transform their activities and increase their competitiveness.

Digital Main Street’s goal was to enable the digital transformation of main street businesses in communities across Ontario. Impacted by the crisis, these businesses saw the animation and life that punctuated their daily routine disappear. The Government of Ontario also became involved, injecting 7.6 million dollars to render the project accessible to businesses located in the north of the province.

Training: an adequate response to concerns
Nonetheless, the crisis will have allowed us to identify mistakes we do not want to repeat in the future. As a return to normal life takes shape, companies are confused about what to do. Yes digital transformation must continue. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs need help to effect change at different operational levels, and thus turn this transformation to their advantage.

Indeed, many entrepreneurs do not understand automated processes and do not have a suitable model. When something is unfamiliar, questions come up. Waste of time? Waste of money? For some, such a change feels like a huge leap into a void, without knowing the outcome. However, technology can be a powerful ally when we know how to use it!

Based on this reflection, projects are flourishing to guide companies on the path to digital transformation. Cegep André-Laurendeau is a perfect example. The college offers free online e-comm courses in line with their new program called “Montréal E-commerce”.

Frédéric Viossat, training consultant at Cegep André-Laurendeau, expresses the concerns encountered by entrepreneurs in terms of technology: “Many participants apprehend deciphering new technology and changing the way they do things. They have to learn how to interact differently with the market and their clientele.”

The project is funded to the tune of 300,000 dollars by the City of Montréal, once again revealing a growing awareness of the importance of digital technology: “Our training-mentorship program for Montréal businesses emerged following a call for proposals by the City of Montréal’s economic development service,” explains Frédéric Viossat.

The goal is to guide businesses strategically by targeting entrepreneurs and workers. Not only will these courses help with understanding and implementing retail trade and digital marketing, they will also make the digital shift smoother. This mentorship should extend over one year to support 96 small businesses and merchants.

According to Frédéric Viossat, the interest is there: “We announced the launch of this program last February and we soon had enough registrations to form two groups.” It’s no surprise. The pandemic has accentuated the need to offer support to our businesses.

“The pandemic has reminded us that we live in a world where anything can happen. Whether it’s by choice or necessity, consumers and businesses have discovered the possibilities offered by e-commerce.”

– Frédéric Viossat, Training Consultant at Cegep André-Laurendeau

The unprecedented health crisis we find ourselves in today has confronted entrepreneurs with a brutal reality: the shutdown of their activities. Backs against the wall, there was a choice to make. Some were forced to evolve and reinvent themselves quickly in order to survive.

Rebound or die
If the pandemic caused economic damage, it has nonetheless showcased the determination of Québec’s entrepreneurs. In very little time, sometimes in a matter of weeks, certain businesses responded to the urgency of the situation.

Flashback: In March 2020, Québec imposes closure of all non-essential activities. A hard blow for businesses that cannot set up telework for their teams. Forced to close, employees are laid off. During this widespread closure, the market changes, so much so that when reopening is announced, client needs have changed.

It is in this chaotic context that Classy, a Montréal-based business, decides to go digital. Specialized in formal wear, the boutique records a dramatic drop in sales. With in-store shopping no longer an option, consumer habits change drastically and purchase plans are abandoned.

Sabrina Marchetti, boutique manager, reacts quickly: “From the fall of 2020, I decided to redirect my efforts to a new method of offering my product.” Already aware of the positive impact of digital practises, she decides to launch a brand new website in response to the pandemic.

Online classes on technology at the service of business are what made the digital transformation possible for this entrepreneur. Although relevant and useful, these trainings are still very much unknown, regrets Sabrina Marchetti: “There are still too few businesses that are aware of the possibilities available to them.”

Despite a few remaining concerns, the support was enough to arouse in her the needed interest, and the company plans to incorporate more digital management in the future, both internally and externally. By adapting to the changing needs of its clients and proposing a transactional website that is adapted to the situation, the business has successfully given digital transformation due importance.

Above all, the digital shift is about future prospects: at the service of entrepreneurs, technology opens up possibilities in a constantly evolving market. Nothing is set in stone and the economy is no exception; all businesses are at one point faced with the need to reinvent themselves.

CGI: What do the experts say?
Today, it’s important to move forward, to ride the wave of change that was initiated in the past year. There’s no going back. We have asked CGI experts for recommendations on how to build on the lessons learned.

Digital transformation is a broad process: we are not only talking about online sales platforms. Implementing digital strategies is a sustainable response to client needs and for optimizing operations.

The crisis has helped us to see the importance of thinking about the work of tomorrow. As an entrepreneur, you can, for example, integrate collaborative tools to your practises. Agathe Garrido, Innovation and User Experience Consulting Director at CGI explains: “Collaborative tools are important and the crisis has shown us how certain sectors are lagging.”

By using software packages to manage your business’s activities, transformation can take place in sectors such as human resources, inventory management, or the transfer of information. Such tools support productivity and monitor quality: being agile puts you in a better position to face challenges, and economic, commercial and operational changes.

One thing is certain, digital channels will shape the work of tomorrow, and if as yet the digital shift has been a cause of concern, businesses that have taken the turn fared better during the crisis. Before looking to the future, we must first learn from recent events.

Digital transformation through the lens of the crisis is leading us to question our habits: what we have long considered acquired may no longer be so. As the lockdown lifts, Agathe Garrido invites entrepreneurs to turn to hybrid work models, which will allow customers to be served more quickly and efficiently.

“What is certain is that there is no going back. We must look to the future with empathy and welcome transformation.”

– Agathe Garrido, Innovation and User Experience Consulting Director

You must therefore continue to adapt, staying true to your business’s values. No worries: it is quite possible. However, to operate such a transformation while respecting your corporate culture, you must implement adequate change management. Agathe Garrido offers you a formula that is as simple as it is obvious: culture = the sum of its employees.

Inspire your clients, but also your employees by respecting your fundamental values. To do so, show empathy by placing your teams at the heart of the change and build an experience that is unique to your corporate culture. You thus promote a feeling of belonging.

The answer

How to use digital transformation?
The economic situation has shown entrepreneurs that transformation is a must, and many realize that it would have been better to do so before the pandemic. Going forward, the important thing is to understand what digital transformation can do for you, as the possibilities are many: it can modernize human resources, finances, information management and many other aspects of your business. Let the winds of change blow on your business and remember the following words of expert advice:

  • Do not be afraid of changing your habits.
  • Build an experience that is unique to your corporate culture.
  • Place your employees at the heart of the change.

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