By Thomas O’Hagan, Managing Director, b4b Group

Thomas O'Hagan
Thomas O’Hagan

Such has been the pace of change, there have been greater advances made in digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years combined.

That may seem a bold statement but we’ve all got used to describing the experiences of the coronavirus pandemic as ‘unprecedented’. And in terms of digital technology, its increasing role in our every day existence is changing the way we do life and business forever.

Many technical advances were made in order to fight the pandemic, such as the roll out of contact tracing apps in Northern Ireland and the Republic, each compatible with the other in what was the first solution of its kind worldwide.

Other advances were in response to the changing way in which people were working and living.

Take for example some of the communication platforms barely even heard of by the masses at the outbreak of COVID-19, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams that are now commonplace.

No longer a niche and certainly not just for the technically minded either with everyone, young and old, quickly getting to grips with this new way of talking to each other.

Businesses meanwhile responded to the challenge of a changing marketplace by finding answers to technological and IT problems that didn’t previously exist.

The emergence of ‘virtual appointments’ for a consultation with your doctor, to view a house, or even take a test drive simply would not have happened had it not been for the pandemic, while it is now normal to take part in a gym session or art class online.

Consumers had long been used to shopping online, but now expect to use their mobile devices to book a restaurant, a hair appointment, or even a space in a pub.

What is most remarkable about this is that it isn’t just the major players, but all the way down to the smallest of businesses, the nail technician or the piano teacher, that have introduced digital platforms for their customers. A year ago, this would have been considered a luxurious add-on.

As the economy starts to reopen, and consumers return to high street in greater numbers, they may find it has changed forever.

Contactless payments have increased exponentially (account for almost 90 per cent of all eligible transactions last year according to Barclaycard) while Amazon opened the UK’s first contactless store earlier this year.

Over the coming months, the shape of the future workplace will also become clearer although it seems likely ‘working from home’ will remain in some form, requiring ongoing investment and innovations to minimise disruption to productivity and business continuity.

As ‘digital transformation’ continues apace, the challenge for businesses will be to stay ahead of the game. Those that continue to invest in new digital and IT technologies and keep up with developments in cybersecurity will be best placed to prosper in the long run.