A global health, climate-change and ecopolitical crisis rolled into one: this year’s perfect storm may forever change business mandates in future.

Where many organizations may previously have thought that digital transformation (DX) was a nice-to-have, now it is an imperative.

With a new year will come a new set of challenges for DX. While there will always be unknowns, we can expect businesses to look to technology to help them survive, recover and grow.

Flexibility will be key to delivering the digital-first experiences that customers and employees demand. Access to data and artificial intelligence (AI) tools will help companies to revolutionize their customer experience. The development of technology will continue to shape the way we do business, the future of work, as well as provide opportunities for companies to make about positive difference to the world around them.

Digital-first customers in a digital-first world
This year, we learned just how quick consumers can adapt to technologies to stay connected with loved ones and to access essential products and services.

In 2021 we are likely witnessing the end of the two-to-three-year DX: value now needs to be delivered within months. In the digital economy, factors such as speed of implementation, cost and value to the organization’s competitiveness and customer loyalty, will measure the success of any digital transformation effort.

With global digital revenues having grown by 54% year-to-date, companies’ use of AI-powered technologies to engage and serve customers will continue to grow in tandem. Beyond restaurants and health service providers, for instance, we will see the continued rise of the appointment economy, guaranteeing convenience in person and via virtual channels. Bots, too, should become an integral part of company strategies to support customers 24/7. From virtual try-ons to smarter delivery and pickup options, every customer experience must be connected, personalized and seamless, regardless of the device being used and the store being visited.

Data literacy as the foundation
The pandemic presented a moment of truth for businesses: many were not as streamlined and resilient as once thought. In 2021, saving costs whilst boosting resilience will be top-of-mind for every Chief Information Officer and business leader.

We can expect the simplifying, streamlining and digitalizing of processes, including channel portfolios. Take, for example, the financial sector where banks may close a significant proportion of brick-and-mortar branches. How companies seek to provide all of the services and experiences that customers expect on their smartphones instead will have a far-reaching impact upon banking business models.

Companies leveraging cloud computing have shown us what it means to be resilient in times of crisis. These migrations will only accelerate in 2021, enabling scalability, availability and accessibility of information from any location. When, where, and how a company deploys these tools will set leaders ahead of the pack. Increased automation, AI, as well as forecasting models will help them to predict and prepare for what the future may bring. To make the most of these technologies, leaders should ensure that data literacy skills form the foundation to every role at every level of an organization.

The evolution of Work-From-Anywhere
It is fair to say that how we how work has changed forever. Take health and safety, for instance. While many people will continue to work from home throughout 2021, those who do return to physical workplaces must have their well-being ensured. This will require a huge cross-functional effort.

We can expect the office experience to be reinvented, to become more intentional. The ways that companies communicate will also evolve. Those that have opened unprecedented access to their leadership team, provided regular updates to keep teams productive and motivated, will want to keep these lines of communication open even after emerging from the pandemic.

In 2021 and beyond, it will be important for employers to continue to explore new, flexible work models. At Salesforce, we recently created a position titled ‘VP, Work From Anywhere’.

This person will be in charge of developing programs and policies to support new and inclusive ways for people who continue to work from home (or anywhere). We can expect businesses to create new employment packages and to attract and retain the hybrid worker, and new brands will emerge to market products that tailor to the new lifestyle/workstyle needs.

Additionally, flexible work arrangements can offer greater work-life balance and create a more equal workplace by increasing talent pools.

Business as a greater platform for change
We are in the midst of several crises at once: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a climate crisis.

The importance of corporate citizenship has been cemented, and the urgency for businesses to give back to communities has never been greater.

Solutions in technology, trees and collaboration will all play an important role in reimagining how we do business and create the change that the planet needs.

Together, we can take this moment to invest in a more resilient and inclusive economy. In 2021, the role of business as a platform for change will no longer be the exception, but the standard.