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COVID-19: The perfect storm for digital acceleration

By Dr. Ian Selby Vice President – Global Management Accounting Research and Development

Learn business transformation strategies in a time of crisis.

The need to adapt is at an all-time high. 

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, 92% of companies thought their business models would need to change in response to rapid digitisation. Digitisation has also affected businesses’ longevity. Companies currently listed on the S&P 500 Index have an average age of 22 years, which is down from 61 years in 1958. 

According to McKinsey’s U.S. Digital Sentiment Survey, the retail industry has become the forerunner in increasing consumers’ digital use in the U.S. In particular, the grocery and apparel sectors were able to increase digital adoption by 100% and 40%, respectively. 

There are similar trends in other industries globally. Banks focus on internet banking and phone-banking applications, while health-care providers increase online and app-based consultations to avoid overcrowding physical health-care facilities in the wake of COVID-19. 

Here are three organisations that embarked on digital business transformation strategies to stay relevant: 

IKEA: Investing in the home 

With COVID-19 lockdowns forcing big-box store closures, furniture chain IKEA faced a retail sale drop of 4% across all its outlets worldwide. However, online sales made up for it, soaring 60% to make up 18% of its total 2020 turnover. 

To encourage online sales, IKEA invested heavily in adapting its business model to new shopping habits and online competition. They accelerated development of digital services and set up smaller stores and showrooms in city centers. 

IKEA also built on the common COVID refrain of ‘stay home’ by creating a new consumer concept of investing in their homes. IKEA’s ‘Life at Home Report’ and ‘The Big Home Reboot’ campaign focus on how, as millions of people turned their homes into makeshift schools and offices, there is an increased need for homes to have more flexibility — and how IKEA offers furniture that meets those needs. 

NHS: Rallying around individual trusts 

The British National Health Services (NHS) has long had a reputation of being slow to change — but the COVID-19 crisis pushed it to exceed expectations. According to a Raconteur report, many existing NHS hospitals were completely reconfigured, implementing changes that would usually take years to avoid overwhelming the system. 

Although NHS-wide digital transformation would be some time away because of the need to retire legacy systems, individual NHS trusts started promising initiatives: 

  • The University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust automated patient referrals, COVID-19 updates and staff communications with an embedded application in Microsoft Teams. 
  • The Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust successfully enabled clinicians to use video consultations for virtual ward rounds, with logins for entire ward rounds and electronic templates to capture patient data. 
  • The Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust overcame the inability of sick children to receive visits during lockdowns by giving them tablets pre-installed with Skype, WhatsApp and Spotify, which allowed their young patients to communicate and share music with their families. 

NHS Providers explains these NHS digital case studies (and those of other providers) in more detail. 

CIMA: Accelerating remote learning 

As the COVID-19 crisis spread around the world, schools and universities began to turn to virtual learning options. Many universities decided to continue the semester with online learning only, and some closed their campuses to contain spread of the virus.  

While several educational institutions, such as the Harvard Business School Online, have existing e-learning setups in place, most tertiary education providers around the world do not have existing robust frameworks for online lessons and examinations.  

With lockdowns closing our tuition partners’ centers, we launched our remote testing system in May to enable students to continue taking their exams. This rapid adjustment has allowed our existing student body to progress in their journeys to become Chartered Global Management Accountant® (CGMA®) designation holders, which will also increase the pool of qualified management accountants who can support businesses and public services during the pandemic. 


With the advent of the digital era, business transformation has always been an essential part of how businesses can stay relevant. The COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated and highlighted the need for change — this journey has become urgent and critical for businesses to thrive in these times.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can utilise digital technologies and trends to expand the reach and impact of your organisation, read our new report Business partnering in the digital age