What a year 2020 was! It would be impossible to reflect on the year we’ve just had without mentioning the pandemic that has grippedthe world. Much has already been said about the tragedies tocountries and communities caused by the virus, so I think it’s worth looking at it from a different point of view: how the pandemic has accelerated our reliance on incredible technologies to keep businesses open and ultimately keep us safe.

Ways of working have remained largely unchanged for decades, but the pandemic has forced businesses to take a hard look at the way they work and judge whether it’s fit for modern times. Companies that previously insisted on their employees being present in a physical office all the time have had to embrace flexible working and have learnt that employees can be trusted to work from home without it impacting their output. In fact, as people’s home and work lives merged and actual working hours increased, it became clear that companies needed to remind employees to takeadequate timeaway from work to keep the batteries charged.

Businesses that already had solid online capabilities were able to continue doing business largely as normal, some even saw massive growth. Butunfortunately,some industries were exposed to the cruelest scenarios caused by the various lockdowns imposed across Europe, particularly airlines, hospitality, and the entertainment industry.

The future is now

Now I am aware that what I’ve said so far is a very brief overview of what happened in 2020, and there are many more scenarios that deserve discussion, but my main reason for this blog is a different one. What actually enabled so many companies to adapt so quickly to an onlineworld? In my view, it was their willingness and ability to innovate.

This is exactly the message I wanted to share with you today: don’t forget to innovate and keep driving your business towards the future. For a great example of how this works in practice, look no further than BionTech. How did a small German start-up which was only founded in 2008 win the COVID-19 vaccine race? It was the business’ agility—something that had been ingrained in its processes from the start—that allowed it to quickly shift research within days and start developing a vaccine. Sure, it was backed by enormous funds, but they only got access to these funds because their existing set up promised the fastest returns.

Now you might say this was lucky, but what’s to say your next leap of faith into a new technology is not the one that gives you such a ‘lucky’ moment? It’s not about guessing, it’s about doing your research to make informed decisions but then having the courage to drive forward. The founders of BioNTech back in 2008 would have done exactly the same thing by evaluating the potential risks and rewards before starting their company. Creating the spirit of innovation from the start is what helped them get to where they are today and embedding this culture into the workplace is whatall leaders in the modern world need to encourage.

Businesses should embrace technology

Sitting down over the festive break, I collected my thoughts on what we achieved in 2020, but also looked at the prospects for 2021. Last year was good for our business, but what we’ve learnt has set us up for more success in the new year.

Roughly 18 months ago, I read a great book about artificial intelligence that got me thinking about the industrial revolution 4.0—or 5.0 depending on how you count it.

One of the things I used to do is talk with my teams about the scenarios described in this book and how we could adopt them into our business. It struck me in my recent reflections that the businesses I’m leading are, in fact, launching three different applications of artificial intelligence in 2020 to help drive accuracy, customer experience and satisfaction, and ultimately brand loyalty to levels that would not be possible or would be more expensive using traditional means.

These ideas are easy to implement in theory, but they require mass customer adoption and employee acceptance to be successful. This is the biggest challenge business leaders will face on their road to innovation. To overcome this, leaders need a deep understanding of the underlying concepts and technologies and discuss how they can be used in their relevant business areas. The second and more difficult challenge is to identify the smoke and mirror solutions from true innovation.

Once this is achieved, the hard work starts. It’s time to make concept a reality, accept you will not always achieve 100 percent of what you set out to do, but that even achieving 80 percent puts you in a much better place than you were before. This shift in mindset will give your business the edge it needs.

Humans still play a crucial role

All this talk of artificial intelligence can create fear in the minds of employees and make them think about their job security, and while it’s true that machines will be doing a huge part of the work in the future, humans will still play a vital role to enable and implement the technology.

The success of this approach then comes down to the business leaders’ ability to spark a light in their employees that inspires them to go down the path of innovation. Innovation becomes, to a certain degree, more important than execution during any transitional period, but ultimately the execution should also improve dramatically in the long term. Modern businesses need this shift in culture, but to enable such innovation requires modern leadership which is willing to nurture new ideas.

Those of you who have been paying attention will now ask how to achieve widespread customer adoption to new technology, and the answer is to ensure any new innovations make the job the customer is trying to do easier or more efficient. It needs to be at a point where using technology is the logical choice for the consumer given an option. For those of you who do not believe me, a great example is to test the customer support process at Applevia both telephone and chat bot. Having had this experience myself recently, I would bet that the majority of people would default to the use of a chatbot for the resolution of most issues in the future. It’s a perfect example of how innovation and new technology has improved the customer experience and, therefore, their satisfaction. This ultimately helps to drive brand loyalty.

Customers now expect more from your business

Ubiquity is described in the Oxford Dictionaryas: “the fact that something seems to be everywhere.” It was something a Professor at my University once explained to me as the concept for the future, and looking back I can say that it has to be one of the wisest predictions I’ve heard. At the time, she also expanded on that definition to include time—the idea that something is everywhere at any time. If you think of winning modern platforms such as Google and Amazon, it’s clear that they embrace this concept.

But ultimately, this concept relies on mass customer adoption, and it’s been their desire for such solutions that has driven the increased use in technology and enabled modern businesses to look to innovate more.