Most business leaders overestimated the state of their digital transformation (DX) efforts, hindering their ability to adapt to the pandemic, reveals a new survey from software company Pegasystems Inc.

The global study, conducted by research firm Savanta in late May, found that four out of five leaders thought they were fairly deep into their DX initiatives, with 35 percent assessing themselves in “advance stages.” However, it appears they vastly overestimated how advanced they actually were: 74 percent of decision-makers surveyed said the pandemic exposed more IT gaps than expected.

This left businesses vulnerable to a variety of customer engagement failings:

  • 54 percent admitted they should have done more to help their customers during the crisis.
  • 37 percent said they communicated at least one message to customers that was badly received and damaged their brand reputation.
  • 36 percent said they lost customers during the pandemic due to failings in their communications.

But these business leaders aren’t going to let their technology infrastructure put them at risk during the next crisis: 71 percent said the experience has forced them to accelerate their digital transformation plans; 62 percent will increase the priority level of DX within their organization; and 56 percent will add more DX investment. Those surveyed were planning to focus their efforts on cloud-based systems (48 percent), customer relationship management software (41 percent), and AI-driven analytics and decisioning (37 percent).

With these plans in place, the vast majority (nine of out 10) of business leaders feel confident they will be prepared to face a similar crisis if one should hit in the next two years.

Surprisingly, the survey also revealed that the pandemic could actually have some positive outcomes for businesses:

  • 74 percent of respondents said their business learned a lot during the crisis and will permanently change the way they operate for the better.
  • 69 percent said the crisis taught them to be more empathetic with customers.
  • 61 percent feel they learned more about their customers during the crisis than the previous two years combined.
  • 71 percent said remote working has been successful and will likely continue after the crisis ends.
  • 52 percent reported employees are more productive now than before the pandemic.

“What this research makes clear is that digital transformation can no longer be a ‘nice to have’ for today’s businesses,” said Don Schuerman, CTO and vice president of product marketing, Pegasystems. “Even those that thought they were digitally advanced now realize they’ve only scratched the surface. Organizations may need to re-examine every part of their business for digital readiness or face consequences, regardless of whether another crisis of this magnitude happens again or not.”

Pegasystems surveyed more than 1,200 business decision-makers around the world for their perspectives on how their organization has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The results include responses from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and Australia.