The Opportunity Inherent to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has accelerated digital disruption and triggered an era of large-scale transformation. Now, David Guzman explains, every business must re-evaluate their strategies and operations in order to respond to the challenge.

We have lived through more than a year of epic social, economic, political, and business upheaval as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our lives will never be the same. But opportunity lies within the midst of the disruptive chaos.

Digital disruption in business was well underway before the pandemic gripped our collective attention. Examples abound: Amazon developed an e-commerce marketplace to become the largest company in the Fortune 500 by a significant margin. Uber used a technology app to bring together private drivers and passengers to disrupt the taxi business. Airbnb used a technology app to bring together homeowners and those looking for accommodations to disrupt the hotel business.

People stay an average of 2.4 times longer in Airbnb listings than at hotel stays, and Airbnb listings outnumber the world’s largest hotel company by three units to one. There is no question that their digital transformation has been disruptive—to the point that Marriott is taking Airbnb head on.

Total e-commerce sales for 2020 were estimated at $791.7 billion, an increase of 32.4 percent from 2019. And this trend will continue to accelerate. Even groceries are now purchased online and either delivered to the home or picked up in the parking lot. While some will return to in-store purchasing when the pandemic threat subsides, the rise in the curve of online shopping adopters has been permanently affected by the pandemic.

The same trend of disruption holds true for movies, music, publishing, and so many other industries.

Technology infrastructure capabilities have handled the onslaught well but will be hard-pressed to meet the inevitable demand in network, mobile, and cloud computing capabilities created by both these industry shifts and the workplace shift toward virtual environments. This, in turn, will lead to extraordinary technology investment and growth and a fueling of economic growth overall.

The majority of customers now demand a new way of doing business, which is further accelerating the digital transformation already in progress and increasing our productivity—for example, more and more people are willing to meet with their doctors virtually, allowing those doctors to see more patients.

Employees will demand change as well. To serve customers better, businesses will not only have to focus externally on customers but internally on employees. Experts at McKinsey & Company have agreed that employers will need to focus on the execution of their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies in order to ensure that this transformation process is inclusive.

Our cities will never look the same, either. Commutes and offices are increasingly becoming relics of the past. IBM, for instance, no longer has offices for all employees. Technology must be embraced to enable a hybrid, physical-virtual workspace—and we will see extraordinary gains in productivity as the result, as well as lower costs for downsized office space requirements.

Prominent voices such as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and platforms like the Harvard Business Review all agree—this is a make-or-break moment in history. Everything will change, including the government, at every level.

“The people, business processes, products, and technology that got you to where you are today are not the same that will take you where you need to be.”

But those who successfully adapt will thrive. The pandemic, while catastrophic from a human perspective—and disruptive to businesses and the economy in the short-term—represents an opportunity to accelerate the business transformation underway.

Those who invest in infrastructure will be able to maximize the inevitable transformation we will see in cities. We can and must seize the opportunity to upgrade signs and road markings as well as the roads themselves; to include the necessary infrastructure for charging alternative energy vehicles; to improve biking and walking trails, outdoor seating for restaurants, outdoor shopping for stores, and public transportation.

Those who implement track and trace programs into the supply chain process, from the collection of raw material to distribution, will see the benefits.

Those who make cybersecurity a priority instead of an afterthought will see the difference in a digital-dominant world.

And those company leaders who have the courage to transform their practices and adapt to our new reality will be the ones to compete with. Every company must now completely re-evaluate their product portfolio, go-to-market strategy, and their operational approach: they must take advantage of the promise and power of digital transformation to better serve the customer.

But workplaces must also turn a new, heightened focus on employees’ health, productivity, and their ability to serve the changing customer base. The traditional set of skills and experience that a recruiter would normally prioritize in their search for top talent will no longer apply: some of those traditional offerings may still be advantageous to our changing reality, but top-tier talent will also combine those abilities with real-world experience in delivering digital innovation. And that includes every level of the company, including senior management and the board of directors. Diversity at the management and board level is critical to ensuring the inclusion of an increasingly diverse customer base.

In short, the people, business processes, products, and technology that got you to where you are today are not the same that will take you where you need to be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Hispanic Executive or Guerrero Media.

David GuzmanBorn in Puerto Rico and raised in the barrios of New York City and New Jersey, David Guzman overcame a tough childhood to acquire a first-class education as one of the first Puerto Ricans to graduate from Yale University. His career began on Wall Street at Morgan Stanley, where he codeveloped an artificial intelligence program that became the number one income producer in the firm. 

After he left Wall Street, Guzman worked as a consultant at Deloitte, where his key customer was the United Nations; as CTO for Macys, Kmart, Alcoa, and Office Depot; and as CIO for Owens & Minor, Accretive Commerce (sold to eBay), Acxiom, HD Smith, and Staples in Europe. These experiences led to numerous awards including number one placement on the Information Week Elite 100 Innovators in Technology list (twice); selection as CIO Magazine‘s CIO of the Year; and acknowledgement as one of the Best in Class of the Computer World Premier 100 Influencers, one of BusinessWeek‘s Websmart 50, and one of HITEC’s Top 100 Hispanic Leaders. 

Guzman is currently on the board of The Alumni Society, an organization dedicated to providing exclusive opportunities for growth for senior-level Latino leaders, and a member of both the Latino Corporate Directors Association and the Digital Directors Network. He can be reached at (202) 748-7045 or