The sixth annual signature conference explored the ways top companies are preparing to succeed in a post-pandemic world and what they are doing now to survive—and thrive—during the current crisis. It was presented virtually with 356 attendees from over 250 companies and seven countries.

Top Three Lessons from Road to Reinvention Presented by the Center for Digital Transformation

November 02, 2020 • By Xanat Hernandez

On the morning of October 15, Taco Bell Professor of Information Technology and Computer Science Vijay Gurbaxani led a series of conversations centered around digital strategy with leaders from companies such as Nordstrom, T-Mobile and United Airlines for this year’s Road to Reinvention conference. It was the first year the conference was conducted in a virtual format. Sponsors for the event included GlobalLogic, Google Cloud, Fortinet, Technossus and The Beall Family Foundation. The conference explored the role of digital transformation in vaccine development, PPE manufacturing, retail, trucking, airlines, food, health and more. Here are the top three messages from this year’s conference:

1. Accelerate through the turn

In his keynote address, Gurbaxani emphasized the importance of preparing for a post-pandemic world and highlighted the ways technology innovation and human ingenuity could be the key to unlocking a brighter future. Using a racing metaphor, Gurbaxani compares business leaders to racecar drivers finding their racing line—the path that allows the driver to complete the track in the shortest time possible.

“As you exit the curve, you want to be in a position where you can accelerate as quickly as possible when you get to the straightaway,” said Gurbaxani. “You have to put yourself in a position to go as fast as you can when the road becomes clear, and that is what we should all aspire to.”

Gurbaxani urges businesses to ask themselves what digital capabilities, investments and strategies they are building during the crisis—to be ready to excel when the worst is over.

2. Prepare to Pivot

Almost all of the speakers shared their experiences adapting to the pandemic and our new reality. For Linda Jojo, EVP of technology and COO for United Airlines, this meant surviving a drop from 500,000 passengers a day pre-pandemic to a Tuesday in April with only 10,000 passengers.

To adapt, they re-focused their attention on leisure travelers, today’s primary customers, with features like shop by map to appeal to those looking for a deal and quickly implemented contactless check-in kiosks. “We are using this pandemic to accelerate and improve our airline faster than we did before,” said Jojo. “We intend on coming out stronger, better and more customer friendly in the end.”

For Carbon, a 3D printing company, this meant pivoting from manufacturing products such as football helmets and running shoes to producing face shields and nasal swabs to address the PPE shortage. To accelerate this shift, they released the software designs for face shields and distributed them to partner labs. 

“We ended up making 50,000 face shields a week during a very challenging time,” explained Joe DeSimone, executive chairman and co-founder of Carbon. “We gave them the designs and they made their own little businesses; it was really an example of local for local production.”

3. Take the long view, but be agile in the short run

Martin Giles, senior industry fellow at CDT and senior editor for the Forbes CIO network, interviewed Diana McKenzie, board director at MetLife and Change Healthcare and Melissa Lora, board director for Conagra Brands, KB Home and MGI Investment to find out how digitally-savvy boards can make a huge impact. 

McKenzie described institutional-wide mandates that can transform the way a company operates: “To drive digital transformation, it’s not just about technology. Are the practices of the company changing?” A sign that a company is on the right track is if “the entire employee population knows how to operate in an agile fashion, not just the technology team.”

Lora discussed how lessons from the last great recession in 2007 informed her scenario planning and ability to “make quick decisions and make decisions with agility.” With this knowledge, the board of KB Home was able to help implement online sales tools, virtual studios and virtual home tours.

After hearing how these innovative companies have leveraged technology to adapt to our new reality, Gurbaxani concluded that software is still the key asset. Gurbaxani said, “We must still all be software companies. It is software that will get us through this crisis.”