digital speed

The Path Forward: A Need for Speed

Change, we’re told, is the only constant. And many business leaders would readily agree with this maxim. Nevertheless, until recently it was also widely assumed that the pace of change, however constant, would remain manageable. Even when a new, disruptive technology hit the market, it always felt like companies had time to adjust.  

Even relatively recent history seemed to bear this out. After all, it took digital music formats almost seven years to outpace CDs in terms of sales. Similarly, it took Uber close to seven years to provide more daily trips in New York City than taxi cabs. And it took AirBnB five years to beat Hilton’s annual sales numbers and capture 20% of the consumer lodging market in the US. (To be fair, AirBnB is still far behind the market leader, Marriott.) 

By contrast, only three months passed between the time the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States and the moment total or partial stay-at-home orders were in force in all but five states. In this incredibly short span of time, the lives of hundreds of millions have been transformed and hundreds of thousands of businesses are still scrambling to adapt.

An Unprecedented Rate of Change

This is one reason why it has become commonplace to refer to the current situation as “unprecedented.” We’ve seen change before, but not like this! The challenge in unprecedented times is that we can no longer rely on our standard playbooks. Instead, we must come up with new plays, new approaches and new strategies. What’s more, as we have all discovered, we need to do it fast.

The good news is that a number of organizations have risen to the occasion. In a previous post, we shared how Eastern Bank adopted a holistic approach, quickly changing how customers access their services and spinning up new offerings addressing the emerging needs of their community. As it turns out, Eastern Bank has not been alone in their rapid response to the crisis. 

For example, the City of Boston recognized early on that its nearly 700,000 residents would need clear guidance and readily available information to help them adapt to a constantly evolving situation. To meet this need, they quickly created a section devoted to COVID-19 on their website homepage as well as spun up a separate page, available in 14 different languages, dedicated to sharing critical information about the virus and preventing its spread.
In San Francisco, the University of California (UCSF) undertook a similar initiative aimed at helping clinicians and the community they serve. In order to provide its staff and public health partners, both locally and internationally, with critical health and emergency information, UCSF created an entire site featuring guidance on infection control and educating patients, students and others on how best to work with the hospital during the pandemic. In addition to critical information on the virus, the site also connects visitors with a host of resources for weathering the crisis as well as directing visitors on how they can help by donating, giving blood or participating in a research study.

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Built for Speed

As we highlighted in a previous post, the changes that have so quickly come to pass represent an incredible acceleration of trends that were already in motion. One trend that we have followed closely is the increasing digitization of customer experience. Today, the customer experience is either primarily or entirely digital. 

Creating new digital experiences in a short period of time and at scale requires several capabilities. At the most fundamental level, an organization needs a digital infrastructure built for scale. It needs to be relatively simple to add newly created digital properties, whether they’re new pages or entire new sites, to the organization’s digital footprint. This requires an infrastructure that is open and extensible at its core. (It’s worth noting that open source projects have historically proven their ability to grow and thrive in times of intense economic turmoil.)

Of course, adding new content, features and functionality to a site, even when done quickly, can’t be done haphazardly. Universities, hospitals and city governments need to protect the privacy of their constituents while also maintaining a robust security posture. This means that the digital infrastructure, in addition to being flexible, also has to feature the controls and safeguards necessary to meet high standards for security and compliance. 

Even with this open and secure foundation in place, the need for speed also requires tools that facilitate the creation and deployment of digital content. To this end, the organization should invest in tools for both site builders and content creators. The former need tools allowing them to quickly spin up, expand and secure sites and pages. The latter need tools that simplify the process of adding content to the site, replicating templates and content as needed to serve different user groups. 

With the proper foundation and the appropriate tools, any organization should feel equipped to keep up with the changes and challenges we face today. We have worked for years to create tools and technologies to support these efforts. And we view it as our mission to continually innovate, making it ever easier for our customers to serve their customers.

Eric Williamson

VP, Digital Marketing Acquia, Inc.

As vice president of digital marketing, Eric Williamson leads the team that oversees all of Acquia's digital properties, editorial content development, analytics and insights, and the digital and social marketing efforts for the brand. In addition, he also leads the brand strategy for Acquia.

Before joining Acquia in 2017, Eric spent 10 years working in the advertising agency world. Most recently he was SVP, digital & social at MullenLowe Group, and before that he was VP, digital strategy at The Martin Agency. During his time on the agency side, he worked with a variety of brands, including Google, Microsoft, Intel, GEICO, Pizza Hut, Acura, Royal Caribbean, Hyatt, and Ulta Beauty.

Eric and his family are originally from Texas and currently reside in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He earned his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, and an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.