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Innovation is Key to Businesses During Times of Crisis

David Paul


Digital Transformation Summit 2020

At DIGIT Leader 2020 Deryck Mitchelson, Director of Digital & CISO at NHS NSS, explored how technology and innovation are enabling organisations to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis stronger.

DIGIT Leader 2020 (DL2020) this week saw senior technologists come together online to explore the evolution of IT as a discipline, as well as discuss the increasingly critical role which technologists play in driving innovation and impact in business.

At this year’s conference, Covid-19 was an area of particular focus. Since the outbreak earlier this year, the pandemic has raised serious questions over how businesses can manage and adapt amid such unprecedented crises.

“A crisis is an opportunity to view how to do things differently,” said Mitchelson. “not sitting and being too patient but being able to respond.”

In his talk, Leaders Don’t Crisis Manage, They Innovate, Mitchelson insisted that business leaders should think of the pandemic as an opportunity to look to the future and explore new avenues of innovation and exploration.

As the pandemic hit the world, many businesses retreated into themselves, closing their doors entirely or furloughing staff in an attempt to stay afloat. However, throughout the day at DL2020, several speakers suggested doing the opposite.

Using Innovation to Your Advantage

Making bold changes and tackling problems head-on has proven to be a far more effective tactic than simply sticking to out-dated practices and attempting to manage crises as they unfold.

Understanding what it is that your business does – and wants to do in the future – is the first step in the journey of managing a crisis and coming out of at least as strong, if not stronger than before, Mitchelson said.

“The first thing I would always do in an uncertain time is reemphasizing your purpose – what are you here to do? Understand what your mission is.” Things like the company’s guiding principle, he says, “how you’re going to work.”

Evolving your strategies and defining your mission is a vital part of growth within a business. How will a leader deliver that mission and purpose whilst instilling confidence?

“You’re leading, you’re making these necessary changes and you can pivot and it is important to be able to do that.”

Another important area to focus on is ensuring that you are caring for your workforce, which Mitchelson said is vital to maintaining a strong business, as is establishing a command centre and maintaining business continuity: “In any crisis, you need to go in there with your business continuity plans being up to date, rehearsed, and being things that you can lean upon.”

Mitchelson highlighted the need to have a digital-first approach to everything during the pandemic. Some organisations, including the NHS, have been slow to adapt and transform, and are now finding it difficult after Covid-19, forcing many to look differently at how they run their business.

A sticking point could be that quality of service drops while trying to traverse digital systems. This isn’t a problem, however.

“When you’re in a crisis, you want to be able to move fast. Do the right things, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said.

Mitchelson also asserted that making small structural changes to your business is vital to ensure you come out of the other side in a strong position. All crises, regardless of their severity, will come to an end eventually. The recovery period after that will be critical to future success.

“Do look at that longer picture, don’t just focus short term because that means you will definitely have a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace,” he continued.


It is no secret that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation and innovation. A big part of that, Mitchelson reiterated, is due to pivoting strategies and changing the operating model.

“In the NHS, we very much moved into things like ‘Near Me’ or ‘Attend Anywhere’ so we can do video consultations with GPS and we can do consultations between consultants that can share X-rays using this technology.”

He conceded that while the tech was not used particularly effectively before, the pandemic has forced them to rethink how digital technology can be used to help patients.

Ultimately, all of this cannot happen without the use of data. Mitchelson emphasised that securing data and trying to implement internet-facing services is important, but that data and intelligence becomes vital during this time.

“I think data becomes even more important as we come out of this pandemic. What is the data telling us? How do we know we are making the right decision? How do we know where we need to be investing and what we need to be changing? To be honest, it’s all about data,” he said.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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