COVID-19 has defined my first year at Adobe — here’s what I’m taking away from it

It’s my one-year anniversary at Adobe. When I accepted the role, I certainly anticipated a year like no other. But I couldn’t have imagined that after just a few months, we’d be staring down a global pandemic that continues to redefine how we all work, shop and engage with each other, and experience the world.

While COVID-19 hit every business hard, our priority at Adobe was to make sure our team was safe and adequately supported to continue their work remotely. Since then, Adobe Southeast Asia (SEA) and our customers have been laser-focused on finding ways to thrive — and it’s heartening to see the grit and resilience demonstrated by governments and businesses in the region during such unprecedented times.

Looking back as well as ahead, there have been many lessons learned from COVID-19 and progress made, and I cannot thank the whole Adobe SEA team enough for their commitment and perseverance throughout.

There has been an acceleration of both cloud and digital transformation, personalization, and an increased focus on skills transformation. All of this, without question, will change the way we all do business, not just now but for decades to come.

Digital transformations continue to accelerate

SEA organizations have been focused on digital transformation for years — but the COVID-19 outbreak proved to be our foot-on-the-accelerator-pedal moment.

When the pandemic struck, consumer behaviors and attitudes shifted overnight. Internet usage spiked with education-based sites and services and telemedicine providers experiencing triple-digit jumps in views during the first few months. Fifty-eight percent of customers increased their online shopping frequency. We made more online payments. We spent more time in video chats. We streamed more TV and music.

Together, these shifts had an unexpected outcome: They forced brands and businesses to really flex and create even more high-value low-friction digital experiences. In other words, people suddenly wanted the results of our years-in-the-making digital transformations — and they wanted them now. So, SEA companies had to adapt and pivot quickly to the new demands. I noticed an immediate increase in customers wanting to talk about electronic signatures across the public and private sectors. Even traditional hawker stalls in Singapore have found themselves experimenting with new digital platforms and creative means (such as Facebook Live auctions and consortium partnerships) to continue to sell online and deliver to their customers.

While the pandemic has hit the global economy hard, signs of recovery are beginning to pick up in APAC as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions ease and a semblance of normality gradually returns. Twenty-six percent of APAC companies say their digital transformation strategies have been highly effective, versus 19 percent of companies in the rest of the world. Also, 27 percent in SEA reported improved speed to market and 29 percent cited growth and increased revenue as a result. Against the unyielding challenges and threat of potential second waves and correspondingly, second waves of restrictions, businesses are also thinking about how to make these changes part of a permanent, long-term strategy.

Personalization becomes more central to customer experience

As in other markets throughout the world, SEA customers wanted bigger, better experiences across even more channels — with personalization front and center. To support this, we spent time sharing our own data-driven operating model (DDOM) which has helped us transform our customer experience. While we enable some of the world’s largest brands to transform their businesses, we engage in the journey ourselves, and DDOM is the critical piece of this process for our Adobe Creative Cloud business. Years before I joined Adobe, I had studied the transformation the company was driving, and today I am very pleased to be able to help others learn from our experiences as they embark on their own journey.

Adobe’s transformation success hinges on DDOM as a single source of truth that every team uses to manage customer experience across the entire customer journey, regardless of business unit, Adobe product, or specific vertical. This model fundamentally shifted how we operated by creating a common language around data. From individual contributors to the C-suite, any decision that impacted the overall customer experience had to be made with insights and not purely intuition or educated guesswork.

Powered by our very own Adobe Experience Cloud, DDOM also provides a simple process for sharing knowledge across the organization, eliminating silos and other barriers to true optimization and personalization. With this foundation in place, as well as common key performance indicators (KPIs), business teams can better measure the full customer experience, through both financial and non-financial lenses. For a diverse region like SEA, DDOM will be especially powerful going forward. With a single source of truth and improved alignment across teams, businesses will be better able to take the actions needed to deliver even more relevant experiences to individual customers.

Skills transformation and digital literacy is now a necessity — for individuals and companies

In trying to keep pace with these enhanced customer experience demands, SEA companies have exposed their own skills gaps — and now they’re looking to plug them immediately.

In Thailand, for example, companies’ top three digital transformation challenges are all about people: substantial talent gaps, a lagging digital culture, and organizational silos that keep content, data, and experiences from freely moving through — and informing — larger-scale processes. Many of these hurdles wouldn’t have surfaced so early on, but with the faster pace of digital transformation, SEA companies need to tackle them head-on if they want to keep competing in this pandemic landscape.

Granted, filling the skills gap requires more than just training. SEA companies must also look to mentor students and emerging leaders to prepare them for this new world of risk-taking and entrepreneurialism. This mindset shift — paired with hard skills, such as an understanding of cloud services and artificial intelligence (AI) — will be critical, even after the pandemic.

In SEA, Adobe has partnered with local government agencies, such as SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), to offer learning resources, training, and workshops to help individuals and businesses transform their skills in areas including digital content creation and creative design capabilities, as well as data and analytics.

Preparing for post-pandemic experiences

We’ve learned a lot in the last 12 months — myself especially. Now, though, as we look to emerge from pandemic life and business, I’m confident a lot has changed for good, and that’s a positive from my viewpoint.

Marketers and marketing-led organizations in SEA and beyond are quickly learning and adapting to truly thrive in the midst of tremendous uncertainty. That change sped up everyone’s digital transformation plans — things we’ve wanted to do and planned to do and talked about doing for years. SEA has made significant progress towards digital transformation and many businesses have now acquired new sophisticated digital technologies that are setting them up for a post-COVID world.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” We couldn’t agree more, and I couldn’t be prouder of the business resilience we’ve seen in SEA as we pivoted and shifted and accelerated while keeping a pulse on delivering meaningful customer experiences along the way. Now, looking ahead, anything is possible, though I’d argue — or, better, hope — nothing could be as transformative as these last few months.