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The magnitude of the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace should not be underestimated. For 97% of enterprise decision makers surveyed, it has been “the digital accelerant of the decade,” speeding up their company’s digital communications strategy by an average of six years, a new global survey shows.

If there is any silver lining to be found during the pandemic, it is that previous inhibitors to innovation have been broken down. Seventy-nine percent of respondents said that COVID-19 has increased the budget for digital transformation, according to the COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report from cloud communications provider Twilio.

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Companies reported the easing of barriers such as: Lack of clear strategy (37%), getting executive approval (37%), reluctance to replace legacy software (35%), and lack of time (34%).

“Companies have been undergoing digital transformation for the better part of the last decade, but the pandemic has accelerated everyone’s plans,” said Glenn Weinstein, chief customer officer at Twilio. “Almost overnight [digital initiatives have] gone from something nice to have … to something that has to be done in days and weeks, and that’s the new normal. It’s an external impetus we haven’t had before. It’s unprecedented to have an external force to stimulate that.”

Now, companies realize all transactions have to be reimagined as digital, Weinstein added.

The study found that digital communication is the new lifeblood for business. Almost all surveyed companies (95%) said they are seeking new ways of engaging customers as a result of COVID-19, with 92% reporting transforming digital communications is extremely or very critical to address current business challenges.

Tech, healthcare, and energy companies are most likely to speed up digital transformation due to COVID-19, according to the Twilio report. Additionally, 78% of tech companies, 77% of energy companies, and 74% of healthcare organizations said the pandemic sped up their digital transformation a great deal.

Omnichannel communication is taking on new importance, with one in three companies using live chat and intelligent interactive voice response (IVR) channels for the first time as a result of COVID-19, the report noted. Ninety-two percent of respondents said their organization is very or somewhat likely to expand digital communication channels as the world reopens.

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Over half (54%) said COVID-19 propelled a focus on omnichannel communications, and 53% added new channels amid the pandemic. Twenty-six percent of organizations surveyed said they would be adopting the use of SMS for the first time.

“Those types of digital solutions have been available for a number of years now, but we’re seeing much more rapid embracing and rolling out of [them] in days and weeks–not months and years,” Weinstein said.

The findings mesh with new research from ESG that senior IT leaders “expect the broader use of digital collaboration to be the most significant tech legacy of COVID-19,” the research firm said.

By the end of 2020, “we’ll see a decade’s worth upgrades of legacy systems and more digital use cases,” Weinstein predicted. Next year, expect to see laggard industries catching up, he added.

“The construction and energy industries are the two biggest beneficiaries of this acceleration and are traditionally slower to adopt cutting-edge technologies,” he said.

The online survey of 2,569 enterprise decision-makers was conducted in June 2020. There were 225 to 300 survey respondents each from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Twilio said.