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Blog Post Jan 28, 2022

The Digital Future of Analog Business

We are all familiar with the damage network downtime can do to a business. Most people can probably imagine how losing access to critical business data might affect a company specializing primarily in data, computers, or security—but what about businesses with services that seem non-digital to customers, like local artisans, tattoo artists, restaurants, and coffee shops? Well, they’re at risk too.

The Death of Analog Business

Take getting a haircut, for example. It is perhaps the most human of services—but is it an analog business? Not anymore.

Three years ago, most people would call a salon or walk into a location and ask for a haircut. Today, the experience is streamlined and completely digitized. To book a haircut at a chain, customers now:

  • Visit the company website, which uses GPS to determine their location.
  • Get a list of available stores and appointment times.
  • Pick the appointment they want.
  • Enter their desired cut and service information, so the stylist knows what they want when they arrive.
  • Get a text alert with a link that loads directions to the location on their mobile map app.
  • Check in via a digital kiosk.
  • Get the haircut.
  • Pay with a credit card or mobile payment app at a self-service kiosk.

The experience is digital despite hairdressing formerly being a fully offline service. Even more notable is the speed at which this new digital model came together. COVID-19 forced businesses that provide profoundly human services to provide alternative options. The byproduct has been safer and more satisfying user experiences.

New Challenges

Of course, this shift has introduced uniquely digital challenges to these analog service providers. These in-person services used to be dependent only on staffing and stock; now, they rely on vast and complex digital ecosystems to execute simple operations. These days, not even restaurants can weather an Amazon Web Services outage—digital downtime has the power to bring the entire restaurant to a stop.

The digital infrastructures implemented by businesses to address COVID-19 are often tenuous environments comprised of different platforms, providers, and cloud services. If one piece stops working, it becomes a domino effect, and businesses often find themselves without backup procedures, especially considering how quickly these new digital experiences were implemented. Whether by accident or by design, these analog services have to put operations on hold until their systems are back up and running—just like digital-first enterprises. That means new investments in upgrades, security, and other digital safeguards they've never had to use before.

The Service Isn't Digital, But the Experience Is

Like it or not, COVID-19 pushed businesses of all kinds to embrace the digital revolution. Although the move toward connected operations was well underway before the pandemic hit, some companies have been hesitant to invest in digital solutions. Faced with closing shop or moving into the future, most businesses picked the latter—and the choice may have come with some unintended and unforeseen consequences. While this shift facilitated omnichannel shopping and services throughout COVID-19 shutdowns, it also presented new challenges that businesses may only be coming to terms with now.

To learn more about how the digital shift is affecting businesses, listen to Root Causes, episode 197, "Tim's Digital Haircut."