If you had to pick a few key terms to paint a picture of 2020, which would you choose? “Disruption” would probably rank high, as would “remote working.” My top pick would probably be “acceleration.”

Businesses have not only been forced to pivot to (often entirely) new ways of working, but also to rapidly accelerate the digital transformations they already had underway. This past year highlighted how essential it is for businesses to have mature digital strategies in place.

Many organizations kicked their digital transformation efforts up a notch, however, it quickly became clear they weren’t just facing a technology challenge. Then and now, digital transformation requires a culture shift — that is, if your desire is to build meaningful human connections in a digital world.

With that in mind, and considering all we’ve learned throughout 2020, how do we make 2021 the year of meaningful human connections? We recently asked some of our Sitecore Partners for their perspectives.

Act fast to win over customers

In 2021, we could see challenger brands make inroads into the dominance of incumbents. But only if they act fast.

Consumer habits shifted during the pandemic. As retailers closed or moved online, customers started to shop outside of their comfort zones: 75% of US consumers have tried different stores, websites, or brands during the COVID-19 crisis.

Speed to market has become increasingly important. Today’s customers expect businesses to be able to adapt on the fly to keep up with their desires and needs — and even predict them. To beat the competition in 2021, you need to engage with your customers in a more personal, and much faster, way. And that means learning as you act.

Todd K. Harris, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Valtech, told us:

“Demand is rising, and organizations feel the pressure to capitalize on current conditions.”

To meet this demand, Todd insists that businesses “fail fast, learn faster.”

“A lot of organizations are trying to accomplish too much at the same time and failing as a result. Start small, learn from those early experiments, and then scale and repeat. With Sitecore, it's easy to experiment — for example, with personalization — then learn and scale. This will allow you to prove ROI quicker.

“To be really successful, the foundation and features need to be built in parallel. This way you can show the value of your transformation to your business and your customer while building a solid foundation for the future.”

Collaboration remains key

We’ve talked a lot in the past year about the IT and Marketing “dream team,” and how uniting the efforts of these two teams is key to taking your business forward. In 2021, the lines between IT and Marketing will continue to blur. And that’s a really great thing from a digital experience perspective.

But now your entire organization needs to be aligned, as our partners Stephen Tynes and David Wilson, Principals at Perficient, noted:

“The most successful organizations are those that break down the internal organizational barriers and operate as a single team.

“In smaller organizations, there’s often less of an IT footprint, and Marketing frequently functions autonomously. In larger ones, we often see Marketing functioning as IT’s customer and IT operating with Marketing’s full input and cooperation. They function as two sides of the same coin and often have integrated into a single ‘office of digital,’ with people from multiple disciplines and backgrounds all functioning as a single unit focused on a single goal. There’s no ‘marketing’ budget or ‘IT’ budget here, but a single budget focused on the goals that both disciplines require in order to deliver the needed experience to their users.”

Take the long view

Sorry to disappoint anyone looking to put 2020 far behind them, but the arrival of a new year doesn’t mean the challenges of the previous will disappear.

As businesses grow, expand to new locations, and adapt to market shifts, they change. This change imperative is a critical and exciting challenge for all businesses, especially today when stasis equals death in most markets. And the same holds for digital transformation — now an on-going part of any business’s lifecycle. As the saying goes, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

But finding the right path for your journey requires grasping that digital transformation isn’t just a technology issue. It touches all aspects of your business — from culture to strategy.

Mike Chapman, Director of Digital Strategy at AmericanEagle.com, says that digital transformation needs to start with an understanding of business goals.

“Understanding the business imperative and ensuring that cascades through all decisions, down to the smallest, is the most important thing to do in a digital transformation. With this understanding in place, the inevitable array of decisions that arise during development can be made more quickly and in a way that supports the overall objective.

“Too often the choice of platform and technology solution seems removed from the business need, being made too early. The platform and functional solution should support the content strategy and deliver it to the right audience at the right time.”

There’s everything to play for

The start of a new year is always a good opportunity to reflect, reassess, and refocus. Now is the perfect moment to take advantage of all we’ve learned in 2020.

This is the year to take your digital transformation to the next level. If your business remains collaborative, agile, and focused, you’ll have a much better chance of building meaningful human connections through digital experiences.

If you’re looking to accelerate, or kick-start, your digital transformation in 2021, be sure to download our new guide, featuring more insight, trends, and recommendations from our partners.

Tom De Ridder is Sitecore's CTO and leads the teams responsible for the development of Sitecore’s future-focused technology solutions, with a focus on products that help Sitecore maintain a distinct innovation lead in the market.