We’re Not Going Back

In a conversation with my sister last week, I was musing whether we would go back to shaking hands in the aftermath of the coronavirus and in general what the world was going to look like in the months and years ahead. She made an observation that I thought was spot on: “I don’t think we’re going back.” The world has fundamentally changed.

Literally overnight we’ve been forced to find new ways of working, meeting, shopping, managing healthcare, and even staying entertained. There has been a tremendous surge in demand for videoconferencing and delivery services in particular, but also for online learning (with schools closing), eCommerce, media streaming (Universal Pictures announced it would make some of its new releases available on demand), and eSports (with all major sports leagues suspending or delaying their seasons). Telemedicine will no doubt see a huge spike in demand as well with the decision this week to cover virtual doctor and clinician visits with Medicare. And the list goes on.

All of these services are critically underpinned by technology. We released a paper literally just a few months ago called, “The Internet of Everything and the Advent of Machine Data Intelligence.” In it we talked about how it wasn’t just the proliferation of machines (servers, sensors, devices etc) that was notable, but the importance of what they do and just how dependent we’ve become on them in our everyday lives. In hindsight now, I think we understated the case.

We need to recognize the critical role that information technology — virtualization, digitization, automation — now plays in our world. Just like roads, railways, bridges, and tunnels were critical to the success of the industrial revolution, so are IT infrastructure, cloud computing, networks, sensors and devices critical to this new digital revolution. As a result of this unprecedented pandemic, the pace of global digital transformation will dramatically accelerate.

The surge in eCommerce transactions for example will place far greater strain on supply chains, logistics, and delivery services, which in turn will accelerate the use of autonomous production, warehousing, and delivery via self-driving trucks and vehicles. (You may see that delivery drone sooner than you thought). Tele-health and tele-medicine will add to burgeoning network traffic and help drive the adoption of edge computing. Distance everything — work, education, conferences — will be entirely dependent on technology platforms and networks in order to be successful.

All of this will place unprecedented demand on IT infrastructure in virtually every industry. Enterprises need to quickly prepare themselves for the new normal. Being able to monitor, analyze, and optimize IT and IoT infrastructure will become more important than ever. Outages will be catastrophic in this new norm and there will be a premium placed on quality of service. Having complete end-to-end, edge-to-edge command and visibility of all infrastructure assets and performance has become paramount.

Now more than ever we need our digital infrastructure to endure and operate as dependably as our physical infrastructure has for over a century (and arguably it needs to be even better). When going online or employing automation moves from one way of producing and procuring goods and services to the primary way or perhaps the only way, the stakes rise dramatically. Enterprises need to act quickly to ensure they can meet this new level of demand and expectations of dependability and quality of service. At a minimum, this includes the following:

  1. Ensuring that all IT infrastructure, but especially “service critical” infrastructure, has robust monitoring and alerting capabilities in place. This is now table stakes and failure to do so is inviting disaster.
  2. Implementing high-availability (HA), redundancy, failover, and recovery processes and capabilities. Continual testing and verification of these systems and processes is also critical.
  3. Assessing the strength and viability of critical vendors in your supply chain. This should also include any 3rd party software vendors with which you integrate.
  4. Adding predictive analytics and predictive maintenance capabilities. It is not enough to detect and resolve issues quickly, you need to be able to predict and prevent them proactively.
  5. Delivering visibility and transparency to stakeholders — information and insights are the new currency in the digital economy.

The current crisis will carve a new landscape in business — winners and losers will emerge in every industry as a result. Jeff Bezos gets that. Every move he’s making today (hiring 100,000 workers for example) is certainly in response to the current situation but make no mistake, he’s also planning and positioning for the new world we find ourselves in. You should as well. It’s an old but sage adage that you invest in the downturn to emerge even stronger when the economy recovers.

As all good practitioners of change management know, to bring about change you need to first loosen the status quo. COVID-19 has obliterated the status quo and has been catalyst, incubator, and accelerator for things we may not have tried at scale for many more years. People will find the new ways of working and living “online” are actually pretty good and possibly even better in some respects than our old ways of doing things.

It’s folly to think that this will be the last pandemic we ever experience, and they are likely to occur more frequently — much like the evermore common “100 year storm.” Where risk can be and has been eliminated from society I suspect there will be little to no appetite to re-introduce. We’ve been thrust into a new age sooner than perhaps we expected, but it was coming no matter and now we are here.

And I think my sister was right. We’re not going back.