COVID-19 Forces a New Digital Reality

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Nuthawut Somsuk

Here in Australia, borders between states are now closing, the island state of Tasmania is turning away tourists, and the Federal Government this week asked all “non-essential” businesses to close.

But despite the shops, cafes and restaurants being closed and the streets being eerily empty, many organizations have implemented business continuity plans. They are also maintaining operations at some level through remote technologies.

The pandemic, however, is a unique situation. Many firms were caught out because while they had business continuity plans, they didn’t extend rigorously enough into planning for what to do in an unprecedented emergency such as COVID-19.

Time for CDOs to step up

Research house Forrester has been monitoring the situation through its PandemicEX project, and while the finds are U.S.-based, they can, for the most part, almost to most advanced economies.

The survey found that 29% of U.S. adults are “afraid to go to work” because of the fear of exposure to the virus, while 43% had their work lives disrupted. Among employers, only 43% have a plan for dealing with it on a global level.

Executives with digital or IT responsibilities, such as CDOs and CIOs, have been at the forefront of planning as they try to keep the organizational lights on.

Just as national leaders are being asked to step up in this time of crisis, so these executives with responsibility for technology are being tasked with more leadership responsibility.

For some, this presents a major opportunity to make their companies more efficient to not only survive the pandemic, but to make some long-term changes which will have an impact once the crisis has passed.

Quarantine economy apps

Choices around remote working technologies, collaboration tools and decisions on cloud implementations will be key to maintaining some degree of business continuity in the immediate term. Organizations can adopt them on a more permanent basis if they deliver benefits now.

The changes are also likely to—often forcibly—change work cultures based on technology use. For many people, there may be no going back.

Some industry sectors are more impacted than others. Similar things are happening in the world of technology as some come to the fore and others are deemed as less important.

U.S. based video-conferencing provider Zoom, for example, saw a 78% increase in revenue over the last year and its share price spike almost 70% in the last three months. The company says that it is dealing with a surge of messaging activity as high as 500%.

Symphony, the instant message and collaboration tool provider aimed at financial firms, is in the same position. In October last year, clients were sending 280,000 attachments through Symphony every day; last week the figure was a combined 800,000 attachments.

The solutions offered by these providers are getting traction because they not only work well—with little in the way of freezings and lags—but are cost effective.

In the messaging space, Slack and Microsoft have both experienced big jumps in their volumes and in the number of new users. Slack, for example, is claiming a net increase of 7,000 paying customers since the start of February, or 40% more than it would normally achieve over a three-month period.

Other technology providers have seen opportunities in servicing the “quarantine economy.”

Appian Corp, for example, has created a low code application which establishes a “central command center” for organizations to aggregate health information and store it in the cloud.

Employers can see the health status of employees by geography and department and match volunteers with those needing help. The company is giving the app away for free.

One technology which has been found to have limitations in the current crisis is the older model of VPN.

Many large organizations have struggled to scale up their operations over VPN during the crisis. These experiences are likely to drive organizations further towards a cloud enabled model.

Cloud is the overall winner

All of this is happening when many digital and IT budgets are being reviewed, with some expecting cuts.

Research firm Enterprise Technology Research (ETR) has done a global survey of 1,000 executives and found that less than a tenth have made the call to cut their 2020 budgets, but this number could increase if the crisis is prolonged.

About a fifth of respondents, however, said they had frozen some IT deployments and future projects not deemed to be essential, some of which are being deferred by six to 12 months.

In this environment, it could be a turbulent period ahead for software and IT service providers, and the service firms which specialize in integration and implementations of new projects.

The ETR survey shows a significant pick up in spending on technologies which support remote and collaborative working.

One technology which could emerge even stronger from this crisis is the cloud as organizations continue to change their operating and business models around the cloud.

From this vantage point, however, much of this is conjecture. The COVID-19 situation is fluid and uncertain. The only certainty is that for many organizations the crisis will be a watershed moment for how they work, and the tools they need to support that.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Nuthawut Somsuk