As organizations continue to work through the many challenges we have been presented with due to the global pandemic, IT departments have discovered several positive side effects. Business stakeholders now have a better understanding that business continuity is more than just relying on technology backups. Enterprise organizations have progressed towards strategic resilience. Rather than checking the morning email to figure out which fire to fight first, leadership is taking control and has embraced a more forward-thinking approach. It is no longer a best practice to simply react. Leadership is studying and learning from the past to better prepare technology for the future. Whatever that future may look like. With the shift to remote work, it is accepted that not everyone must reside in the same city and commute to a single location to be productive. By centralizing data and embracing cloud technology, data is available anywhere, at any time. But the list of positive outcomes does not stop there. There are several other positive side-effects because of the shift caused by the global pandemic. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at some positive changes that COVID-19 brought to technology companies. As we conclude the series, here are a few more.
Creation of the digital ecosystem
When I first moved into my home, the yard consisted of a flat mass of mostly clay, on top of which the builder had thrown something that only vaguely passed as sod. The developer had first started by stripping the land of all vegetation, including the native trees, plants, and the healthy topsoil that had evolved. The first year began by installing healthy soil and planting trees. Over the next few years, several of the trees had to be replaced as the natural balance of the land had been disturbed and the trees struggled to live. The natural bugs and birds and wildlife had been pushed out. Balance had to be restored. Over the years, the birds returned, as did the natural worms and bugs. Today, the yard thrives with nests, and bees, and natural vegetation on the floor. It has once again become a small ecosystem.
The digital ecosystem is similar. It is defined as interconnected online technology that allows for collaboration and can function as a unit. It is sustainable, and it is scalable. Pre-COVID, our idea of collaboration was to physically be in the same room. We have finally learned that being in the same room does not restore the natural order of things, and it does not ensure productivity. It’s not that the tools to support a digital ecosystem were not available before; they absolutely were. Perhaps in a less mature version, but the tools did exist. We had just not embraced them.
Today, we can collaborate online. Our whiteboard is on a monitor, not a wall. While we may no longer exist in the same physical location, we can exist in the same virtual space, and we can share information instantly. We have learned to define productivity by the results, not by physical location.
Management consultants and auditors have forever been promoting the value of standardized and repeatable business processes. This means documenting the process and ensuring a change process is in place so that stakeholders are not randomly making adjustments without consulting representation from all impacted by the process. For a business process to pass an audit, there must be proof of documentation and proof of implementation. Historically, this has often not been the reality of our implemented technology. In essence, we have created a hairball of technology that is impossible to unravel. Instead, we must throw away what we have done and start with something new. In our favor is that the current trend is for everything-as-a-service. Meaning that change is inevitable, and our older systems are most likely not worth moving into the cloud.
With this change — a change accelerated by the COVID pandemic — we are being forced to document our business processes so we can reproduce the processes we require with the new technology. This moves IT departments from being very reactive and having a heavy reliance on specific individuals to having documented and repeatable processes that are practiced by all team members. This is a positive step forward.
The first wave of COVID-19 was, in a weird way, a time of discovery for technology. The information received was not timely and was often contradictory. Like a project with poor change management, we all started to draw our own conclusions. It was a very good lesson on how not to run a project. With the second wave, we all got a little smarter. We learned that this situation was not going to rectify itself. We knew that physical distancing was quite important, and we started to re-think how to accomplish our day-to-day shopping. Mom-and-pop shops gained favor over the heavily populated big box stores. Sadly, their longevity was limited due to regulatory compliance that heavily favored the larger chains. And so, even for those who had not yet embraced online shopping, the transition was about to occur. And when it did, it was a spectacular jump into the world of e-commerce.
This is good news for technology companies. The need is real, and the demand is high. We have made the shift, and it is unlikely that there will be any going back. We can now have pretty much anything delivered directly to our home, sometimes within hours. Digital Commerce 360 reports that in 2020, U.S. e-commerce grew by 32.4%. The trend continues. This is a good time to be a technology company.
There is no doubt that the one positive side-effect of the pandemic that stares us right in the face is the change and the ongoing commitment to remote work. There is an impact on business continuity, resource skill sets and availability, centralized data management — and the list goes on. When we were forced to work from home, the enterprise embraced this new way of working and implemented collaboration tools that began the transition to the digital ecosystem. Before the pandemic, organizations hesitated to walk the talk. While some had embraced a remote work strategy, the commitment to a digital ecosystem was just not there. Data security and collaboration were not in place. It was another situation of leaving important corporate adherence to process, and security up to individual employees. Data was stored on hard drives, and each employee created their own personal way of electronic filing. While we are a long way from business maturity on this one, the past two years have taken us a long way down this path.
COVID and technology has us rethinking the future
Leadership is now reassessing what work will look like in the future. We are no longer reacting to regulatory compliance that is reactively imposed upon us. We are writing our own future. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” We are finally able to do just that.
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