After the Pandemic: IT Leaders Discuss What Will Change
Business and IT have, in the past, used times of crisis to adapt and transform themselves for the better. While the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably had a devastating effect on business, and life itself, it will also be a catalyst for change, compelling organizations to rethink their long-term operations and spending, amidst the short-term crisis brought on by the health emergency.
DBTA recently asked enterprise leaders about the lessons being learned, the changes that can be expected in IT and business in a post-pandemic world, and whether there is any reason for hope. Here, 15 executives share their predictions for what “the new normal” may look like.
More open data and collaboration: The global pandemic is teaching us to share more and do more across a variety of stakeholders with access to important data sets. For example, the wonderful Coronavirus Resource Center and Case Map provide us with a fantastic visualization of the progress of the virus, both from a worldwide perspective down to a very granular, local view. The website combines resources from industry, government, and academia. ESRI and NOAA provided map information. John Hopkins University & Medicine group provided the web know-how and built and hosts the site. And non-governmental organizations, for-profit businesses, and government entities provided a host of open datasets, from WHO, CDC, ECDC, NHC, DXY, 1point3acres, Worldometers.info, BNO, state and national government health departments, and local media reports. It is my hope that the success of this and many other websites will teach intransigent world leaders to further support the free flow of data. — Kevin Kline, principal program manager at SentryOne and DBTA columnist
The “new normal” will be anything but: I don’t know what the new normal will be, but I know it will be anything but normal. COVID-19 has had a rapid and profound impact on our personal life, work-life, businesses, and economies both at home and abroad. Agile organizations that have made the investment and shift to DevOps, flexible infrastructure in the cloud and on-premise, have vast amounts of data available, and can deliver capabilities through software, have a spectacular advantage in volatile times. Every economic crisis brings with it pain but also opportunities. Right now is when the investments pay off from digital transformation strategies, agile and DevOps-based software delivery management and software created and managed cloud infrastructure. These investments, along with savvy strategies, flexible technologies, and excellence in execution, are significant factors in determining the winners and losers of the 2020 decade. — Mitch Ashley, an industry analyst on digital transformation and software who leads ASG
More digital, less office time: In the midst of all the bad news, we see small glimmers of hope. We’re becoming more comfortable with digital interactions out of sheer necessity. Our carbon footprint is significantly decreasing. We’re spending more time with family. And we’re devising ways to stay connected on business and personal levels through the power of technology. In a post-COVID-19 world, the organizations that succeed will be those that are embracing this new norm. Maybe it will be less about that fancy office and the costs associated, and more about creating a culture that empowers employees to be successful remotely. I believe our priorities as a society will change and the future will be measured less by the commute time into the office or the distance traveled to visit customers and more by how we stay engaged with one another through innovations in technology. — Rowan Scranage, Chief Business Officer, Alluxio
Digital transformation on steroids: COVID-19 will be a catalyst for change when it comes to organizations’ digital investments in the age of increased physical separation. In fact, traditional business models that haven’t made digital acceleration a priority investment will likely be displaced faster. Take, for example, a digitally-enhanced remote workforce: The newly ‘virtual’ office will accelerate the need for organizations to support all forms of mobility and collaboration tools (which enable remote access) for workers and consumers, and even their friends and family. This will ultimately drive the need for better UX interaction and connectivity. On the other hand, this will trigger bigger investments in the cloud, which provides access to compute and storage, and is needed to support digital initiatives without maintaining a physical presence. For remote workforces, this eliminates the need for ‘in person’ management of a facility while providing virtually untapped resources ‘on-demand’ as they scale new digital workloads. — Mark Troester, VP of Strategy at Progress
A wake-up call to better understand processes and people: The work-from-home pendulum is likely to swing dramatically from ‘not possible’ to ‘we can get a lot more done than we thought’ to ‘but I really do value in-person collaboration.’ The net result will be a balanced approach to travel and in-person meetings versus the full-throttle, travel everywhere, all the time model that we saw in the last 10 years. Global supply chains will be rethought to avoid single-points-of-failure. In addition, whatever remained of the on-premise technology mindset will be eliminated in all but the rarest of cases, accelerating the cloud infrastructure trend when companies suddenly realize how much people-time and cost was spent on operating inefficient on-premise infrastructure. And companies will have to rely on nimble data analysis that can match rapidly changing business environments. The lightning-fast economic impact of this pandemic was a wake-up call to deeply understand every element of operational efficiency and customer needs/behaviors on a very granular basis. Dominant companies were already doing that, and now every company sees how it can mean life or death in a world that can turn on a dime. — Billy Bosworth, CEO, Dremio
Broader cloud adoption for data management: I predict we’ll see cloud adoption accelerate, rapidly, for many business functions but especially data management. Now more than ever, businesses need a complete picture for mission-critical decision making—which means making more data available for more people from more data sources inside and outside the enterprise. As a result, we will see more CIOs prioritize initiatives that ‘future proof’ their businesses by increasing agility, flexibility, and scalability. Many businesses are already moving to consolidate on-premise data warehouses and data lakes in the cloud. According to a recent TDWI report, nearly two-thirds (64%) of organizations surveyed are planning to apply cloud data management to support analytics and about half are moving to the cloud specifically for data warehousing and reporting. But I think we’ll start to see organizations in industries traditionally slow to adopt new technologies—like healthcare and government—make faster moves based on the lessons learned during the pandemic. — Ronen Schwartz, EVP, Global Technical and Ecosystem Strategy & Operations at Informatica
Greater appreciation for how IT is intertwined with business: This crisis is showing just how co-dependent IT and business are. Supply chains are a good example of how important the relationship is. A lot of the important supply chain decisions made in the last couple of months were no more than educated guesses. Businesses and governments didn’t have access to reliable data that they could base their decisions on. In the case of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and tests, guessing wrong led to dire consequences. Instead, if decisions had been made using the best possible data, we’d probably be in a better spot today. For example, a company knowing who all their manufacturers are, and how exposed each one is to risk, allows the business to better anticipate disruptions and plan for workarounds. We’re being tested in many ways we would have never imagined even 6 months ago, and are being forced to execute at unprecedented levels of efficiency, particularly in life sciences and healthcare. We’re being stretched to our limits, but the reason to have hope is that the lessons we learn and innovations we develop will have positive, lasting effects. — Matt Holzapfel, Solutions Lead, Tamr
Supply chain management will emerge from the back office: Organizations will continue to be defined by their ability to adapt to rapid change and make complex business decisions amid unprecedented levels of uncertainty. This will put increased pressure on supply chain leaders who must ensure operations are nimbler across their entire ecosystem, from suppliers and partners to manufacturers and retailers. And, since historical data will no longer be accurate, supply chain leaders will need to incorporate external, leading indicators to help understand demand requirements in the future.
As a result, I think we will see businesses lean more heavily on intelligent supply chain management tools that link business processes with technology and arms supply chain leaders with real-time data from their entire ecosystem as well as from external demand drivers. Advanced modeling capabilities will also be critical in helping businesses assess a wide range of ever-changing variables so they can mitigate the impact of uncertainty on their supply chain. A digital transition within the supply chain will help break down siloed decision making, enabling supply chain leaders to work in lockstep with their cross-functional partners in IT, finance, sales, and HR. — Evan Quasney, VP, Global Supply Chain Solutions at Anaplan
It will be hard to put the WFH genie back in the bottle: The data we are collecting today will be used and analyzed for generations to come to improve our response, prevent future outbreaks, and ensure our global supply chain is solid. This is the greatest stress test in the history of the internet. We are finding where the dark spots and issues are. We realize that the instant gratification, always-on mentality works only under perfect conditions. We have seen websites, databases, and applications taxed to their breaking point. We now know the impact of a global disaster around the globe. In addition, it is going to be very hard to get the work remote genie back in the bottle. We are proving that work can be done in most industries without being in a physical office. Many companies who resisted modernization are now being forced to modernize at a rapid pace.
Ultimately, IT and business will be forced to correct and overcome the shortcomings of the systems that we have in place today. We will be looking to ensure we have the elastic capacity to scale up and down on demand. The acceleration of people working cross-cloud or in a hybrid environment will increase so that as one provider has issues with load or capacity, businesses will need to shift to another provider seamlessly. We will get through this, and in the end, we will get stronger by learning many new lessons and uncovering the gremlins in our systems. — Matt Yonkovit, CXO for Percona
Business continuity—this is not a drill: Putting together a plan that encompasses all the critical pieces the organization would need to maintain operations is critical to the success of businesses around the globe. Many organizations struggled with the lack of company-issued equipment, the ability to ensure quick access for employees, and shifting compliance and security policies to fit what was to become the new normal. Another challenge most organizations didn’t anticipate was adapting to a new way of management. ‘War rooms’ were taken online and leadership dynamics changed to deal with the new needs of the business. Collaboration between departments became essential—IT, Security, HR, and Business Operations had to break down their siloed work streams to seamlessly navigate the situation. Moving forward, we expect this connection to continue, as it only builds resiliency to face any other challenges after this pandemic is behind us. There is hope for all organizations moving forward, we need to remember the lessons learned and improve our approach to be ready to go back out there (literally) and continue building our businesses. — Ian Pitt, CIO at LogMeIn
Expect massive investment in skills and systems modernization: What is increasingly apparent is that our current technology infrastructure wasn’t maintained to handle this kind of crisis. In most cases, the actual computers are doing their job well, but decades of neglect have created situations where the software hasn’t been upgraded or IT professionals haven’t been properly trained. As we move out of the immediate crisis phase into the recovery, I’m expecting to see a massive investment in skills and systems modernization as everyone realizes that keeping technology current isn’t a luxury. What’s interesting— and encouraging—to me is that banks, hospitals, and other organizations that rely on legacy systems are experiencing very few issues as a result of increased demand. Unfortunately, governments (including the IRS and several U.S. states) are having problems—which all goes back to a lack of training and modernization for their legacy systems. The other major issue to address will be end-to-end networking. In the last month, everyone has been on video calls with jerky images and glitchy audio. We need to upgrade both the internet infrastructure and how tools use it. — Matt Deres, CIO of Rocket Software
Emphasis on a modern, agile—and cost-efficient—IT infrastructure: One of the first reactions to the pandemic and its uncertain economic effects was to find a way to reduce costs. Many companies discovered their legacy IT infrastructure limiting and lacking the agility to meet urgent business needs. In response, companies are turning to the cloud for its inherent flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to scale up and down as business requires. We foresee hybrid and multi-cloud data management emerging with new importance post-pandemic. In addition, data end-users such as analysts and data scientists need real-time, self-service access to data to make fast decisions that have a significant impact, and, as a result, companies are reconsidering how they manage and govern their data. We predict DataOps will continue to grow and become the data management best practice for providing true data agility. And as companies adjust to a remote working model and make the move to the cloud, security will be more important than ever. A modern and agile IT infrastructure and a solid data management foundation will be key for future success during times of crisis where timeframes are condensed and projects are mission-critical. — Ben Sharma, Founder and Chief Product Officer of Zaloni
More flexibility, leading to greater resilience: Agility is critical to keeping operations running smoothly during this pandemic and when we return to our new normal. While it may seem like there is little reason to hope that something good will come out of this, it has highlighted the resiliency of individuals and businesses to find new methods of operating. IT has a strong hand in business success as it has become core to creating effective remote workforces while ensuring security and regulatory compliance for data. Businesses will be more resilient in the future and able to bounce back from any issues by learning from today’s pandemic and bringing these lessons to life when working on updating or creating a new resiliency plan. — Jamie Zajac, VP of Product Management, Carbonite, an OpenText Company
Greater clarity about what’s really important to the business: During these unprecedented times, it is normal for business-critical applications like contact center and outage management to come under tremendous pressure and for businesses to respond to unexpected loads on an emergency basis. In the long run, we feel that companies will identify the processes and applications that are critical to their continued operation. We expect that these applications will increasingly become part of the internal and external audits for risk and compliance purposes. We also expect enterprises to then invest in making those applications robust and scalable so that they continue to operate smoothly during normal times as well as when a “new normal” emerges on the scene. We believe this will require businesses to migrate their mission-critical applications on a platform that can continue to scale-out as the load increases on these applications. — Monte Zweben, CEO of Splice Machine
An engaged, resilient, dedicated workforce is indispensable: From an IT perspective, COVID-19 exposed the gaps in our preparedness for a situation that had been a predicted eventuality for over a decade. From a company perspective, we are re-learning the very basic lesson that an engaged, resilient, dedicated workforce is indispensable to meeting the kind of challenge that will confront us again at some point in the future. If we invest the time to absorb these lessons, there is indeed the reason for the hope that we will recover from this dislocation, rebuild our organizations in more productive and equitable ways, and be better prepared for the next ‘unexpected” crisis.’ — Neil Lieberman, Head of Marketing U.S., Poppulo