As regions start to consider a phased approach to reopening businesses in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is wondering, what comes next? Recently, CompTIA’s Emerging Technology Community attempted to tackle that question for the tech industry, discussing how this crisis has highlighted technology’s critical role in keeping us connected and the longer-term impact COVID-19 could have on emerging tech investment and adoption. Here's what our community members had to say.
Technology and the Remote Workforce
Much has been written about technology’s role in facilitating the shift to remote work during the early weeks of COVID-19.
“Survival means still being in business,” said Dave Sobel, host of MSP Radio shows Business of Tech and Killing IT. “There is opportunity for technology to shine, like the instant demand for work from home. Tech is vitally important.”
For businesses that were quickly and easily able to pivot to remote work, the pandemic is less likely to have immediately impacted the day-to-day workflow. But for other companies, setting up work-from-home operations reflects a new way of doing business—a way that could be here to stay.
“What we’re looking for is technologies that let us do things to fill in the gaps. If a customer is used to messaging in a traditional way—for example, events are a great way to reach lots of people, so now is the time to get creative. Leverage those things in new ways. What can you do from a virtual perspective or online perspective to be different?” said Sobel.
The cost effectiveness of remote work will likely mean that many companies consider keeping some, if not all, of their operations remote, but that decision will also change more of the day-to-day processes. While cybersecurity remains a top concern in remote work environments, Maddy Martin, head of growth and education at Smith.ai, pointed out that the role of technology in remote work could also mean increased concerns about employee privacy.
“Moving forward, employers are going to want more visibility into work-from-home setups and how their employees are spending their days. Managers will want to track progress across remote teams that are doing asynchronous work. Emerging technology will play a big role in how we do that, but privacy will become a more dominant HR issue,” said Martin.
The Recession Will Shape Tech Investment
While tech is facilitating work, there is also the question of how an economic downturn impacts investment in emerging technology as well as the implementation of technology, in general. For all the excitement, emerging tech adoption has often been slower than expected, and the pandemic could impede plans for scheduled technology projects.
“Certain migrations to the cloud will get delayed as companies figure out that their cash positions aren’t strong. Some emerging tech implementations—they don’t go away, but they get delayed. Things that were trending will get put on the back burner,” said Mike Haines, director of channel incentive strategy and design at Microsoft and chair of the Emerging Technology Community. “Adoption is going to slow down in some markets and industries.”
But that’s not the whole story. Companies will be looking to further cut budgets, and technology will be considered—if a cost savings can be justified.
“Does it replace a higher cost? Does it pay you back quickly through increases in system efficiency, staff productivity, market access or customer satisfaction? I think there will be investment to the extent the new technology adds value to the business—where value relates to expense and experience—but not if it means adding a new line item, and especially not if it's untested by peers," said Martin.
Emerging technology vendors will need to think differently as budgets tighten, and according to Martin, that means sales and marketing teams will need to find a new approach.
Emerging Technology and Essential Workers
Essential workers—doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store employees, delivery workers and others—are critical to fighting COVID-19, serving communities, and supplying people with goods and services vital to everyday life.
“There are people on the road because there’s no other way they can do their job. They are driving the transportation and logistics efforts that keep grocery stores stocked; heating and air conditioning functioning, plumbing; and people delivering medical supplies,” said Ted Cole, vice president of channels and strategic partnerships at GPS Insight. “In the current environment, things like IoT, AI, edge computing and analytics go into the effort to reduce labor costs for fleets, save on fuel consumption, keep vehicles on the road, reduce overhead. These technologies need more attention because they are making a difference for businesses.”
In addition to emerging technologies that can help essential workers in the near term, the necessity of social distancing during COVID-19 has changed the way we work when we cannot work at home. The pandemic has highlighted needs that did not exist and could accelerate adoption in certain industries.
“I expect investments in the delivery infrastructure because we’re already seeing how fragile that is. Every grocery store worker is an emergency worker right now. That’s a problem. We should be investing restocking robots,” said Sobel. “Are manufacturers going to change because we’ve learned six feet really matters? Maybe that’s where they say they are going to change the way factories work to accommodate for that.”
Investments in robotics, automation and other emerging technologies also brings up another area that has long been a concern in the tech industry—the skills gap. Reskilling and upskilling workers could become even more critical because of COVID-19.
“There could be a huge redefinition of roles in every industry. Individual contribution and collaboration will be more evident and score cards will change," said John Rice, president at Think Channel, LLC. "Your contribution to the organization and how you interact within it will get more focus and your ability to leverage technology will be more important."
Interested in AI, IoT, robotics and other emerging technologies? Join the Emerging Technology Community.