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This article is by Featured Blogger Jason Bloomberg from his blog page. Republished with the author’s permission.
Until it runs its course, the human impact of the coronavirus is difficult to predict. The impact on the business world is even more opaque.
Gaining insight into the future is such a challenge largely because this virus is entirely unprecedented. True, the stock market is down and we’re likely entering a recession. But this downturn is unlike any we’ve seen before in our lifetimes. It is not following the normal business cycle pattern.
The only comparison to the current situation that comes even close – the ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918 – is a poor example to follow, as the world was so different a century ago. (I put ‘Spanish’ in quotes because it had nothing to do with Spain. The appellation is nothing more than an unfortunate reminder of the xenophobia of the time.)
Of all the differences between our world and 1918, perhaps the most important is the role of digital – and IT generally.
Digital: The Unprecedented Backbone of the Economy
In 1918, staying at home meant not working for virtually everybody. Not so in 2020.
True, many professions, including most blue-collar and low-paid service careers, have little in the way of an at-home working option. But the people reading this article – enterprise IT professionals and the ecosystem of vendors and service providers that serve them – are fortunate to be among the population that does have this option.
The good news, if there is any, is that the digital world will suffer less than the non-digital part of our economy. It will not remain unscathed, as the economy is a single interconnected whole. But our global community of digital professionals are the solitary backbone that will retain whatever strength the economy will be able to preserve until this pandemic has passed.
There are a number of reasons for this surprising prediction. While so much of our daily routine has been stripped away, the digital portion has taken on a new importance.
The online collaboration tools that replace in-person meetings, school classes, music rehearsals, and so many other group activities are suddenly critical to our lives.
The IT infrastructure that supports global virus testing, first responder responsibilities, and the efficiency of our healthcare system is more important than ever.
And even considering inexplicable runs on toilet paper, digital technology is at the core of our surprisingly resilient supply chains, keeping our supermarkets and drug stores stocked even in this time of crisis.
Even social media – in spite of its role in augmenting fake news and Russian political influence – has become an even more important part of our lives. In 1918, fewer than one third of the US population had telephones. Today, social media and online digital communications services of all sorts are
ubiquitous, and the only thing keeping many people from becoming entirely isolated from friends, family, and the rest of society.
The World is Counting on Us
The digital services the world has come to rely on in these trying times depend largely upon enterprises, web scale companies, telecommunications firms, and other IT-centric organizations to keep the lights on – literally as well as figuratively.
However, the impact of digital is far broader. Every company today depends upon IT. Cybersecurity is more important than ever. The the scalability and efficiency of cloud and cloud-native infrastructures are now mission-critical. The list goes on.
In fact, if you look at your typical large company, these IT capabilities are the part of the organization that is now the healthiest, as other functions slow down as people work at home, forgoing so many available services, from airplanes to conferences to restaurants.
You can think of the coronavirus as the heat of a kiln, burning away all parts of an organization that depend upon people congregating – leaving the digital backbone to hold the company together.
And what keeps the digital backbone so strong? IT people, of course – everybody reading this article. True, we’re all working at home because we can – and we can continue to ensure the technology that is so essential to our companies, our livelihoods, the economy, and society in general keeps running.
The Digital Transformation Nobody Expected
I used the metaphor of the kiln intentionally, as it leaves its contents forever transformed even after they cool down. Just so with the coronavirus and our companies.
Don’t expect anything to return to normal – at least, not the normal we had before the pandemic. This ordeal will sorely test all digital technologies, processes, and expectations, leaving the world with a better understanding of the importance and usefulness of such technologies in our daily lives – as well as what works and what doesn’t.
For a number of years, we have been writing about digital transformation – a difficult process for any large organization to have undertaken as they leveraged modern technologies to better align with customer needs. Historically, most such initiatives have underdelivered or simply failed.
Once the coronavirus passes, the enterprises who were unable to adequately transform to rise to the needs of customers during the crisis will no longer be viable. Only the ones who are able to maintain their digital backbones to keep a laser focus on customer needs will remain.
Like it or not, this global pandemic will either digitally transform your organization, or it will eliminate it. The key to organizational survival, therefore, depends upon digital – and digital depends upon all of us. Let’s not let everybody down.