ICT & Life with Covid-19

In common with the vast majority of people the 2020 that’s unfolded since February has been subject to the three U’s: unpleasant, unexpected and unprecedented. Watching Covid-19 impact our society, health and global economy has the drama of a ship hitting an iceberg, agonisingly slow but with only one prospective outcome. Beyond the lives sadly lost there’s certain to be a legacy in our society, how we conduct business, and for the purposes of this article changes in the ICT industry of which we’re part.

But we shouldn’t have been that surprised? Should we? Really? Nassim Nicholas Taleb published Black Swan back in 2007 (1), it was a very popular business book (which I actually read, rather than it just collecting dust on the shelf!), reminding us that unexpected events while unlikely and unpredictable can have extreme consequences. How many risk registers did I dutifully compile at work, while all the time not actually addressing or mitigating the underlying risk? As managers, board members and business leaders we have a duty to immediately review and update our risk assessments and act to build more robust businesses. Currently our customers, shareholders and staff viscerally understand risk and now’s the time to make our companies more ‘anti fragile’ (2). Planned mitigations for an extreme denial of service attack, such as we saw with Travelex (3), or a catastrophic hacking of Microsoft 365 or Android would be high on my list, and I would insist on appropriate preparatory work.

Building on risk management, ICT is now perceived as truly critical infrastructure.  For service providers working under government licence we should anticipate a smart and thoughtful government to insist on greater network robustness given the critical importance of ICT as a public good. A smart and thoughtful ICT industry would actively promote these credentials. In parallel a debate will continue as to the importance of our critical infrastructure being independent of Chinese economic policy. A forward looking solution may be to embrace the power of open source with companies such as Rakuten (4).

Covid-19 has certainly created some wins for the ICT industry. A super graphic from Fortune magazine (5) recognises Amazon, Apple and Microsoft as three winning stocks from this crisis, and we all wish we had invested (and then sold) Zoom stock, which predicts a doubling of 2020 revenue to somewhere about $1.8 billion. Further as Bill Best mentioned in a previous blog (6) ‘voice is the new killer app’, who would have guessed? However while we have rays of sunshine ICT spend by enterprise will unavoidably track the general economic down turn (7). As a final observation one ICT insider said to me; “at least we didn’t have the cost of GSM Congress in Barcelona to bear, so there’s been some savings!”.

For the lucky white collar many Covid-19 has meant working from home. While I count it as a personal pleasure that I haven’t had to schlepp around the M4 and M25 since February two homeworkers trying simultaneously to run video conference calls has strained our home ICT infrastructure. Network infrastructure is in the wrong place. Capacity is elsewhere. A legacy of Covid-19 is likely to be a network re-planning with more capacity in the suburbs. The CTO community has been party to many slide presentations covering smart networks, self healing networks, intelligent networks and the like. Now may be the perfect time to position with the board a network evolution encompassing the change in geographic usage.

Customers may well pay for an honest high quality service, as opposed to the dishonest throttled data offering many of us are suffering today. With a legacy of significantly increased home working security offerings (without the obligation of virtual private networks) will also be essential. In parallel with security surely we can do much to improve upon the foundation of Teams, Zoom and Webex. As a colleague put to me: “My biggest observation is that although video conferencing is a vast improvement on pure voice, it simply struggles when you are trying to brainstorm, negotiate or create common purpose. I can’t quite put my finger on whether it’s limitations of technology and home working techniques/tools or whether it’s actually that humans are hugely complex and clever communicators. I suspect it’s a bit of both ….”, we have now proved that we have no need to travel to work every day and that remote working is fantastic for the majority of circumstances. However I also think we have learned to really value personal interactions (socially and work) and that for certain activities there is no substitute for a chat. Lastly, can we expect to see ‘access to fast internet’ on the prospectus of a house sale, and any buyer insisting on an internet speed check? Perhaps the new middle class must have, as well as a guaranteed Ocado slot and a wash room immediately entering a house, is superb internet access.

In parallel with continued homework a reduction in demand for fixed office space and fully virtualised business ICT solutions will also continue – with my office phone being as anachronistic as my office desk. Currently the office phone is just a liability certain to be incorrectly call forwarded and a health hazard to boot.  In the small survey of colleagues, one FD will be serving notice to their landlord, another Director is downsizing and nobody is taking extra seats. However there is an active debate as to how to maintain and enhance sharing, coordination and group work which leads to a conversation about the right sort of co-working space (8).

We must learn from this pandemic. Our industry has seen to have contributed positively and with maturity in the face of this crisis – our task now is to convert that goodwill into a set of actions, plans and ultimately physical network architecture that makes our businesses robust and excellent for our shareholders and the wider stakeholder community. At Azenby, as seasoned ICT professionals, we would be delighted to define, support and engage in the projects that naturally lead from this article.  Good luck in the meantime!

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nassim_Nicholas_Taleb
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifragile
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51152151
  4. Economist 8th April Edition https://www.economist.com/business/2020/04/08/america-does-not-want-china-to-dominate-5g-mobile-networks
  5. https://fortune.com/2020/05/14/fortune-500-ceo-survey-coronavirus-pandemic-predictions/
  6. Bill’s Blog https://azenby.com/news-and-views
  7. https://www.wsj.com/articles/it-spending-forecasts-take-a-hit-as-coronavirus-slams-global-markets-11583963714
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danestangler/2020/04/03/here-are-three-reasons-covid-19-makes-coworking-spaces-even-more-important/

 

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