By Vijay Pullur,
A 2009 cover of Time magazine featured the headline "The Future of Work." "Throw away your briefcase; you're not going to the office," it began and proceeded to make several pronouncements that might have been alarming 10 years ago.
Since then, the conversation around the future of work has been everywhere, and everyone has joined the bandwagon.
For over a decade, we have been imagining what this future might look like. Today, the future has arrived, seemingly overnight, and has turned all our realities upside down. This global pandemic has not only taken the whole world by surprise, but it also paused the global economy without the slightest warning. COVID-19 has marked the tipping point in the way we are conducting business. Companies are being compelled to consider permanent work-from-home policies, and enterprises that have been dragging their heels on digital transformation are suddenly at risk of being left behind.
As the world reels from being under lockdown, IT will be the backbone to ensure business continuity
In times of crisis such as this, organizations are bound to struggle with resource constraints, with their highest priority being business continuity and keeping their existing customers happy. In our current world of uncertainty — where our place of work, mode of work and even nature of work keeps changing — technology has proved to be an enabler that can help us adapt quickly and execute mission-critical priorities.
In one major overnight sweep, communication and digital apps seem to have taken over the world. Teams across the globe are using social networks, collaboration tools, online learning platforms and e-commerce apps to remodel their work and life. Remote working and virtual meetings have become the new normal, and technologies that were perhaps familiar to only fringe tech communities are now taking center stage.
Converging technologies such as high-speed internet, 4G/5G, analytics, mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are being tested and used to introduce innovative approaches. Seamless communication, collaboration and innovation have gone from buzzwords to urgent necessities, once again highlighting the critical role IT plays in alleviating business pain points.
In the immediate post-COVID era, IT will help companies optimize efficiencies
Once the dust settles, and as we work toward rebuilding our world in the aftermath of COVID-19, I believe the economic impact of this crisis will be witnessed for several quarters to come. Enterprises will have less cash flow and fewer resources to manage and execute strategic business plans for the year. Companies will solely focus on optimizing productivity thanks to tighter budgets and shrinking customer spends. Every business will restructure itself to enable a remote productive workforce and avoid wastage at all costs to navigate the tricky waters of the post-COVID era.
Automation will become an answer to many challenges companies face as they seek to optimize resources and avoid manual toil. As businesses face the realities of working in an economic downturn, they will gravitate toward automation platforms and systems that enable them to scale quickly and with much less effort. Today there are tons of enterprise-grade platforms to choose from, be it project management software or collaboration programs or communication tools.
For your own enterprise, the needs may be different. It could be a timesheet app for the remote team you did not have until now, a mobile app for customer support because your call center is understaffed or even advanced dashboards for insights you never thought you were going to need.
Some companies will find the need to accelerate their in-house development and deployment of critical business applications. They will seek a quick, flexible, scalable and cost-effective approach, either by creating new applications or upgrading existing applications and legacy systems. Building a large team of specialists to create elaborate applications that take weeks to deploy will no longer be an effective or sustainable approach. Enterprise-grade platforms around low-code, CI-CD, and IT security and compliance that empower teams to address evolving business needs will start gaining ground.
"Doing more with less" will be the new mantra, and businesses will turn to leaner agile teams that leverage automation and enterprise platforms to accelerate results.
In the long term, IT will be your ultimate competitive advantage
Further down the line, as we settle into the new normal and start to arrive at some version of stability, technology will become your business differentiator in the long-term game. Tightening costs and optimizing efficiencies can get one out of survival mode, but the way a business uses and implements technology will become their ultimate competitive advantage. Companies will succeed not just based on their offerings, but the way they design and develop their mode of delivery, business model and customer experience.
If there is one thing that the COVID-19 crisis has taught us, it is that disruptions like these doubtless bring challenges, but they also present new opportunities. At the end of the day, your team's agility and smart leveraging of technology will decide how well your company is poised to grab those opportunities. In a future where the new normal will be constant change, IT has the potential to be your competitive advantage to drive disruption, implement change and future-proof your business.
Originally published in Forbes