In April of 2020, two months into the pandemic, Microsoft reported “more than 200 million Microsoft Teams meeting participants in a single day” and “more than 75 million daily active users.” Speaking to these sudden surges in remote collaboration, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said: “We’ve seen more than two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technologies as small and large businesses in nearly every sector looked for ways to keep the business running. An upside to this urgency is that it showed how changes in day-to-day operations can be a huge benefit to contingency planning and resiliency.
Remote work is the most obvious example. Many organizations balked at the idea before the pandemic, but, as the numbers from Microsoft show, remote collaboration tools enabled more than 75 million people to stay connected despite physical distance. Technology also supported contact tracing for public health groups, food delivery for restaurants and groceries, e-commerce for retailers, information distribution for government agencies and news outlets, online learning for schools, supply chain analytics for distributors and couriers.
While some of these solutions were more popular than others, they all succeeded in maintaining continuity and helping businesses overcome unexpected challenges and financial burdens despite so much disruption, proving technology’s value as an enabler and a powerful tool for building resiliency going forward.
Technology beyond the pandemic
Since the start of the pandemic, businesses and individuals saw firsthand the tremendous potential of technology. It kept people connected, helped businesses adapt and keep running. It also introduced some organizations to new operating models and capabilities that make their business more competitive and help it grow. Lessons learned throughout this pandemic will continue to be applied to innovate and develop superior business models that are customer-centric and resilient enough to navigate future disruptions.
Wipro, for example, switched its global operations to work from home within a few days of the pandemic’s announcement. As a multinational company, Wipro was already very remote friendly, but we noticed an increase in productivity in certain roles and job functions that had previously worked mostly onsite. This reaffirmed the Wipro belief that competency and skill are more important for productivity than location, and encouraged us to consider more hybrid working arrangements going forward to promote talent availability, consolidation of services, and overall efficiency.
Other employers are having similar realizations. Remote work saves money on rent and enables companies to draw from a more global talent pool. At the same time, some roles require on-site work or benefit from the energy of in-person collaboration. To strike the right balance, businesses need to evaluate their needs and design a solution that works for them.
An important lesson the pandemic taught us is not that there is a single right way to go digital, but that embracing digital provides many ways to keep going. Technology has helped businesses become more customer-centric, made business models more adaptable, improved visibility and decision-making throughout organizations and supply chains, and increased overall resiliency. Beyond the pandemic, individuals and businesses will keep the technologies that helped them overcome challenges and develop new solutions to fill gaps in their toolkits.
Digital essentials going forward
Organizations employed many new and familiar technologies throughout 2020 and 2021, but a few stood out as truly game-changing and are likely to continue influencing business operations going forward.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of connectivity in today’s global economy. To keep business running, people need to be able to keep in touch and keep working from anywhere. Remote infrastructure and collaboration tools (video conferencing, virtual desktops) will therefore be essential going forward.
Support for remote work services will also remain essential. This includes remote tech support for IT assets, customer care for end customers, as well as monitoring for infrastructure and applications. Working from home extends an organization’s digital network from onsite, company-owned devices to personal devices using a range of public and private networks. Ensuring that these devices have the necessary software and are following safety protocols requires greater investment in IT infrastructure and cybersecurity.
Supply chain and industrial automation
A resilient supply chain is a must-have during any adverse situation. Throughout the pandemic, panic-buying and sudden shifts in demand resulted in shortages of toilet paper, sanitizer, face masks, and laptops. Technology came to the rescue in the form of dynamic supply-chain planning and industrial automation. Greater visibility and communication throughout the supply chain — especially upstream with manufacturers, and downstream in last-mile delivery — enabled businesses to predict bottlenecks or shortages and plan accordingly, such as repurposing factory lines to create high-demand products.
5G and cloud computing
Had 5G been more widely adopted before the pandemic, many issues with connectivity and remote work may have been reduced. Going forward, 5G adoption is likely to increase. The power of cloud and edge computing combined with a 5G network will greatly enhance the capabilities of underlying infrastructure.
The most important lesson from this global situation is clear: Technology is a powerful tool and an essential investment in the future of any business. Enterprises that invested in technology prior to the pandemic were much better equipped to handle the hurdles of 2020. In some cases, they even gained market share.
Beyond the pandemic, businesses should continue to look to technology as an enabler of their business goals and a way to constantly improve operations.