by Jeff Harris
The impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had around the globe has been unlike any other event in recent memory. Companies, governments and individuals have had to rapidly adjust to various disruptions, social distancing imperatives and other guidelines to transition to the “new normal.”
But as the pandemic has forced profound changes in all aspects of society, it has also spurred innovation in technologies – some in direct response to the coronavirus, as well as others that will also bring benefits to a healthier world once the pandemic passes.
A remarkable example of the former is the unprecedented alliance of rivals Apple and Google in creating a cross-platform contact tracing app. It uses technology that safeguards users’ privacy while positioning them to respond appropriately to exposure notifications. The app not only has value in the current pandemic, but also in the event of future public health crises. But it is the companies’ un-coerced collaboration in the face of a national emergency that may have even greater significance than the app itself.
Other innovations of the Covid year include potentially game-changing technologies in the fields of medicine, engineering, environmental science and chemistry. In both industry and in everyday life, 2020 witnessed the breakthrough of artificial intelligence into manufacturing, design and distribution, supported by a consumer ecosystem including Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant. The Internet of Things, while not a creation of the pandemic economy, saw its adoption spurred by the initial rollout of 5G systems connecting scattered IoT devices. For these applications and more, the demand for increased edge computing power surged in 2020 with chip makers developing architectures to handle increased demand and quantum computing beginning to target data-intensive problems in industry, healthcare and energy.
For more than a third of America’s employees, remote work and the technologies supporting it, were perhaps the most noticeable results of the pandemic. It now seems likely that remote work will become a long-term fixture of the business environment, at least for those who can be considered information or knowledge workers. Many of them will be able to continue working from home, at least part of the time, collaborating with their co-workers using digital tools – but only where their employers have taken steps toward digital transformation. Specialized jobs which were formerly done on site – including research and development, product design, testing, production and troubleshooting, can still be done, but they will require the use of advanced computation tools.
A recent Forrester report put it this way: as the reality of remote work continues, digital tools that enable “spiritual co-location” will become more important. Developers will need to make better use of existing collaborative work and value stream management tools, as well as new cloud-based team enablers like shared code spaces and pipelines, according to the Forrester study, Predictions 2021: Software Developers Face Mounting Pressure.
Even so, the work that goes on within the walls of an organization – whether virtual or physical – represents only part of the required transformation. An equally important part will involve customers – both current and prospective. Sadly, the tools needed to implement marketing strategies in a pandemic environment do not include the face-to-face contact that so many of us have grown accustom. Their successors have become physically remote and digitally enabled.
Of course, it is natural to think that giving up or scaling back on human interactions and the collaborative strategies which have been honed over generations of business and replacing them with electronic surrogates would slow the rate of innovation. But the truth is that digital technology can accelerate the pace of new product or service development. It can speed company growth and transform customer support functions in essentially every business category. For example, virtual demonstration centers, now relatively rare in the marketing arsenal, will likely emerge as the norm for enterprise sales, as will digitized build-your-own product functions.
The key lies within an organization’s ability to transform its operations to the point where digital technology can replace all or most of its non-digital or manual processes. Although the details will vary, it is a concept that applies to essentially every type of industry, whether product or service, for-profit or nonprofit, private or public sector. But regardless of the business type, it will require a measure of boldness on the part of the organization’s leaders as the transition can be expensive, disruptive and reliant on technologies that still are not fully developed. Even so, the capabilities of currently available technologies are the basis for encouragement.
Today, enterprise software is available to improve productivity, efficiency, accuracy, security and time-to-market. Those benefits are accomplished by acquiring information digitally and using the insights derived by advanced analytics and data visualization to accelerate innovation. New and emerging generations of software, equipped with artificial intelligence, promise to take those advances to even higher levels. And cutting-edge innovations including 5G, blockchain, quantum computers and low-code programming tools, will only accelerate those advances.
An important corollary to these software developments is the corresponding need for routine testing and validation to confirm they do what they were designed to do and do not create unexpected problems. But because of the increase in complexity, the analysis and interpretation of software test results will require an exceptionally high level of sophistication. Engineers will need to probe data in-depth using rich automation capabilities that include, in addition to traditional measurements of power flow, heat and assembly, tests to ensure their designs function as intended.
In addition, software security is more important than ever before. Despite an explosion of technology vendors and cybersecurity spending over the last ten years, the National Cyber Security Alliance notes that breaches increased one-hundred-fold during that time, and the top sources of cyber breaches have remained the same, according to a MailChimp post, Lessons from a Fortune 100 CISO: Key Areas to Prioritize in 2021. As a result, developers will need to address potential security issues, including the use of rigorous security testing methods, much earlier in the design cycle. They will need a sharper focus on how the software is deployed, on removing human intervention and on self-healing automated networks.
User experience, or UX, will continue to gain importance for both customers and software providers of every type. The expanding role that these solutions play in our professional and personal lives, and the frustrations resulting from mediocre experiences, will continue to be important drivers in software development.
Covid-19 remains a serious threat to human life and national economies; that’s a reality which cannot be sugar-coated. But the response to it has prompted technology innovations that not only help to keep people safer, but helps improve the performance of those organizations that possess the courage and resources to make the leap into digital transformation.
Jeff Harris leads global portfolio and corporate marketing for Keysight Technologies including product marketing, brand, corporate communications, in addition to all the company’s digital marketing channels. He has led the transformation of Keysight’s global brand, content strategy, and digital channel transformations creating awareness and influencing customer preference. Harris also drives thought-leadership initiatives to surface stories of how Keysight accelerates innovation and helps customers win in their markets.
Apr2021, Software Magazine