New world order
With so much uncertainty still circulating with regard to what the next steps are likely to be in the COVID-19 response, speculating about what the world will look like afterwards, might be an exercise in frustration.
However, with many minds set on the task, there are some reasonable extrapolations emerging.
“The recovery, like the future, will be unevenly distributed”
We do know that whatever form the easing of restrictions will take, restrictions of some kind, as well as new practices, will be in place for some time to come. Some say six months, others, such as in the airline industry, do not expect any kind of a return to former passenger numbers for three years.
The recovery, like the future, will be unevenly distributed.
There will be pockets of frenetic activity, alongside those areas that will be unable to restart as yet. There will be those areas that will be in demand immediately, and those that are not. There will be those business models and practices that are compatible with the new reality of our world, and those that are not.
So let’s speculate for a moment on what that might look like.
Anything that can be consumed as a service, from the cloud, sitting on a cloud platform or placed across multiples, will be at an advantage and in demand. The lack of contact, as well as the immediacy of availability, combined with elasticity, will be welcome and highly sought after. Cloud vendors and service providers of all kinds will struggle to meet demand, outside of the hyperscalers. However, smaller, agile providers who can adjust to supporting more business functions, intelligently, for smaller business will also play an active part in the early stages of the recovery.
In those early stages, speed will be everything.
Speed will be king
As organisations get back to doing some kind of business, demand will be such that there will be no time to wait for best — good enough will be sufficient and speed of delivery and availability will be king. This will not be a beauty contest and conditions will be harsh. It will be a marketplace that will heavily favour the providers and their capacity to meet demand. However, any supplier who makes a customer wait, will lose.
Agility will also be key. Being able to pivot, adapt or redesign to meet the changed nature of practices and conditions will be a defining characteristic of the new world of business. Those organisations that had made strides to adopt DevOps style practices outside of IT and into other business units, will be well placed to provide the rapid, iterative type delivery that will no doubt be needed.
Within this, certain business models will be massively impacted.
The likes of Airbnb will no longer be able to operate in the way they have in the past. One can be sure that such companies who suddenly find their business model is no longer feasible in a changed world are likely to be throwing cash reserves at technology to allow them to pivot to some kind of new way of doing things that allows them to monetise what they have. Expect developers to be in high demand in the coming months as organisations struggle to innovate their way out of hard a corner.
Another major impact is going to be those companies that depend on the gig economy and zero-hours contracts.
The likes of Deliveroo are going to find that without migrant worker populations, domestic workers are harder to recruit and will demand better pay.
The current phenomenon of low paid workers walking off the job to get a better payment on a COVID-19 scheme is unlikely to see a workforce at that end of the market happy to go back to sub-minimum wage arrangements. In a macabre echo of the beginnings of agrarian workers rights after the Black Death, so after this pandemic, cheap, mobile workers are not going to be available, and so those who are available and accustomed to higher pay will have to be met and negotiated with.
This can only be a good thing.
However, there will inevitably be areas where human labour cannot be thrown at the problem. There will be a boom in business and robotic process automation (BA, RPA).
Everything from mail processing, employee onboarding, HR processing and many other functions, both internal and external, will be automated, in whole or in part, in response to the new conditions post-crisis. A combination of need, maturing technologies and falling prices will drive this trend down market to allow smaller organisations than ever before, and thus more than ever before, to take advantage.
When this is combined with the newly liberated remote workforce, it will have a truly seismic impact on work practices. Functions that have never left the office before, are now being performed from bedrooms, kitchen tables and garden sheds across the country. People that always believed they needed to be in an office, as well managers who espoused presenteeism, are being harshly re-educated.
There will be severe implications for commercial rents, as something like what was seen in the gig economy will now be seen with remote working. Practices such as hotdesking will disappear, except in all but the most critical cases, but with it will go the need to have everyone in a company sitting in one building doing things at the same time.
However, amid all of this, the uneven return to work, the even more sporadic recovery and the new way of doing things, there will be those who seek to profit, and one is not just referring to the absolute heal who tried to return thousands of toilet rolls and hand sanitiser after he was refused online retail access.
The cyber criminals will also, mirroring the above trends, seek to profit as people try to get back to work and kickstart the economy.
We have already seen advance securities fraud, CEO fraud and false ordering on the rise. Crypto malware attacks too are re-emerging, as the unscrupulous seek to profit from the heightened sense of anxiety and reduced vigilance at this trying time.
Expect to see more in the way of social engineering, as organisations look to source personal protective equipment (PPE), and other things unfamiliar in their normal line of business that are yet required in the new business environment.
Fund diversion, spoofed web sites, intercepted payments and shipments are all to be expected. Be vigilant, remain sceptical, and assume zero trust.