Nothing has tested the tech sector’s ability to navigate through adversity like COVID-19. In many ways the mentality of the tech industry, based upon expecting constant change, set businesses in good stead to react to the global pandemic. Even still, the continuity and contingency plans of many businesses did not include adapting around a force quite the size of Coronavirus.
Resilience is key to not only survival in today’s recovering economy, but is also the main ingredient required to drive innovation, support a workforce, and make the world a better place to live in for future generations. It is through big challenges (health, financial or otherwise) that we gain clarity on what is important, enabling us to refine our processes, our teams, and our organisations.
One of the most inspiring parts of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response has been the way Kiwis showed our resolve. In professional environments, leaders had to respond and guide in circumstances few would be ready for. Our teams had to adjust to working remotely, and coping with a drastically changed workload. Our businesses have faced the reality of significantly reduced revenue. But countless businesses that we talk to are creating opportunities from 2020’s adversity. New Zealand is on the road to recovery, and the tech sector will play a key role in helping to rebuild.
Changes in technology come faster than almost any other industry.
As the frequency of change speeds up exponentially in the 21 st century, an emphasis on the soft skills within the tech workforce has come to the forefront. With project methodologies such as Agile’s global adoption, adapting to change is essentially baked into the majority of tech roles, all the way from junior to leadership positions.
With a move towards remote working and cloud-based operations, many tech organisations were able to adapt and continue running during COVID-19’s arrival into the community. However, for others the restrictions of a physical infrastructure surfaced deficiencies in business continuity. Following the initial lockdown periods, many organisations are taking the steps to be more nimble and more decentralised from a physical location. This has presented new career opportunities in the space of cyber security, infrastructure, and data management.
Tech businesses have faced the reality of a significantly different customer landscape. In some cases, revenue from specific industries has dropped by margins that put innovation and technology on the back shelf as survival kicks in. At the same time, ‘essential’ verticals continue to invest in technology solutions in an increasingly competitive and sophisticated environment - health, food, and property, to name a few. As part of a ‘better-prepared’ future planning framework, businesses are devising ways to pivot quickly, should another world-changing event like COVID-19 occur.
The long-term benefits of resilience are best demonstrated through the future planning done after learning from a crisis. Businesses who have operated with a ‘rainy day’ surplus were rewarded during the downturn, with accessible capital to keep the lights on - and their people employed. For the organisations operating on a month to month basis, COVID-19 was a reminder that our ability to be resilient is greatly helped by a forward-thinking approach and having ‘worst case scenario’ plans in place.
Preparedness manifests in a variety of ways; from the aforementioned ‘war chest’ to a deliberate diversification of income streams across a breadth of industries, clients, and products – all geared towards to protecting against market forces wiping out revenue. Beyond financial, tech businesses can involve the wider management team in continuity plans, allowing everyone to navigate better while in the eye of the storm.
There is no question as to technology’s key role in the advancement of almost every industry from health to agriculture. Now more than ever, solutions through technology need to be promoted and led by those within the sector. COVID-19 and the subsequent contact tracing programme made possible through QR codes and mobile apps, offered a sobering reminder of how important a role IT plays in our lives.
So, what can tech leaders do to further reinforce technology as the solution to challenges faced by society? Internally within large organisations, leaders must advocate for the inseparable relationship of technology and business strategy - no longer is IT part of an engine room, but the path to new revenue opportunities through better services and products. The CTO has never been more critical to a business’ success as it is today.
Without physical contact, tech teams have had to quickly become comfortable with interacting through video conferencing platforms. A preference for face-to-face meetings to discuss the big stuff has simply been impossible in a socially-distanced work from home 2020. Now, even after New Zealand’s return back to the office, tech companies are finding ways to make the digital team collaboration more closely resemble in-person engagement - tools like digital kanban are now accompanying a Zoom or Google Hangout, bringing more physical artifacts from a traditional Agile stand up into a virtual meeting.
The events of 2020 have potentially created the start of a paradigm shift where decentralised teams are the norm vs. the exception - if for no other reason than to be prepared for another event requiring us to work at home. This presents a challenge and an opportunity for leaders within technology, to test and refine the best practices of motivating and coordinating a diverse team who are working in different parts of the country to achieve the same goal. We are interested to see the role VR/AR adoption could play here in bridging the gap between the in-person and digital interaction.
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