2020 was a year that changed permanently the way we work and the tech we use. Everything we were once used to doing in person, such as meetings, suddenly became virtual. The convenience and accessibility of online digital services saw a 775% rise for Microsoft in cloud services. Commerce became predominantly e-commerce. Remote learning and virtual working became the new norm and are likely to remain so. And for IT, 2020 reinforced the need to take advantage of emerging technologies, like VR/AR; strengthen the robotic workforce through robotic process automation; and develop new strategies to meet the never-ending challenge of cybersecurity.
For now, we’re living in a world of strange contradictions, where socialising with friends or colleagues is potentially anti-social behaviour. As we adjust our behaviours, expectations and social norms to respond to new realities and risks, it’s clear that COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on how we live our lives.
Prior to this pandemic, the exponential increase in computing power and the steady emergence of new technologies may have been the most disruptive factor in our world. Now that COVID-19 has increased the health risks of physical interaction, people have moved towards a more digital way of life. This has driven a greater reliance on automation, artificial intelligence and new virtual worlds.
For decades, organizations have been talking about digital transformation, but moving operations to the cloud has been accelerated by the sudden, pressing need for people to work remotely. Already, Microsoft has reported a 775% spike in cloud services demand from COVID-19. As more businesses are compelled to take that initial leap and move their operations to the cloud, we can expect to see a new generation of organisations significantly more agile than their predecessors.
Cloud solutions will allow for more effective use of data and insight across different business functions, but will also free up individual workers in terms of flexibility.
More data and business in the cloud also creates greater opportunity for the use of AI. It’s expected that by 2030 AI products will contribute more than $15.7 trillion to the global economy. This technology will only continue to cement its position in the driving seat for businesses, improving the accuracy of financial forecasts and strategy, reacting to information in real-time and delving insights from vast data sets. During a period of extreme market volatility, this has been critically important. Intelligent analysis can identify new consumer behaviours, and respond more effectively to needs as they emerge.
At the same time, AI is taking responsibility for 24/7 support services, with chat-bots being increasingly used for customer-facing interactions and internal service provision such as HR. These services have also been hugely important in a time of extreme upheaval. As businesses have rushed to build out their support services, we will see a step-change towards greater and more prevalent automation in all aspects of business.
Aside from placing additional pressure on cloud services providers, the shift towards remote distribution of workers has also created new challenges for IT departments. As the attack surfaces of businesses’ private networks swell – with greater numbers of devices connecting, often including mobiles and personal devices – so too does the risk of cyberattack.
Complicating matters further, now that the office has moved into the home, IT support has had to adapt to working with various configurations of domestic technology and delivering support remotely. Such challenges can be answered by AI and prescriptive security measures, or by using device management solutions such as those offered by Lenovo Services and Microsoft Modern Workplace.
A hugely influential factor in a predominantly work-from-home business model is technology that helps people to connect and collaborate. In one study, the majority of respondents indicated that a lack of proper technology was impeding their productivity and success while working remotely.
There is now an increased reliance on video calling, which drives demand for better connected cameras, microphones and audio equipment, but also depends heavily upon having a reliable, high-speed internet connection. This has already caused ISPs to invest in improving infrastructure and available services.
Now there is an even greater demand for 5G, which is being gradually rolled out across the world. Although service may not yet be widespread, this high-speed wireless connection is set to disrupt working behaviours further. 5G-enabled technology such as the new Lenovo Carbon X1 Fold will be able to unlock even more flexibility and productivity for all kinds of workers, no matter where they work from.
Just as the office has moved into our homes, expect more virtual and augmented reality technology to creep into our lives too. As people isolate at home, many are turning to virtual reality to extend their horizons. This trend coincides with increasingly affordable and convenient VR technology coming to market, both for consumers and businesses.
This could usher in new ways of collaborating, socialising and exploring data. For example, Lenovo’s device-agnostic AR/VR technology enables designers, engineers and architects to explore computer-generated models in high-definition 3D. As these platforms become more common, virtual desktops and business conferences may provide valuable opportunities for interacting with others all around the world.
Meanwhile, increasingly powerful, portable workstations make it possible for even high-performance users to be productive away from the office. Working with complicated graphics or enormous datasets can now be managed from home, using impressive mobile workstations and remote visualisation software.
It’s not just work that has shifted to a more remote model. Education and training now rely heavily upon those same communication technologies and e-learning platforms. This is relevant not only for schools and universities, but also organisations that need to upskill their employees. Upskilling is particularly important in light of the disruption caused by COVID-19, with significant unemployment and redundancy having resulted from economic instability. Digital literacy has long been a prerequisite for a wide range of job roles, now more than ever new skills must be developed in order to remain competitive.
For many organisations, it looks like flexible working is here to stay. However, that doesn’t mean the end of offices altogether. When people do return to offices – as many already have – we can expect changes there as well.
Technology is stepping into the role of managing access and movement throughout shared spaces. Mandatory temperature screenings at entry-points, for example, conducted by IoT devices attempt to limit the risk of infection. Meanwhile intelligent video cameras, digital keys and connected devices can be used to monitor and manage the movement of people within the building. Artificially intelligent work scheduling and workspace allocation can be used to provide a greater degree of control and efficient flexibility for navigating these unfamiliar challenges.
Such precautionary measures are important in the short term and have created additional demand for the technologies that make this increased safety possible. However in the longer term we may expect these solutions to evolve, whether more effective testing facilities become available or perhaps even a vaccine, the technology that has been introduced may continue to drive efficiencies in terms of the use of office spaces. Meanwhile, the purpose of these spaces may also evolve, with an added focus on social opportunities and fostering positive workforce culture. This could mean offices become less about work, and more about fun.
So much remains to be seen, it’s unclear what the lasting impact of COVID-19 will be on the world, however it has exerted an urgency and a need for innovation that has been answered by technology solutions. Lenovo can provide support for accelerating digital transformation, in terms of hardware, software and services. As new challenges continue to arise, powerful technologies will continue to help businesses adapt and overcome.