26/08/2021 | By Damien Pasquinelli,

In contrast to the past decade, there are no signs of a major technological breakthrough in the coming months. Instead, the crisis is prompting firms to streamline their operations around the best tech they have available right now—and to focus on long-term performance and resilience.

How the events of 2020 triggered a streamlining drive

Believe it or not, the financial crisis was 13 years ago. The events of 2008 were the catalyst for a whole raft of changes, not least in terms of technology, sparking a new way of thinking—one in which innovation was seen as the only sure-fire way to create value. So frenzied was this movement that, by the end of the last decade, the race for innovation was in danger of overheating.

In the end, it took a fresh crisis—and the sudden grinding to a halt of the global economy—to put the brakes on and give organizations pause for thought. In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, new forms of organization came to light as workers began doing more work from home, including many for the first time. As the crisis wore on and organizational resilience was put to the test, many companies had no option but to shore up their foundations—including streamlining and future-proofing their information systems.

The shift in emphasis was stark. Gone were the days of narrowly focused and often experimental projects around specific technologies such as IoT or blockchain. Instead, organizations blended technologies as they sought to address specific challenges, issues, or requirements. Since the first lockdown of 2020, firms have stopped pursuing innovation for innovation’s sake, instead harnessing technology as a way to boost productivity, cut production costs, or build closer ties with their customers.

Scale up what works and trim the dead wood

In these unprecedented times, many businesses have taken the opportunity to rethink their approach to technology, concentrate on what’s useful, and trim the dead wood—those projects that serve little purpose or offer little prospect of value creation in the near term. For IT departments, the focus has moved to scaling up what works: centering on projects that support sustainable growth and help build a smarter, more agile, and more adaptable organization.

It comes as no surprise that cloud technologies have fared well in this new paradigm. But here too, the emphasis has been on streamlining: promising projects have been fast-tracked, while those that have failed to live up their promise have been dropped at lighting speed. Likewise, new practices have come to the fore, as organizations have sought to reduce cloud technology operating costs through DevOps, DataOps, MLOps, and more.

On a similar note, the crisis has accelerated a movement that was already under way, with organizations increasingly opening up their information systems to their wider ecosystem by making their data and apps accessible to customers, partners, and suppliers. The wholesale shift to remote working has made security one of the most pressing technology concerns facing businesses right now. It seems likely that organizations will be grappling with the challenges of protecting their systems—and in some cases building their resilience—for a long time to come. 

And on the same theme (opening up information systems to the outside world), the total experience (or multi-channel experience) concept looks set to be a defining priority of digital transformation.

A non-disruptive, future-focused vision

Organizations may be turning away from cutting-edge innovation and towards sensible streamlining. But that doesn’t mean the pace of progress has ground to a halt. It’s merely a question of shifting priorities, with technology serving new purposes: shaping the future, keeping businesses running, maintaining performance, and future-proofing operations. 

That explains the acceleration of digital workspace projects, which aim to deliver a universally consistent working experience and support collaboration, and the so-called “automation everywhere” trend, with RPA, no code/low code, and more. This movement is only set to continue in the coming years. Meanwhile, organizations will surely invest heavily in incorporating machine learning and AI into real-life use cases—at scale. 

And sustainability will likely be an underlying theme of all these projects, as IT departments place an ever-growing emphasis on limiting the environmental impact of systems and technologies.

In conclusion, we will one day look back on the 2020 public-health crisis as a shock to the system: one that abruptly cooled an overheating race for innovation and switched the focus to technologies that work—and that serve a purpose. Somewhat more unexpectedly, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the risks that come with technological dependence: not just in terms of supply (such as semi-conductors) but also in terms of energy and data (such as the use of third-party data). And at a time when business models are increasingly reliant on data, this is a risk we cannot and must not downplay.