This is the latest installment of my ongoing series of discussions with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporate leaders on what to expect as the world recovers in the post-Covid era in terms of technology and innovation.
Oh the humanity!
The push has been on for a number of years toward a “contactless” enterprise through and through, in which we can buy products and services from companies without ever having to brush past another human being. And inside, things would get done without any human intervention. Such efforts have proceeded with fits and starts, but Covid suddenly put everyone on the same page, all at the same time.
The final ironically, though, is that it’s going to take a lot of human contact to build “contactless” enterprises. We need people to execute on ideas and design and build the systems. We need people behind those systems. And, most of all, ee need people to come up with new ideas. We need fresh thinking. As we come out of the other end of the Covid crisis, expect to see a whole new perspective on meeting the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“The coronavirus has been a catalyst for change,” relates Rob Cavallaro, chief investment officer and chief product officer for Robustwealth. “We are seeing incredible innovation in medical technology as the industry rushes to find a vaccine, develop therapeutics and produce personal protective equipment. The energy, creativity, and mobilization of resources is something we haven’t seen since World War II. New industries are being born before our very eyes as entrepreneurs rush to fill the void created by the pandemic. It is both scary and exciting at the same time.”
Hands-on entrepreneurial know-how is in great to demand to address the world’s needs and problems. “The biggest takeaway I have from talking to founders right now is there’s a sense that Covid-19 has really accelerated digital transformation and companies that automate business functions are receiving more attention than ever before — resulting in a real hunger from entrepreneurs to get out there and really quickly solve customers’ problems,” says Brian Shortsleeve, co-founder and managing director of M33 Growth. “This is a unique time when entrepreneurs with cloud-based solutions already have the full attention of potential customers.”
Cloud, for one, is the most crucial technology needed today to support a vastly expanded base of remote or work-from-home employees. “If organizations need an entire team—finance or compliance, for example—to work from home, that’s only made possible if all those internal applications are in the cloud,” says Shortsleeve. “The shift to remote work earlier this year drove organizations to increasingly and rapidly look for ways to move faster, reduce operating expenses and focus on their most important work. Cloud software is the most important technology right now as businesses look to get every internal application they have into the cloud so they can turn their entire workforce remote if needed, without ever missing a beat.”
Imagine the positive, human-centered developments coming out of the next new wave of innovation. “Today’s entrepreneurs and innovators are embracing technology as a way to disrupt oppressive, unethical, dangerous, and unhealthy systems and jobs,” notes James Zhang, CTO of Bright App. “Factory jobs and similar positions may be disappearing, but these jobs are notoriously difficult, dangerous, and exploitative. Entrepreneurs and innovators are embracing technology to dream up and create new jobs that never existed before.”
This includes technology such as robotics and AI “as a means of empowering people with access to safe means of earning an income,” Zhang continues. “We’re also embracing technology like social media as a means of holding corporations to higher standards of social responsibility than ever before.” As an example, the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in “countless entrepreneurs and tech innovators coming up with never-before-thought-of solutions to reduce social contact, kill or prevent the spread of germs and viruses, and improve medical systems worldwide.”
The recent crisis has also spurred new thinking about the resiliency of our systems and economy — and even the practical worth of products and services delivered. “Today’s environment forces businesses to have one thought constantly in mind: what if, tomorrow, nobody was able to get out of their home for the next three months?” asks Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees. “Would I still be able to deliver value? Would my service still be useful? That logically forces organizations to accelerate their digital transformation, and invest where they can truly differentiate. This, in turn, accelerates the adoption of cloud.”
Sorely needed at this time, Labourey emphasizes, are systems that can help people thrive in remote or distributed environments. This extends to customers as well as employees. “Think restaurants and touchless delivery to your home. This is the environment that will likely continue even as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.”
And with it, a permanent sea change in the way companies organize themselves — contactless, yet accommodating to the human touch. “The pandemic is a calamity, but at least some of its repercussions will, I believe, come to be regarded as a gift – a necessary wake-up call to organizations to fully live within the work-from-home paradigm,” says Adam Stern, CEO and founder of Infinitely Virtual. “That means recognizing that the cloud can deliver greater efficiencies, more meaningful measurement and incentive systems, lower real estate costs and, most significantly, a new complement of strategies that enable teams to coalesce in different, improved ways.”
Developing technologies to empower employees remotely “is a clarion call for the industry to develop solutions that currently don’t exist,” Stern continues. “Zoom, Salesforce and Microsoft Teams aren’t addressing some of the harder questions, the human questions that, when answered, may help organizations perform at maximum potential. AI may well be part of the mix; in any case, it’s clear that the pandemic has helped rethink the effectiveness agenda for organizations across the economy.”