Leadership 2nd June 2020

How Has COVID-19 Affected The Tech Sector?

What impact has the COVID-19 crisis had on the tech sector since the lockdown?

COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging effect on the tech sector. From the beginning, this manifested itself in supply chain issues – with travel and manufacturing being the industries that were most severely struck. Equipment, hardware and other peripherals were delayed, scarce and sometimes extremely difficult to procure.

When countries first started to enforce lockdown measures, entire workforces went remote as well as the education sector. This all put an incredible strain on IT infrastructure and many applications struggled to cope with the increase of demand.

For example, Microsoft Teams’ active users increased by 70% at the end of April, to 75 million daily users. And, in the UK, on the first Monday of the school closures, Hegarty Maths – the application used widely across secondary schools for setting work – crashed due to volume. Home broadband, and many other internet services, were severely strained as they adjusted to the huge influx of users working from home.

With the increase in usage of these services comes renewed cyber risk. This meant that not only did staff need to be reminded of the dangers of cybercriminal activity, but software organisations – and other suppliers – had to ensure their products were more robust than ever before as criminals explored loopholes.

All this has set the scene for companies to look at longer-term networking strategies – like SD-WAN, for example. The technology industry has, from the start, been strong with its messaging and creative around what is needed for business continuity. This has been hugely positive to see people and organisations rising to the many challenges that the ‘new normal’ has created. From online events to customer support, what has shone during these strange times has been the importance of people coupled with tech.

What impact has it had on new innovations?

COVID-19 has sparked a digital transformation at scale, and at a speed that companies have never experienced before. The simple truth is organisations that couldn’t, or were unable to, adapt may struggle to come out of the pandemic and still be operational.

Healthcare is an obvious candidate for fast and far-reaching change in response to the health crisis engulfing the globe. Innovations, including applications that were in development, have had to be pushed out and the sector has seen a mass rollout of new services. A BBC report last month reported how GPs were seeing just seven in 100 patients face-to-face too – which was a huge change in usual practices.

The NHS was quick to roll-out a WhatsApp information service chatbot – at the end of March – which has been used to update the public on key Coronavirus facts, along with a daily text messaging support system to check-up on patients with symptoms.

How do you feel this crisis will affect the tech sector in the long term?

This crisis has proven that there is no substitute for the depth of human connection, and that the technology industry has an essential part to play in the whole ecosystem we operate within.

Post-COVID-19, smart tech will be needed for many things such as an increased demand in no-touch technology, remote health monitoring, improved connectivity and cyber security. There’s likely to be a new slant on education and potential long-term changes in retail – including smart technology usage to monitor footfall, enable customers to ‘try on’ virtual clothing and further innovation.

The long-term impact of less people being together – whether that’s in a large office building or travelling to a trade event – will need a creative alternative from technology companies that gives a rich user experience. There will also need to be continued investment and agility to transform ideas into applications and devices quickly.

At the front and centre of what we do are people, trust, mitigating risk and providing value, whilst caring for others as our lives return to a near-normal.

What government help is needed in order for the sector to survive this crisis?

As an 11-year-old business, we’re fortunate to be fairly mature and also set-up at the end of the last recession. For younger organisations and start-ups, it can be potentially more difficult. The government has announced various funding, but the support I feel that’s needed will be ensuring the next generation that are coming into jobs will not be impacted by the crisis.

Younger people, those who have had their educations interrupted and others coming into job market, must be supported in their careers.

The digital divide is a societal issue too – how can the government support businesses to help counterbalance that? With 1.9 million households in the UK having no internet access or unable to buy mobile data, there must be more done to help vulnerable residents. For example, those leading by example included Vodafone, with the firm offering six months of unlimited mobile data to all NHS staff.

Has the virus impacted on funding for businesses in the sector?

Lenders are likely to be more cautious in a global recession, although the technology industry has adapted well to the crisis and fared better than many industries.

There may be increases in taxes for businesses – as the government looks to balance the books following the substantial raft of measures that have been introduced. This could have an impact on company profit margins which will, in turn, impact investment on infrastructure and staffing.

As a business owner, there is an even greater need to be agile and have the ability to work through new ways of delivering value for customers. And from COVID-19, there are many valuable lessons to be learnt in everything – from running remote teams to developing true partnerships. The key to all this is to move forward and not forget what we’ve learnt.

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