COVID’s Impact: Automation, Remote Work, Management

It was just about 9 months ago that the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many offices and schools, resulting in a mass move toward remote work. As the year comes to close, it’s time to assess where we’re at – and where we may be headed.  

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest effects of the pandemic has been economic.

A study by Windward Consulting and Helix Market Research delved into this area in its 2020 COVID-19 IT Economic Impact Study. One unsurprising finding is that the majority of IT companies report revenue to be down for the year. 22% don’t expect much of a dip (perhaps 10% or less). But 38% are estimating a fall of anywhere from 15% to 30%.

That means that 40% of companies were either flat or up for the year. That suggests that the impact of lockdowns and other restrictions on business activity has perhaps been better than feared.

IT spending shifts toward automation

The areas where investment in IT is thriving the most, according to the study, include data analytics, process optimization, security, software development, and DevOps. A likely reason why this collection of technologies fared better than others is that they each have a role to play in facilitating overall trends such as digitalization and automation. Efficiency is very much a theme for many businesses. They see automation and digitalization as ways to do more with less, enhance processes, and provide management with more accurate real-time insights.

At a time when people have become more unpredictable because of health needs, it’s not surprising that automation has gained traction.

Remote work becomes a tech, management focus

Just about every IT team reported in the survey that the events of this challenging year caused them to make major shifts in their plans and IT priorities for 2020. The possibility of severe economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses, the disruption of workplace activities, and the cancellation of sales outlets such as exhibitions and events led many to completely change their priorities for the year.

For example, many have rolled out remote management applications, collaboration tools, video conferencing, and other programs that facilitate more distributed workforce models. These gained precedence over many other IT initiatives, driven by the necessity to continue to operate.

Another facet of the survey findings is the growing importance of soft skills. With everyone under one roof, organizations could perhaps rely on close proximity and peer pressure to keep things rolling. But with most working from home, IT leaders have had to raise their game to make production happen in a remote setting. Thus, organizational spending has grown in training to develop soft skills that help managers to motivate personnel, keep morale high, and prevent workforce churn.

So the impact of Covid-10, then, was perhaps not as devastating on IT as many forecast. But its not over yet. With more regional lockdowns being imposed and the threat of national lockdowns looming, it will be interesting to see how 2021 plays out. Clearly, the world of IT proved resilient enough to survive one year of economic turmoil. But can it survive a second?

In olden times, bad harvests were not uncommon. It was those that lasted several years that took the biggest toll. Those IT companies that have the most solid fundamentals and who made the right choices in 2020, therefore, are likely to be those that fare best – whether 2021 is a recovery year, or turns into one even tougher than 2020.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been writing about IT and engineering for more than 25 years. Originally from Scotland, he now lives in Florida.

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