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COVID-19 will accelerate, not delay, tech innovation

Donald Fischer
by Donald Fischer
on April 21, 2020

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The global pandemic is a shock to many aspects of life—as individuals, families, teams, and organizations. For sure it’s changing business as usual, initially by introducing uncertainty and friction into many parts of life that we previously took for granted.

At first, this felt to many like a seizing up of the gears, with many aspects of our modern civilization grinding to a halt. But at a time when it is difficult to look at things through an optimistic lens, it comforted me to spend a few minutes seeking a positive side to the recent turbulence. What if the next phase of our journey is not a slowdown, but an acceleration of inevitable technological changes that were already simmering in the background before this global crisis?

From my vantage point on the industry, I identified three key transformations enabled by technology that are set up to accelerate—not decline—in this changing world environment.

Remote work

Zoom and Slack may both be having a moment right now, but neither were conjured out of the ether. Many organizations—including Tidelift—have been remote-first for years and conduct most of their business via these platforms. 

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of this style of collaboration by necessity in traditional organizations that had previously only experimented with it. And with K-12 schools and universities attempting to execute an on-the-spot flip to distance learning, the next generation is even more likely to be comfortable in a remote work environment much sooner than before COVID-19.  

When we emerge on the other side, our individual and collective skills and working conventions will be transformed. Sure, many will return to offices, but our expectations around the tools and constraints that we’ve traditionally clung to will be dramatically changed.  

My question: once we’ve learned how to be effective as distributed teams, will we want to go back? What additional productivity, what new opportunities will this new style of work unlock?

Cloud, managed IT services, and open source

For technology-driven organizations, the new constraints imposed by the economic fallout of the pandemic all point in one direction: do more with less resources. Obvious technology levers that organizations can pull to reduce costs and sharpen their focus on their value-added products and services, while maintaining effectiveness, are expanding use of the cloud, making smart use of managed technology services, and leveraging open source software.  

Most organizations have been increasingly adopting cloud and turning to managed service providers in key areas like cybersecurity that can’t be deprioritized in a tough economy, yet require specialized expertise. With the tightened resources—and heightened expectations—from today’s economic environment, that’s only going to accelerate.

Recently Dries Buytaert wrote an article asking whether open source is recession proof, sharing some of the experiences of past downturns, and I added my own perspective in this followup post about how and why open source usage tends to expand and not contract in a recession.

Non-traditional workforce models

A new generation of businesses are leveraging the first two trends—remote work and democratized cloud and open source platforms—to enable entirely new business models, like two-sided business-to-business marketplaces and the gig economy—that simply only work when 1) participants are distributed and 2) business is conducted entirely over the Internet.

We’re all familiar with two-sided marketplaces in the consumer sector—headlined by services that transformed what we consume, like Spotify, Netflix, DoorDash, and many more. The societal shock resulting from the pandemic is opening eyes to the possibilities for similar economic models in other sectors.  

For example, here at Tidelift we leverage cloud and remote work tools to make it possible for companies to partner with individual creators located all around the world to ensure the software they are using meets commercial standards.

This shift is already playing out in parallel contexts, such as the artistic crowd-funding platform Patreon, which saw a huge uptick in its artist sign-ups in the first weeks of the pandemic.

Durable change will emerge from crisis

The global pandemic of 2020 and its economic impacts are far reaching and deeply painful. At the same time, it’s becoming clear that the sudden changes in so many aspects of life are going to leave a lasting impact. 

Through the broader societal lens, let’s hope that the silver lining is that this shared experience accelerates our focus on creating stronger public health and social support systems. Meanwhile a massive change to the way we work is underway—driven by the increasing need for remote work options, cloud, IT, and open source cost savings, and flexible workforce models—and we may just now be stepping on the gas.

451 Research | Pathfinder Report: Managed open source