Sunday, April 5, 2020

Everybody’s on the phone? Disruption, followed by innovation?

Remember the lines, “Alone again, naturally!” Or maybe the lines from other songs that in these times reinforce the massive societal changes under way – will these changes be with us for good?

There is something very comforting about kicking off a post to this blog with lines from a Jimmy Buffett song. Resonating with the times, Jimmy penned the lines -

Everybody's on the phone
So connected and all alone
From the pizza boy to the socialite
We all salute the satellites

On the other hand, as Margo and I continue to practice social distancing and yes, washing our hands at every opportunity, it is still very unnerving to watch how society has changed. Yet again! We have spent a month holed up in our Windsor home, so grateful that we bit the bullet and finished our lower floor complete with a media room and a wet bar. After a brief scare when we were diagnosed with Influenza B there was a follow-up this past week with x-rays and blood tests and it’s all good. Sigh of relief coming from the Buckles household.

One upside from being housebound is that it has given me plenty of time to catch up on magazines, blogs and emails. I know, I should be doing it on a regular basis. NonStop Regional User Group (RUG) and major Big Tent Geo events all cancelled – there are some postponements, but even so, it’s still not certain if they will proceed. They cancelled Wimbledon? They postponed the Indy 500! And golf’s Masters is likewise postponed. But catching up on my reading is a pleasant enough task that I am finding excuses to skip household chores while I check out an “interesting story.”

As I skimmed magazines I came across the following in one magazine I turn to for relevant quotes. Imagine my surprise then to come across this –

“In the realm of detestable corporate lingo, the term ‘disrupter’ barely rates.

“It might be routinely and annoyingly misused to dress up a mundane change or as cover for a disastrously bad business decision but compared with linguistic crimes such as ‘peel the onion,’ ‘let’s unpack this,’ and ‘drill down,’ the word ‘disrupter’ is a paragon of clean, simple language. It has a meaning that’s not easily captured by other metaphoric mumbo-jumbo.

“In general discourse, ‘disrupter’ refers to a product, person, or process that upsets the status quo.”

Understandably, these were the opening lines in a comprehensive review of all that is new in the world of automobiles and appeared in the April 2020 issue of Car and Driver. If you missed its relevance then think again. We are in the midst of a global pandemic where everyone I know is affected and when working from home means an office may be anything from the kitchen table to a sawhorse in the garage. We may not consider this an era of disruption and yet, at every turn we see disruptions.

As for technology, the markets NonStop serves have become even more critical – getting cash to a society struggling to keep its heads above water has become a priority. Mission critical is every bit as relevant today as it has ever been and products built on a fault tolerant architecture make a significant contribution to maintaining a semblance of normalcy during these times. Business Continuity Plans (BCP) are being put to use as supporting an upsurge in staff access is just as important as ensuring applications remain available.

As for Jimmy Buffett’s observation that we are “So connected and all alone” even as we have become so dependent on the internet, it’s hard to miss his often “We all salute the satellites!” Where would we be in these dire times if we lost our connections? Of course, some connectivity options look more elegantly implemented than others! Against a cultural backdrop so dependent on our interactions, I cannot recall how many invites I have received this past week to Skype, GoTo (a) Meeting or Zoom. My smartphone has never been busier and I have to admit, I am not a phone guy in normal circumstances. But there you have it, we truly salute the satellites.

For the NonStop vendor community the changes are obvious. So many development and support staff have become remote workers and yet new products and features continue to be produced. Did you read the announcement coming from TANDsoft and NTI? There’s now a new product, FS Compare, hitting the market and to read more on this, check out the NTI article in the upcoming April 2020 issue of NonStop Insider. No, innovation knows no limitations or restrictions but is constantly fueled by creative folks.

I was reminded of this just recently of how, during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), beginning in 2007 and extending into 2009, we have seen the arrival of such powerhouse companies as Dropbox (2007), Groupon and Cloudera (2008) and even Uber, Slack and Square (2009). I would alsolike to point out that DocuSign, started in Silicon Valley in 2003, was named a disruptor 3 times by the time it went public but truly came into it’s own during the GFC!  

 I don’t think any of us would be surprised to read in the coming months of even greater innovation taking place, particularly in healthcare and the bio sciences. The stock market may be a roller coaster for now, but I suspect it will turn around pretty quickly with the arrival of new companies breaking out and creating new markets and industry verticals.

One industry that certainly could get a boost is robotics. After all, robots never get sick and already there are pictures on the internet of robot greeters directing folks to appropriate counters, etc. for support. How far to take this is a question for economists and technologists to sort out in the coming months, but I cannot help but wonder; could a robot really clean our house? And not just our floors as can be done today! Our workplaces and indeed our very lives are being disrupted on an unimaginable scale, but already I am seeing trends develop that may be with us for a very long time.

The biggest hit once life returns to normal? Real estate and in particular, commercial real estate! Why do we need those multistory temples supporting little more than corporate branding? Do we all need to be taking up office and cube space at a prohibitive cost to all stakeholders? There is considerable speculation that, looking ahead to what might be here to stay, society will have so adjusted to social distancing that there is little point in bringing everyone back to the office.

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott had a lot to say on this topic just last week. “Australia,” he said “won’t look the same because it will impact a whole generation of our customers, the way they think about technology, the way they think about borrowing, the way they think about employment, the way they think about frankly the capitalist system and democracy." Looking back at previous pandemics including the 2008 GFC, Elliott noted that, “For Australia in particular and New Zealand, all of those other crises were something we almost watched on television, and we experienced in some ways. With this one it’s fundamentally changing our way of life. That is, I think, psychologically massive compared to all the other ones.”

For the NonStop community for the most part this represents only a small shift in current thinking as remote workers have been part and parcel of our daily lives for quite some time. Put it down too to the emergence of the “gig economy” where in tech there are so many individual contributors that without them, costs would soar astronomically. But therein again, lies further potential for NonStop. Wouldn’t you want your support infrastructure – your desktop, your comms, you data and yes, your security lead you back to a fault tolerant system? NonStop is certainly one desirable outcome in this respect.

Alone, but connected! Remote, but an integral part of the team! We all salute the satellite and in so doing, have become fully aware that the longer society operates in this current manner the lesser the likelihood we will see a swing back to practices of the past. Tech may be the bellwether for disruption and the driver of further innovation but within tech, there are the seeds of even greater change. Suddenly, “Home Alone” may not have negative connotations. Nor will it be a reference to a neglected child! Ultimately, we all may welcome the change and embrace the disruption for what it truly means: Freedom to innovate!

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