With the entire globe weathering a pandemic, it goes without saying, “we are living through unprecedented times”. We’ve heard this phrase repeated so many times it has become synonymous with the COVID-19 era.

The pandemic has accelerated the speed of social and environmental changes and magnified their impact on economies, behaviors, policies, and even demographics. What would have taken a generation to become visible and influence our societies became almost immediately evident.

These accelerated changes, now referred to as our “new normal”, are reflected in the way we now socialize, purchase our groceries, collaborate with our colleagues, educate our children, and in the way we spend our money and invest our savings. One obvious space everyone is watching in this new normal is the use of technology in all aspects.

If we take a closer look through a technology lens, we can notice and expect several short, medium, and long-term trends. The duration of each phase will vary per industry and is likely to overlap in many organizations depending on the timing and the length of future waves as well as the wide use of an effective vaccine.

Phases of technology use have ranged from emergency response due to the immediate operational disruption, moving into a focus on business continuity and resilience, and finally into cycles of digital transformation over time.

  • In the short term, in response to abrupt disruptions, investments have been and will continue to be directed mainly towards business continuity, secure remote work, and the underlying basic connectivity, collaboration technology, and mass notification services for example, as well as cybersecurity and others.
  • In the medium term, as we come out of this short-term wave, organizations and countries will adopt different approaches and strategies from the way they direct budgets. Business resilience, agile workplace, operational streamlining, and customer and employee experience will be among the main motivations. Investments will address capabilities around rapid scaling and descaling of infrastructure, capacity building, and cybersecurity, which will, in turn, direct many investments to the cloud, e-services, applications monitoring and performance, and customer management and experience. Innovative elements of physical security and crowd management will help us avoid the future default lock-down response to future waves of pandemics or similar emergencies.
  • On a more strategic and longer-term, level, we will witness a period where digital transformation is likely to create lasting realities, possibly for decades to come. Many countries will depend on digitization and technology as the main tool for structuring new economies and social norms.

In countries where the cost of labor is cheap, local markets are too small, or governments are more concerned to solve local unemployment as opposed to competing in the global employment market, urgency for digitization remains to be seen. Trade priorities in countries more concerned with self-sufficiency, national security, or employment will adopt economic and partnership choices focused on these factors. The ability to lead with digital transformation and AI, and to adopt the fourth industrial revolution will of course also be influenced by access to technology and skills.

In the Middle East region, factors such as changes in geopolitical alliances, world economy structure as well as shifts in regional and global powers are already changing the landscapes of risks and opportunities for nations. Governments are also more mindful of factors such as food security, water disputes, climate change, digital warfare, digital economy and policy, and many others; even in nations that were perceived to be traditionally less affected by some of these factors.

Many countries in our region have thrived under a world of globalization, relatively concentrated energy production, and asset-intensive economic activities. We are now going to use technology more than ever to navigate the new landscapes of risks and opportunities where data and technology are the new oil, and skills and talent are the new differentiators.

As positive news about the vaccine comes out, it would be a mistake to try to return to an outdated ‘normal’. The pandemic has permanently shaken the assumptions underlying country economic strategies, corporate business models, and individual lifestyles and deemed them unsustainable.

Regardless of the region and industry, technology and digitization will enable the recovery to a better future. We need to create new technology platforms not only to overcome one passing virus but to face a host of issues whether chronic or catastrophic; ranging from pandemics to climate change, financial crises, security situations, or others that are likely to continue changing our world. Such platforms will also allow us to capitalize on opportunities and realize the potential offered by such changes.

At Cisco, we realize that now is the time for technology to change the world and address some of its most pressing issues and aspirations. We have the opportunity now to do more in the world than we ever thought possible and have an impact that is going to last for generations to come. In the coming few blogs we will apply this frame of thinking to topics such as healthcare, education, and the future of work.