There is not just more remote work happening due to COVID-19: we’re getting better at working remotely … and we’re learning quickly. By “we” I mean both vendors and service providers offering solutions that help with remote work as well as the organizations adopting it. For today’s posting I’m going to focus on the technology vendors and service providers.
For vendors that are constantly investing in R&D and pushing their boundaries (which they should all be doing), a pressure cooker provides the last mile push that it takes to accelerate improvements. New potential features suddenly have their priority raised as the crisis makes their value proposition concrete and urgent. And for vendors with large, successful products the crisis provides the permission to be different; to rock the boat.
For example, on Wednesday Microsoft announced a slew of improvements to virtual collaboration including a video conferencing mode that simulates all the participants in a room (“together mode“), a large gallery view supporting up to 49 people, lightening filters, and whiteboard improvements. Similarly, Workplace from Facebook announced that Workplace Rooms is coming soon. It includes easily joinable links with access control and 50 participants.
You Can’t Wait to Innovate!
How long would users have had to wait for these improvements if COVID-19 had not shown up? It could have been years before we saw them, if ever. As Satya Nadella said in April “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Vendors that are in the habit of waiting for buyer and market consensus around their needs before the vendors begin prototyping will fail to develop these enhancements in time to be relevant. Microsoft said the idea of assembling a composite of all meeting attendees together had existed for years. “We are always trying to envision the future and work on things long before people think they might need them, and often down the road there will be a need for it in our products and we can pull it off the shelf and say, ‘Hey, we did this five years ago, is it helpful now?’”. This kind of continual exploration is required to create a portfolio that can be mined when buyer sentiment – for whatever reason – suddenly coalesces on a new capability.
Crises Shake Up the Hype Cycle
My research on how Crises Shake Hype Cycles (available for Gartner Tech CEO and General Managers clients; published in June 2020) helps technology vendors and service providers think about how certain innovations get accelerated during a crisis. Gartner’s hype cycle shows how innovations follow a pattern from an innovation trigger through inflated expectations, disillusionment, and finally a more mature and productive view. A crisis can be thought of as a hand that grabs the end of the hype cycle and shakes it, with the innovations on it shifting around like beads on a string.
My view is that a crisis can create its own triggers for innovations that may have floated in the ether without a reason to instantiate them. And expectations give way to a real-life trial of what the innovation can really do. Accordingly, some innovations (the ones relevant to the crisis and quick to instantiate) slide quickly forward through the hype cycle.
When we get past this crisis (yes, we will get past this one day!) these technologies will retain the jump forward they received. You can consider this a “silver lining” if you’d like, although I would prefer to have neolithic video conferencing capabilities and no pandemic.