Lockdown brought with it the message of - work from home, if you can - and prompted thousands of businesses across the UK to send staff home to work remotely. This brought both challenge, and opportunity, and for some companies completely changed the way they work.
At the centre of all of this, was technology. From smartphones to cloud platforms, technology worked as an enabler, allowing many businesses to continue running in the face of adversity. Allowing them to change.
And when you think about it, change is the only constant in life, and this isn’t the first time that technology has been used to harness opportunity on the back of disaster. It’s all about adapting, in order to survive. And time and time again, technology makes that possible.
In 2011 the Icelandic volcano eruption shut down air travel across Europe for a week. When Dutch airline KLM’s call centres crumbled under the increased call volumes, they turned to Twitter to communicate with customers. They used the tools available to them to get the job done, in an unprecedented situation. They adapted, using technology, in order to maintain the best possible customer experience. As a result, the firm later invested in Twitter as a much bigger part of its customer service infrastructure, providing a multilingual 24/7/365 service for everything from information around delays, to a virtual lost and found.
A perfect example of using tech to embrace change. But without technology, that wouldn’t have been possible.
Think back over the past 6 months or so as we’ve navigated our way through the Covid-19 pandemic, and now think back even further to the 1980s - 90s. A global pandemic in a world without the internet. Without video calls, secure document sharing, emails, Skype - heck, even Netflix! It’s difficult to even contemplate the damage to business, education and mental health.
Technology saved the day in many ways, and at the heart of all of that, is the data centre. Data centres are the backbone of the internet. Where the content meets the connectivity. Without data centres, there’s no data. Without connectivity, there’s no sharing.
Energy, lighting, telecommunications, healthcare, transport, traffic, emergency services, banks, security systems, public health, entertainment…. all controlled within data centres.
Online meetings, cloud storage, document sharing, video conferencing, research, virtual school lessons, contactless payments, online shopping, booking covid tests, vaccine development, news, government updates, Netflix Originals, PE with Joe Wicks, Minecraft, Facetime… all made possible by data centres and the possibilities they deliver to service providers.
And the realisation by a lot of people, particularly business leaders, that as a generation, we depend on technology, has fuelled an accelerated digital transformation as companies realise that the continuity plans they had in place, didn’t cut the mustard. That staff couldn’t simply pick up, go home, and continue with business as usual. For the organisations that had already harnessed technology and invested in a modern workplace infrastructure, well they were streets ahead. Others ended up on the backfoot as the changes brought communication issues, security concerns, hardware issues, server capacity overloads….
Companies that had quite happily allowed the odd employee to work the odd afternoon from home using VPN, suddenly found that sending a workforce of 300 home to do the same thing, was crippling their infrastructure. Businesses that hadn’t enrolled devices into MDM (Mobile Device Management) or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) polices, found company data being downloaded to ancient hardware full of security holes. Staff had poor, or no, home connectivity. Businesses that had never invested in hardware, suddenly had to purchase and set up dozens of laptops and company phones. In essence, rolling out emergency plans which they’d never actually planned for. That’s not contingency planning. That’s contingency failing. Although nobody could have realistically expected this level of contingency planning to be required. It was truly unprecedented.
And so, this acceleration of digital transformation began. Organisations that had perhaps vaguely thought, once or twice, about ditching their on-premise servers and migrating to the cloud, now want to get the job done - fast. Firms that never looked into VoIP platforms, found that their inbound communications broke down in an office-less environment - they need a new comms system - fast. Schools upgraded their connectivity and begged parents to invest in Chromebooks or similar, as part of a shift to mixed learning - face to face teaching supplemented with online lessons. So that when the worst happens, and the world goes through another unprecedented challenge - from a tech perspective, we’re ready. We’re ahead of the curve. Not left behind panicking, losing productivity, losing money and losing our minds and we struggle to cope. Instead, the world will hit “unprecedented times” dead in the face, and keep rolling - all thanks in part to the data centres that have planned for this sort of thing for decades, and the huge part that data centres play in enabling people and businesses to adapt to change. And if there is a next time round, then we will still be here doing what we do, keeping businesses online, secure and available whilst the world navigates another new normal...keeping the lights on, in times of darkness.