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Innovation and the economy: Going digital key to enduring downturn

A financial crisis tends to jar organizations out of established ways of thinking and usher in innovation. Channel partners are well positioned to help clients through this transition and introduce technologies that support new ways of doing business.

A look back at previous economic downturns reveals a good deal of pain but also associated cycles of quickening IT adoption. Innovation and the economy, even in hard times, are closely linked. Ed Jennings, CEO at Quick Base, a low-code platform vendor, pointed to the examples of the 2001-2002 bursting of the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

“There are lessons to be learned from the past two recessions, which forced IT to adapt and do more with less, accelerating spending on specific technologies that helped streamline costs and adopt more efficient innovation,” Jennings noted.

Technology: Rising to the occasion

The dot-com crash, Jennings said, compelled IT leaders to focus on consolidating servers and virtual machines, resulting in the rapid expansion of VMware. The Great Recession, meanwhile, fostered the growth of cloud and SaaS, which “offered new paths for IT to shift from big capital expenses to pay-as-you-go and utility-based pricing models,” he added.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn is also sparking innovation, as channel speakers noted at this month’s CompTIA’s ChannelCon 2020 event. It’s also bringing particular technologies to the fore. Collaboration and remote work offerings are in demand, of course. Others which could see significant uptake include low-code platforms and various forms of automation.

Jennings views low-code technology as enabling rapid-cycle innovation. Projects in this category operate alongside enterprise-scale digital transformation initiatives, focusing on workflows within and across business units. Speed is a key advantage of the approach.

With low-code and rapid-cycle innovation, “the solutions developed can range from applications for specific line-of-business use cases to tools that connect organization-wide systems, all typically up and running in just days,” Jennings said.

Jennings clearly has a horse in the low-code race. But other companies also point to an expanding role for low-code in the current environment. RoviSys, an integrate in Aurora, Ohio, in June joined forces with Vantiq, a low-code development platform for real-time applications. Under the partnership, RoviSys will use Vantiq’s platform to build COVID-19 detection and containment applications for customers such as manufacturing plants.

Automation covers a wide-ranging field from robotic process automation, demand for which has been shaped by the pandemic,  to application delivery. As for the latter, investments in automation aim to accelerate application releases.

Tom Pohlmann, executive vice president of customer success at Ahead, a cloud solutions provider based in Chicago, said 75% of AppDev leaders “are looking to automate whenever and wherever it makes sense.”

Ahead last month published the results of an application modernization survey, conducted by Hanover Research. Eighty-two percent of the respondents cited “wanting to meet the needs of the business faster” as a top priority, according to Ahead.

Pohlmann noted respondents identified automation as their third highest priority. The No. 1 priority was delivering better quality software faster, an objective arguably linked to automation. Pohlmann cited three automation drivers, all tied to some form of reduction — in cost, in errors and in time to execute.

He said shrinking the time to execute is especially pertinent to application functions, which are “being slowed down by manual processes, outdated infrastructure, and complex legacy software.” The top priorities for automation, he said, tends to be test-driven development and CI/CD pipelines. Those approaches advocate frequent and automated integration and delivery, he added.

Innovation and the economy: Digital agility

The economic crisis requires organizations to turn on a dime when it comes to altering operations and deploying technology. Digital businesses are better equipped to do so.

“Companies that heavily invested in digital transformation and new ways of working before COVID-19 have been able to pivot more quickly than competitors and are better able to manage the requirements of a short runway,” noted David Clarke, PwC’s global chief experience officer. “Many leaders say that they’ve already gained flexibility as a result of this crisis — flexibility that they should take advantage of to build a digital company.”

Executives responding to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Business Barometer survey, released this week, cited “greater digital agility” as the top opportunity stemming from post-COVID resilience.

Agility and speed are the watchwords of the current economic environment. Clarke said organizations can’t devote months of meetings and consensus building to get a plan in place. He emphasized the “need to move swiftly, operate from an increased command and control mentality, and do what needs to be done” as the economic downturn unfolds.

He cited the example of companies shedding products or brands that aren’t contributing to the topline and reassigning budgets to offerings that are delivering positive results.

“Budgets are being reprogrammed for the must-dos, and digital transformation is almost always paramount to the conversation,” Clarke said.

The current economic upheaval is putting enterprise companies through a “Darwin-esque test of adaptability and perseverance,” Jennings said. He said executives should act now to “take stock of their digital maturity,” auditing existing operating models to find opportunities for improvement.

“Incremental improvements are just as, if not more, valuable as huge company-wide disruptive changes,” Jennings said.

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