Coronavirus exposes the need for new infrastructure thinking

Digital networks and the carers of society are the infrastructure the world needs to develop as the road to recovery from COVID-19.

Around the world there were 4004 road building projects planned or in the process of being built. In the opening months of 2020 governments were falling over themselves to accelerate major infrastructure projects that would move fossil fuel burning vehicles from one place to another. The US had scheduled $4.5 trillion worth of road building investment, in Africa there is a road building plan worth $430 billion and in Europe there are funds worth over €70 million for new roads. There are also 1,945 new rail building projects taking place across the globe. Yet by March of this year the roads lay empty and the rail lines largely dormant. Digital infrastructure meanwhile was stretched to its limits.

The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has made it clear to all that existing methods and existing infrastructure needs to be reconsidered, not only to fight the disease, but to recover and then to ensure that if such an event is recur then the world can respond. 

China went into lockdown on January 23, 2020, two months later the UK followed suit; earlier in March Italy, the European nation that would bear the brunt of tragedy in the pandemic went into lockdown on March 9, 2020. Lockdowns across the Northern hemisphere have placed incredible demand on the digital communications infrastructures of the world.  Speaking to CIO community editor peers in Germany and the lowlands of Europe, mobile and fixed line networks struggled with major demand. The first days of the UK lockdown witnessed a series of performance issues. To be fair to the network providers performance rapidly improved and has been largely stable.

Coronavirus demonstrates that the infrastructure investment that is really needed is digital communications and less so roads and railways. The world has never experienced a lockdown of this scale before. Never before has there been a period of mass isolation that is possible because of mass connectivity. Knowledge workers the length and breadth of the land have been able to continue their tasks, many organisations continue to operate, hit deadlines and serve the needs of their customers and partners.

Having experienced connected isolation, large swathes of society will question a return to the pre-Coronavirus norms of sitting in a tin can moving just metres at a time and unable to do anything productive with their time. Organisations whose margins have been dented by the pandemic will wonder at the business benefit of demanding teams suffer on an overcrowded train for hours to sit in an expensive city central office. With both employers and employees asking serious questions of the way they work, demand for office space could shrink.

Scientists are revealing that the lockdown is improving air quality - in itself possibly one of the causes for the rapid spread of the disease.  It has been said for years that work is something you do, not a place you go, but few actually lived to the maxim, but now having been grounded, many workers will expect a new balance to their days.

Challenges remain; creativity and teamwork require collectivism. The events of the lockdown demonstrated that many organisations didn't have a culture ready for remote working. There were supply chain issues, particularly for the technology industry. Lean has become unhealthily thin in the pursuit of margins, many products and services will need to become more expensive to allow organisations to carry more reserves. Going forward there are major governance issues to be addressed when personal data and intellectual property is being managed from a spare bedroom or dining room table.

To continue reading this article register now