Three ways we may bounce back in 2021 (and why tech wins in all of them)

As the world looks to life after COVID-19, we look at three possible scenarios as to how organisations might bounce back in 2021, and the role technology will play in each.

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This is a contributed article by David Rosen, Technology and Customer Leader at TIBCO Software.

So, the million-dollar question: what happens next? As we crawl from the ruins of what COVID has wrought, how do we "build back better," what forms will that recovery take and to what extent will our established patterns of behaviour be disrupted? 

We may start by agreeing with the consensus of wisdom that the pandemic accelerated a trend that was inexorable. Companies were already using digital technology to fuel business transformation before COVID-19 struck. And when it struck, every bit and byte of research we have tells us they largely hastened that approach to mine data for insight gold, grease new value chains, revamp user experiences, code better apps and mobile sites, and engineer more adaptive infrastructures that enable them to respond to whatever changes the opaque future throws at them. 

But back to our initial question. What's going to happen in what we hope is the next phase of the pandemic as this saga rolls towards some sort of end game? We don't know how human beings will react after they have been vaccinated and feel relatively safe, whether that's in summer or later. Will they re-enter the world blinking and repeat the way they behaved in 2019 or will they have been changed? To re-work the words of LP Hartley in his novel The Go-Between, will they treat the future as a foreign country where "they do things differently there"?

Let's consider three possibilities of what the new world looks like.

The Return to Order. We go back to old habits, spending perhaps even more time on favourite leisure pursuits, the arts, sport, travel destinations, social lives and families. The fabled 'new normal' very much resembles the old normal.

The Roaring '20s. Having developed a desperate hunger for the pleasures of life, pent-up demand drives a furious, faster conspicuous consumerism. We enter the new 'Roaring Twenties' and, just as in the 1920s, we embrace excess and novelty. There is a boom in luxury goods and we double down on habits we treated ourselves to in lockdown: downloading more entertainment, having our food delivered from restaurants and so on. Markets boom as a 'spend, spend, spend' culture prevails. This is the 'new abnormal': a hypercharged version of life as we used to know it.

O Brave New World. We have learned the lessons of 2020 and have been fundamentally changed. We no longer wish to live in crowded cities or own cars. We don't look back, only forward and we participate wholeheartedly in the Subscription Economy, renting the latest and greatest goods rather than buying them. But we also think progressively about sustainability and how what we do affects the ecology. Brand disloyalty will be rife, leaving opportunities for bold alternative players. The world is different and there is no going back: the new normal is clearly different from the old normal.

Is there a golden thread that runs through this triumvirate of putative future states? I think so, and I think that thread is technology. All roads lead to Rome and technology is the enabler of all these projections, enabling business to produce more, faster and more sustainably. If you want to be a business leader not a laggard then the price of entry to that race is investment in technology that is pervasive across all your back-end, infrastructure and front-end activities. 

More than ever, data that's managed, accessible and ripe for insight will be the trump card of the disruptor and those that can't play it will have little to no chance of success. Winners will be early adopters or very fast followers who grasp AI, data analytics, microservice architectures and anything else that lets them move quickly and unfettered by legacy restraints. I think of Aeroporti di Roma, the operator of Rome's two airports, and the remarkable way it reinvented itself in the round, not just re-engineering processes and modernising infrastructure and systems, but also reimaging the airport experience by poring over data to understand passenger flow, customer needs, check-ins and transfers, and joining all that up to create excellent user experiences that drive satisfaction and in-airport spending. But many won't have the gumption or the vision to ready themselves in the same way and I fear that the post-vaccine world will be a graveyard for organisations that fail to adapt; a second tragedy is waiting to happen.

We all know that companies that have failed to adapt fall suddenly and the gap between leaders and laggards is set to become a yawning chasm. That's in part why technology shares have boomed in the teeth of the pandemic to create multiple technology platform companies with trillion-dollar valuations from Apple and Microsoft to relative newcomers such as Alphabet and Amazon. They are Teflon-coated and in a 'heads you win, tails you don't lose' world, they are the new stock market bellwethers and darlings of Wall Street. 

My hunch is that like electricity, the atomic bomb and the iPhone, COVID will turn out to be a long-term catalyst and we won't sheepishly return to our former activities. That changes everything and the race will be to the swift. Are you ready to run?

David Rosen is a Technology and Customer Leader at TIBCO Software where he combines his experience with digital technologies, business strategies, and value creation to accelerate the data-centric innovation of TIBCO’s global customers. This hands-on engagement drives not only the success of TIBCO’s customers, but provides continuous inputs into TIBCO’s product strategy and shapes TIBCO’s overall positioning, clarity of message, and go-to-market execution.