As I write this, it is mid April 2020 and we are about 5 weeks into the lock-down that has been the response to the epidemic caused by Covid 19.
Covid19 is the current epidemic, but some sort of pandemic was widely predicted for many years and then just ignored or wished away.
For vulnerable people of a certain age (me) it probably means a change of life style for years to come. But ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ so maybe it will provide a tipping point for changes that are necessary but had previously been avoided. So this is partly about what I hope will come out of it and partly what I predict will inevitably be part of a trend.
These are in no particular order.
- Probity in Business
- Just In Time Operations v Resilience
- Working from home
- Schooling/ Education
- Global Warming & Economics
- Probity in Business
The old corporate virtues of a reputation for probity and fairness will be re-established as a business’s greatest asset. Companies that use sharp practice (however legal) to avoid paying a contribution to the society – taxes – in which they live and operate and on whom they depend, will not be acceptable.
Companies that pass down risk to their employees through such practices as ‘zero hours contracts’ or who avoid liability through small print exclusions that pass risk to their customers, will become very much less acceptable.
Why should society/government bail them out if they are not contributing?
- Reputation management will be on every board agenda.
- Some over-powerful corporates will be broken up.
Just In Time Operations v Resilience
JIT operations management will become less important than Resilience. This will be a long term change in the corporate attitude to risk.
The difficult work of good operations management has always been a weakness in the UK economy, probably driven by a city that prefers to rely on top down re-organisations (mergers and acquisitions, then break up and asset stripping).
- A focus on risk management should be a key part of all business plans.
- Changes to the supply chain management
Cities will lose their appeal.
If crowding people together is no longer safe and our tech infrastructure enables an alternative way of being, why would anybody want/need to be in a city?
In general the weaknesses of attempts at centralised control are being exposed.
- This could have pricked the city property price bubble. A longer term decline might start here.
- Distributed management systems will become the norm in business, government, and services such as the NHS. Technology is again key to making these changes and it is wonderful to see everybody embracing as ‘normal’ the use of video conferencing; from an appointment with your GP to how Parliament is run.
- The high street, in general, is in deep trouble. Retail was only 7% on-line before Covid19 and will eventually go to the default method of buying things. The strategic question will be how companies are going to manage the change and specifically whether they want to be part of the Amazon juggernaut with the dangers of becoming permanently dependant, or whether they want the up-front cost of running their own systems.
Working from home
Working from home or from local business hubs is already becoming the new norm and I think it is unlikely that we will go back to the old systems of massive daily commutes that have blighted so many people’s lives. This is a substantial change with all sorts of implications.
- Finally (and 20 years later than I expected) everybody is getting used to managing with employees working outside the main office.
- However, managing a distributed work force requires a different business model to make it work properly. Everything from systems of remuneration to how to retain a ‘team spirit’. Change is not easy.
- All businesses will want/need a resilient IT platform in the Cloud, accessible from everywhere
- As a country we will need to change our infrastructure priorities towards our IT infrastructure. As a first step we need a programme to make 1Gb/sec internet connections available to 80% of the country – we can downgrade investments in 19th and 20th Century infrastructures of rail and roads which will become less important!
- I suggest that everybody in EMC invests in Microsoft 365 and gets used to using their Teams structure. It is still somewhat clunky and not immediately intuitive, but it is being very widely adopted and has had a massive boost from the current lockdown. It will get better.
Schooling is the last remaining ‘mass production’ enterprise and is long overdue for change.
I can’t guess how it will change, but I am pretty sure it will be unrecognisable in 10 years’ time.
Educational games that teach the basics and test progress, will be part of the solution, leaving teachers free to do the important stuff of helping individuals when they are stuck.
- Education is a massive sector of the economy that will need help adjusting
Economics and Global Warming
The Covid19 pandemic is a relatively simple dry run for the far more dangerous Global Warming. It has clearly exposed the failure of ‘the market’ in allocating resources to long term problems that are ‘important’ but not immediately ‘urgent’. It is also similar in vividly demonstrating the need for some level of global co-operation which has so far been completely lacking in our response to Covid 19, especially when you compare it to the response in 2008 to a Global banking crisis.
The need to co-operate in a globally inter-connected world, are obvious, but are not reflected in our current economic system – I hope/expect there to be significant changes in the way we do economics as happened in the Bretton Woods agreement in the Post WW2 world.
- GDP growth is a meaningless measure and even worse as an aspiration. We need to focus on the underlying issue of managing the local tax take needed to finance the changes and services we collectively need.
- Overall demand in the economy will be significantly reduced for a long time as a result of the massive increase in debt right across the board.
- The discussion of a Universal Income (or Universal Dividend as I prefer to call it as it is enabled by the historic collective investment we have made in society) will now become more relevant as a way to helicopter money into the economy to provide a fiscal stimulus. We already do this for about 1/3rd of the adult population – its called a pension, perhaps we can extend it to all parents as a next step and that might help resolve the obscenity of 1/3rd of all children growing up in relative poverty.
- The extreme levels of inequality between neighbours is especially unsustainable in a world where ‘society’ has bailed out everybody.
- Our response to Lockdown has been ‘heroic’ – how will we create a society ‘fit for heroes’ once the crisis is past its peak?
It is amazing how quickly humans, the world over, have adapted to ‘lockdown’. There will be many opportunities that the loosening of the ‘status quo’ offers to all the SME businesses that are flexible enough to ride the wave of change that is already here.