Technology beyond borders: the opportunities Covid-19 will give businesses

by Jon Gasparini, CTO, Brightsolid

TECHNOLOGY has proven to be both a godsend and necessity over the last six months. Without it, we would have struggled to work, keep in touch with loved ones, and be entertained at the height of lockdown. From improving efficiency to boosting security and increasing collaboration and communication amongst employees, technology brings myriad benefits to business. In recent months, circumstances forced on us by the pandemic have led to many businesses transforming their traditional operations and using technology to not only remove constraints and drive down costs, but also to embrace new ways of working and enable innovative ways to engage with their customers.

The most common way we are seeing businesses do this is by removing restrictions on the work environment. While the idea of working from anywhere itself isn’t new, the pandemic has forced many companies to accelerate their adoption of new technologies to ensure more flexibility in work location. Businesses have had to rapidly embrace remote working, relying on web conferencing and collaboration tools as well as home office setups to ensure they can continue operations.

Ironically, lockdown has allowed some businesses to expand their reach. Many independent retail companies, for example, have moved online. They are no longer limited to local customers and neighbourhood footfall; instead, they can reach people all over the country – or further afield – through the internet. Their self-imposed boundaries have been removed.

Adoption of technology isn’t just about removing boundaries on how to reach customers, but also changing the boundaries of employees’ job functions. We expect to see an increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) to automate some tasks, allowing employees to refocus their attention – for example, in the oil and gas industry, using a robot rather than a person to check a pump, or temperature checks via thermal cameras at airports rather than requiring staff to walk around with handheld thermometers.

Covid-19 is driving organisations to innovate and think differently about technology. It is clear that businesses shouldn’t feel restricted by their processes of the past – but the rapid adoption of technology and shift in strategy for many organisations is amplifying challenges in the market such as a limited talent pool brought on by the skills gap. To encourage more Scottish businesses to embrace technology we must address this.

The recently published Scottish Technology Sector Review by Mark Logan MP observed:

“…by the time pupils take the Higher Computing Science qualification, only 16% of them are female on average; a ratio that worsens as they continue on through university and into industry. Put simply, gender role stereotyping removes almost half of our best future engineers.”

This is incredibly problematic. We’ve long known of the gender disparity in technology and STEM in general; addressing this will instantly increase the talent pool in the industry. But it’s not just about gender issues: Computing Science is an optional subject generally available from S3, whereas subjects such as English and Mathematics are compulsory from primary school; Physics, Chemistry, and Biology are all available from S1. As the report notes, this implies to students and parents that technology isn’t as important as the other subjects – something which couldn’t be further from the truth in today’s economy. If we were to treat Computing Science like any other science, making it compulsory from S1, we would not only signify its importance but also likely encourage more people to continue studying in this field.

While the restrictions placed on us during lockdown have encouraged businesses to be creative and use technology to grow, we are limited by our technological expertise. An increase in people studying technology will have a direct impact on the number of engineers and computer scientists working in business, ensuring even further growth and advancements.

The year 2020 has been a difficult one in many ways, with all of us managing the physical and mental struggles of lockdown and questioning what the future will look like. But it is also undeniably an exciting time of great change for technology and business. The rapid adoption of technology will have a drastic impact on business operations; the only question is, where will it take us next?

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