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Will We See a Technology Repatriation Post-COVID?
by Daniel Newman | November 4, 2020

Tech adoption rates are up dramatically in the last six months due in large part to COVID. Almost overnight, even the least tech literate companies were forced to move business to the cloud, buy collaboration platforms, and start using SaaS applications to keep their business running and their employees safe. Events and meetings moved online. Companies from Facebook to Microsoft are allowing remote work to continue likely for all of 2021. But at some point in the future, however, the world will return to some semblance of normal. Travel will be safer and easier. Deals will be made over dinner and a glass of wine again. Companies will return to their abandoned offices and employees will return to work like normal.

So what happens to the technology when all of this comes to fruition? Many are wondering if we will see a tech repatriation or if companies will continue to embrace the changes that have been made and move further into digital transformation. Let’s examine what’s at stake here and how the future of technology might be altered.

Secure Your Cloud Strategy

With so many people working remotely, it makes sense that cloud use has increased dramatically since the pandemic began. Studies show 40 percent of companies accelerated their move to the cloud due to coronavirus, and cloud infrastructure spend this year increased even when non-cloud tech spend went down. I’m sure many companies invested in communication platforms like Zoom, WebEx Teams, and Microsoft Teams. Other SaaS platforms probably got a slice of the budget too.

But let’s face it: many of these investments were made sporadically. A smart cloud strategy requires just that—strategy. And most companies didn’t have time to develop one while panicking about staying online when coronavirus hit. Decisions were made quickly. And quick decisions aren’t always the best.

Moving forward, I don’t suspect we’ll see folks leaving the cloud. I do believe, though, that many businesses will need to retool the cloud infrastructure they put together at the start of the pandemic. This means taking time to consider security and compliance issues that may not have been worked into the equation when moving the company to the cloud. It also means trying to simplify the complexities that a quick move to the cloud may have added to the tech infrastructure overall. Remember: fragmented systems are fragile systems. Simplification should always be part of any winning tech strategy.

Prepare for Hybrid Work

Don’t cut the lease on that office building just yet. Just as we are seeing an increase in hybrid cloud environments, we’ll also see an increase in hybrid work environments moving forward. Now that companies have realized that work can and does happen with employees at home, I don’t foresee us ever going back to a fully in-person schedule. Maybe some jobs will require it, but I believe that flexible work will be here to stay.

With that comes the need to keep these technologies in place that enable it and perhaps adopting others that can make business easier. Beyond the collaboration and communication platforms, we might see more virtualized environments to enable employees to access their work computers from wherever they are in the world. This will also likely lead to increased spending on security to protect sensitive information.

We Need Talent to Support

While coronavirus pushed digital transformation forward, there’s something else that threatens to push it back—or at least stall its continued growth: a lack of talent. If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that many companies that jumped into tech transformation without a talent plan that would support the revolution long-term. We need the IT professionals to support the increased management of these technologies. We need employees who understand how to use these technologies to the fullest.

Companies have two options from here: train and hire new employees or eliminate the technology that was adopted and go back to what your employees were used to. We’ve already seen major companies like Amazon announce a massive hiring spree to support their expanding business. Amazon is also dedicated to upskilling its current workforce. Will other companies follow suit? I think they will have to or they will be left behind. Taking the time to upskill your workforce is an investment that will pay dividends not just to the employees but to the company as well.

Indeed, digital transformation isn’t as easy as simply working remotely. It requires having a digital mindset, digital skillset, and understanding how digital impacts the entire business now—and tomorrow. That’s true across the enterprise. Digital is a culture—not just a cloud.

There’s no way to know what exactly tomorrow holds. Just as some people still use antiquated technology and legacy systems, it’s possible some businesses will revert back to what used to work in the coming year. Still, I think that’s an extreme outlook. Most will probably be stuck somewhere in the middle—holding lots of hastily built digital infrastructure and looking for smart folks, better partnerships, and strong leadership to help them make it better and make it work for the future.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.

Daniel Newman