COVID-19 Changed the World

When 2020 began, we rejoiced the beginning of a new decade with promise of change in our personal and business lives. Technology enhancement and advancement is rapidly taking us to new levels of communication and interaction, and this is the decade we make a greater push in our digital transition and transformation.

Then came COVID-19. The world seemed to come to an immediate halt, or did it? For some the answer is yes, as their role in business has a mandatory requirement to physically be there in order to perform their tasks and meet customer demands. But for many office workers, it triggered an immediate shift to work from home. Remote workers now took on many roles from order processing, to teaching and many other jobs were now faced with online interaction using a variety of collaboration tools – and it worked.

Granted the transition may not have been strategic and smooth, but necessity being the Mother of Invention, or in this case Innovation, businesses were able to adapt their operations and continue. Employees found themselves pushed into a new way of working and rose to meet the change. The question now is, how many will maintain this new approach and how many will revert to the old ways of doing business.

In My View

I feel that those who maintain and further enhance their new ways of working will gain far more benefit and competitive advantage than those who decide to revert to the old ways of doing things. Physical plant costs can be lowered, productivity can be increased, and employee morale improved.

What are your plans?

Adapt and Overcome

This is a term I first heard in the movie Heartbreak Hill that Marines adapt and overcome their situations. In this case, some folks in Amsterdam came up with a novel idea to adapt and overcome the challenges of dining out while still maintaining social quarantine guidelines. They built a series of small greenhouses for their diners, keeping them in isolation yet still able to get out and enjoy the culinary delights they seek.

In an article I found on CNN titled “A restaurant in Amsterdam introduced ‘quarantine greenhouses’ so diners can eat while social distancing“, a restaurant known as “Mediamatic ETEN located in Amsterdam, is offering a four-course vegetarian menu for diners — served to guests while they sit in their own personal quarantine greenhouses.” This to me is a prime example of facing a business problem, identifying possibilities to address the problem, adapting the business to meet the new requirements, and overcoming the problem to become operational once again.

In My View

This is what businesses today are faced with on a global scale. There is a pandemic disruption causing businesses of all types to adapt and overcome in order to stay operational. For many office workers, this means working remotely from their homes. A concept that has been around since the early 1980s, (I worked on prototypes for this at Wang), but one that has seen much human reluctance. Not so much from the workers, but from a distrust by management that the workers will not be responsible or disciplined enough.

It is my view today, as it was then, that the reality is this can be done, and it is now proven many times over during this pandemic crisis. Workers I have spoken with are finding they are more productive, relaxed, and willing to continue along these lines once the crisis ends. The questions is one of management being comfortable with it.

There are many benefits that can result from a remote workforce, and not all roles are well suited to full-time remote work, but there are hybrids that can prove extremely beneficial for both employee and employer. How will you adapt and overcome?

Photo by © Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/ANP/AFP/Getty Images People have dinner in a so-called quarantine greenhouses in Amsterdam, on May 5, 2020 as the country fights against the spread of the COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

Reluctance To Change: Now An Urgent Issue

So here it is, plain and simple. Progression and transformation are essential in this age of exponential technology evolution. Gone are the days when software and hardware would only advance and be enhanced every year or longer. In today’s world, applications are changing at a pace that was unfathomable even five years ago, and it is being done by the user community. Hardware is updated and released every few months, as witnessed in the mobile device sector. One would think that the technology infrastructure would be solid and modernized. Yet this is not the case.

CNN reported that New Jersey, Kansas, and Connecticut – to name a few – have unemployment systems running COBOL programs developed decades ago. As a result, they are seeking “volunteers” to bail them out and fix the current issues in their COBOL programs, so they can process claims. In this article, New Jersey Governor Murphy is quoted as saying “Literally, we have systems that are 40 years plus-years old”. The question I have is why does any organization still have these systems in place? Is it deliberate as a result of not wanting to invest in the infrastructure? Is it an oversight because everything seemed to be working well under normal conditions?

Here we are facing what some experts classify as the worst global pandemic in over a century causing businesses to close, job loss, and unemployment to rise and our infrastructure cannot handle it. (I would extend this to other areas as well, but this post would be much too large.)

In the United States, the largest and still growing rate of unemployment is challenging the infrastructure capacity to manage the unemployment claims process, This is due to the use of systems and applications that are nearly 50 years old. According to a 2017 report by Reuters, there are still 220 billion lines of COBOL Program code in place. The challenge they now face in addition to programmatic modifications and systems capacity limitations, are finding programmers who are able and skilled at COBOL to make the modifications.

In My View

You would think that 20 years ago when the world thought all systems would crash at the turn of the century (remember Y2K) there would have been a push to replace these outdated systems with updated technology and applications. (In all fairness, this article does cite several States as being in process of making this transition, but have not been able to complete it as yet.) Are you kidding? After Y2K and the challenges of finding programmers still familiar with COBOL, Fortran, and other such languages then, a lesson wasn’t learned?

This situation to me is inexcusable and an example of using duct tape to fix a leaking, rusted pipe, only to have to rust continue until the pie once again leaks. What now? More duct tape? It is time that all levels of Government, and many business organizations alike, wake up to the fact that these outdated systems are a major risk.

It is time to stop taking the attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it”. Just because it is working does not mean it is optimal nor capable to sustain and meet the rapidly changing and growing operational requirements of today. We hear about the needed investment in our transportation infrastructure. It is time to seriously address the modernization and updating of our information and process infrastructure.

COVID-19: A Real Game Changer

You can’t avoid hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is part of every news broadcast, all over the internet, and part of every conversation these days. There are a growing number of mandates to shelter in place, stay home, or whatever term your local government is using.

While this is a seriously dire situation health-wise, it has also created a serious situation when it comes to business operations and continuity. While there are occupations requiring in-person presence to operate, there are many jobs that can be conducted from home, something that has been discussed for many years now, and few have acted upon.

As a result of COVID-19, we are seeing an exponential increase of businesses adapting their operations to one of remote work for those who are not required to be there in-person. These include back office personnel, teachers, IT support, developers, customer services, television news media, healthcare advisory services (TeleDoc), and more.

The use of various cloud products is on the rise – some for free at the moment – allowing businesses to carry on. While there is a learning curve on the human side, it is nonetheless being carried out. In addition to business continuity, additional results include reductions in pollution, decreased use of fossil fuels, in many cases – it is bringing families closer together, and creating a surge of interest for the use of autonomous vehicles in logistics and delivery of goods.

In My View

Safety first should always take precedent over all else, and this is viral spread is with all of the restrictions is a prime example of what to do and not to do in order help prevent infection. Work from home is proving to be a viable option for many occupations to stay safe working from home, and an opportunity for businesses to take note of their results as we work together to get through this crisis.

My point here is that as businesses adapt to address operations using remote workers during this crisis, now is a good time to assess what is working well, what can be improved, and to develop a plan that continues and enhances this model for the future. Employee safety is a definite benefit of working from home, and there are many more when you take time to look at your processes, assess the viability of remote work models, and begin a permanent transition that suits your business needs.

Pandemic – Time to Change the Election Process

The world is no struggling in a fight against what is considered the worst viral outbreak since the early 1900s. We call it COVID-19, and the chaos it is creating not only impacts the health of humanity, it is impacting businesses of all types which in turn impacts the overall global economy, and each and every worker.

There is another major event on the horizon that could well be impacted by COVID-19, and that is the upcoming Presidential election in November. Given the current government guidelines and mandates to shelter in place, gather in groups of no more than ten, etc., what will happen if COVID-19 lingers as long as some predict, for more than a year? In many States, paper ballots are still the preferred method of casting a vote. Of course, one can vote by mail, but when do you have to request this, and how will it impact tabulation of the results.

In My View

Looking at this through the lens of process improvement and automation, this could well be the time to begin investigating the digitally transformation of our voting systems as are Australia, Canada, Estonia, France, and Norway. I know there are great concerns over security, audit trails, and the ability to conduct a recount if needed. I also know when planned right, technology can provide what is needed, and deliver positive results.

Will we see online voting in the near future, I doubt it. Could it be a possibility for the future, absolutely. The driving need is to have continuity in government while the barrier, is the human element.

Be safe everyone, and thank you for your support in reading my articles.

Bob

Crisis – A Transformation Opportunity

I know this sounds a bit odd, but in reality, this could be the beginning and driver for digital transformation in many business sectors.

As the virus spreads, we are seeing more and more mandates for people to remain isolated and suggestions that employees work from home. While working from home may not be an option for everyone (hospitality, restaurants, healthcare, trades, etc.), it does pave the way for office workers, knowledge workers, customer service representatives, and many others to continue down this path once the current viral crisis has passed.

In My View

As businesses adapt the way the operate to address the need of providing viable, safe options for their employees as protection from the virus, they should also consider how to extend this beyond the crisis as a means to continue and improve their remote worker capabilities. In order to address the current situation, access to information, interaction in business processes, and collaboration will be conducted using tools that are most likely in place now, but little used.

The focus right now is the safety and well being of employees, as it should be. Second, businesses are focusing on how they can remain functional to meet the needs of their clients in order to keep the business running. Third, this is an opportunity to also think strategically about the future and how the business could operate by increasing the capability of employees working from home using a virtual business model.

It is my hope that this crisis ends quickly with minimal fatality and illness for all. It is my belief that this is an opportunity for businesses to realize the potential it presents to digitally transform their operations in the near future.

Driverless Delivery Services – A New Reality

According to a report by NBC Montana, the U.S. Department of Transportation has temporarily approved the use of low-speed driverless delivery vehicles.

The vehicles known as “R2” and produced by NURO based in California, has teamed with Walmart to deliver groceries in Houston, and Kroger to deliver groceries in both Houston and in various locations in Arizona.

R2, not only has no driver, there is no steering wheel, brake or accelerator pedal, mirrors, and other items typically found on a car and not required for low speed vehicles designed for top speeds less than 25 MPH.

Pictured here is the R2 by Nuro

The concept is simple. The customer places an order which is filled by the supplier and loaded into R2. Delivery information is provided to R2, an access code is provided to the customer, and R2 departs on a deliver route. Once at the delivery location, R2 parks curbside, the customer is notified and goes to R2. The access code is entered, the door opens on R2, and the customer removes the ordered supplies, closing the door and R2 makes its way along the assigned route.

In My View

This is the beginning of autonomous vehicle use in our society. Where we are now experiencing the use of driverless cars for delivery, it will not be long before we see them in use by ride share services and other modes of transportation. Imagine you need a ride. Like Uber and Lyft, you use your app to enter pick up and destination. An autonomous vehicle arrives, you enter it, and are driven to your destination, all without a driver or the stress of driving yourself.

For now it may be focused on short distances, but in the future, it is quite possible you could arrange for long range transportation, perhaps even with the ability to relax, take a nap, or even sleep during an overnight trip. Given these will be vehicles using electric drive systems, it will also eliminate the use of fossil fuels.

The question now is not one of the technology, but human acceptance. Are we ready to accept that autonomous vehicles are real, they are here, and we are facing a potential revolutionary shift and digital disruption in transportation?

Governance, Process, and Technology – Iowa

This week the Iowa Democratic Caucus proved once again what I have been teaching and talking about for decades. Organizations seeking to improve operations and incorporate technology must establish and adhere to governance over every aspect of a project and the information and processes related to that project.

In this case, it is the voting and selection of a candidate to represent the party in the Presidential Election. When all was said and done with the caucus, results could not be released to a lack of confidence in the integrity and accuracy of the data. The underlying reason seems to be an error in the coding of the report software application according to an ABC News report titled, “Iowa Caucus: What we know about what went wrong”

In my view

This article points out the need for governance over testing of the new application, information collected, processes to capture the information, and means by which to report the results. While it may be possible that these were in place, the fact it failed demonstrates either the lack of governance to test the application, or a lack of performing the application testing to ensure failure would not occur.

Thankfully, there was a fall back process for the various divisions to manually review the results using a paper back-up copy, and report the results but this too failed as calls were dropped, slowing the process even more. As of the time of this writing, the results are still unknown with nearly 18 hours passing since the final reports were due to be released.

In any project of this type, it is imperative that project, information, process, and technology governance be established and strictly followed. Had this been the case, we would have known the outcome as it was recorded, in realtime. Use this as an example for your projects, lest you set yourself up for failure.

Printing – The Future of Construction

You read it right, 3D printing just may be the future of construction, not only for housing and bridges which I have written and talked about before, but now there is potential to pring nuclear reactors.

In an article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press titled “Oak Ridge advanced manufacturing facility develops technologies for new methods of production“, we are presented with the concept that a nuclear reactor could in fact be printed using specialized 3D printers with special materials and additives that allow the creation of micro and mini nuclear reactors capable of generating power for up to 1,000 homes.

In My View

Photo from 3DNatives.com

When 3D printing first hit the scene, many looked at it as a great tool to manufacture small toys and simple replacement parts. As I typically say, you never know the true potential of new technologies until many have been exposed to and use the technology – taking it to new application levels and breaking perceived barriers to new uses.

If you are my age – I will not disclose that here – to remember the cartoon show the Jetsons, buildings were demolished using lasers and new buildings printed to replace them. We are in the Jetsonian age. The only question now is how soon will construction projects become print jobs run by Master Architectural Printers? Time will tell and show us.

Technology Application Gone Awry? You Decide.

I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about this one. I read an article today about Russian Farmers using Virtual Reality to help their cows be more content, less stressed, and happier, in an effort to improve the quality of their milk production.

In the article titled “Russian dairy farmers gave cows VR goggles with hopes they would be happier and make better milk“, custom VR glasses are being used on cows at a farm located just outside of Moscow.

A special team of veterinarians, developers, and dairy production consultants developed these custom VR glasses for the cows and provide them with the experience of being in a sun filled field. Apparently to deliver a sense of calm for the cows.

While the results on milk production have not yet been conclusive, the team – according to the article – revealed a decrease in anxiety and a better emotional state of the cows. (Not sure how they tested that.)

In My View

I am not saying that the use of VR technology for this purpose is unreasonable, as I do believe there are many applications for technology yet to be explored. I know of farmers who play music in the milking areas as a means to calm their cows, but I a not sure the world is ready for herds of cows standing in a field wearing VR glasses projecting a field – in an effort to enhance nature itself.

The question I must ask is this, have we now placed so much emphasis on creating custom virtual environments to replace our real environment, that we must now include other animal species in the mix, rather than focusing on replenishing and maintaining our natural environment to provide naturally induced peace, tranquility and harmony back into our lives and the lives of other planetary species?

There are so many more questions I could ask, but I will let you decide for yourself.