There’s a lot of focus on the negatives of COVID-19, and rightly so. This pandemic, wreaking havoc on America and the world for going on six months now, seems to have no end in sight, destroying businesses, interrupting education, and causing a whole host of secondary problems, from unemployment to alcoholism, to depression and isolation.

We’re not here to discount that. However, we propose there’s a silver lining to COVID-19, and it has to do with the skyrocketing advancement in innovation and technology. From this perspective, the novel coronavirus has propelled this industry to new heights in a matter of months as opposed to years.

Innovation is the process of translating an invention or idea into a service that will create value, one that is revenue-generating and self-sustaining. Scientists, clinicians, hardware and software developers, innovators, inventors, product designers, and economists in all industries have come together to work around problems, thereby helping the world and themselves, says Healthworld.

COVID-19 has spurred the use of drones and robots in hospitals, virtual care strategies that minimize in-person patient visits such as symptom-checking apps and virtual visits, and video technology to support communication between patients and families. And that’s just in the healthcare world, an industry on the front lines of the pandemic’s surge.

Technology didn’t just explode in healthcare; it’s exploding everywhere — right in your own backyard: the office.

Hybrid Working: A New Normal

One big consequence is the scale of innovation that is occurring in response to this pandemic. The sudden and swift onset and impact of COVID-19 on businesses of all kinds is unprecedented, creating a huge push for businesses to make key changes in order to survive. This innovation survival response may not look or feel like innovation as we know it. It’s painful at times, uncomfortable, to be sure. But no matter what drives it, it’s still innovation, and it still has to be embraced.

Nowhere has this become more evident than in board rooms, offices and companies around the country, particularly affecting leadership positions as we forge a new path through the fire. Stability is critical as we navigate this new normal, and it often originates from the highest levels.

When it comes to senior leadership: “The most important thing you can do is build the strongest team you can around you,” says Former Fortune 100 executive and Poly’s Chief Revenue Officer, Carl Wiese in Coruzant Technologies’ Digital Executive podcast. “If you have the right team on the bus, almost any problem they give you is pretty easy. If you have the wrong team on the bus, almost any problem they give you is really hard.”

Wiese shares his top tips for success as we emerge into the “next normal.” This includes an accelerated approach to digital transformation, the innovative technologies that will support a hybrid work environment, and navigating the future of work.

The things we have resisted for so long, such as cloud, video meetings, and collaboration, got blown away with COVID’s emergence on the scene. Suddenly, there was no longer a choice. Suddenly, those barriers that people were tripping over for so long were cast aside, as they continued to push through and execute critical plans.

Wiese suggests a three-phased model was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic: respond, redesign and reinvent.

1. Respond: Right when the pandemic first hit, the sole focus was triage and mitigation, with a sort-of “no way but through” mindset. You did what you had to do to stay operational.

2. Redesign: This is where true digital transformation happened, as leaders could finally take a breath, take stock of what was happening, and could see what the technology landscape would look like in three years. This is when things starting ramping up as everyone got their sea legs and gained a bit of perspective.

3. Reinvent: And now, we’ve settled into the third phase of asking ourselves: how do I innovate, what is driving key innovations, how can we push the limits of what’s possible, what will it mean to our business model, and what role will technology play in that going forward?

Breaking Down Barriers

The innovations that are created out of necessity may become lasting pillars of the businesses that helped it thrive well beyond the COVID-accelerated digital transformation by about three years.

Indeed, the pandemic is a reality check for businesses that so far had been reluctant to embrace digital transformation. In addition to the stress of their potentially health-compromised employees, a dramatic drop-off in demand coupled with economic uncertainty has sent companies scrambling to migrate their workforce to a virtual environment. But while fast and furious is the name of the game in regards to digital innovation, fast and frantic leads to mistakes, says BDO.

If there had been any lingering doubts as to the necessity of digital transformation to business longevity, COVID-19 has silenced them. Now, most interactions with customers and employees take place virtually, and operating digitally is the only way to stay in business through restricted activity and mandated shutdowns. Go digital or go dark.

Role Technology Plays in the Shift

Technology is emerging into four distinct trends, according to Wiese, and it all has to do with the professional home environment. In the first 60 days of the pandemic, people simply just figured out what they needed, from headsets to HD video cameras, to setting up a purposeful place to work that wasn’t the kitchen table. In essence, they got it done because there was no time to second guess things. Those emerging four trends are:

1. Reality sets in that work from home is here to stay for many people around the country, and indeed the world.

2. As more and more people have returned to work, there’s a push for native app experiences, a “bring your own cloud environment” if you will. It’s a time of adjustment as teams try out a variety of different platforms that work for each of their clients.

3. With many people in a conference room together, even with social distancing measures in place, no one wants to be touching controls that others have repeatedly touched. This has led to a low touch environment embracing voice control, mobile interaction, AI, etc. for innovative ways to interact with the system.

4. A whole new level of immersion is here, in terms of collaboration of video and even intelligent system monitoring. So-called “smart” rooms or systems can detect when there are more than the recommended amount of people in a conference room at one time, alerting occupants that this number must be reduced for safety.

As we move forward during this time of uncertainty, one things remains certain: human ingenuity is at its best when in the face of global adversity, as we all work under pressure with a deadline of yesterday. The immediate threat of the pandemic will pass at some point, but it’s unlikely there will be a return to how things were before. Yes, the human and economic toll of COVID-19 is devastating, but some changes, such as this invigorated innovation mindset, are the silver lining in all this.

Generation Z is certainly shaping the change in education, not just in in regards to a greater dependence on technology but also in the way they embrace social learning environments, becoming hands-on and directly involved in the learning process. According to Forbes, they expect on-demand services that are available at any time, with low barriers to access, and are more career-focused earlier on in their college careers than their earlier counterparts. But before we get into the specifics, let’s take a few moments to define what Generation Z is. Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, is the generation that comes after Millennials. They were born between 1997 and 2012 and range in age from seven to 22. Check out this cool Pew Research chart that explains all the generations, starting with the Silent Generation from 1928 to 1945.

What’s unique for Generation Z is that they were born into a generation where technology has always been around for them. Indeed, they were never not exposed to technology, which has been a part of their lives from the very beginning. The iPhone launched in 2007, a time when the oldest Gen Zers were just 10 years old. By the time they hit their teens, these young Americans were primarily connecting with the web through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. While Millennials saw the emergence of social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment, these innovations evolved over time, which Millennials adapted to as they came of age. Those born after 1996 were ushered into this age as a matter of course.

Growing up in an “always on” technological environment has led to significant changes in youth behaviors, lifestyles and attitudes.

The Learning Process

There’s been a dramatic shift in the way in which Generation Z learns. Studies show that today’s students don’t have any interest in being passive learners. They don’t want to sit behind a desk, spew facts back at the teacher, memorize rote definitions for a test, and otherwise take a back seat to their educational journey. Rather, they want — demand, really — to be fully engaged in the learning process and become a unique part of it. In fact, these students thrive best when given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience, with one study showing that 51 percent of students say they learn best by doing, whereas just 12 percent say they learn through listening. That majority also says they enjoy class discussions and interactive classroom environments rather than traditional teaching methods.

They have a preference towards engaging in a collaborative learning environment, to be sure, but it’s not limited to just in-person interactions. Gen Z is entirely comfortable learning alongside other students outside of the brick and mortar school building as they utilize digital tools such as Zoom, Skype and online forums to participate, connect and engage. This has never been truer than during the current pandemic, where everyone was thrust into a new online world of interactions.

But guess who was already there waiting to embrace the challenge and jump right in? That’s right, Gen Zers. They were well-positioned to thrive in a completely virtual environment because essentially they’ve been training for this day since they were born. Whereas Boomers and Gen Xers may have struggled with the new online reality, Gen Zers took it all in stride.

Because they are a digital generation, these students expect digital learning tools to be deeply integrated into their education. For them, technology is and always has been a fully integrated experience that pervades every aspect of their lives: why should education be any different? To that end, they wish to seamlessly connect their academic experiences to personal experiences via these same tools.

A Hyper-Connected World

According to Pew Research, just 14 percent of U.S. adults had access to the Internet in 1995, says Inc. By 2014, that number jumped to 87 percent. Generation Z came of age in the most accelerated and game-changing period of technological advancements in all of human history. But it goes beyond just the technology. It extends to a way of life, a constant connection to networks of people and information that almost acts of an extension of themselves.

Indeed, Generation Z are doers, contributors, and hackers of life and work. They gained a voice with mobile technology and on-demand connectivity that enabled them to streamline and systemize tasks and simplify complex problems because, well, there truly has always been “an app for that.”

From TikTok to YouTube, kids and teens today are self-motivators, driven by a passion to make a mark in this world. Going back to the title: where does Generation Z learn about technology? The answer is: everywhere. It’s a pervasive way of thinking that doesn’t elude them, is always in the background and is always on. From school to social media, technology forms the backbone of interaction.

Generation Z is now leading the change in how learning takes place, acting as a driving force in the innovation of new learning tools, unlimited access to resources, and teaching styles. In the end, they find themselves headed in the direction of a more learner-centric and technology-fueled environment where they can choose their own path and become the directors of their own futures.

The Silver Lining

The coronavirus pandemic may still be plowing its way through the country, leading to business closures, shut downs and social distance rules, but it’s also been the harbinger of technological breakthroughs as people shift the way they function. From AI to remote work tools to workforce shifts, this pandemic is breaking through technology barriers at a break-neck speed. That old proverb has never been truer: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Translation: the driving force for most new inventions is need.   In a time when people were forced into a new normal in a matter of days or weeks, the demand for change brought about some pretty cool breakthroughs in technology.

As businesses shuttered and sent their employees home, a new way of thinking was needed — FAST. Born from this pandemic came an innovation spurred on by tragedy. The technology race has always been there, but its progress has been somewhat slow, until now. Indeed, this accelerated change has restructured workplaces, redefined roles, and instituted rapid learning, all while organizations were being challenged — and still are — to embrace a new way of thinking. The rush to virtualize business operations continues as social distance directives have taken the top spot on the best practice list.

Coronavirus as an Accelerant

Who would have predicted that COVID-19 would be the catalyst for such business transformation just a few months ago? As companies are forced to adapt to the future of work at an accelerated pace, they’re increasingly embracing culture and purpose as they pivot team operations to enable remote working on a grand scale, says Forbes. Fueled by coronavirus, technologies are making breakthroughs at a rapid pace, in a variety of ways — not just in the virtual conference room.

• Online Meetings: As employees vacated their corporate campuses and set up shop at home, they turned to online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts to meet up, collaborate, and get work done. After all, the show must go on. 

• Virtual events: It’s not just business meetings that are taking place virtually, it’s events, too — coordinators of which have never faced such a big challenge before. But they’re bringing it all together and it’s working. For instance, Mobile World Congress held a one-day digital event, Google Cloud Next became Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect, Facebook F8 is all-online, Starbucks is even holding its shareholder meeting completely online for the first time ever, and colleges the country over are holding virtual orientation sessions for incoming freshmen.

• Schools: Google Classroom and Zoom have been a godsend for education nationwide. With schools being forced to close their doors in March, that’s four months of learning that would have been wasted had these online platforms not been available. Teachers had to learn in a pinch how to adjust their curricula and hold virtual classrooms, while students had to adjust to a new way of learning and communicating.

• Healthcare: Networks of epidemiologists are tracking COVID-19 using low-cost gene-sequencing technologies, which are coincidentally driving promising vaccine candidates. Researchers are using machine learning to search through repositories of published scholarly articles about coronavirus. Informal networks of manufacturing firms and hobbyists are utilizing 3D printers to make thousands of face shields to protect front-line healthcare workers. Apple and Google — in an unprecedented move — partnered together to develop a contact tracing application that is embedded in the operating systems for smartphones, according to Newswise. On a related note, Apple’s latest iPhone update, iOS 13.5, will make it easier to wear a face mask and use Face ID to open your phone. 

• Network and mobile communications have enabled online medical consultations to prevent the need for in-office visits, giving first responders high-speed telecommunications to provide support where it’s needed most, and disseminating vital information around the world to enable local governments so they can make more informed decisions related to the health of constituents. Perhaps most pervasively has been the way these communications advancements have transformed social connectivity with family and friends in lieu of gathering together physically, through online videos, social media and FaceTime.

• Artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality and data management technologies have all played an important role in anything from tracking the outbreak and planning out scenarios to rapidly building medical devices and supporting research in coming up with viable treatments. In fact, artificial intelligence and genetic applied science are making it faster, easier and more affordable to understand how the virus spreads, how it should be managed and how its effects can be contained. AI can even warn us of upcoming epidemics so we have enough time to prepare. As one example, BlueDot — a global artificial intelligence database company, — uses A.I.-powered algorithms, natural-language processing and machine learning to analyze information from a variety of sources and track more than 100 infectious diseases.

Perhaps the silver lining from the pandemic is the emerging technology that allows us all to stay in touch, make advancements, and ensure the world spins on. Organizations from all sectors are crafting new technical capabilities, harnessing digital technologies and evolving their business models at a pace that would have been unheard of just a few months ago.

 

Petronella TechBrian Thomas consults with and advises the nationally renowned security firm, Petronella Tech. Petronella Tech is the “GO-TO” team of certified experts. Petronella Technology Group is more equipped than ever to help with cybersecurity, network cabling and power, Compliance, Blockchain, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As they have from the start, they strive towards excellence in service and reliability and have served over 2500 customers in 17 years of operation. 

 
 
 

Kansas City IT Symposium logoBrian Thomas participated and spoke as a panelist on the session with key note speaker, Peter High on “The Path to CIO – How to Go From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” at the Kansas City IT Symposium in 2017. Brian shared his real-world experience on growing his career by building his brand through social media, speaking events, mentoring junior leaders, and volunteering for boards.

 
 
 

BOSS MagazineBrian was featured in the March 2016 edition of The BOSS Magazine where he explains how Swope Health Services demonstrates technology’s application in the healthcare field  You can read his full article HERE.

 

 

 

 
 

Gwen WalshI have had the pleasure of working with Brian in several leadership-related capacities. He is a critical thinking, quick-learning, determined, impeccably organized and, above all else, people-centric CIO. 

While Brian is certainly innovative, strategic, technology fluent, business savvy and customer care focused, watching him authentically connect with his team is simply inspiring. Albeit many leaders claim that their people are their #1 asset, spend just 5 minutes with Brian’s organization and you’ll soon discover that he is “the real deal” — in the eyes of his people. He has mastered the art of bringing out the very best in each person, appreciating their diversity and uniqueness, to where the sum of the whole is exponentially more powerful than its individual members. 

What I also admire about Brian is his “can do”, break-through-all-obstacles attitude that is fueled by his energy, positivity, professional passion and capacity to take on herculean efforts because he is truly driven by a future of possibilities. I’m not in the least surprised that Brian continues to advance in his career via earned promotions and role expansions.

 
 
 

keynote addressBrian Thomas was the keynote speaker at the Johnson County Community College for the 2015 Heath Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Workforce Summit.  His 45-minute presentation covered current workforce trends and future of the Health Information Technology.