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How Covid-19 is set to change tech

Peter Griffin, contributor. 22 April 2020, 10:36 pm

She's the technology analyst with the most popular and pored over slide deck in Silicon Valley.

Now Mary Meeker, a partner at venture capital firm Bond Capital, has created a version of her annual internet trends report looking at the myriad ways Covid-19 will forever change the tech industry.

In a move that will resonate with anyone who was resident in Christchurch over the last decade, Meeker starts her report by comparing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which like a "high-speed zipper" that ripped open the earth, ran at 138 miles a minute when it struck northern California over a century ago.

"The big ones transform the way people live," writes Meeker and her colleagues. So it will be with Covid-19, the biological earthquake that will be followed by numerous aftershocks as the virus continues to make its presence felt health-wise, socially, politically and economically.

Meeker's 28-page report is required reading for anyone working in and around tech. But for the time-poor, here are ITP Tech Blog's five key takeaways:

1. Techy types will have more influence

Technology has driven much of the value creation of the last decade - just look at the likes of Microsoft, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. They transformed how business productivity, entertainment, e-commerce and communication is done and created trillions of dollars worth of value in the process.

What else do those Nasdaq titans have in common? They all have engineers as CEOs.

"These companies are led by planners - they have short and long term (10-20+ year) visions and business plans focused on data, execution, iteration, engineering and science. Meeker expects to see more domain experts and technical types with "a seat at the table" as they help respond to the new reality we face.

2. A better work-life balance

At least 22 million people have filed for the unemployment benefit in the US over the course of the last month, but those still lucky enough to have jobs are discovering the pros and cons of working from home and with more autonomy afforded to them than ever before.

Meeker says that the San Francisco Bay Area has effectively been running an experiment in new ways of working since March 2 when companies sent their workers home with their laptops. The next day they logged on from home, booted up Slack and fired out Zoom video conference invites.

Use of those types of cloud-based productivity tools went through the roof. But something else happened, that was revealed in an informal survey Bond Capital undertook of Bay Area companies about their new working arrangements. They found that respondents perceived their work productivity to be the same or higher, that it was easier to collaborate with people outside the business and that people not based at the company's headquarters, felt more included and empowered to contribute.

Most importantly perhaps, the time flexibility and elimination of commute time have given millions of workers more time spent with their families, which by and large, has been a welcome change. Meeker sees the trend continuing even when we are free to head back to the office, with many companies making distributed working the new normal. 

3. Every company's a digital company

Lockdown provisions have seen companies that often deal with people face to face, from bakeries and real estate agents to doctors and accountants, have to digitally transform their businesses.

That digital transformation was well underway before Covid-19 hit, but it will only accelerate now, with stragglers moving to cloud-based apps and computing services and developing their web presence. 

That means C-suite executives will be signing off on more investment in IT and digital transformation projects creating opportunities for those with the skills, products and services to serve these new digital converts.

4. On demand and in demand

From Uber Eats delivering meals on behalf of closed up restaurants to Fedex, UPS and our own courier companies seemingly busier than ever shuttling packages around the country, certain on demand businesses have flourished through Covid-19. 

While the use of Uber's ride-hailing service has slumped and Airbnb properties lie empty, meeker and co see a strong rebound for them and buoyancy overall in on-demand service delivery. Platforms like Up Work could also come into their own as newly unemployed workers pitch their skills on a freelance basis.

"We continue to believe the importance of on-demand businesses in helping provide workers with work and flexibility is underappreciated in America," Meeker notes. 

Bottom line, if you are delivering on demand services now is your time to shine. If you have lost work as a result of the economic slump, on demand gig economy type work could help see you through tough times or open up new opportunities for a career change.

5. Tech will enable the recovery

Meeker describes the billions distributed to American workers and companies in the form of stimulus packages and wage subsidies as necessary but  "unsustainable". She sees 2020 as effectively a write-off for most businesses, so we should be looking to 2021 and figuring out how we can leverage technology to help us deal with future business disruption and operate more efficiently. 

That goes for the delivery of government services too, writes Meeker. 

"We are encouraged that the US Government is discouraging the use of paper checks with its stimulus payments and including digital finance technology companies such as Intuit, Paypal and Square to participate in its emergency lending program."

If digital innovation in government ever has its moment in the sun, it could be now as politicians and bureaucrats look for ways to get back to business faster and save money in the process.

Download and read Mary Meeker's full Covid-19 report here


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