What’s in store for enterprise IT post-Covid-19? – The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload Podcast

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In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly and Brian McKenna are joined by Cliff Saran, managing editor (technology) at Computer Weekly, to discuss the future of enterprise IT after the Covid-19 pandemic

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly and Brian McKenna are joined by Cliff Saran, managing editor (technology) at Computer Weekly, to discuss the future of enterprise IT after the Covid-19 pandemic. They also discuss the first online-only Chelsea Flower Show.

  • Recorded on Friday 12 May, just before the Saturday when single people were allowed to bubble up with other households, the podcast majors on the likely shape of IT-enabled working life post-pandemic, but also takes time to smell the virtual flowers at the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Chelsea Flower Show – mounted online-only for the first ever time this May.
  • Cliff’s last guest appearance on the podcast featured a discussion on the end of support for Windows 7, which he led. Since then, the world has changed.
  • He updates Caroline and Brian on the rude health of his pufferfish, Bob, and his (Cliff’s) adventures in the kitchen.
  • Hair has been a very important matter in lockdown. Caroline has recently gone shocking pink, just in time for a birthday. And she has tips for listeners on how to organise a socially distanced birthday.
  • Brian is contemplating social bubbling in his adopted home town, which has recently seen fresh impetus given to the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign by the aquatic immersion, in Bristol, of the statue of Edward Colston, a slaver. This was part of the bigger context of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
  • Brian notes that in the smaller world of UK IT, there was a story during the week that represented good news in this context. The government is funding 2,500 places on AI & data science university conversion courses, and 1,000 of those places are being targeted at under-represented groups – women and people from BAME communities. So, some things might get a little better in UK IT over the next few years.
  • Beginning the major part of the podcast, Cliff speaks about his coverage of how the coronavirus has been impacting corporate IT, and what the likely shape of IT will be after the pandemic.
  • Cliff asks: “Where would we all be without those IT professionals who have enabled remote working to take place at an unprecedented scale? IT is being taken really seriously now.”
  • He has been writing about desktop IT, which is less about providing computers on desks, as it was in the old world, and more about providing the collaboration and connectivity necessary to enable a remote workforce to be as productive as possible, as safely as possible.
  • One of Cliff’s examples of how IT has had to respond radically, and at speed, was the acceleration of smart ticketing by the Rail Delivery Group, led by CIO Simon Moorhead. “Nice-to-have” projects have become more important during the pandemic and will become even more critical in future. They have also been executed more quickly, says Cliff.
  • Brian makes a point about how IT leaders might need to embed mass remote working beyond an emergency mode, and also help to manage the balance between that and office-based working. A lot of workers will want to go back to seeing their friends and colleagues. Remote working does not suit everyone.
  • Cliff touches on the impact the “new normal” will have on city planning, with different working-time rhythms and changing urban geographies as tall glass buildings are not required so much.
  • Brian and Cliff have both interviewed business author and former CEO Margaret Heffernan and speak on the podcast about her views concerning the social nature of work and the sustainability of mass remote working. Cliff interviewed her about her latest book, Uncharted: how to map the future, earlier in the year.
  • Cliff has also written about how software developers can maintain software innovation cycles remotely in the long term. Caroline wonders whether paired programming will also thrive in the longer term without physical proximity.
  • Brian had spoken to Margaret on the back of the CogX conference that took place virtually last week, where she was one of more than 1,000 speakers addressing 44,292 registered attendees.
  • Former prime minister Tony Blair was another speaker, in his role as head of the global research institute that bears his name. Brian has reported on that, and subsequently interviewed Chris Yiu, who is executive director of the technology and public policy team at the Tony Blair Institute.
  • In the podcast, Brian covers off some of the points he and Chris discussed: Blair’s state view that international collaboration regarding Covid-19 has been inadequate, the large role technology could play in the crisis, and the concept of disease status digital passports.
  • Chris counselled against too much duplication of technology solutions for what is, after all, a global crisis that affects all human beings on the planet. He also raised the issue of who will want to go back to how things were before the crisis – as regards medical consultations or shopping, for example.
  • CogX was a virtual event and so, too, was this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
  • Caroline talks on the podcast about her case study detailing how the technology and digital teams at the Royal Horticultural Society did the IT work behind the scenes to transform the show into a virtual event with just weeks to spare.
  • When the show had to be cancelled because of Covid-19, the Royal Horticultural Society decided to mount a virtual version of the five-day show, with eight weeks to go before it was due to start on 18 May. There had been a virtual complement to the physical show previously, but this time it had to be online only, and unexpectedly so.
  • Caroline cites Matt Rooke, digitech director of the RHS: “We did not want to simply replace the real show with a virtual one, because it wouldn’t live up to expectations. There’s nothing like smelling, seeing and touching the real plants. We also didn’t want the technology to outshine the plants either, because we wanted the plants and the people [presenting them] to be the heroes of this show. So, from a technology perspective, it was very important for us to keep things simple.”
  • The team had to use their existing technology infrastructure, but with a view to being able to serve an estimated 30,000 users.
  • The show was a success, and might well influence how the physical show is staged alongside the virtual next year.
  • The rest of this month looks like a busy one for other virtual events. Brian cites Sapphire, SAP’s main annual customer and partner conference, which begins on 15 June. Caroline has the AWS Summit in her diary, and Cliff has HPE Discover in his.

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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