Digital technology and the future of work

Ernie Fernandez, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, University of Miami

Digital technology and the future of workErnie Fernandez, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, University of Miami

Looking back over the past 12 months, COVID-19 has been devastating. More than half a million lives have been lost in America.Businesses and schools closed—some permanently.Unemployment skyrocketed. Families werekept apart. Supply chains were disrupted. Health systems were overwhelmed. The list goes on and on. Every industry was impacted simultaneously.

In organizations across the world, responding to this once-in-a-century crisis required a new way of working. The first and most visible change was an overnight shift to connecting fromour homes using online tools like Zoom and Teams.It also required a new way of thinking. How can we fulfill our mission within safety restrictions, and with limited resources and an unknown future?

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and the number of those vaccinated increases every day, organizations areplanning for what the new post-pandemic normal will look like, and one thing is clear:the new ways of working we’veall learned in the past 12 months will have a lasting impact. Here are three ways these changes offer the opportunity for greater productivity, better outcomes, and an increased joy of working.

“The quality is better, the ability to share content is seamless, and people have adapted to the social norms necessary to communicate effectively through this new medium”

First is in the ability to quickly convene the precise set of individuals needed to add value to a meeting using digital technology. As office buildings closed last year, people at every levelhad to become experts in using new communication and collaboration tools all at once so we could continue with mission-critical functions. Since then, those tools have become an integral part of our work culture. I reflect back on the first large video meeting I joined a year ago and compare that to the ones I’m having now. The quality is better, the ability to share content is seamless, and people have adapted to the social norms necessary to communicate effectively through this new medium. Pre-pandemic, if I needed to schedule a meeting with a dozen busy people, I would either schedule a conference call or wait weeks to get an in-person meeting on the calendar. The latter might requiredriving across town orflying to a different city. Now, I can convene a high-quality video meeting as quickly as I can a conference call.We will certainly return to having face-to-face meetings, but these will be augmented byvideo-based meetings that enablenew levels of speed and productivity. The days of low fidelity, audio-only conference calls are over.

Second, the crisis required that we break down organizational silos. We were forced to work with colleagues across our organization and with external parties to deal with challenges we had not seen before. This reality coincided with having access to digital communications platforms that enabledinstant collaboration outside of the constraints of meeting rooms, campus locations, organizations, and even continents.The pandemic presented us with a clear threat and a common challenge to overcome. We needed to focus and work together so we could innovate and survive. Now, we know how much more we can get done when we work across organizational boundaries. Getting to know and working with smart, dedicated, interesting people in ways we hadn’t before will be one of the greatest silverlinings to come out of the past year.

Finally, digital transformations that were already underway or on the planning horizonhave accelerated. Forced to work outside of our offices, 20thcentury practices, such as the use of paper forms and in-person service points, became obviously impractical. Tedious workflows were automated, providing both faster and more accurate results. Experience management platforms have taken off. Big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence applications are tackling new problems. Wall Street certainly sees this. It’s one reason the S&P500 Information Technology Index reached an all-time high in February of this year and is currently 25% aboveitspre-pandemic peak.

Those of us in technology roles have had a front-row seat to watch this play out. Looking forward, we will be asked tocreate new digital roadmaps to capitalize on these trends. It will be an exciting time, enabling us to add value in new ways, and to play agreater role in supporting the missions of the organizations we serve. I don’t know if we will face another pandemic during our careers, but I’m certain that there will be other challenges—and opportunities, too. I am more confident than ever that our teams will rise to the occasion again and again.

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