With the lack of any sporting performances to evaluate of late, I felt it apt to try to give the industry that I work in a testing review. Us technologists have spent a great deal of time in the past decade pushing the digital transformation agenda. So, in the midst of the largest crisis humanity has faced in a while – let’s take a look at how the major digital trends have fared in helping us through.

While there are many other trends to speak of, I’m going to use the concept of SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) identified in 2014/15. Perhaps a little dated now and not necessarily all-encompassing – I’m choosing it because it provides a simple, high level easy to follow grouping of technologies that were in the driving seat of digital transformation over the past decade. Even at the risk of missing a few contemporary trends.

SOCIAL: 4/10
We start with the most controversial player. At times a star but always susceptible to some off the ball stuff.

The social media platforms in the palms of our hands are consuming a scary share of our attention through the lockdown. Keeping young and old in touch with loved ones, amused and connected. The sense of community created by these hyper-pervasive platforms refreshes and assures in the time of crisis. So nice one on that!

However, the nasty side of social has been spectacularly exposed through this crisis. Fake news explosion, widespread panic generation, and opinions presented as fact have all contributed to, at best – negative distraction and time-wasting; and at worst – mass confusion and badly informed decisions at household and institutional levels. Individuals and Businesses need to be ever cautioned with the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter being the largest publishers in the world with no governed journalists – the unintended consequence is that much of what is published in BS! By all means, have a laugh but treat with severe scepticism.

MOBILE: 9/10
Take a bow Mobile! Becoming an ever-reliable player, dependable to do the hard work glamorous or not.

We are as connected in our homes and out an about than in the office. With powerful compute power in our hands we can be productive, process e-mail, working on documents, and accessing critical information anywhere. When lockdown kicked in families could connect, workers could connect and distributed pop up critical care facilities can be operational. Virus testing can be carried out just about anywhere (check the latest initiative with the CSIR mobile app) and be coordinated in real-time at a relatively low cost. The evolution of mobile over the past decade will undoubtedly save lives and reduce economic impact – whichever side of the lockdown vs. keep going debate you find yourself on.

ANALYTICS: 6/10
A controversial score…..did the basics well, promised a lot, but just not sure-footed enough in the critical moments.

We have seen wonderful graphics and dashboards. Near real-time data crunching of actual cases, deaths and tests conducted. This high-speed aggregation of data sources from literally around the globe is truly amazing and again will save lives.

There are those that will point out that, when we get into detail, some of the maths presented has been sorely lacking – confusions over the correct numerator and misleading percentages have often confused the message and resulted in unnecessary debate. I’m not going to get into that – and we shouldn’t blame digital adoption for bad maths! However, what is clear is that when it comes to the more advanced analytics, venturing into ‘artificial intelligence’ the output seems a bit lacking. In the face of a truly human crisis, we are having to make human decisions – backed up by data and on the ground eyewitness experiences. There are examples around the world of contrasting approaches, contrasted politician and scientist views and very personal responses. While some may see this as a failure of AI, I find it somewhat refreshing. We’re in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and for now, it seems humans are in the driving seat of how we respond and what we do – in some cases that’s great…….in others its terrifying (no names mentioned), but personally I’d take informed human debate over a machine program in this context.

A key question I have (at the risk of being exposed as medically ignorant) – in these times of Robotic Process Automation and massive compute power to crunch data…..why on Earth are we still taking about 18 months to produce a vaccine from when one is discovered?????? Surely all our great advances can speed up that process a little more…..come now!

CLOUD: 10/10
WOW! Cloud deserves the finest bottle of bubbles. Man of the match. Talk about BMT, cometh the hour cometh the tech and all that stuff…

As offices were shifted to homes and business needed to go on, the major cloud platform players around the world had to stand up. And stand up they did! Google quite spectacularly absorbed the massive pressure on its meeting and unified communications platforms onboarded tens of millions onto G Suite. Microsoft similarly absorbed a barrage of demand on Office 365 and specifically Teams. Cloud architecture allowed them to tweak their supply – enabling businesses, (and home uses on X-box): While cybersecurity is a hot topic, the major established cloud players have presented no more risk than any on-premise alternatives – even in this time of explosive growth. Listening to the debate on the economic impact of lockdowns, it’s easy to conclude that the mitigation impact of this is MASSIVE.

Surely now the world will realise that tin with fans and lights in your basement is not the way forward – surely the flexibility, security and scale benefits of cloud are forever proven. I hope the CIO and business discussions the subject of cloud out will move away from IF, past WHEN, to HOW QUICKLY!

All in all, balanced performance with a great deal to be chuffed about. Areas for improvement no doubt. Again, I’d like more discipline from Social if it wants to be taken seriously as a proper player, and I’d like to see Analytics realise some more of its potential.

Rogan Moore
Digital Director