Looking ahead: from the depths of a pandemic to the heights of the future

Aug. 6, 2020


While the COVID-19 pandemic gained momentum in the early months of 2020, the entire globe grappled with a litany of unknowns and changes affecting almost every aspect of life, from the way we work to the way we socialize, shop, plan and parent. As we saw the situation sparking foundational shifts in society, we at Eller, like so many schools and organizations, adapted to the crisis. Our intellectual curiosity burned as strong as ever, even as we stocked up on sanitizer and settled into our home offices. How were the changes we were seeing going to shape the business world we study and teach about every day?

We took a special interest because not only do we study the global business landscape, but we examine it with an ongoing focus on transformation. As the world inevitably changes—and as the Fourth Industrial Revolution ramps up—we look at ways to not only adapt but to stay a step ahead, poised at the leading edge. This pandemic was not only taking place within this technological revolution, it was also destined to disrupt it, shape it and leave the economic landscape forever changed.

Since we’re fortunate to be surrounded by exceptionally experienced business leaders at Eller, we turned to them for their insights and predictions. Our National Board of Advisors, an incredible assembly of company founders, executives, thinkers and changemakers, weighed in with their perspectives. We knew the pandemic would impact every industry. But how? What could be expected? Our Board members shared their insights and predictions in an April survey. Their predictions proved prescient as the weeks and months unfolded. Here are a few of their key insights.

Technology investments are now imperative for survival.

This applies to the biggest enterprise organizations, to individual workers and to everyone in between. Most companies will now more aggressively implement digital transformation techniques, quickening the technology diffusion and adoption curve faster than we would have seen sans pandemic. What was once an eventuality is now imperative.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation is now accelerated.

In every realm, from manufacturing to software management solutions, a step function change will take place in technology adoption—automation and AI will rise. And shine. By letting these technologies help with organizations’ heavy-lifting tasks, they can not only work more efficiently and productively, but also keep people safe.

No industry will evade change—and every one will need to evolve.

While the pandemic spelled disaster for some industries, it gave a big boost to others, like tech and healthcare. The key here is learning to make the most of the disruption and find ways to reinvent and make the most of the new world order. Whether a given industry is plagued by the pandemic or buoyed by it, it’s up to every leader to evaluate the changes taking place and identify unexpected opportunities to evolve and grow.

Human interaction is now more digitized than ever.

Not only have we seen it in our family video chats, but telework and telemedicine now have a digital face too. Technology adoption within healthcare will greatly increase as a result of the need for telemedicine. This has already been a growing area of discussion over many years. Now, COVID-19 will make it a requirement for organizations.

There’s an acute need for tech skills in the workforce, and it will only grow. 

As the entire economy digitizes, we see that this revolution has no reverse button. Thinkers and leaders are urgently needed—people who can steel their organizations against the current upheaval but also prepare and anticipate what’s coming next. Less digitized companies have been clobbered by this crisis, but conversely, those with tech-enabled employees and forward-thinking leaders are destined to pull ahead.

The pandemic has shown us that transformation isn’t just imperative. It’s inevitable. Organizations and individuals alike are wise to stay as close to the leading edge as they can, so they’ll be best positioned when change arises.

Join us in this supercharged phase of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Reach out if you’d like to take your place in the Eller community. Explore our graduate programs here.

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