Last week, walking through an eerily quiet Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, on my way to London for a few days of networking at the yearly Cloud Comms Summit, couldn’t help but think that I’m actually witnessing the start of a new era. Normally, the airport isn’t this empty around lunch time, it feels like it’s the middle of the night. After years of talking about the wonders of remote work, video conferencing, home schooling and online healthcare all we needed was a scary new virus for people and companies to change their behavior for real, reduce travel and institute new policies just to reduce physical contact.
A few weeks after Mobile World Congress in Barcelona got cancelled, prompting more than 100,000 attendees to think of other ways to conduct business, already we see a huge boost for UCaaS and CPaaS and communications players of all sorts. Leading video conferencing players like Zoom and Cisco are reporting usage going through the roof (helped by the free plans they quickly released) and are hurrying to scale up their platforms to meet growing demands. And we can expect a big boost in all sorts of telecommunications usage with people massively switching to home working, schooling and, well, living. Plenty of technology is available, both as standalone applications and as building blocks (CPaaS) to be included in all sorts of mobile and web applications, and it will be interesting to see innovation and growth as this really becomes mainstream.
Those of us that are still traveling are enjoying half empty airplanes, fast boarding, no holding delays upon landing, and short security queues. Some travel risks of course, not knowing what happens between the start of the flight and arriving in another country, and not knowing if upon return home quarantine is suddenly required. The world is trying to slow the spread of this virus to keep it manageable, and following the successful approach taken in China every country is taking drastic lock down measures often overnight.
Travel is cheap these days, but London seems more quiet than ever. Not just less crowded, but people are actually more quiet, there’s less chitchat in the subway or in the streets. Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels like the calm before the storm. News about the exponential spread of Covid-19 is abound, and nobody really knows what to expect exactly – but it’s already clear we’re heading for a kind of superflu with lots of casualties and a challenged healthcare system. Some countries likely to be stressed beyond their capabilities.
Now, just a couple of days later, parts of or even entire countries are in isolation, and people are working (or schooling) from home where ever possible. Years of talk about global warming and the risks of globalisation could not achieve what this virus fixed in a matter of weeks: people are switching to different ways of living and working quickly, really without complaining. The typical Chinese pollution has disappeared because of the reduced travel. What has been pretty common in our global tech world is now quickly becoming the new reality for the rest of the world, as videoconferencing and webinars are replacing face to face meetings. We’re in the middle of a huge mindset shift, and it’s quite amazing to witness and experience, especially after talking about the benefits of such a change for ages.
With events and gatherings being cancelled on a daily basis now it looks like the future is in online communities and small, focused, meetings. It is estimated now that already over a billion dollars worth of tech meetings has been cancelled this year. Some countries are only allowing meetings with less than 1000 delegates, or less than 100 even, in an effort to reduce the speed with which the virus spreads so our healthcare system has some chance of coping with the stress. Things will probably go back to some kind of normal before or after Summer, but the shock is here and creating real and fundamental changes, and we’re heading for a new normal.
Agile enterprises across the globe are accelerating their transition to a new way of working. Technology has been available for some time, and innovators and early adopters have been using it for a couple of years. Now the rest of the world is following. Huge opportunities for our cloud communications industry, both for providers of stand alone UCaaS/CCaaS solutions and for providers and enablers of contextual communications or CPaaS. Consumers and end users are perfectly happy working from home where they can, schooling from home using modern platforms, and getting healthcare service without having to come and sit in crowded waiting rooms.
Tipping points happen almost overnight, and cause real and significant shifts in our way of working. A year from now nobody will remember the old fashioned ways we used to go about our business in the past. And our industry has a unique opportunity, but also a huge responsibility, to make this shift work. We owe it to our parents, our co-workers, our children, the world, to make this new era work for all of us.