What the hell do we do now?
Updated: Apr 4
Put our heads down and do what the technology community always does – innovate.
First, take a deep breath.
We are all reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. It is frightening and forcing us to take a hard look at how we think about and operate our societies, economies, daily lives, and of course, our businesses. In some ways, it feels as if life has stopped, or if we are stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop, just like Bill Murray.
We will, however, eventually get back to “normalcy” - albeit a new normalcy – and it makes sense to use this time to reflect on what that might look like and how we can use technology to create a a more secure and resilient world.
In business terms, this is a 9/11 level, black swan event that will have impacts that are yet to be understood and will likely evolve over some period of time. As members of the technology community, we typically respond to this type of crisis with sober enthusiasm, asking ourselves “how can we innovate out of this crisis or prevent the next one?”
We have many of the tools in our toolbox that have yet to be fully exploited. I am confident that some of this tech is about to be stretched to new extremes.
VIDEO CONFERENCING MORPHS INTO VIRTUAL REALITY The obvious elephant in the room is video conferencing. It’s been around for some time in various incarnations, but only recently has become reliable and accessible enough for routine use. The pandemic has triggered explosive video conferencing growth as B2B, B2C. G2G, G2B, and G2C organizations of every stripe turn to virtual connections. Not to mention Zoom being Grandma’s new best friend. In a matter of days and weeks, will have come to rely on this tech in unprecedented ways bringing it firmly into the mainstream of our lives.
Along with many mainstream conferences and events, Adobe’s digital experience conference has gone fully digital – which one might argue should have been the case anyway just to make the point. Many of these are now offered as free virtual experiences. ·
Universities have launched mainstream distance learning initiatives. Where the technology platform allows, secondary and primary schools are following suit. Not to mention remote classes of every conceivable type from dance to cooking, martial arts to theatre, music to art. Virtual is the new experience,
Telemedicine is being embraced to protect Seniors and other vulnerable populations to deliver both physical and mental health.
Telework has been embraced far beyond the bounds of traditional technology companies as Skyping and Zooming from the basement is no longer relegated to the insufferable introverts.
And as this shift to virtual platforms explodes and the limits of video conferencing are strained, Virtual Reality (VR) technology will get a big boost from this crisis. As innovators exhaust the capabilities of video conferencing, the promise of VR to take virtual meetings, attend events and classes, perhaps even University, consult with doctors, or even manage the day-to-day office experience with a new level of virtual interactivity will drive innovation and investment.
The cost of VR development will be far more appealing as organizations evaluate the impact of global transportation infrastructure shutdown and the potential of on-going, or even sporadic quarantines. This will further impact the justification and necessity of “in person” interaction.
Many of these first major attempts have, and may continue to, fall short of expectations. But given the imperative, individuals and organizations will learn fast how to transcend the limitations of the virtual to create truly engaging, interactive experiences. And once the investment has been made and the medium mastered, many will not look back. The process of justifying physical interaction – of any scale - will be fundamentally altered.
Businesses will reassess the notion of essential travel. They may demand virtual access to industry events. This might even be the end of the “office building” as we know it. Why invest in real estate when integrating remote workers is so easy? Healthcare providers will consider telemedicine an integral component of expanded service and cost control. Universities may offer distance learning as an option to all entering freshmen class.
The pandemic experience will fundamentally reshape the way businesses is conducted on a global scale. It is highly likely that no industry, no public sector service, and no consumer operation will be spared. And with less physical travel and massive reliance on virtual experience, the technology infrastructure to ensure reliable, high bandwidth connectivity in very corner of the globe will be key, as will the establishment of a means to secure, trusted digital identity in this new virtual frontier.
THE NEW REALITY OF DIGITAL IDENTITY
Digital Identity in the new mainstream world of video conferencing and ultimately virtual reality, will take secure and passive authentication to a new level. Digital Identity will be redefined in this context as validating each party engaged in a virtual connection. This could be a small business meeting of two to five people, a private gathering of hundreds, or even a virtual conference or public event with thousands of attendees.
The complexity of establishing and validating identity in this multi-party, digital world will require innovation beyond the typical one-on-one handshake approach that is currently broadly deployed. Apparently the Coronavirus is putting an end to the ritual of handshakes in more ways than one.
HEALTH RELATED SECURITY
In the same way that 9/11 created twenty years of security innovation around identity, the Coronavirus pandemic will spur decades of security innovation around health status.
After decades of an almost existential struggle to define itself as a reliable, trusted identification mechanism functioning fully independently from medical and health metrics, biometrics, in the new paradigm, will encompass both. Secure digital identity will span from actual to digital to virtual and encompass identity biometrics and medical biometrics, where medical biometrics will spawn a new class of sensors deigned to identify any number of critical health related indicators
The future of biometrics will therefore be integrally linking these two capabilities. Especially where identity biometrics are today being widely deployed to facilitate movement through crowded choke points such as airports, borders, office buildings, or government facilities.
In these environments, adding temperature readings, for example, to facial recognition solutions may prove critical in a world living with Coronavirus, or standing ready for the next public health crises. This will also drive biometrics solutions towards reliance on a combination of fully touchless modalities, that ensure hygiene, with touch-based biometrics relegated to personal devices only.
In our new reality, the volume based facilitation imperative, especially in airports and at some borders, will recede. Given the combined impacts - particularly on business travel - of a global economic downturn the explosion of virtual connectivity, and tightening of borders, it may in fact be years before we see decades-long passenger growth numbers return to pre-pandemic levels. In the meantime, health related security imperatives will provide an alternative path towards rapid expansion of this technology
AND SO IT BEGINS…
We are moving into a new world that is literally unfolding before us – sometimes on a near daily basis. While no one can be entirely sure of the path we are on, we can be sure that innovation is going to help us through. And as always, there will be new opportunities and those that fade away. But regardless, the time we have now, while the global economy is essentially on pause, is a great opportunity to ponder, cogitate, brainstorm, plan, but mostly breathe as we all try to figure out how to move forward together.