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COVID and what's next for business software

A year ago, we never could of predicted where we’d be today. The world has been upended by the COVID pandemic. There will be entire careers devoted to researching, analyzing, and explaining this time period.

In this post, I’ll simply focus on what we know — how this impacts business software.

Remote work, distributed organizations

Organizations have gradually allowed more remote work and have become less tethered to physical office locations. Even when it wasn’t an issue for employees to be unmasked and working from a central office, there are many benefits to embracing remote work. It allows for a greater work-life balance, improved employee retention, and more. The shift to more remote work was already in process, the COVID pandemic just dramatically accelerated things and forced companies to conduct real-life remote work trials.

The result? Remote work isn’t exactly the same as in-person work, that much is clear. Managers who love to “get everyone in a room” to solve problems can certainly pat themselves on the back for that — it’s still not possible to entirely replicate in-person work digitally…

But the cat is out of the bag. Even for companies that aren’t going fully remote, remote work has to be part of their operating plan. It’s required for them to remain competitive. And the jobs that require in-person work will be supported by remote-capable systems wherever possible.

Centralized corporate networks’ days are numbered

Many companies forced to operate remotely over the past year learned the hard way that their corporate networks aren’t designed for remote work. There were all of a sudden too many people accessing the network remotely and then performing remote actions on the network. Connections broke, work didn’t get saved, and security vulnerabilities emerged.

It’s possible to run a company without a traditional network optimized for physical office locations and now that more people are working remotely, the benefits of doing so are becoming abundantly clear. A distributed world where information flows freely 24/7 and anyone can work from anywhere, requires easy connectivity. In the not too distant future, any company that doesn’t allow it’s employees to access required systems directly via an web browser, without a VPN, will be obsolete.

Cloud-native business software is the next frontier

Enabling your employees to access the software they need to do their jobs as quickly as possible, wherever they are, will soon be table-stakes for running a business. Office employees should be able to log into the browser-based application from their home office, while technicians in the fields can order goods from a mobile app, and warehouse employees mark a new sales order as fulfilled by clicking approve on a notification on their phones.

This is what cloud-native architecture can do for businesses. Each of those actions talks to the exact same system via a REST API, but the user interface for each business function is optimized for that employee’s role. The best enterprises have some of this in place already. Often this has involved many millions of dollars of investment and years of hard work to get into place and it’s worth it because they then have all of their business actions codified and automated in a single, cohesive system.

But these systems are very rigid, they’re very difficult to change, and they don’t connect easily to third-party applications. As we’ve seen over the past year, adaptability and connectivity are more important than ever. Business processes need to change accordingly. Rebuilding business systems from the ground up, incorporating cloud-native architecture, is how that happens.

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