The pandemic has been an impetus for innovation

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Good morning.

One of the paradoxes of the pandemic is that it has been an impetus for, not an impediment to, innovation. The sudden move to shut down travel and send everyone home has led to an explosion of “digital transformation” over the last two months that might have taken years to accomplish otherwise.

There’s plenty of reason to think an economic crisis of this size might reduce investment and thus lead to less innovation. But the evidence of the opposite is overwhelming. Part of that is the nature of this particular crisis, forcing us all to turn en masse to virtual alternatives. And part of it is because, when faced with crisis, many of the cultural obstacles to innovation crumble. “Move fast and break things” becomes a necessity, for better or worse.

In our new survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, we asked the CEOs whether the crisis would 1) accelerate their technological transformation, 2) slow their technological transformation, or 3) have no significant effect. The result was surprisingly lopsided: 63{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} said “accelerate,” while only 6{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} said “slow.”

I spoke yesterday with Doug Merritt, CEO of the data platform Splunk, who confirmed that view. Splunk’s customers include cruise lines, airlines and hotels, yet Merritt says the company “has not lost customers” in the pandemic—although some of those hardest hit are asking for “alternative payment structures.” At the same time, Merritt sees a host of new demands spurred by the pandemic—companies that need to move to remote work virtually overnight, or do “contact tracing” using diverse data sets, or coordinate virus and antibody test deployments and results.

“There are two things we’ve seen,” Merritt says. “One is the rapid acceleration of digital transformation. I am positively blown away by the things I’ve seen. Five-year projects completed in two months.” And the other is how management of the pandemic “has raised the importance of gathering data and interrogating data,” in order to deal with its widespread implications.

The revolution has been hastened. More news below.

Alan Murray


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