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Covid & Change

Many of the lessons we have learnt from this pandemic are obvious, but the one that stands out for CST is the way covid has forced through change that would take much longer.  This tells all of us that real change comes mainly from necessity.

Many businesses have needed to change their working practices to survive.  Many of these forced changes have offered improved efficiency – so businesses will not be changing back.  CST has heard of several businesses who brought back minimum staff and found that they could manage just as well – in two cases half the employees now create the same level of output.

So, we shall see the unemployment rise after furlough ends, not just because businesses have gone bust, but because of greater efficiencies have been forced upon businesses in all sectors.

These efficiencies could have been achieved many years ago, the internet and applications and automation has not just changed, but the businesses have never bothered to leverage the technical possibilities.  

A rather staggering stat from London – three quarters of office staff have still not returned to their offices (Mid Aug 2020). It is two thirds on average for the rest of the UK.  This looks like a massive long term change – as the efficiency and cost savings are enormous.  Consider the costs – travel, subsistence, office rents, service costs and energy.   Consider the efficiencies – hours a day saved from travel and also in ‘unnecessary’ communication time by each and every employee. 

For London workers who may ravel an average of 3 hours a day – this alone provides an immediate efficiency increase of 40% in time alone.  Yes, 40% because however you argue what time the employer is really paying for, most of the traveling time saved will provide for an increase in long-term efficiency as employees will work better when removed from the stress of this traveling as well as using this saved time for additional work even if it is ‘only’ thinking about work issues.  Most home working employees say they have increased their output and are happier.

So, we are likely to see a major change in working practices that will also significantly impact on office use and travel.  Governments need to start planning now for changes to the infrastructure in cities and also in rural areas that will see a movement of traffic and people from the cities.  Cities such as London can now move to a place of residence and amenities rather than offices.  The businesses supporting office staff are either dead or need to change to a new model.

CST have often talked about technical change, the AI and robotic revolutions that often seem slow and always just around the corner.  But now we can see that such technologies will only get used in earnest when a change is forced upon business to utilise such new ideas.  We see then the build up of potential change, only realised in a rush when something triggers the move. 

We can expect to see further change in this way, so perhaps the real automation revolution is still a way off.  What will trigger mass movement to automation such as self driving vehicles, online seamless applications, high street automation?  The necessary infrastructure will only slowly be rolled out and until this is in place some automation will not be readily possible, driverless cars are the obvious example.

The professions are all long overdue for massive change.  As they command a key place in the hierarchical structure of society, they create an environment for themselves that is cut off from the real world, only very slowly evolving.  The high cost of entry into the professions also helps insulate them from other business models that could easily cause disruption.  Change will of course occur and when it does it will be traumatic for all professions.  They will drop like nine pins one after the other in quick succession.

We can see already new models for most professions.  Take accountants for instance.  Available already are app based products that link all sales and purchasing operations, with banking, vat, paye and tax submissions.  As all accounting is simply information flow using simple rules, once a major change starts to roll it could sweep away most accounting professionals almost overnight.  What is needed is a catalyst as most business people are too lazy and too emotionally involved with their accountants to create change.

Another profession that defies logic are Solicitors.  All their work is (again) information based and rule based.  The better AI systems will be not only offer a fraction of the cost and time they will be better at creating quality output as we all know that solicitors often miss the very things we pay them to find.  Governments could have already put many solicitors out of business by linking their systems, (like the land registry and council records), with easy to use applications for the consumer (who pay for all this government data anyway).

Unfortunately, the human race hardly ever learns from history, and governments will be unlikely to lead the necessary change.  We shall need to wait for the inevitable step-change that forces parts of society to go through unnecessary hardship. Such hardship that with good long-term planning could be alleviated or avoided completely – but hey, who are we to suggest that there is a better way forward! 




The Real Lesson of Covid

Aug 2020

The stand-out lesson of covid - but what does it mean for the future?