The time for pragmatism in tech is now

Bob O'Donnell

Staff member
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<p>Today's situation is also getting people to think differently about what technology products can and can’t do for them, which is leading to some important reassessments of what really matters as well as what’s truly useful and what isn’t. Frankly, in many instances, it’s a rethinking that’s been overdue.</p>

<p>Reassessing and/or revising expectations has some potentially profound implications for tech companies, which can then smartly recognize ways they can shift both their messaging and even their product strategies. It also opens up some interesting opportunities to make meaningful improvements in existing products. Last, but certainly not least, it also provides an incredible opportunity for at least some portion of the tech industry to turn the increasingly negative narrative about big tech around and to reposition the tech industry as a beneficent force that can help improve our society and our world.</p>

<p>Thankfully, the manifestations of these new approaches are already starting to happen in both big ways and small. T-Mobile, for example, quickly got the FCC to give its approval for what’s called Temporary Spectrum Access to increase the available bandwidth they had at 600 MHz—which the company uses for both 4G and 5G service—by essentially “borrowing” unused spectrum from Dish and Comcast.</p>

<p class="side-quote">(...) provides an incredible opportunity for at least some portion of the tech industry to turn the increasingly negative narrative about big tech around and to reposition the tech industry as a beneficent force that can help improve our society and our world.</p>

<p>Because T-Mobile had already built-up a good part of its network infrastructure for its 5G deployment, it was able to move much more quickly than it would have otherwise been able to. In addition, the company followed up this week by also launching a new low-cost ($15/month) plan sooner than originally planned. For their part, both AT&T and Verizon also joined in the <a href="" target="_blank">FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge</a> and made similar efforts of their own to increase available bandwidth, <a href="" target="_blank">remove data caps</a> for broadband services, pledge not to turn off connectivity plans due to financial hardship caused by the crisis, and more.</p>

<p>Collectively, these quick efforts showed the telecom industry as a whole to be very responsive and sensitive to the issues at hand, all of which should certainly go a long way in improving consumers’ perception of them. Throw in the fact that, as of now, the critical telecom and data delivery infrastructure has held up remarkably well given the huge increase in traffic it’s had to deal with from the many people working and living exclusively at home, and it’s arguably been an impressive week or two for the telecom industry.</p>

<p>Yet another interesting example and set of data comes from Cisco, whose equipment powers large segments of these infrastructure networks. On a call with Cisco executives and CEO Chuck Robbins, the company talked about having to approach these network loads in entirely different ways than they had in the past. Rather than taking a more systematic approach to problem solving, they freely discussed having to make adjustments in real time—a clearly different approach to what they’d done in the past, and yet, based on what we’ve been experiencing, a successful one.</p>

<p>Not surprisingly, the Cisco execs also discussed the incredibly robust demand they’ve seen for their networking products—every company is looking to their bandwidth—as well as the enormous traffic increase (up to 24x) that they’ve seen for their Webex videoconferencing and remote collaboration services. Clearly, these are things that companies need immediately, so Cisco’s ability to adjust its own networks on the fly to meet these huge demands speaks volumes about the pragmatic approach the company is taking to address these issues. One interesting side note from the Cisco call was that the vast majority of Webex client software downloads was for PCs over smartphones, once again highlighting the real-world value that PCs (laptops in particular) continue to play.</p>

<p class="side-quote">Many other tech companies also announced their own efforts to address some of the concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. In fact, as a long-time industry observer, it was very encouraging and even heartwarming to see how much concern that the tech industry was displaying.</p>

<p>In a different and yet thematically related development, IBM, along with a number of government labs and technology partners like HPE, made the decision to open up access to many of the world’s fast and <a href="" target="_blank">most powerful supercomputers to scientists</a> who are working to battle the virus. It was a smart, fast, pragmatic decision that serves an incredibly important cause and highlights, in a very public way, the efforts that IBM is making to assist in whatever way it can.</p>

<p>Of course, many other tech companies also announced their own efforts to address some of the concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. In fact, as a long-time industry observer, it was very encouraging and even heartwarming to see how much concern that the tech industry was displaying. While it may prove to be short-lived, there also seems to be much more willingness for companies to consider partnering with each other to help create new solutions that, in otherwise normal times, might not happen.</p>

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<p>Even with these efforts to provide quick benefits, however, the new “normal” has made it clear that much work still needs to be done, particularly in making some tech products and services easier to use. Case in point: given the huge increase in video calls that I and most other people are now experiencing, it’s easy to find instances in applications like videoconferencing that need to be improved—and quickly. If you’ve ever suffered through trying to troubleshoot your audio and video connections for these calls, for example (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t), then you understand the need. Something as obvious as having a button on the main page of an online service or in the launch screen of a videoconferencing app to let you test your connection (or even better, to use some kind of AI or other software intelligence to fix it automatically), without having to log-in to an account or find the buried preference settings, seems like a very easy thing to do, yet, it’s just not there. These are the kind of small pragmatic differences that companies should also be thinking about.</p>

<p class="side-quote">"Necessity is the mother of invention", and there are likely few times in recorded history when the necessity of thinking and acting differently has been more urgent.</p>

<p>To be clear, the more pragmatic approach to creating, marketing, and even selling tech products that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing upon us doesn’t have to come completely at the expense of forward-looking technology advances. The R&D-focused efforts within the tech industry that are enabling things like quantum computing, or the latest neuromorphic chips that Intel recently unveiled, remain an absolutely essential and defining part of the business.</p>

<p>The difference now, and likely into the foreseeable future, is really more one of focus and emphasis. Companies need to look much harder at the types of changes they can make here and now both to existing products and upcoming products. I’d argue that the tech industry had gone a little too far down the path of promising long-term revolutions without thinking enough about short-term implications. If nothing else, I expect that one of the more important outcomes that will linger on after we pass this crisis will be more attention to what kind of ideas, products, and services make a difference in the near-term—not just in some far off “vision” for where things might go.</p>

<p>Of course, it’s also important to remember that necessity is the mother of invention, and there are likely few times in recorded history when the necessity of thinking and acting differently has been more urgent. As a result, an even more important silver lining from our current crisis is that we will soon start to see and enjoy the inventive benefits of many of the most brilliant minds in the world who are spending their time thinking, from a present-focused pragmatic perspective, about how to solve many types of tech-related problems both big and small. It’s not clear when, how, or in what exact form those innovations will appear, but I have absolutely no doubt that they will arrive and that we will all benefit from them.</p>

<p class="grey">Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of <a href="" target="_blank">TECHnalysis Research, LLC</a> a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter <a href="" rel="author" target="_blank">@bobodtech</a>. This article was originally published on <a href="">Tech.pinions</a>.</p>

<p class="grey">Image credit: <a href="">Vitezslav Vylicil</a>, <a href="">Fusion Medical Animation</a></p>
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Posts: 3,478   +3,320
So once this Coronavirus pandemic ends, what will become of the battle between America and China over 5G infrastructure?

The technology of smartphones/ the internet and telecommunications, thus far has been challenged , but it has yet to fail under these circumstances - wherein a natural disaster like flooding or earthquakes would have knocked it out for many...just as Hurricane Sandy cut electricity and forced many people to congregate in malls for a charge.

Kids are home from school and the networks for distance learning have been abysmal, untested and unprepared for this moment because no one expected anything like this to happen.
Short of free public wifi for basic educational/informational services, there's no way for many of them to log on with the tablets and laptops handed out by the schools.

Why weren't schools being given monitored, throttled devices with LTE connections? WiFi was never enough.

But the real technology we should have been focused in on all along was safety/medical equipment which is produced in the very same country the pandemic originated.



Posts: 3,197   +3,393
I've been preaching a "function first" ideal in tech for years now. The priorities going forward should be:

1. Connectivity Resilience: the Internet should be almost impossible to disrupt. End-to-end encryption and anti-flooding mechanisms should be default options for everything. Cell towers should all have solar panels and battery power for a week. Currently most can go about three days.

2. Communication first: phones need to get back to the fundamentals. Longer battery life and replaceable batteries need to be the new "killer apps". An aging population needs devices with more intuitive, straightforward UIs and physical controls like QWERTY keyboards. Apple is probably best-positioned to capitalize on these needs.

3. Invulnerable robo-docs: the utility of remote medicine has never been more relevant than it is today. A robot can't get an infection and if its regularly cleaned then it shouldn't be able to spread anything. While not as useful for working with invalid patients, a robot with a suite of testing tools built in would allow most people to interact with a medical professional more safely.


Posts: 544   +184
TechSpot Elite
Perhaps it's being cooped up for so long. Perhaps it was just being ill. I have to say it's this kind of crap that's caused the Chinese coronavirus economic effect to be multiplied.

The world is a series of layers like the Pentagon. Tech occupies the E-ring facing outward with nice windows, carpet, and top of the line equipment being used by people who don't remotely understand it's impact or potential.

The real world is the rest of building from the basement never seeing light to the hidden offices in the other inside and inner rings where low level people labor to provide accurate problem and resolution information that the E-ring ignores because of Congressional representatives bent on filling their own or their special rich constituents pockets don't really care to fix.

There is no high tech pulling the nail out of a tire or filling a hole in the highway. There could be, with magnetic sensors, simple robotics, and simple rubber plugging; or on the highway with slow moving, gps locating, AI surface condition change recognition and robotic debriding, cleaning, filling, and heat sealing. But there's not. It's not exciting and requires tech people to actually go out in the real world to learn another industry that's not sitting in an AC conditioned office or home and that doesn't have a computer attached with all the physical and mental and situational adaptation methodology already developted in binary. As Maisie the lazy bird said, "It's work, how I hate it! I'd much rather play.!"

There's lots to be said for robot-human interaction and the possible multiplier effect of an untiring medical device except, humans don't live 24/7 near the robot(s) and the higher grade more sensitive the robot (let alone the AI possibly working in it) the more non-medical humans are required to maintain it. The robots don't sterilize themselves and they don't check themselves for sterilization. They could, but that requires a tech group to actually learn the full medical procedures involved in most human-human-lab sample-symptomology-question/answer-drill down medical personnel/patient interactions AND that ignores the psychological aspects of human-human contact embedded in humans by their mothers or care givers as infants/children. The full analysis, segmentation, development, testing, field testing, medical double-blind testing, and then deployment to areas without city level support infrastructure for maintenance just won't be done. Self-driving cars and Moon and Mars colonies and faster app bandwidth sucking phone service while microwaving the customers' bones and hands and ears will always be preferred to taking apart a full human-human system to devise a "similar" facsimile because it's too d@mn much work and requires studying and understanding humans. Tech people are generally massively undertrained and underprepared for human interactions, even those where the human is seeking help.

Like I said, it's probably keeping up with the news while squirreled away counting whether I have enough acorns left for the rest of winter, but tech is the icing on the cake and not the cake, or the plate, or the building, or the delivery, or the growing/harvesting, or the storing, or the transportation or the tool building or the tools to build the tools or the mining to get the ingredients to make the rest of the parts tech depends on or most of the rest of the labor in the rest of the country and the economy. Any flood, tornado, hurricane, typhoon, or power outage shows this. Chinese coronavirus pandemic is now showing tech, like corrupt congresspeople talking to the e-ring generals and admiralty, it's exact place in the real world. It's priests are worried, hence articles like this.



Posts: 222   +418
Lol. Cisco is a company of the past in every sense of the word, and they live off their heritage. We want to buy support for our products but we CAN'T because of how horrendous and messed the websites are. Literally nothing is automated. It's always "talk to this company" or "request assistance" from various unknown dudes, on several sites. It's always a several months challenge, a couple dozen emails with various peers, because the reseller thinks it's a Cisco issue, Cisco thinks it's a reseller issue, and even when we finally receive something, our entitlement randomly disappears a bit later.

So at this point, I download all the firmware updates from the interwebs and Cisco can kiss my arse. The absolute worst company I ever dealt with. Why is it so hard to TAKE MY MONEY.