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  • Writer's pictureJames Sankar

Reflections on a tough 2020 and outlook for 2021

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There are many posts circulating about the way in which we've all had to adapt this year. Covid-19 has sped up change for all of us in so many ways. This article shares my perspective on 2020 from work in the Australian Higher Education sector and more broadly and contains thoughts on the outlook for 2021.

The reality of 2020 is that we may not realise the impact for quite some time!

Australian and UK National Education and Research networks (AARNet article on data flows, Zoom uptake, Microsoft Teams uptake, JISC article on network changes) note significant changes in the ways the Internet is being used. With fewer students on campus and more jointly remote participation through blended learning, the adoption of online exams and micro credentialing changes are afoot that are here to stay. Whether this results in less building funding and more IT funding or less funding all round, who knows.

Those universities that do have on campus student activity or plan to, do expect the network to consume ever more latency sensitive real time applications. This needs investment in wired and wireless campus networks to cater for seamless wireless roaming experiences at scale on campus and a commensurate experience at home or from the workplace.

Consumption of cloud services has grown significantly. Not only do cloud services ensure a high degree of resiliency available to select but it also allows for a consistent on and off campus experience. The key to adopting cloud services is to align what makes sense to host in the cloud from a financial, operational and feature/functional experience cost benefit viewpoint.

The effective expansion of institution's network to homes and offices has led to an increased in virtual private networks and a heightened risk in CyberSecurity attacks from connected home devices. Having access to a mature and competent SIEM capability is key as we rely more so on the Internet and online services than ever before. To be clear there is no "out of the box" and "set and forget" solution out there. A SIEM is only as good as the effort put in to tailor the sources a SIEM ingests with local context about what matters to you. This discovery exercise should not be underestimated, neither should the controls and responses needed should an incident be detected.

Outside of Higher Education I've personally experienced changes in every day life. QCodes were dead and have resurfaced to allow record keeping for entry to businesses with a well thought out NSW Government push to direct to their systems to protect personal information in support of businesses. 2 hour dining with the diner to self check in, select from the menu and pay with the app. Whilst efficient this does in my opinion take away the dining experience and the opportunity to upsell, apps aren't as good as humans to entice that extra purchase or "meal of the day". There's more click and collect and delivery options appearing and I sense delivery drivers are flat out as many decide not to go into shops but shop online.

I expect a bumper year for the global online shopping platforms like Amazon as the cost to deliver parcels overseas seems to have skyrocketed, or may I just haven't done so for a while.

2020 has been a period of reflection for many, time off the treadmill, more time at home with family and friends. Time to consider your purpose and direction.

Many experienced and skilled people have left the Higher Education sector, changed careers, changed jobs, started on their own.

We've recognised those on the front line, those who are vulnerable, the question I have to ask is can we put in place the societal structures to address these aspects post COVID? We seemed to have forgone fiscal responsibility so what is the price to continue to help pay front line workers more and support the vulnerable in ways that can allow them support via a universal income with some means to add purpose to their lives to contribute positively to society? We simply don't have the resources but maybe we should be educating today's students so that we can reshape a more compassionate national that way?

Some organisations have taken this year as an opportunity to make radical restructures that may have taken years to achieve. How that is handled from an emotional and motivation aspect on the workforce will be seen in years to come. Many are Zoomed and Teamed out with many conferencing calls with little time to stop, have a break and change of location, this holiday should be for all of us to stop, rest, recover and reflect ready for 2021.

So what are my predictions for 2021....

  1. More deja vu for another 6 months or so whilst we aim to get at least 75-80% of the population vaccinated. Those that don't vaccinate could face restrictions. I expect more of the same for working remotely, possibly a little more once or twice a week office time to collaborate as teams which ironically is how universities tend to support student tutorials these days.

  2. A tapering off unproductive time consuming zoom and teams calls; either people will drop off out of fatigue or will start to push back on the usefulness of their time. I expect those successfully using this medium will (a) keep meetings to strict short time periods (b) have clear goals and (c) know what decisions or answers they want to achieve to be productive.

  3. A greater embracing of blended learning, in the next few years expect universities to expand and diversify their operations to reduce foreign student on campus revenues by (a) moving more short courses online for mature working students (b) establishing partnerships and alliances worldwide to more extend market reach aligned to university core strengths (c) embrace local students in greater numbers and (d) expand research in ways that can deliver commercial success that has eluded many before in the areas of some of the greatest challenges of our time. Universities are already reshaping their faculties and schools, cross disciplinary interactions will further strengthen and I do expect successful courses to align to those most relevant today.

  4. There will be a resurgence in information technology spending to maintain and grow across all business areas, having a resilient, secure and intuitive series of digital services will be associated to company brands like never before. Those that support staff to deliver will in my opinion deliver cost effectively for the long term, they make take longer to get there but you'll get what you want.

  5. Expect more seismic shifts in the way we interact with media and services, the ability to serve personalised solutions at scale using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will mean today's dumb chat bots will become smart bots. Where deep fake videos influence thinking and polarise views will be challenged. This maybe 2025? Nonetheless I do expect further resurgence in paid media where we access capabilities creating fake news to counter and fact check, expect this to be an ongoing arms race that humans have lost and that systems will fight for on our behalf.

  6. More consumption of data, more online events, more online retail, more online entertainment require new ways to create content that look like people are together when they actually aren't.

  7. Expect more travel from the second half of the year. We now appreciate those we can't be with and those we have lost. I hope that 2020 reminds the value we have in people so we come together. Late 2021 I hope we can spend more quality time together to turn our attention to what matters. For me this is to gather a better understanding of our planet, people and cultures, exploring smart technology in sustainable ways to appreciate this amazing world we have in front of us.

Stay safe, enjoy the break, give permission to yourselves to take a break, don't be hard on yourself, enjoy every moment, stay positive, reflect, give generously.


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