Good enough is never enough

Living through lockdown was, for nearly all of us, a life-changing experience, something never to be forgotten. From the oldest to the youngest, all were affected at some level. Schools, pubs, clubs, sports, shops, offices were closed down, stringent restrictions were imposed on how we lived our daily lives and socialised with each other. 

The IT sector was no exception to the industries affected by the virus. But the virus also demonstrated the value of technology for businesses and for people. The requirement for most of us to stay at home highlighted the need for businesses to provide some form of remote or home working if they wanted employees to be able to continue their labours. As for ordinary people, technology enabled us to continue to communicate with each other, to socialise in a virtual manner and it gave children the opportunity to continue their education from a distance.

The IT industry has worked hard to make the case for more home and remote working in recent years on the back of significant advances in mobile and broadband technology. Some employers have seen the benefits of adopting this approach, particularly with the rising cost of living in Dublin and the long commute times for employees seeking to get to work in the morning. But it would be fair to say many were very resistant to it.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle most companies had to overcome was the reluctance of management to surrender physical oversight of employees in an office. It wasn't just a lack of trust but also an anxiety over the value of their own position if the people they managed could perform their roles without them present. The measures put in place to combat the virus effectively demolished that barrier by leaving most companies with little choice. Either they made it possible for employees to work from home or they made it impossible for them to work.

But depending on the nature of the tasks employees were called upon to perform, they could probably work remotely fairly easily with much of the technology they already used or owned themselves. A lot of businesses didn't have much choice because it would have been too expensive to supply employees with equipment overnight. 

This merely served to highlight the value of IT in enabling people to use the technology they have far more effectively, by exploiting the benefits of cloud computing, faster broadband and mobile apps. One of the unintended consequences of having so many people using broadband from home – remember, it wasn't only home workers using it during the day but a whole load of kids stuck at home because the schools were closed – is that surging demand was showing its capacity limitations. So much so that Netflix reduced its streaming quality to counter the danger of taking up too much bandwidth at the expense of other applications and uses for broadband.

For the most part, with so much of the economy in lockdown, businesses and people made do with the hardware they already had but were still managing to use it effectively to do what they wanted or needed it to do. Does this tell us anything about the way our industry behaves? To a certain extent. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that if circumstances dictate we cannot upgrade and replace IT equipment as frequently as we would have liked, we can still get by very effectively. It is possible to make do and mend. 

It's intriguing that the stresses and strains engendered by a pandemic have demonstrated that most of us have good enough technology (GET) for what we need to do. So much of the marketing we lived through during normal times seemed designed to make organisations, businesses and people believe that they were suffering from Not Enough Technology (NET). The implied message was that all they needed to make things better was to invest in this technology, that service or that phone. Ad infinitum.

The blunt truth is that, despite all the urging to replace this and migrate to that, the vast majority of organisations, businesses and people have been blessed with GET all along. After all, if a global pandemic isn’t a strong enough test for the capability of your technology, what is? As we come out of lockdown, it may not be possible to restart the treadmill of consumption that has been temporarily suspended for the past few months – or it might only work at a much slower speed. A lot of things that we assumed and accepted as orthodoxy are likely to come under renewed scrutiny when this is finally over. It's only right. Enough really is enough.