Is Covid-19 driving your digital transformation?
26 June 2020
In-house counsel speaking at a CPA Global online conference say that those who have prepared for a digital workplace have weathered Covid-19 well. But how long can we continue to work from home? Gregory Glass reports.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the expression ‘the new normal’ used recently,” said Simon Webster, the Jersey, United Kingdom-based group CEO at CPA Global, as he opened the IP management and technology company’s Ignite Online conference on June 24, 2020. “It’s being used all the time. The interesting thing to me is that, no matter how often I hear it, no one’s actually defined what it is yet. My absolute conviction is that is because the new normal is not something we just arrive into. It isn’t predetermined, it isn’t preordained. Yes, the journey towards it started out exactly the same for all of us, by these restrictions on how we live and how we work, and the changes we had to make.”
Webster tagged March 24 as the beginning of the new normal. That’s the date, he said, that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown of his country. “At that point, there were more people living under official lockdown globally, unable to leave their homes for anything other than extreme exceptions, than were alive on the planet at the end of World War II. The scale of that change in living and working patterns in such a short period of time, effectively overnight, is unprecedented. All of a sudden, for the first time ever, a huge populace had something in common: they all had to change, overnight, the way they lived and worked.”
The novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic began, quite naturally, Webster noted, as a health emergency. But it didn’t take long for it to morph into a wealth emergency, as well.
“This period is going to force change. A huge amount of long-established behaviours and preferences for everyone in the lockdown. People’s focus was initially on health-focused needs, like health, fitness, hygiene, food, etcetera. But attention soon turned from health preservation to wealth preservation, specifically, how we all keep on working. And that change has probably been the most remarkable of all, because we effectively witnessed was the digital transformation of vast swathes of the global professional services sector, in one month.
Webster said the transformation was both internal, in how professionals worked with their colleagues, noting that Microsoft Teams saw a thousand-percent increase in use between February and April, and in terms of external collaboration as consumers, where a decade’s worth of e-commerce growth happened in three months, and in terms of collaborating with customers and suppliers.
How people have allocated their time since the beginning of the pandemic didn’t change as much as one might think. Time spent on travel is down dramatically, of course, and time spent resting, sleeping and doing home improvements projects is up significantly, but time spent at work is roughly the same as it was pre-pandemic, although for most of us, time spent working at home and time spent working in the office have largely swapped places.
Webster sees the rapid digital transformation as an opportunity for intellectual property. “We believe the reason we exist is to help you develop and protect the transformational ideas and innovations that will create a better world. ‘Frictionless IP’ is an industry where the ideas that change the world are never constrained by the IP machinery that manages them. This can be the new normal that we co-author with you. We’ve all already started out on that journey.”
The short, two-hour conference then brought together intellectual property experts from around the world in a lively discussion about how their professional, and personal, lives have changed since March.
Stephen MacKenzie, senior counsel for IP at Koch Companies Public Sector in Wichita, Kansas, has noted an increase in mergers and acquisitions at his employer since the pandemic began. “We’ve also seen an uptick in patent filings from our research and development group, and we’re attributing that to our main scientists and engineers having more time to spend on creative ideas and creative solutions to problems.”
Melanie Carmosino, director of legal operations at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, said that Microsoft has noted an increase in innovation as a result of a decrease in travel in some areas of the company, but at the same time, the ability for inventors to get together and distill information has been more difficult, and has resulted in some areas of the business slowing.
July Prithipalsingh, manager of IP operations at Dolby in Amsterdam, has noted an increase in submission of invention disclosures. “It seems like the less in-person meetings, demonstrations and conferences for the inventors [has resulted in] increased invention disclosures. Also, they’ve been sitting on some ideas for a while that they’re able to submit.”
Joe Kucera, director of IP strategy at Pure Storage in Austin, Texas, said that he had been predicting an increase in litigation since the beginning of the pandemic, and that he has, indeed, seen that increase.
“We’re just now starting to see it. We anticipated that based on the economic headwinds that a lot of companies are facing, and knowing that in the past when such things have hit, folks will seek other streams of revenue.”
Kucera also said that a lot of startups in the San Francisco Bay area are starting to implode, in many cases leaving little but the intellectual property to acquire. “All that’s left is IP, and we’re just on the front end of it. We’re going to see a big rush of portfolios coming across our radar,” he said.
The lawyers then discussed how their companies had weathered “the new normal,” and how those who had been on the cutting edge of making their businesses as digital as possible had suffered very little from shifting to a work from home model.
“We were well-positioned in this to work from home,” said Carmosino. “We had implemented a cloud-hosted solution and found ourselves in a very good position to leverage our technology remotely. The workplace is changing quickly in a short span of time, so depending on how long Covid stays around, the infrastructure needs to support that hybrid workforce. That used to a be a nice-to-have, now it’s a must-have.”
Carmosino says that some organizations have discussed digital transformation, but simply didn’t move fast enough. “We really had no interruption, but we have seen our customers and we have seen our outside counsel who really were not there, and we’ve had some struggles with the ability for their attorneys to work from home and how that’s affecting our work flows. We’re recognizing now that some of our outside counsel are disappointingly immature in their operational practices, and we have to look at that going forward [and decide whether] we continue with this firm, because this is the new normal.”