Data-driven companies will get more bang for the post-pandemic boom

May 5, 2021, 3:00 PM UTC
As the economy recovers, “companies need to be ready for amazing digital growth and its potential problems,” writes Doug Merritt. “In other words, we need not only disaster preparedness but opportunity preparedness.”
Getty Images

COVID-19 taught us the value of disaster preparedness—not only the necessity of business continuity plans, but the power of organizational nimbleness to decisively respond to fast-changing conditions and move individuals and organizations forward through uncertainty. 

Even as the fastest vaccine rollout in history gives us hope for a healthier and more stable 2021, we must put renewed effort into preparing for the future. Not because of an immediate crisis, (though it definitely pays to be ready), but because of explosive opportunity.

As we come out of the pandemic, the urgency I’m hearing from colleagues, customers, and other business leaders is that we need to anticipate the unprecedented economic growth that will follow a full reopening of economies around the globe. Economists at Goldman Sachs see the U.S. economy growing a stellar 8% in 2021, and the IMF pegs 2021 growth at 6% globally—6.4% in the United States, and a stunning 12.5% in India. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s 2021 shareholder letter predicts a multiyear boom. 

However, this growth wave is tightly coupled with a profound and comprehensive move to “online everything.” Companies need to be ready for amazing digital growth, and its potential problems, from scaling issues to cybersecurity challenges presented by rushed deployments, architectural mistakes, and online instability. In other words, we need not only disaster preparedness but opportunity preparedness.

3, 2, 1, boom!

The growing consensus is that full resumption of economic activity could produce a boom unlike any that we’ve seen before. But can we handle it? As the good times roll, businesses will be in a unique position, facing circumstances unlike those of past upswings. 

Two factors are particularly interesting: 

  • Digital interactions will be a much greater part of all economic activity, an established trend that the pandemic accelerated.
  • Office-based businesses, especially those powering the digital economy, are expected to maintain work-from-home policies more expansive than before the pandemic, resulting in a distributed workforce.

Those two elements describe a world of digital business that is moving faster than ever, and that’s harder to support and secure than ever. Internal communications, and the IT services they rely upon, are different and far more critical. The overall delivery of IT services is different and more complicated. The security surface is larger, broader, harder to see, and more vulnerable. The challenge for every organization is to scale into the coming boom while simultaneously juggling the new technology infrastructure and security challenges.

The solution to the challenge lies in creating tools and processes that let you turn data into decisive action—quickly, securely, and scalably.

The opportunity in data

The faster the market moves, the more you rely on data to anticipate and adjust. At the core of every innovation and opportunity, data provides the why and the how.

  • Attracting and retaining customers? Data drives your digital channels, from how you scale to meet surges in demand to how you customize user experience to maximize value. 
  • Innovating to seize opportunity or fend off new challenges? Data defines the cloud-based infrastructures that allow an organization to move fast and do amazing things. 
  • And to secure it all? Complex infrastructures and a more distributed workforce mean that security teams will be busier than ever, looking for sharks in an ocean of data. Automated tools that leverage machine learning to identify attacks, disruptions, and anomalous activity within the network will be essential.

In short, organizations with the most effective data game will thrive. Companies that are digital-native or advanced in their digital transformation will have significant advantages. They know their customers more intimately, they react at algorithmic speed, they test and refine new offerings in hours not months. Anyone who’s preparing for the future should make sure they have the data technologies, the automation, and the cloud services in place to react not just to the negative but the breathtakingly positive.

A joyous roar

I believe that a post-COVID world will be marked by an explosion of emotion. Economists talk about the pent-up demand for goods, services, and experiences, but it’s about more than money to spend. After the challenges of 2020, the effect of being liberated from the burden of this pandemic will be driven not by the economics, but by relief, gratitude, and joy.

The Roaring Twenties followed a similar period of privation: With the world coming out of the trauma of World War I and the devastating Spanish flu pandemic, new technologies powered the celebratory mood. Mass production, mass marketing, and mass communication technologies all blossomed and were integral to a period of economic growth and artistic exuberance that is still legendary today. All of those factors are present now as we move from lockdown to tentative reopening and beyond.

I am an optimist by nature (or nurture), but especially where the power of data technologies is involved. Times like this remind me that it can take as much planning to truly prepare for a bright future as it does to mitigate a darker one. I think the data will prove that such planning is well worthwhile.

Doug Merritt is the president and CEO of Splunk.

More opinion from Fortune:

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion