In the News… Obstacles, Opportunities Emerge from Outbreak Fears

The business impact of coronavirus is spreading quickly too: scams, supply chain issues, stock price plummet, and more.
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A regular review of top tech stories as covered by technology, business and news blogs and publications.

Top Story: Coronavirus, What Else?

U.S. stock markets lost nearly 15% of their value last week, and “about $18 billion left U.S. stock mutual and exchange-traded funds” during the last week of February, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.

What triggered this colossal retreat?

Per CIO Journal, the Wall Street Journal’s daily newsletter for technology executives:

Fears among investors that a “U.S. coronavirus outbreak would trigger temporary but widespread disruptions of daily life and business activity, posing a new risk to the nation’s longest economic expansion on record.”

Stocks plummeting in the U.S. are part of anxieties sweeping the globe as markets react to commercial interruptions in China, the world’s second-largest economy (after the U.S.) and birthplace of the coronavirus epidemic. Per CIO Journal, some U.S. companies estimate as much as half their annual revenue from China could be lost to stalled supply chains and slumps in freight transports.

As is oft the way, U.S. tech businesses play herald

Earlier last week—before the stock market’s precipitous plunge—came a string of negative news from prominent tech players:

  • Apple announced it would miss revenue projections for the current quarter—blaming the coronavirus outbreak in China.
  • Microsoft warned this quarter’s sales for its personal-computing unit would fall short of forecasts—citing supply-chain disruptions caused by the outbreak.
  • Facebook canceled its annual developer conference, scheduled for May in San Jose, Calif.—attributing the move to coronavirus concerns.

The social media giant’s announcement came on the heels of multiple withdrawals by leading technology companies from last month’s RSA Conference 2020, an international event for cybersecurity professionals. Among tech firms withdrawing were industry bellwethers AT&T, IBM and Verizon. All three exhibitors attributed their cancellations to minimizing virus exposure for workers.

FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) Motivates Cybercrooks

Despite relatively low risk of contracting coronavirus in the U.S. right now, cybercriminals have set to work on coronavirus-related scams.

Michigan has no confirmed cases of coronavirus. Yet, the state’s Attorney General and Department of Health and Human Services is warning residents to be wary of websites selling fake products along with fabricated emails, texts and social media posts designed to steal money and capture personal data.

“Don’t give a single piece of personal information to anyone reaching out to you regarding coronavirus,” Attorney General Dana Nessel cautioned in a news release.

Top Trend: Coronavirus Accelerating Advance of Remote-Work Technologies

ZDnet columnist Larry Dignan wrote last week that the “…coronavirus scare may just accelerate changes in work already in play.”

Case in point: Collaboration technologies.

Along with advances in Wi-Fi and smartphone capabilities, broadening bandwidth for digital video steadily has expanded options for a growing cohort of remote workers. Now, the need for those options has spiked due to the spreading epidemic.

“Simply put, the coronavirus scare may just show us a better way to work,” Dignan argued. “How enterprises navigate the coronavirus and changes to work will be telling. One thing is certain: The coronavirus is likely to mean the definition of business, as usual, will change.”

Obstacles for some, opportunities for others

Per Dignan’s column, for February’s Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in New York, Chinese researchers mostly delivered presentations by videoconferencing as travel bans prevented them from attending.

Beyond this anecdotal evidence, CNBC reported last week that videoconferencing company Zoom Video Communications added more than 2 million monthly active users so far in 2020. One maneuver fueling this growth was lifting a 40-minute limit on meetings of more than two people for free users in China.

As many tech or tech-related firms suffered big losses, Zoom enjoyed a large gain: As of this writing, Zoom shares on the NASDAQ exchange were up around 40%.

Immediate innovation spurred by urgent need

Editorial cartoonist Frank Tyger once wrote: “Fear fades when facts are faced.”

One way to face coronavirus facts is rapid communications. To this end, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering launched a digital dashboard that tracks the virus’ progress worldwide.

A quick scan of the dashboard’s display shows the epicenter of the epidemic clearly remains in China, with incidences in North America currently dwarfed by comparison.

The amount of clickable detail about the disease is a tribute to recent developments in data visualization. Plus, cloud computing aficionados may admire the site’s dynamic updating, pulling data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and centers for disease control in the U.S., China and Europe.

This type of information flow facilitated by technology may not eliminate (or even alleviate) fears for many companies confronting the rising pandemic. However, crisis-driven constructions like this dashboard fulfill the promise of digital innovation for businesses of all kinds – tech firms or otherwise: Enabling executives, managers and employees to cope and adapt at elevated scale and broader scope.

In Related News… CSO Magazine Offers Pandemic “Security Guide”

Late last week, CSO magazine published a 7-step security guide for pandemic planning.

Firm facts to fade fears

Step 6: “Stress test all facets of the remote work capability.”

“An IT backbone intended to remotely support perhaps 10% to 20% of the workforce might struggle under the weight of the current challenge,” CSO contributor Bob Violino advised and quoted crisis and security consultant Mark Womble:

“The flip side to any crisis is opportunity, and organizations will rarely have a better opportunity to build trust and prove themselves than in the midst of a crisis that directly impacts individuals as well as business outcomes.”

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Communications strategist R.C. “Bob” Dirkes, host and producer of CompTIA’s Technologist Talk podcast and contributor to IBM Systems magazine, covers issues confronting the tech leaders and tech workforce of today and tomorrow. Bob has worked with CompTIA since 2003.

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