Digitalization, collective action against COVID-19 may strengthen us

Nov. 5, 2020

It can be hard to find silver linings these days. We've all had nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic, recession and unemployment for millions, all kinds of other social and political turmoil, wildfires and hurricanes for many, and now a looming fall and winter that may deliver a "twindemic" due to the usual flu, and who knows what else. These and our usual problems can make it understandably difficult to see the bright side, let alone be hopeful for the future.

As a lifelong Northern Hemisphere resident, I know that when Central Daylight Savings (CDT) ends and we "Fall back" the day after Halloween, we'll again be plunged into shorter days and commutes that—though much less frequent at present—will typically be cloudy, dark and cold. However, I also remember one bitter Chicago morning years ago on the Fullerton elevated train platform, when the sun peeked out for a few minutes, and warmed any faces turned towards it. Very toasty, but it also focused me on looking for other moments of warmth, not just from the sun, but surprisingly in human interactions, too.

For example, despite all of this year's bad news and the potential for more, I know that I can rely on the imaginations and consistent innovations devised by the engineers, system integrators and many other sources I'm lucky to cover. Just like everyone else on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, I've already reported on how they've adapted remote connectivity and collaboration tools. Plus, similar to teachers and parents developing new ways to instruct kids online and at home, engineering teams have adopted remote-work, Internet-based and digitalized solutions for maintaining their processes and getting work done, which are also tailored to the unique needs of their users, process applications, settings and facilities.

One curious aspect of all these efforts is that many suddenly popular connectivity and collaboration tools were already available for years, but were apparently overlooked, and not as widely employed as they could have been before the pandemic. Likewise, many Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digital transformation technologies emerged more recently, but they also weren't nearly as widespread before the outbreak as they've become. In fact, multiple sources in recent months report that, as devastating as pandemic has been, it's crystallized issues and requirements, and ballooned adoption of digitalization that was optional or ignored until COVID-19 made it indispensable.

Because of these events, I'm concerned but not panicked about the Top 50 global and North American process control and automation suppliers covered in this issue's "Under siege" cover story.

Despite the unprecedented economic forces slamming into them, I know most are already responding with effective strategies embodied by the people and organizations we've covered before. In addition, I'm already hip deep in research and interviews for Control's November cover story on cybersecurity and December cover story on wireless, and everyone weighing in on those topics is doing the same.

Just like my memory of warming sunshine, these interactions are more than merely encouraging. Much like my family, they keep me going. They're also demonstrations that our neighbors, colleagues and larger communities are awake, aware, and acting to solve their problems. I can't say success is guaranteed, but it's always been enough for victory in the past.

The other silver lining is that greater adoption of digital transformation to cope with COVID-19 can likely get users and industries in better shape for other tasks. Their collective action can start small with users learning basic collaboration, adapting remote-work tools for individual settings, or engineering candy chutes for safer trick-or-treating. However, they can also scale up to handle much bigger challenges, such as surviving the recession that will linger after the pandemic, or getting out votes for more responsive elected officials and governments, or even transitioning from fossil fuels to the alternative energies demanded by global warming. They're all on the schedule.

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About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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