With COVID-19 as backdrop, CIOs are playing bigger roles leading digital transformations


A new Tata Consultancy Services study on CIOs finds their responsibilities are continuing to change and adapt as they help their companies rise to new challenges.


Image: iStockphoto/Sladic

The roles of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in businesses have been evolving for years, but have been changing even more amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a new study by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the biggest changes are being seen inside companies where CIOs have been leading the way in digital transformations.

The 2020 TCS Chief Information Officer Study, which was conducted by the TCS Business 4.0 Institute thought leadership center, surveyed 1,010 IT executives in 11 industries in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands to gain their insights into the roles of CIOs in 2020 and the future within their companies. 

Some 75% of the responding executives work in enterprises with gross revenues of $1 billion or more. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said their companies have IT budgets of more than $50 million a year, while 45% said their companies have IT budgets of more than $100 million annually. The study was conducted in May and June of 2020.

One of the central findings in the report (PDF) is that CIOs are the executives most likely to play top roles in company digital transformations. This trend especially involves idea and strategy development for business IT systems and direction, according to about 75% of the respondents.

The respondents also said that 61% of their CIOs take leadership roles in governance, while 54% lead project management initiatives.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

One place where CIOs still yield power to other C-level executives is in determining the budgets for their digital transformations, according to the study. Some 35% of digital transformation budgets are set by CEOs, another 29% are set by CFOs, and 20% are set by leaders of production and manufacturing operations. Only about 18% of those budgets are set by CIOs, according to the report.

The report found that about 220 of the 1,010 companies represented in the study are leaders when it comes to implementing and moving forward on digital transformation initiatives, while about 219 of the respondents can be described as being followers that remain in pilot project mode or limiting progress to certain business units. The remaining three-fifths of the respondents are somewhere in between.  

“The study allows us to see how those roles are changing and the velocity and direction of the changes with respect to other C-level executives,” said Akhilesh Tiwari, the global head of enterprise application services for TCS. “It lets us see whether CIOs are getting more prominent or more siloed in their technology tracks.”

In fields like high tech and communications, the data showed CIOs leading such initiatives, which was to be expected, said Tiwari. In other segments, such as consumer packaged goods companies, CIOs are leading such initiatives, but not as much.

“Some CIOs are very visible and active, and their personalities play into that,” Tiwari said. “The CIOs who are doing well as chief educators of technology within their companies, those were in the leading pack. They’re the ones who took the role of leading the consciousness about digital transformations and not just maintaining or preserving the IT states that they already had.”

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

For decades, the CIO function typically has been all about making sure that IT systems are running properly, but CIOs who are leading digital transformations are not just following those old ways, said Tiwari.

“What surprised me in the study was the increasing interest of company boards of directors about these digital transformations and how the CIOs are influencing them on this,” said Tiwari. “The CIOs are leading those discussions for those companies. And that support of boards is a very good thing for CIOs.”

In recent years, some people thought that CIO roles would be diminished due to the emergence of other executives and leaders, but that’s not what the survey revealed, said Tiwari. “They have taken on a broader part of the business and more influence. It’s always been there for CIOs to see new things and know more about them and share them within the company. What we see is that CIOs demystify technology for others.”

For many companies, CIOs are taking on much more active roles in this area, with less jargon and simple, non-condescending ways of explaining technology, he said.

COVID-19 is demonstrating the value of CIOs

Though the latest TCS report wasn’t updated to include the effects of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic on the study findings on CIOs, there are insights to be gained on how CIOs are being influenced and performing, Tiwari said.

Overall, COVID-19 has been an ironic boon for CIOs because it quickly validated what had been their ongoing, slow-moving digital transformation initiatives and accelerated them beyond expectations, Tiwari said.

SEE: IT hardware procurement policy (TechRepublic Premium)

“COVID-19 forced the completion of digital transformation moves that were in process before the pandemic, including deployments of Microsoft Teams, which were then completed in weeks instead of months or years,” he said. “The pandemic is taking CIOs and companies away from one- to three-year project implementation programs. Instead, it is getting needed cloud collaboration and productivity tools implemented in only a couple of weeks.”

That quick progress is clear evidence that IT wasn’t the problem with making these things happen in the past, Tiwari said.

“Instead, it was the inertia and change management of organizations that had to change,” said Tiwari. “The resistance to change was the issue in why they were previously taking so long to accomplish. With the changes being forced by COVID-19 behind them, the voices of CIOs are being heard now more clearly.”

This will have a positive impact far into the future, he said. “They will be able to implement these changes much faster from here out. That endorses and ratifies the voice of the CIO. There weren’t any options for them in reacting to the crisis. The technology could not be the bottleneck to quickly making the changes that were needed.”

For TCS, this shows the value of one of its most important corporate mantras–the idea of perpetual transformation for businesses and business leaders, according to Tiwari.

“You don’t always have to do mega-sized technology projects,” he said. “But, if you can do them and implement change in small steps, you can be agile in a very short time. The COVID-19 situation has emboldened that.”

Recent collaboration platform implementations and hardware deployments done by a wide range of companies to get work-from-home initiatives running quickly in mid-March after the pandemic began in earnest are evidence of this wisdom. In hindsight, they typically turned out to be two-week-long projects, after originally being seen as future long-term initiatives.

“These heavy capital-intensive projects, you do sometimes need them, but without them you can still drive digital transformation,” Tiwari said. 

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COVID-19: Gen Z workers are struggling with careers and worried about the future


Interviews cancelled, reduced hours and pay, and furlough: Gen Z gives insight into its uncertain future in a new study from CollegeFinance.com.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Boomers had the Vietnam War, Gen X had 9/11, and millennials had Columbine (which started the swath of school and workplace gun tragedies). Now, Generation Z has the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Each generation witnessed or experienced watershed events that greatly affected many lives. On July 1, the highest number of US COVID-19 cases for a single day were recorded: 50,000. 

Gen Z found itself in an unprecedented situation. The first “class” of Gen Z graduated from college in May 2019 and unceremoniously lost jobs or had their work situation dramatically change. The next Gen Z class was high school seniors, and from mid-March to their virtual graduations, they finished that iconic year in near isolation from peers.

SEE: Coronavirus: What business pros need to know (TechRepublic)

While they may have a lot to say, they’re also extremely uncertain about how the pandemic will affect their careers, according to a study by College.Finance.com. The COVID-19 recession has directly impacted their finances. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said COVID-19 hasn’t made them reconsider jobs or careers, 21% said they weren’t sure if it would, and 31% were actually looking forward to considering new careers and jobs. 

About one in five employed said they’d consider going back to school to change their professional career goals. 

Image: CollegeFinance.com

Gen Z respondents to the survey said:

  • 46% said their job paths or careers were less stable than previously expected

  • 42% claim to be absolutely unaffected by COVID-19

  • 13% said the virus brought about stability to their jobs.

  • 48.7% said it’s very unlikely they’ll change their career or job due to the coronavirus

  • 30.6% said they are likely to find a new career path

  • 20.7% are unsure if they will or won’t change their trajectory

  • 21% of employed respondents are considering  a change to their careers

  • 27% of those with student debt were most interested in going back to school

  • 14% of those without student debt wanted to go back to school

Those who were seriously considering returning to school said they’d be willing to take on $15,465 in student debt to do so.

A whopping 65% of Gen Z Americans are thinking about returning to school, because of the economic impact of the virus and felt their planned career paths were much less stable. Others who are contemplating a return to school:

  • 16% are working in retail

  • 14% are working in hotel, food services, and hospitality

Image: CollegeFinance.com

The most appealing industries to those who want to change jobs were:

  • Technology 15.9%

  • Medical and healthcare 9.6%

  • Finance and insurance 7.9%

  • Information services and data processing 7.3%

  • Education 7%

  • Construction and manufacturing 6.3%

Most interested in changing careers? Those in education (62%), technology (57%) and construction and manufacturing (56%). The education industry has not held the interest of 28%, who are now interested in pivoting into the tech industry. Those with jobs in tech (29%) were most interested in finance and insurance. 

Some Gen Z workers consider changing jobs

For a generation without a lot of practical work experience (and the savings to survive the pandemic) it’s a good deal of uncertainty and  frustration.

COVID-19’s effects are less-favorable than more favorable, said working Gen Zs:

  • 34% experienced cancellations of planned job interviews

  • 30% have had their hours reduced

  • 19% were offered less pay

  • 12% were furloughed

The effects of COVID-19 are tough on the working life of Gen Z. Respondents said the average salary decrease for them was $6,000. Only 29% said COVID-19 had no impact on their jobs.

Among those who are thinking about a career change:

  • 40% are interested in positions of essential workers (includes 47% millennials)

  • 27%–the least likely to consider a job in essential careers

  • 16% were considering technology

  • 10% were considering healthcare

  • 8% were considering finance and insurance. 

Job outlook for the second wave

Around 71% of Gen Z said they fear going into the job market because of the instability the potential second wave of the virus would cause, and 60% of employed workers believe a second wave would negatively impact their jobs; 23% are worried about being laid off.

Of those whose job stability wasn’t affected by COVID-19, 26% will be on the lookout for a career change when the second wave hits.

Even though President Donald Trump said on July 1 he believes the virus will go away this month, about 60% of employed Americans are afraid that a second wave of the coronavirus will have a negative impact on their jobs, and 23% are afraid of outright layoffs.  


CollegeFinance.com surveyed 1,007 people from the ages of 18 to 70 to explore how COVID-19 affected career and job outlook. Survey respondents included a sample of 189 people identifying as Generation Z in order to explore their outlook on jobs and interview or job application experiences since the COVID-19 outbreak.

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3 big data lessons from a COVID-19 mapping and modeling project


Gathering data at the speed of life can make it hard to discern real information from a large amount of input. One data modeling and mapping project was able to make it work.

Image: libre de droit, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Finding a single version of the truth on the epidemiology of COVID-19 has proven elusive during this pandemic. There is no national case registry or medical inventory database. The epidemiological forecasting algorithms like SIR (Sampling-Importance Resampling) and IHME (International Health Metrics and Evaluation) that are used by federal and state governments lack reliable data. There is clearly a need to help public officials discern and navigate through health and economic risks better.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“I manage four different data labs throughout the world, and for the first few weeks of COVID-19, we were scrambling,” said Eric Haller, executive vice president and global head of Experian DataLabs, which provides advanced data analytics and research. “We had to learn how to shelter in place and to work remotely, but we were driven by a huge sense of responsibility to help government and healthcare providers sort through the data so we could make progress on the pandemic.”

The goal of lab efforts was to develop reliable data that could pinpoint and predict virus hot spots.

“Our process took about six weeks to build a core map that tracked COVID-19 outbreaks and responses,” Haller said. “We wanted to be able to provide the information to governments and healthcare so they could identify the hot spots and where they needed to double down with efforts for hard-hit communities.”

Data streams analyzed

Haller said there were three primary data streams that the analytics looked at.

The first was disease spread as represented by the number of cases and the number of deaths. A second data stream data stream provided co-morbidity rates. For those patients who died during a COVID-19 episode, how many had pre-existing conditions that made them especially vulnerable, such as heart disease or asthma? 

“From the correlations of this data, we began to develop a health risk score on a county-by-county basis,” Haller said.

SEE: Robotic process automation: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

A third data stream looked at social determinants and their effect on COVID-19 spread. How many patients had mobility, such as ready access to public transit? How dense was the housing in the areas where these individuals lived?

The team also looked at demographics, such as which age groups were the most vulnerable.

“What we did was blend all three data models into a master model for over 3,000 counties,” Haller said. “This made it simple for users to drill down into any particular county that they wanted to in order to see more specific data.”

Haller’s teams also creatively used unstructured data such as maps and photos to deduce information like housing density through aerial maps.

Lessons learned

For those responsible for data modeling and analytics development, there are three key takeaway points from this project:

1. Obtaining quality data is harder than data modeling

“When we compiled data from different states and localities, there were inconsistencies in data that we had to reconcile,” Haller said. “For instance, in New York State, they were reporting the number of COVID-19 deaths but also the number of ‘probable’ COVID-19 deaths. Some of this data was subjective, and we didn’t have a method to scrub that data.”

2. Using big data is good if you can eliminate the noise

For an item such as population density, the analytics team used available GPS data, but mapping was still inconsistent because GPS data continuously changes. “When there were questions, we had to use our own perspective to determine what was happening,” Haller said.

3. The project can move faster than you think

“We found that we could quickly adjust to having to work and collaborate remotely. The seriousness of the situation also helped us to move faster than we might have in a non-emergency mode,” Haller said. “When you work under emergency conditions like these, the smaller issues that can disrupt projects tend to disappear.”

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COVID-19 has spurred businesses to migrate security operations to the cloud


Companies have increased their reliance on cloud-based security platforms to protect sensitive data as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.

Safe secure cloud computing information technology mobile internet network technology

Image: Rick_Jo, Getty Images/iStockphoto

In a world of increasing cyberthreats, including malware, ransomware, phishing attacks and other nefarious activity, organizations that have operated with traditional security deployment are now turning to the cloud for help. By moving security tools to the cloud, enterprises have experienced benefits such as real-time threat monitoring, and lower maintenance—as well as new security threats that have emerged.

Still, according to a new survey from Exabeam, cloud-based security tools are on the rise. The survey, which measured the attitudes of 131 UK security practitioners toward these systems in mid-June, illustrates a jump in cloud-security adoption from an earlier survey in March 2020. (According to TechRepublic’s previous coverage, that survey showed that “52% of the respondents started moving to cloud-based security products during or before 2018. Some 18% waited until 2019, 3% began in 2020, 13% haven’t yet started, and the rest don’t know when they’ll migrate.”) The new results, however, which were taken after COVID-19 took hold, show that 88% of those surveyed cite the pandemic as a reason to migrate security to the cloud.

SEE:  Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic Premium) 

The new survey shows that nearly half (44%) are deploying cloud-based security to protect sensitive financial data—only 12% reported to do this in March.

Security is still a concern, when it comes to cloud-based security platforms. More than half (56%) of respondents were concerned about data privacy, and 41% about data sovereignty, and 31% reported fears over unauthorized access. Overall adoption is still considered risky by 86%, and “high risk” by 47% of respondents. 

The vast majority, however, (87%), sees themselves as “well-equipped” to transition to cloud-based security. In terms of ensuring better visibility, 84% say they have made improvements as a result of COVID-19, and currently, 79% of respondents cite either “good” or “very good” visibility into their cloud applications. 

Moving to the cloud offers organizations the chance to reduce overhead (according to 13% of respondents). It also can improve monitoring, according to 21% of respondents, and increase access to features (20%). 

Corporate financial information is not the only asset protected by cloud security tools. Customer information (50%), file sharing, (48%), and email, (38%), are included. On top of security concerns, integration with tools (31%) and service disruptions (29%) are cited as problems with cloud-based security adoption. 

SEE:  5 things developers should know about data privacy and security (TechRepublic)

“The momentum towards the adoption of security tools in the cloud has been building for some time. The sudden and—for many—unexpected move to remote working in March opened up the throttle for cloud-based security solutions as organizations had to migrate critical business data to the cloud almost overnight,” said Samantha Humphries, security strategist at Exabeam. “Largely as a result of COVID-19, organizations that had adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach have had no choice but to climb aboard the cloud bus, regardless of their concerns.”

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How COVID-19 may make glitzy tech hubs obsolete within five years


Long-term changes are coming for tech company offices as businesses pivot to deal with the still-spreading coronavirus.

A building on the Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured on July 17, 2014, in Redmond, Washington.

Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, spending billions of dollars to build gleaming, pride-inducing, trendsetting corporate headquarters buildings was all the rage for some of the biggest high-tech companies. Now, with social distancing requirements, employees working from home, and a myriad of other coronavirus effects hanging over workers, those big corporate tech hub headquarters and campuses could become fond memories.

The reason, said Ian Campbell, the CEO of technology analyst firm Nucleus Research, is that the pandemic makes it indisputable that tech workers can do their jobs from any location, which redefines those huge headquarters buildings as expensive and ego-boosting overkill.

“They’ll be primarily more empty than full five years from now,” said Campbell, who started his technology analyst company 20 years ago in Boston. Whether analyzing Microsoft, Salesforce, or other large IT companies, the insights gathered about workforces, central office locations, and the effects of the coronavirus provide plenty of fresh fodder for viewing future office space needs in new ways, he said.

“Most of those Microsoft buildings will be empty, they don’t need them,” he said of the company’s campus in Redmond, WA, which is in the middle of a multiyear renovation costing some $1 billion or more. “Some people will never come into the office again at all after the pandemic.”

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

That will likely be the case for people with customer service jobs, which can be done from home. Other workers, including those who do need to interact with clients or other company workers, will find that new arrangements will be made for them as well, including the need to only come into offices on an occasional basis, said Campbell.

“That is the future of work” after the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Campbell said his views are synthesized from his two decades of working with technology vendors, managing his company, and watching how technology affects the business world.

Five years from now, offices won’t be central to getting work done anymore and this was proved by the last three months of the pandemic, he said. What companies learned from their recent COVID-19-induced experiences was that real work can be done from home and that the needed technologies are there to make it happen, he said.

Since the pandemic started forcing business closures and regional quarantines in the US in mid-March, large tech companies including Google, Facebook, and Zillow told their workers in May that they can work from home into 2021. Twitter went even further, telling its employees that they never have to return to their offices and can do their jobs remotely forever if that’s their preference.

The future impacts of such decisions on Silicon Valley, New York City, and other traditional tech hub regions are being closely watched, said Campbell.

What this could bring, he said, are changes to companies and regions that previously had a tough time attracting the best talent. Those companies can now hire workers who can do their jobs from home anywhere, without the need for glitzy headquarters buildings in expensive cities.

 “This gets to the future of office space,” said Campbell. “A company that used to rent multiple floors in a high-rise building in Boston will now only require one-quarter of that space. It will come down to team dynamics. Employees will cycle in and out of the office based on different teams. The future of a company will not be one office, but will be multiple small offices where people can get together as needed.”

This is all particularly glaring because some of the biggest tech companies have been spending a lot of money over the last few years to enlarge and improve their corporate headquarters buildings and campuses.

Apple is spending about $5 billion on its campus upgrades in Cupertino, while Microsoft is spending multiple billions on its campus renovations. Salesforce spent $1.1 billion on its Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. With all this money invested, it’s hard to imagine them walking away from these buildings. 

But reality may be the final arbitrator in these situations, said Campbell.

Recreating the energy of the office is needed


Just after the pandemic happened, Campbell told the 15 analysts and staffers who work for Nucleus Research that they could work from anywhere indefinitely, as the company’s Boston office was shut down due to the virus. Campbell moved to Miami to work from the sunbelt and get away from Boston during the pandemic, signing a year’s lease and urging his employees to work from wherever they would be happy.


But tweaks will be needed, though, as businesses now must look for ways to encourage and duplicate the valuable in-office work and team mojo they had together when they worked in their offices, said Campbell. Without shared offices, those “sparks” of working together and innovating, sharing, and brainstorming are much harder to capture, he said.


To solve those problems, occasional small meetings in much-smaller offices or offsite gatherings may be the sign of the future, with social distancing protocols and other precautions in place, said Campbell. Many work conversations can be done online or on the telephone, but the immediacy of face-to-face meetings will always be important. “That is not as likely to happen in the work-from-home environment,” he said.

Companies are not just buildings and products or services, and employees need to be around managers and each other so they can be trained and educated in the DNA of their company, said Campbell. In the world of COVID-19, that will be harder and adjustments will need to be made, he said.


SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

“We’re now in a situation today where we don’t need offices, but we do have a situation where we do need corporate DNA and the ability to impart that on employees,” he said. “Maintaining that company DNA is going to become extremely difficult when you can’t get people together to interact. Plus, an office adds perceptions about a company for customers and employees.”

Still, the corporate DNA can be provided during about 20% of an employee’s workweek, while the remaining 80% of their time can be spent on self-directed work, he said. “That 20% is that needed spark. That means 80% to 90% of employees can work remotely as long as we bring them back to an office for that 10% to 20%. That’s the framework I’m using going forward.”

The analyst team at Nucleus Research also shares a daily call together each morning, talking about work, life, and everything in between. “Even if we only tell jokes and complain about things that are happening in our lives, we have the call,” said Campbell. “I purposely keep our calls very interactive, very unstructured. It’s like a conversation of people sitting around or standing around the coffee machine in the office.”

For businesses, the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic is fortunate, at least in terms of technology, he said. “If COVID-19 happened 10 years ago, the needed technologies would not have been in place for remote workers,” from the cloud to reliable VoIP, cloud-based applications, and more. “If it was going to happen this way with the pandemic, we got lucky. Without these tools today, it would be terrifying.”

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The COVID-19 Response Playbook


Business leaders face more uncertainty today than they have for decades.

Making decisions during a global pandemic feels risky and uncomfortable.

How can you make “no regrets” decisions today as the next normal unfolds?

Use this playbook based on the advice of global experts and the real experiences of our customers and partners, to map your response journey and support day-to-day decisions at the speed and scale now required of all businesses.

COVID-19: Workplace app gets an update to help get you back to the office


Two companies came together to create a better app for helping organizations get employees back to work after the coronavirus.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Jonathan Erwin, CEO of Redeapp, and Stacy Griggs, CEO of El Toro, two companies based in Louisville, KY, about their workplace contact tracing app. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Karen Roby: You guys have partnered here to launch a return-to-work app that goes beyond contact tracing. This is something we’ve been talking and hearing a lot about, and there’s obviously lots of security and privacy concerns. Jonathan, let me start here with you. Just tell us how this app works and really what audience you’re serving.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Jonathan Erwin: Redeapp is essentially a mobile workforce performance platform. We’ve been around since 2011, researching, developing tools for large organizations in industrial, healthcare, construction, mining, hospitality, and retail. Really what Redeapp is, is a way to engage employees on their mobile devices, and HealthePassport is a way to create both a health safety… . Not just, “Hey, here is your self health declaration for a day,” but “Hey, here is a view of all of your employees across your entire organization, of the current health status of that organization.” But also providing education and awareness to each employee.

We kind of feel like a lot of the COVID-19 apps that are being driven by employers to employees is very one dimensional and what we are really basing a lot of the feature set inside of HealthePassport today is based on using technology, but also using really strong communication and educational and daily awareness of what’s changed in the business for those employees.

Karen Roby: One of the things of course is as I mentioned there at the top, Stacy, is that when people hear about contact tracing, which is something that many hadn’t even, even though contact tracing has been around for a long time, they really hadn’t thought about it, until COVID-19. So when they feel like they’re being tracked or followed, especially from their employer, that can seem a little daunting. So talk a little bit about the privacy and security concerns and how you address those.

Stacy Griggs: The first thing to remember is 100% of what we’re doing is opt-in. Users, so the employees, are opting in to be able to use this, and if they don’t want to opt-in to use it, then they don’t have to. However, if they opt-in, I believe they’ll be able to return to work sooner and safer. We’ve seen a huge demand from employers who realize that states and governments simply aren’t going to solve this problem. If they want to be able to get their workforces back to work and make sure that those workforces are safe and meet requirements to places like OSHA, they’re going to have to do something to be able to figure out who interacted with whom, and be able to use this data in a very limited fashion.

SEE: Apple iOS 14: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

That’s the other main component of what we’re doing from a security standpoint is the data we collect is only being collected while you’re at work. And the data is never being shared as far as precise location with your employer. All we’re doing is using it to figure out who you might’ve interacted with only in situations where somebody reports that they have COVID-19 and then that’s verified by the employer.

Karen Roby: Just give me a one-minute overview of what the app actually looks like for the employee, when they open it up, what it looks like to them.

Stacy Griggs: It looks like awesomeness on your screen, but I’ll let Jonathan define that.

Jonathan Erwin: It is awesomeness. So it’s also simplistic. I think what we’ve really tried to provide employees is a very easy way to get involved, engaged quickly. And we’ve tried to position it together so that when they get in the app, it’s a download from the Android or Apple stores, app stores, and they get into Redeapp and Passport is available to agree and to opt in, as Stacy mentioned.

It’s really simplistic to give you color coded ways to maybe skip a line by getting back to work. I have uploaded a self health declaration that might be mandated by that employer that day, and/or I have a test or I’m staying at home today, and I’d like to upload that test to share with my employer. And all of that can then be translated into a red, yellow, or green type of Passport for that worker to go back to work. And then the administrative folks, the employer, will have an opportunity to then see what has happened in that day in real time, and perform contact tracing if needed across that company, if those folks are staying home and take actions to educate other folks or other employees related to the risk.

Karen Roby: When we talk about these employees specifically, this is really going to be focused a lot toward those that are highly mobile, as you mentioned, those that aren’t sitting at a desk, those that might be out in the field. Talk a little bit about that.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Stacy Griggs: I actually think it’s going to be focused on all employees. One of the things, when we were putting this together… El Toro’s got a long history in mobile location data science, Redeapp had this fantastic app for connecting unconnected workers. And as we started talking about what can we do to apply our mobile data science to help solve COVID-19, we realized we needed an app platform and to get a highly secure, HIPAA-compliant, audited app platform, it would take a year, it would take 12-plus months to build just the basics. Redeapp already had all of that. They had this app that was perfect for helping do contact tracing with COVID-19, if you just add mobile in the data science, and that’s where we came in. It gives us the scenario where the two of us together were able to do something that one of us wouldn’t have been able to do individually.

Karen Roby: Talk a little bit about the tech behind the tech, and you both touched on that a little bit, but expand for our audience, if you could, on that facet.

Jonathan Erwin: Stacy talked a bit about being an expert in mobile data location sciences, and so that’s very powerful. Redeapp is an enterprise mobile platform that is hosted inside of AWS. Now we serve large healthcare entities, large construction corporations, and in Santiago, Chile, in nuclear power plants. And we’re in the Tesla factory with Panasonic in Sparks, Nevada. And so we have had to be, and maintain, both data and security compliance insurances for all of our businesses across all of these industries that are, where they have a lot of disparate, geographically dispersed employees.

The app for us, and as Stacy mentioned, was tremendous because what we, as being a workforce performance platform, we certainly understand how to touch employees and, and provide business results to businesses. And because it is a platform and because it is scalable and because it is portable, when Stacy and El Toro came to us and we decided to collaborate on this idea, we literally were able to turn this around in three and a half weeks, Karen.

The ability to say from the ground up, as Stacy mentioned, we put almost 10 years into building a scalable platform that goes across the world. That’s available in 16 different languages, and being used in healthcare and hurricane preparedness in Florida and for emergency management in lots of different types of industries, but to combine it with a data sciences piece of El Toro was just… . Really, I said this in a recent interview where it’s, we were tailor-made for crisis and together it’s been a great combination.

Stacy Griggs: It’s interesting to me that, when I look at how all this has played out and how quickly it’s played out, most people that are out there pitching contact tracing apps for companies and universities, they have a PowerPoint, they have a press release, they actually don’t have an app. If you go to the app store and try to download their app, they’re working on it. We have an app that you can download and start using today. You know, we’ve got the ability to spin up clients in a matter of days. We took this for El Toro, as soon as it was ready, our staff downloaded it and started using it. And as part of our return-to-work strategy, this is what our staff are using to automate their daily health self-checks to find out if somebody… Fortunately we haven’t had anybody diagnosed with COVID-19, but if we did, we’d be able to figure out who we need to get tested and who we need to self-isolate and, and it’s ready and works today. Unlike just about every other app we’ve seen, which will be potentially ready and works at some point in the future.


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The creators of Redeapp talk with TechRepublic’s Karen Roby about TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Jonathan Erwin, CEO of Redeapp, and Stacy Griggs, CEO of El Toro, two companies based in Louisville, KY, about their workplace contact tracing app.

Image: Redeapp

Esri geospatial COVID-19 mapping tools help with community contact tracing


As communities and businesses begin to reopen amid an ongoing pandemic contact tracing becomes the first line of defense. Leveraging location information can enhance these efforts.



Months into the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 continues to take its toll on populations and economies around the globe. In recent weeks, lockdown measures have lifted in many states, and businesses have reopened amid a strange new normal. To help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve seen the development of a host of contact-tracing protocols from apps to manual boots-on-the-ground efforts.

With no vaccine or cocktail of treatments available, contact tracing at the community level becomes the first line of defense. Geographic information system (GIS) software company Esri released information detailing an analytical capability system known as Community Contact Tracing, a sophisticated spatially enabled approach to contact tracing.

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Contact tracing and the importance of space

Contact tracing is the process of backtracking the person-to-person contact and interactions of an infected person. This complex web of contacts can be used to pinpoint potential infectees and reduce the risk of further transmission. Once identified, self-quarantine efforts can then help reduce the spread beyond these potential infections, thus removing another vector from the equation.

More nuanced contact tracing can be achieved using location information within the overall approach. To accomplish this, the process requires “the location enablement of contact addresses and community locations during the data collection process.” This allows contact tracers to determine specific locations where the virus is spreading, adding another level of sophistication to the model.

Esri tools enhance traditional contact tracing techniques. Within ArcGIS Pro, for example, “link analysis and centrality can identify places that may connect cases and contacts otherwise unknown to one another,” according to the release. Once transmission hotspots within a community have been identified, officials can then rethink ways to promote social distancing in these areas. Additionally, organizations can then schedule more rigorous decontamination efforts in these areas. There are myriad coronavirus dashboards available, many offering spatial interfaces and real-time data updates.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF)

During a spike in cases, medical equipment, such as ventilators and ICU beds, are at a premium. The spatial patterns involved in coronavirus transmission are central to an effective response strategy, especially at scale. By understanding cases and anticipated hospitalization in a given area, healthcare systems and local governments can then develop a more sophisticated location-allocation plan. These strategies involve placing surplus medical equipment in areas where they can be quickly mobilized to most efficiently reach surge cities or areas quickly.

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COVID-19 fuels a drop in new smartphone sales, an upswing for recycled phones


Coronavirus-led shutdown of key manufacturing plants in China and consumer financial concerns fuel interest in pre-owned phone sales, according to a Gartner report.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Among its many results, the coronavirus has put a damper on first-adopters, some of whom, pre-pandemic, would be the first in line to buy the new iPhone SE in September. But new smartphone sales dropped 20.2% for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1 2020), according to a new report from Gartner. 

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (TechRepublic Premium)

While edicts to shelter-at-home and the cloud of economic uncertainty affected the sales of new smartphones, recycled phones are on the upswing (by 24%). A recycled or refurbished phone is generally one that has been traded or sold so the owner can upgrade to the new version or a “better” phone.

Gartner’s report, “Market Share: PCs, Ultramobiles and Mobile Phones, All Countries, 1Q20 Update,” also noted that the demand for smartphone sales faltering coincided directly with consumers bucking non-essential products.

Top vendors feel the burn

With the exception of Xiaomi, all of the top five smartphone vendors recorded a decline in Q1 2020. Samsung, Huawei, and OPPO suffered the worst performance among the most in-demand vendors.

SEE: Apple iOS 14: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Strong sales of Redmi devices pulled up Xiaomi in both international and online sales making it one of the few that weathered the storm of COVID-19. And there’s a reason for that, with the very popular Xiaomi Note‘s affordable price tag of $150, as well as its strong reputation; it was also well-reviewed on TechRepublic. 

In May, ZDNet reported that the Xiaomi Redmi 8 was second only to the very consumer-heralded Samsung Galaxy A51 ($400 and $500 for 5G). In the same story, it reported that smartphone shipments from Samsung and Huawei were down 17% (with a 13% decline for all smart phones). 

During Q1 2020, Samsung’s smartphone sales declined 22.7%, yet the Korean juggernaut maintained its number one spot in sales, with a 18.5% market share. 

Gartner’s report of worldwide end-user smartphone sales growth

  1. Samsung -22.7%
  2. Huawei -27.3%
  3. Apple -8.2%
  4. Xiaomi +1.4%
  5. OPPO -24.2%
  6. Others -20.2%

Gartner’s report noted that Apple had the least significant consequences from COVID-19 compared with the other top vendors. For Q1 2020, Apple’s iPhone sales dipped 8.2%, totalling 41 million units.

Of the top five listed, Huawei had the worst performance in Q1 2020, with sales dropping to 42.5 million units, a decline of 27.3%. However, despite its first-ever decline, Huawei maintained its number two spot, following Samsung.

Huawei, OPPO and Vivo are dependent on China, but Apple is less so. Still, it faced store closures and supply constraints–which had an impact on iPhone sales in Q1 2020. 

Image: Gazelle

Recycling phones is gaining popularity

With companies that will buy your phone for cash (to put toward a new one), popping up (i.e. Decluttr, SellCell.com, Gazelle), consumers are taking advantage of the possibility of getting a phone with more capabilities, more storage, and more updates, but for a fraction of the cost. 

Image: SellCell

In this time of sheltering-at-home, Marie Kondo-ing, and reversing the home hoard, investing in a recycled (or upcycled) phone is smart.

From March to May 2020, Decluttr–a company that buys old phones and sells used phones, among other media-related items like DVDs and books–reported a 26% increase in refurbished phone sales and a 36% increase in phone trade-ins, compared with the same period in 2019.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

“We have also seen an increased demand for people needing to stay connected to loved ones when they’ve not been able to see them in person, as well as the need to have the appropriate tech to work from home, and to be entertained outside of work, also from home,” said Liam Howley, CMO of Decluttr. “People look for better value options, and refurbished tech offers a lower price tag without a sacrifice on quality.”


Sarah McConomy, COO of SellCell.com told TechRepublic, that “90% of the devices that are traded-in get refurbished and then resold back into the US market” for “better value,” as well as for the environmental implications.  Refurbished and pre-owned phones are a big part of the market now.


McConomy explained that refurbished phones are a much better value, and you can: 

  • “Effectively buy a top-of-the range refurbished iPhone for hundreds less” than buying  new at the Apple Store.”
  • Have a phone upgraded and refurbished by experts.
  • Halt electronic waste and be environmentally friendly.  

“The EPA found that Americans throw away over 416,000 phones each day, equalling over 150 million phones every year ending up in landfills,” said Yanyan Ji, CMO of ecoATM Gazelle.


McConomy added, “Cell phones contain harmful toxins including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chlorine and bromine. If disposed of in landfills these toxins can be absorbed into the air, ground and water supply and over time cause harmful effects to the ecosystem and the environment. This creates very serious potential threats to the health of animals, humans, and the wider environment so it’s important we do something about it.”

The most popular devices right now

“The iPhone XS Max and 11 Pro Max are currently the most popular devices purchased” through Gazelle,” Ji said, and added that the most traded-in phones for 2019-2020 were the Apple iPhone 6 at ecoATM, and the Apple iPhone 8 for Gazelle.


Handling many brands and kinds of smartphones hasn’t quite signaled to Ji which is the most durable, and Ji said, “Durability is based on if consumers use a case, screen protector, frequency of using their device, if they drop it a lot, etc.”

Is Apple or Android more popular?

Ji said the obvious non-committal, it’spersonal preference” when choosing between the two favored brands, with some customers preferring Apple devices, and others, Android devices. “It’s about the type of software that works best for you and your daily needs.”


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