Ian Quayle, Director of Consulting at Continent 8 Technologies, reflects on the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, what it means for the technology industry, and for Continent 8 which is the trusted infrastructure partner to many of the largest brands in iGaming.
As a global technology business with an already substantial number of our people working ‘in the field’, or remotely at Continent 8, we are already very familiar with online collaboration, messaging and meeting tools. As such, no significant technology, training or cultural challenges have arisen during the recent pandemic and our business has moved, fairly seamlessly, into remote-as-default working mode and remained relatively sheltered from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in a business context.
Our global network infrastructure approach has further bolstered our stability during the recent challenges. Due to the dynamic nature of our industry, we already had plenty of scalability and resilience engineered in, so we have been able to easily cope with any peaks of traffic (whether that be from our customer networks as more end users turn to iGaming to pass the time in lockdown, or from the increased number our own people now needing regular access to our networks from home) and have successfully handled and protected our customers from aggressors taking advantage of the global situation to launch an increased number of DDoS attacks.
We are seeing some customers change their focus (at least in the short-term), tipping the balance toward cost-efficiency over other usual business drivers. In an industry where time to market and scalability are usually so important and where the current big talking points are topics such as peak traffic and the internet being able to cope, it might seem counter intuitive to tip the scales in such a way. However, when we remind ourselves that not all online enterprises are purely dependent on online resources, perhaps it makes a little more sense. For those iGaming providers that have large parts of their portfolio dependent on live sports events, for example, there has been a widely felt drop-off in their activity when compared to other providers. Another example is in the online casino games or social gaming areas that have, it would appear, benefitted from the increased time their customers are spending at home and/or online.
Some parts of the world are now easing their lockdown measures and it will be interesting to see how many of these short-term changes – both in terms of business focus or priority and technology use – revert to their pre-pandemic state. Indeed, we hear many people talking about the ‘new normal’, mostly referring to an increase in remote working as more of the traditional office-based businesses (e.g. banks and government administrative workers etc.) have been forced to embrace a more mobile workforce and are now seeing unexpected benefits, or focusing on essential services and how perception of them in society has changed.
For our industry, once we have passed the peaks and troughs and things begin to settle, aside from those unfortunate businesses that have not survived the period of drop off in revenue, it would perhaps be relatively easy to pick up and carry on as normal. After all, as I outlined at the start of this article, it’s not as though many of our organisations have substantively changed what we do.
So, will iGaming and the wider IT industry have a ‘new normal’, or will things just return to the pre-pandemic ‘old normal’?
Perhaps to find some answers, we need to put technology to one side for a moment, and focus on people.
Like many from a technology background, I have worked remotely (often in a physically isolated manner) for many years and have always found it worked well for me. Needless to say, video conferences and online collaboration platforms have always formed a big part of day-to-day interactions in this context and it’s generally been a very comfortable way to work. So, to me and anyone used to working in this way, lockdown would be easy right? In fact, as time moved on during lockdown, I found myself becoming more averse to video sessions, having the camera switched off whenever possible and turning down ‘social events’ more often. On asking friends, I wasn’t the only one.
It turns out there have been many articles written recently on this phenomenon. Many refer to it as ‘video conference fatigue’, the underlying issue seemingly being the amount of additional concentration and focus it takes for us to pick up on subtle queues in facial expressions and body language when viewed through a video session, meaning on some occasions we could actually be more connected with someone through a simple telephone call, or chat session alongside an online game than when using video.
In the Isle of Man, where I am fortunate to be based, we are now taking the first steps out of social distancing measures and it’s obvious from a drive around the local business districts that large numbers of workers are returning to their offices at the first opportunity. I can’t help but wonder just how many of these are rushing back to the office with a massive sigh of relief that they have a choice about the way they interact and socialise again and aren’t being forced to push all of their contact through a video session.
As technology businesses then, perhaps this gives us the insight we needed to start working more proactively towards balance. Technologies such as augmented and virtual reality are already promising to change the way consumers experience online gaming, allowing ‘walk through’ casino experiences and so-on. As we explore advances such as this, we need to keep in mind the learning from recent events and ensure we don’t restrict the ability for a user to choose how they engage socially and consume content.
Being able to choose from multiple ways to ‘engage’ so we can segregate our different interactions is going to be essential to many as they emerge from the pandemic. I for one am hopeful that we won’t just return to the ‘old normal’, but rather learn to blend our technology more effectively with life in a way that allows access to all the amazing benefits, but without detriment to our underlying human feelings of connectedness.