Editor’s Corner--COVID-19 is disruptive biology for strategy work

Holding world in hands / strategy
COVID-19 has made strategy and goal-setting work fashionable again. (Getty Images)

COVID-19 has made a lot of serious people think, and think hard, about the future of our society, not only about pandemic preparedness, but other needs directly connected to technology and some decidedly less connected to tech.

Issues such as why broadband is not universal have come up. Some school systems including Philadelphia’s have needed to close during the pandemic because not every family had internet access or a good computer, much less a quiet place to study and learn.  Multiple reports described parents driving their children to Wi-Fi access points in parked school buses to let her kids study online inside their cars, including places like Hopewell, Virginia. https://www.newsbreak.com/virginia/hopewell/news/0OtOV3YN/virginia-school-system-turns-buses-into-wi-fi-hot-spots

Against this setting, some workers and delivery drivers have complained they need hazardous duty pay for processing an escalating number of packages being sent every day to people staying at home.  There is more regard for what cleaning crews put up with every day, now that they are asked to wipe down every surface and spray disinfectants in work and transportation spaces.  The supply chain shortages of protective gear and medical equipment for doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients have been heartbreaking.  Layered atop a considerable amount of misery is rising unemployment --36 million U.S. jobless claims in the last two months.

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It would seem government and industry would be headed toward a full-on assault on how to fix things now as well as prepare for the next time something enormous and terrible happens. But where to start?

Intel in 2030

Intel, one of the nation’s most successful companies financially and technologically, offered up its strategy and goals for 2030 on Thursday.   It offers a playbook for others to follow.

Intel’s plan is ambitiously entitled, “Launching a new era of shared corporate responsibility” but comes with a stirring statement: “Our commitment to positive global impact is embedded in our purpose to create technology that enriches the lives of every person on earth.”

That statement is telling because here is a publicly traded company going on record saying it cares about every person.  Not just its investors.  Many companies have similar goals but sometimes the goals end up being only words in a report or a poignant TV ad backed by piano music and the plaintive voice of an out-of-work actor. We have all been subjected to goal-setting seminars that end up feeling empty.

At least Intel has made the effort.  Intel released a broad set of goals that deem to create a “more responsible, inclusive and sustainable world enabled through technology and our collective actions.”

 “Much of the process to develop our new goals and the results we achieved preceded COVID-19. But the pandemic underscored for us the critical importance of collaborating with others to apply the power of technology to address the critical global challenges we face,” said Suzanne Fallender, director of corporate responsibility. Like many large corporations, Intel committed direct aid to pandemic response with more than $60 million to patient care, faster scientific research and online learning for students. It joined the XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance to speed up pandemic research.

RELATED: Intel boosts COVID-19 aid, research to $60M

Intel’s approach calls for industry-wide collaborations in health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and carbon-neutral computing over the coming decade. The company has achieved many benchmarks in these areas already as described in a detailed 79-page report on corporate responsibility for 2019-2020.  

Among its goals, Intel now wants to achieve some fairly concrete steps, such as net positive water use and 100% green power and zero waste to landfills across Intel’s global manufacturing operations by 2030.

What is meant by “net positive water use?” In Intel’s case it means conserving 60 billion gallons of water and funding external water restoration projects over the coming decade. The company reported over the past decade that it has conserved 44 billion gallons of water.

The “water positive” goal is important, since Intel has chip fabs in some water sensitive areas, such as Arizona and Israel.  “Semi companies often get a bad rep and are seen as big chemical polluters and wastewater producers, which in the past was probably true,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.  “It’s really a changed environment now.” 

Under another heading of environmental sustainability, Intel aims to reduce emissions from semiconductor manufacturing by creating “a collective approach to reducing emissions.” That goal come alongside a commitment to achieving carbon-neutral computing with PC makers to “build the most sustainable and energy-efficient PC on the planet—one that minimizes carbon, water and waste in its design and use.”

 Another big Intel goal in another direction: doubling the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership at Intel and increasing women in tech roles to 40%.

Intel also aims to partner with governments and institutions to empower people with artificial intelligence skills training for future jobs, including with its Intel AI for Youth.

Also in the AI field, Intel committed to collaborating to reduce the 1.3 million traffic crash deaths a year through advancing adoption of technology-neutral safety standards.  Those include an IEEE 2846 standard, which will offer clear guidance on what it means for an autonomous vehicle to drive safely. (It’s bizarre to think that something so basic wasn’t developed well before Level 3 autonomous vehicles were sold.) Intel has a commitment to Responsibility-Sensitive Safety in AVs.

All of these are the kinds of goals that do not usually make for good news stories but do show how many companies are thinking beyond the next quarterly report, sometimes even a decade in the future.

Fundamental disruption

 Intel CEO Bob Swan said in a statement that the pandemic has “fundamentally changed all our lives” especially with the need to work collectively to solve problems as serious as the digital divide and climate change.

We have all heard the term disruptive technology, but COVID-19 is disruptive biology.  If anything, it has caught our attention. Maybe more attention will be paid now to the value of setting goals and making plans to reach them through collaboration.  All this matters, even for company quarterly earnings reports, as in the case of the green movement.

“With all the focus around the world on ecology and the effect on the environment, that has had an effect on stock market perceptions,” Gold said. “Many more stock funds are producing ecological statements about their holdings. It’s important for Intel and others to take these actions as a way to enhance their image, but also to enhance their value."

Matt Hamblen is editor of FierceElectronics.  His views are his own.

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