May 4, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Still wondering how you are going to fill your week? Here's one option, at least for a small portion on Tuesday:

  • Axios is hosting a live virtual event on COVID-19's impact on education and the jobs of the future. Join Axios cities correspondent Kim Hart at 12:30pm ET for a conversation with Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and CEO and chairman of Revolution and co-founder of AOL Steve Case
  • Register here.

Today's Login is 1,411 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Salesforce preps software tools for the pandemic

Photo: Courtest of Salesforce

Salesforce is announcing new products today to help businesses navigate reopening during a pandemic, tackling newly necessary tasks like scheduling office workers in shifts, managing employee health and handling emergency responses.

Why it matters: Firms like Zoom and Slack have seen their existing services flourish during the coronavirus crisis, but Salesforce's new products are some of the first designed specifically to help navigate it. Expect many more to follow.

The big picture: Businesses are facing a whole set of new considerations as they look to reopen in the coming weeks with little to no playbook to follow.

  • "People are just learning the right questions to ask," Salesforce operating chief Bret Taylor told Axios. "This is us enlisting hundreds people around the company in a very short time to create something new."

Details: Salesforce is introducing several new products, including:

  • A Work.com command center dashboard where businesses can assess their readiness across locations, merging internal data, survey information and public data.
  • A suite of emergency response management products designed for tasks including contact tracing. Built in collaboration with Accenture, the set of tools is aimed at public health institutions, government agencies and businesses.
  • An employee wellness check system designed to let companies query and monitor the health of employees and visitors to make informed decisions on opening and closing offices, among other things.
  • A shift-management system that helps business leaders figure out how to reduce density, schedule breaks and reduce other bottlenecks so employees can safely return to work.

Between the lines: Salesforce has been active on many fronts during the pandemic, from procuring protective equipment for health care providers, to calling for coordinated plans for safely reopening business.

  • The company, which was early to close its offices, also recently said it was shutting down in-person events for the year, including its flagship Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Yes, but: The new offerings aren't philanthropic efforts. Salesforce is charging for the various components, with prices ranging from $5 to $50 per user per month.

What's next: Taylor said he expects the product to evolve rapidly. "Honestly, I know there will be things it is missing," he said. "I don't know that we know every aspect of what it will take to reopen."

2. Tim Cook's advice to 2020 college grads

Tim Cook, remotely delivering the 2020 Ohio State University commencement. Photo: Apple

Tim Cook offered an uplifting take on the current crisis Sunday as he delivered a commencement address, virtually, to this year's graduating class at the Ohio State University.

The big picture: Graduating from college is often an uncertain time, but all the more so in the COVID-19 era.

What he's saying: Cook began his talk by pointing to some of the notable people whose careers were launched amid the 1918 flu pandemic:

  • Amelia Earhart, who started watching planes while in a hospital recovering from the flu, which she contracted as a nurse.
  • A 36-year-old Franklin Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy and headed overseas to make sure U.S. sailors were prepared for World War I. He had to be carried off a military ship on a stretcher, but after recovering became the vice presidential nominee.
  • Writing from his sickbed, T.S. Eliot began "The Waste Land," which opens with the line "April is the cruelest month" and went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
"It can be difficult to see the whole picture when you’re still inside the frame, but I hope you wear these uncommon circumstances as a badge of honor."
— Tim Cook

Cook also encouraged the graduates to think not just about how the pandemic is affecting those close to them, but also those who may be even more distant, from hospital orderlies to undocumented farm workers.

The full commencement is available to view here.

3. Activist investor Elliott funds lawsuit against Quibi

Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

One of the most feared activist investors is financing a patent lawsuit on behalf of a small interactive video company against the splashy new mobile streaming company Quibi, a person familiar with the lawsuit tells Axios' Sara Fischer.

Why it matters: Elliott Management's involvement escalates the months-long battle over who owns the video technology that powers Quibi's entire business. Quibi just launched in April, and has struggled to stick to its ambitious growth plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Details: The lawsuit, filed by interactive video company Eko, alleges that Quibi’s flagship technology "Turnstyle" rips off a key feature from Eko, which also lets users swap from horizontal to vertical video. Eko also says Quibi has stolen trade secrets.

  • The lawsuit focuses on high-level employees at Quibi that used to work at Snapchat, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit. Eko believes those employees took its ideas while being briefed on the tech when Eko and Snapchat were in talks about a partnership years ago.
  • In financing the lawsuit, Elliott will take an unknown equity stake in Eko. A source familiar with the deal says Elliott expects Eko to use the investment to pursue the litigation. A person familiar with the matter says the deal isn't finalized.
  • The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the lawsuit.

Background: Eko first accused Quibi of patent infringement in March. At that time, Quibi filed its own complaint accusing Eko of spreading false accusations in an attempt to tarnish Quibi's reputation.

Yes, but: It's unclear what Elliott gets out of this if Eko doesn't win the lawsuit. According to a source familiar with the matter, the Eko team feels confident that its case will go to trial, and that Eko has enough evidence that Quibi executives were aware of Eko's ideas prior to launching their own product.

Go deeper: The "most feared activist investor in the world"

4. The next wave of job automation will be virtual

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While industrial robots may get more attention, the real acceleration in workplace automation will come via software, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

Why it matters: Robotic process automation (RPA) allows companies to program computer software to emulate the actions of a human worker. That potentially opens up a much larger portion of the economy to automation at a moment when the pandemic has already forced businesses to go remote.

A recent Bain survey of nearly 800 executives worldwide estimated that the number of companies scaling up such automation technologies is set to double over the next two years — and that the coronavirus will almost certainly accelerate that timeline.

  • Businesses are already using automated bots to respond to the pandemic, says Michael Heric, the leader of Bain's Automation Center of Excellence and a co-author of the report. That includes processing testing kits and helping with SBA loan applications.
  • "We see a lot of clients saying that remote work during the pandemic demonstrates that some of this activity should be automated as well," says Heric.

Between the lines: At an uncertain moment when companies might need to rapidly scale up or down certain parts of their business, "software robots give you immense flexibility," says Ashim Gupta, the chief financial officer at UiPath.

The catch: While industrial robots have and will continue to displace some human workers in manufacturing and other physical occupations, more than three-quarters of the U.S. economy is now provided by the services sector. That means vastly more jobs are at least somewhat at risk from the spread of this brand of automation, on top of the tens of millions of jobs already lost during the initial months of the pandemic.

  • "There are very serious displacement problems that we should be worried about," says Michael Lotito, co-chair of the Workplace Policy Institute at Littler. "If we don't embrace these issues now, there are opportunities here for social unrest."

Yes, but: Companies in the space insist that software robots are less about outright replacing human employees than augmenting them by taking low-level, repetitive work off their hands. The result is what some experts call a "hybrid workforce."

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Not only is it Monday, but it is May the Fourth, a big day for Star Wars fans, so expect a lot of Yoda, Luke and Darth Vader-inspired tweets.
  • It's the final big week of quarterly earnings reports, with Pinterest and Electronic Arts reporting on Tuesday; Lyft, Square and PayPal on Wednesday; and Uber, Dropbox, Booking.com and Roku slated for Thursday.

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • Former Axios colleague David McCabe has a profile of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, one of Amazon's fiercest congressional critics, who happens to represent a district in the company's own backyard. (NYT)
  • The coronavirus has killed a lot of jobs, but it has created some new options, like Zoom babysitter. (Washington Post)
  • Apple announced a new 13-inch MacBook Pro that, among other updates, now boasts the Magic Keyboard available in other Apple devices. (Apple)
  • Intel is reportedly nearing a deal to buy Israeli transit app maker Moovit for $1 billion. (TechCrunch)
  • Uber reportedly plans to start mandating face masks for drivers in countries including the U.S. (CNN)
6. After you Login
Just some of the 600 books he read. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Our son Harvey set out a goal to read (and/or have read to him) 600 books during the school year. On Sunday, he reached his goal, so we posted a celebratory message in chalk in front of the house, among other surprises. Login isn't part of his reading habit — yet — but "Congratulations Harvey!"

Ina Fried