COVID-19 has encouraged technology innovations that are changing our world. Are organizations ready to seize these new opportunities?
The adage, “necessity is the mother of invention,” has never been truer than in these unusual times. While there is no minimizing the devastating human and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, I am a firm believer that with every downside there is an upside.
The crisis has undoubtedly accelerated digital transformation across the world and opened our eyes to the possibilities offered by technology solutions to enhance and support our lives, and sustain and grow our businesses.
Many believe there is no going back to the “old normal” and that the “new normal” is here to stay. The pandemic has propelled organizations toward redefining their “new normal” and barriers that were previously in the way of technology transformation have been found wanting without the option of alternatives.
Our unusual circumstances have encouraged me to reflect on the following three trends in technology transformation we can expect to see in the months ahead:
1. A new, and efficient, way of working and living
While the idea of remote working has been around for a while, many organizations still hadn’t fully committed to the concept. This was driven by a range of factors, including the capacity of existing technology infrastructures and the ability to enable employees to work effectively and productively remotely.
If the COVID-19 restrictions have taught us anything, it is that a new way of working is possible. While there have been challenges in the rapid transition brought about by societal lockdowns, organizations are successfully managing their businesses by adopting tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom to communicate and collaborate. In fact, we have seen these big corporations offer discounts and free use, as part of their own contribution towards supporting businesses and communities. We can anticipate that many of these technology companies will increase in value as a result, and I am following this trajectory with great personal interest.
Travel restrictions have also been a catalyst in the rise of online ordering and home delivery services. With the sudden uptick in use, online and organizational infrastructure has been put under enormous strain. We are at the cusp of such services becoming more mainstream globally, creating the opportunity to improve and enhance this infrastructure and lock consumers into the ease of e-commerce. On the flip side, the need for improved cybersecurity assurance and payments processing also exists as consumers across the world, including developing economies, become more comfortable with digital transactions. A lesson for mature economies is the East African mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service called MPESA. Also born out of necessity, this product has become the primary currency transfer platform in that region where per capita income is a small percentage of the lowest in a mature market.
From a data management perspective, network operators have the opportunity of adapting the way they connect with and grow their customer base by lowering the cost of data and driving internet accessibility for all. In mature markets we have seen the call for the improvement of IT infrastructure to enable more efficient and greater coverage of personal and business internet access. As a result, Telcos are likely to gain significantly through this period of economic constraints.
2. Retrofitting by design
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, there was no time to develop or implement new systems or processes, and certainly no time to assess existing technology and fill gaps. However, the opportunity now exists to rethink the traditional approach and purposefully retrofit existing structures to meet the needs of our new reality.
A good example of this is the education sector, which was turned on its head with the sudden closure of schools and learning institutions. Using Edtech (education technologies such as learning platforms, video conferencing and texting, among others) for remote learning, which makes education available to students with an internet connection across the world – ultimately supporting them in continuing their education regardless of their location.
While physical events across the world have been cancelled, event organizers have embraced the opportunity and started structuring digital virtual events, and I believe this will increasingly become the norm. The cost-saving benefits alone will be a key driver in organizations encouraging the adoption of this transformation.
The real estate sector is already feeling the impact with high value business premises standing empty as employees are required to work from home. It asks the uncomfortable question about the need for dedicated office space in the future, if remote working becomes a viable alternative. Indeed, we may see the increase of co-working spaces or, at a minimum, a decrease of dedicated working space footprints. An increase of smart buildings and digital real estate offerings will be key to ensuring that companies will effectively operate in the future. Coupled with this, data, security, identity access, storage, connectivity and hardware requirements of companies’ new requirements create the need to redesign technology infrastructure. This is an inevitable reality of the emergence of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
The crisis has also sparked a range of out of the box thinking and innovation across industries. Existing technology – such as 3D printing – is being leveraged in unique ways to support the healthcare industry during the pandemic by printing much needed components for medical equipment. The potential for this industry is enormous in the medium term, with direct benefits for communities and across multiple industries.
We have also seen the unprecedented rise of e-commerce, which is set to skyrocket, with online transactions already pushing the boundaries of existing infrastructure. The banking industry is finding new ways of assisting clients via digital platforms, and the use of cash will likely decrease in the longer term. Restaurants, while currently feeling the pressure of social distancing restrictions, could digitize their supply chain – including online ordering and home delivery and dining alternatives to bolster their service offerings.
3. Reimagining the impossible
If necessity is the mother of invention, and technology is a universal enabler, we find ourselves in a unique position to challenge predetermined concepts of what is possible. There are countless examples of new ways of work being enabled as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Robotic support in the healthcare industry is prevalent but is expected to rise. With increased enablement, healthcare workers can perform tasks such as remote surgeries to administering medication to isolated individuals and simple but high-risk activities for humans such as disinfection and waste disposal.
Opportunities in the education sector are significant too. Using technology, teaching can expand from a few hundred students to thousands of students. Learning institutions such as Harvard have adjusted well, with online learning platforms that bolster their free online courses enabling continued education utilizing digital channels for learning and support without face-to-face learning found in typical university environments. This means that traditional brick and mortar limitations are minimized in our pursuit of learning and human advancement.
Organizations will need to build resilience into their supply chains. Opportunities exist to integrate technology into the supply chain processes and minimize the reliance upon and direct contact between people, while still maintaining a resilient and effective supply chain.
Digital content streaming, entertainment and gamification sectors are well positioned to unlock the opportunities offered by technology. The need for these sectors to stay relevant is key, with over a 50% of global media and entertainment executives saying they can no longer rely on traditional business models. Virtual reality will become more commonplace as the price of data becomes more affordable and infrastructure is adapted to enhance experiences.
Underpinning all of this is the need to reimagine global financial services infrastructure and resilience. With investment in next generation technology and enhanced security, facilitating payments and online spending will further accelerate and integrate the digital economy into our daily lives. The opportunity for financial institutions exists to become more than a bank to consumers and businesses, as they use technology to integrate their services and operations as a holistic solution, that provides assurance, transparency and confidence to customers.
Embracing the “new normal”
Despite the grim circumstances, our world will continue to transform rapidly and our reliance on technology will grow. To help embrace our “new normal” let’s consider taking the following actions offered by our disrupted economic landscape:
- Challenge the purpose of legacy technology frameworks and infrastructure
- Encourage new ways of technology-driven work to drive efficiencies and productivity
- Invest in research and development innovation hubs
- Ramp up hiring technology skills, including software engineers, developers and data scientists
- Grow the organization’s ecosystem to include alliances with innovative companies, entrepreneurs and start ups
- Automate now for the future
The winners will be those organizations who can adapt and seize the opportunities emerging in the dawn of the recovery.