The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, suspending business and disrupting normal lives. Even as the world recovers from this limbo and prepares to resume functioning, it will be a very different world from what we are perhaps used to. Everything will have changed to now include social distancing, a lot more contact-less functionally will have to be built in as an inherent practice, and everyone will have to prepare for this change.
Moving forward, in what we are now extensively referring to as the ‘Post COVID World’, technology will play a major role in redefining workplace conduct and consumer behavior according to the new reality. Widespread technological investments will be made to facilitate more autonomous manufacturing processes, coordinated supply chains, and an increased shift to virtual interactions and workspaces. The driving force behind these innovations will revolve around building resilient business models that allow for contactless or ‘less-contact’ interactions.
Some major areas under which digital innovation will be driven in the Post COVID-19 world are:
Facilitating work from home:
Even after the pandemic subsides, remote working is set to become a long-term arrangement globally. While several companies such as Facebook and Google have declared work from home for employees till the end of the year, Twitter has allowed ‘Work from Home’ a permanent choice for those employees that can work virtually. Thus, in the coming months, there will be a rise in the use of applications that enable improved remote collaboration as well as monitoring of productivity while working from home. Applications with integrated features for remote working, including video conferencing, calendar scheduling, task and project management, will be increasingly implemented in work cycles. Consequently, concerns associated with remote collaboration, such as cyber security and data access will be subjected to greater attention and scrutiny.
The pandemic has had a staggering impact on global education, with schools and institutions all over being shut for extended periods. Where possible, classrooms are becoming virtual through online classes, video lectures, etc.
Although there was considerable adoption of remote learning platforms before, there has been a high surge in the usage of e-learning tools since the COVID-19 outbreak. Major e-Learning providers are catering to this influx by bolstering features and capabilities and offering their services for free.
e-Learning not only enables students to continue learning while social distancing, but also makes learning more fun, interactive and allows users to learn at their own pace. Apart from students, courses available on e-learning platforms are also enabling professionals to gain new skills and certifications online. These benefits, coupled with the increased dependence in the absence of offline learning, will need to an acceleration in the transition to e-learning.
With proper planning and the inclusion of features such as real-time co-editing, auto-translation and calendar scheduling, online education can undoubtedly aid traditional offline learning and become an integral part of education systems around the world.
As offices reopen, organizations will have to lay down safety measures in place to cater to the post-lockdown world. While some of these measures may vary from industry to industry, the underlying need is going to be the same: Ensure social distancing for employees & customers and prevent or minimize contact exposure.
Apart from making operational changes such as increasing distance between workstations and frequency of sanitization, businesses will also need to leverage technology to aid wherever possible.
B2C services such as retail, hospitality, food, personal care and grooming etc., can implement appointment booking applications to help them manage the number of customers that can visit at a time and thus ensure social distancing effectively. Scanning systems can be installed at entry points such as lobbies, reception areas, retail outlets, factory gates, etc. These systems can help identify susceptible cases and take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of infection if detected.
Sustaining the pandemic has put an immense strain on global healthcare systems and highlighted the need to build stronger healthcare capabilities. To achieve this as well as make healthcare more accessible, there is a significant investment being made in facilitating telehealth, that is, the delivery of healthcare and related services remotely. Through remote consultations, patient monitoring, telehealth will help reduce the need for in-person interactions where possible and thus divert physical resources to more critical cases. This will not only considerably reduce the pressure on healthcare resources but also the contact exposure between patients.
With the need to minimize contact exposure, there will be increased investments in touch-less technology to mitigate possible contagion through touch.
There will be widespread research and implementation of innovations using the power of sensors, such as sensor-controlled doors and elevators, automated dispensers, gesture-controlled devices, voice-activated virtual assistants and drone-delivery systems. These will help make processes near-autonomous and reduce surface touch points as far as possible.
Emerging Technology and Automation:
The unprecedented situation wrought on by the pandemic put immense pressure on business operations and subsequently supply chains across the world. It has brought to light the need for making processes more human-independent and efficient through automation.
Automation in various sectors, especially in industrial ones such as manufacturing, will be accelerated to achieve a two-fold goal: reduce manual intervention in processes, thus bringing in more efficiency, and build resilience in operations so that should there be another crisis, business-as-usual does not get affected to a great degree.
To achieve this degree of automation and intelligence in systems, emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, RPA, Robotics and IoT will be in the fast lane to adoption. Thus, in the coming decades, one can expect to see the emergence of near-autonomous warehouses, driverless cars and robots assisting in different tasks.
Despite all precautionary measures to maintain social distancing and minimize contact exposure, the spread of the virus will persist for quite some time. As people resume their lives, there will be a need to keep a track of changes in the data pools, travel histories and prior contacts made with patients who test positive.
Several technology applications and solutions are being built to facilitate this tracking and analysis based on location. Applications that allow contact tracing, geo-tagging and location-based analytics will enable health authorities to effectively track and curb the spread of the COVID-19 or other viruses. The analysis of this collective data can further enable the identification of geographical and demographic spreads of the virus and support authorities and citizens in making decisions accordingly.
Crises such as this pandemic are often inflection points for rapid innovation, ushering in transformation in processes faster than would have happened otherwise. To ride this wave, companies must adopt a new-found approach in lieu of the changed reality. Thus, by revisiting organization structures, workflows and processes and investing in remote collaboration and automation businesses can ensure higher efficiency and better preparedness in the face of another crisis.