The impact of Corona on Business
Today, every business has been impacted by Corona. The intensity of impact has been more on some industries though. Depending on the business models, some businesses got impacted completely whereas for some the impact has been more on a few of the strategic business units.
As the world moves to the phased unlocking of the complete lock-down, businesses will not be functioning the way they did prior to the pandemic outbreak. Technology is going to be at the heart of every business. The current crisis is going to accelerate digitization of almost every industry. Work from home models will certainly be the new normal. A lot of the offline events will happen digitally. While at work, social distancing and workforce monitoring will become mandatory.
In this article, we will explore how technology will be the key driver in addressing the challenges thrown on businesses by this global pandemic and the way forward.
Technology as the key business driver during and post the Corona crisis
So far, in our memories, Corona has been the biggest pandemic that disrupted the status quo globally. Thankfully, we have been able to contain the spread of Corona with the help of technology. And now that it has been established that Corona is here to stay, we are going to live, and work, with Corona. Businesses, globally, will see deeper adoption of technologies that were so far considered as great-to-have technologies. In this section of the article, we will review how the next generation disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), AI/ML, collaboration platforms, robotics, virtual reality, blockchain, 3D printing, positioning technologies, etc. will take the centre stage and will play an important role in this new normal. We will also take into account the increased usage of some of the commonly used technologies going forward. Some of these technologies and devices include smartphones and smartphone apps, smart appliances, NFC-based tags, video conferencing, 5G network, etc.
1. Internet of Things (IoT)
The role of IoT will be crucial in this new normal and it will push its adoption in several technologies that exist. Along with social distancing practices, employees would need to avoid making contact with open surfaces inside as well as outside the workplace. Interconnected devices with embedded sensors will help workplaces in reducing the need for employees to touch surfaces. One classic example would be the replacement of touch sensors for employee attendance with facial recognition devices. In factories, digital wrist bands are being used to maintain social distancing. As soon as factory workers come in closer contact with each other, the band starts vibrating. In most offices, factories, airports and public places, heat-sensing trackers are being deployed. Within these devices are embedded tiny sensors that are capable of capturing data in real time and transmitting them to other connected devices. Social distancing norms are also being monitored through cameras with heat sensors to monitor employees’ movements and monitoring their body temperature in real-time. Some of these interconnected IoT-enabled device systems are connected to the advanced security systems. While undergoing the screening process, if the temperature of the employee turns out to be normal, the office door opens and allows entry. If the temperature is above the normal levels, the door remains shut and the human resource or the admin department is alerted on the real time basis.
A few IoT startups have been able to come up with bio sensors to track health information for clinicians with a remote patient monitoring platform to virtually observe patients and at-risk individuals, providing insights to flag patients with worsening symptoms. This device can be used, for example, by all factory workers to keep a check on their health. The system can be alerted as soon as symptoms appear. This can be a great tool to contain infection at a very early stage and help contain the spread of contagious diseases to other workers.
Office lifts can be operated through smartphone apps. Smart appliances such as microwave or coffee machines can now be controlled through simple voice commands. In order to reduce contacts and exchange of currency notes, NFC (or near field communication) tags are being deployed for contactless payments.
IoT enabled robots have been used in many situations where human presence has to be minimized. For example, from cooking food at hospitals, spraying disinfectants, and dispensing hand sanitizers, robots were deployed extensively to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. We will discuss IoT enabled robots in detail later in this article while discussing robotics.
Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
The impact of covid on healthcare and pharmaceuticals have been profound. They adopted pretty much every technology to equip themselves in fighting Corona. The adoption has been global and full-scale. And this is going to be the way forward for these industries.
With the help of data analytics and predictive models, medical professionals globally have been able to learn more and more about the disease. One of the most basic applications of AI has been in mass thermal screening. AI tools have been developed to effectively and consistently screen large populations. An AI-powered infrared system with the ability to detect change in a person’s body temperature has been deployed across a number of cities. The system can examine up to 200 people in one minute. The application of such AI-powered infrared systems can be adopted in every office facility and public places. The ability to handle 200 individuals per minute would ensure that there are no bottlenecks during peak hours.
Furthermore, The role of AI has been crucial in scientific data mining, predicting the pandemic, diagnosis of the virus, development of drugs and the predictive quarantine. Let’s see how AI has been deployed in these areas.
As the pandemic spread across countries, a deluge of medical research was published on Covid-19. Although a large volume of quality research data is great, it also comes with a Big Data challenge. It is hard to filter and analyze so much data with traditional analytics tools. Therefore, researchers had to turn to AI to help them better mine data for insights.
We now have sophisticated AI platforms that can process billions of pieces of data to identify pandemic outbreaks such as Covid 19. It is now easy to train a ML model to extrapolate publicly-available data to gain insights into the disease and how it is spreading — taking into account different factors of social distancing, past medical and travel history, quarantine status and standard epidemiology parameters, etc.
Such predictive analytics are going to be the norm across the world going forward. As this is apparent, predictive analytics is not going to be restricted to identifying pandemic outbreaks but it finds relevance in many projects – not for healthcare but for various government and private projects.
New researches claim that with the help of AI in CT Scans, Coronavirus can be detected in just 20 seconds. This model of detecting a virus through CT scan has a precision rate of 96%. An AI model was trained with the help of data from a sizable sample of several thousand confirmed cases and can identify patients with Coronavirus in CT scans.
A team of researchers from leading universities are working with machine learning models to identify specific characteristics from the voice recordings of the Covid-19 patients. The idea is to identify specific vocal signatures that could give the preliminary confirmation of an individual carrying the virus.
These AI initiatives can literally change the way diagnosis of diseases have been going on across the globe. This would, in a way, mean that all diagnosis can be done remotely just through CT scan data and vocal signatures.
Access to public information has led to the creation of dashboards that are continuously monitoring the virus. Several organizations are developing dashboards using Big Data. Face recognition and infrared temperature detection techniques have been able to give data about individuals and their body temperature. This data can further be analyzed along with data on people’s movements and ascertain whether or not they have been in contact with an infected person. People’s movement data can be fetched from the location tracking capabilities of the smartphones people carry.
Researchers are analyzing user-generated data to monitor the progress of Covid-19 by mining social media posts as well.
During this pandemic, the internet played its role in spreading information. However, it also played a role in spreading misinformation that was dangerous. Misinformation alone claimed thousands of lives as people in some way or the other. Lots of fake news emanate from various social media platforms. And many others come from click-bait websites. Although such websites can be traced and brought-down, controlling massive amounts of data from billions of users on social media becomes a bit of a challenge.
Additionally, epidemiologists need high-quality data to model viruses; with models, they can provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the disease. But that data is hard to get or its integrity cannot be verified.
Social media giants are now turning to blockchain technology as blockchain offers a single source of truth with verified data provenance, spotlighting misinformation threads and charlatans.
In addition to data provenance, blockchain technology helps in decentralized management and immutable audit trails to improve a variety of healthcare-related processes, including record management, healthcare surveillance, tracking disease outbreaks, management crisis situations and many more.
One of the examples would be the use of blockchain technology to securely manage health records, ensuring interoperability without compromising patient privacy and security. Those records could include patients’ data, treatments given, and any progress detected. Blockchain has also helped in ensuring that data is archived and protected by any unauthorised access, but at the same time, keeping it available for the whole healthcare system and research communities.
A blockchain healthcare surveillance system has been able to efficiently provide the means to prevent and control future pandemic outbreaks. A permissioned blockchain surveillance system allows health agencies to access the surveillance data. Real-time information on surrounding areas, regardless of governmental or political barriers, can help in taking corrective measures on time. As such systems are decentralized and secured through blockchain, data remains secure and several organizations can utilize the data without tempering it in any way.
The blockchain has also been used for “track and tracing” of medical supply chains. Although blockchain has already been adopted as a successful supply chain management tool in other industries, blockchain-based platforms for the medical supply chain have been used extensively during the pandemic to enable the review, recording and tracking of demand, supplies and logistics of epidemic prevention materials. As such supply chains depend on multiple parties (from donors and recipients, to warehousing and delivery logistics), the entire process of record and verification by each party is made tamper-proof, while also allowing anyone to track the process for efficiently managing the overall logistics.
Many other key technologies supporting the businesses continuity plan
No technology works in isolation. Many technologies work in tandem to build a solution. The impact of Covid on business has been deep and technology played a key role in ensuring business continuity. For example, businesses were able to quickly adopt work-from-home policies using online meeting softwares and various collaboration platforms. Smartphones played an important role in minimizing exposure. Delivery apps helped in offering contactless delivery. Tracking Corona suspect’s whereabouts through location information provided by smartphones has been key to monitoring movements before being quarantined. Intelligent robots are being deployed to deliver food, medicine and other supplies to infected patients. Robots were also used to disinfect hospitals and public areas such as office buildings, buses and trains. They were also used to check patients’ temperatures. Virtual reality came up as the most compelling alternative to video calls that allows people to experience and feel like they are in the same space together. Increased usage of videoconferencing, virtual reality and telemedicine, etc. needed and led to 5G-scale internet upgrade. The potential speed and scale of 3D printers were realized when the demand for protective face shields, patient gowns, oxygen masks, PPK kits; and even ventilators grew suddenly and exponentially. Satellite monitoring, positioning technologies and sensors enabled large-scale usage of drones and robots.
Although these changes were necessitated by the Covid-19 crisis, even as the urgency subsides, new habits riding on technological advancements are likely to have changed forever. Businesses would be counting on technology not as a business continuity plan but to be more agile and safe.
Greater Reliance on IT Services Post Covid
Post Covid business model transformation, or let’s call it the accelerated digitisation, will remain a key deliverable for most businesses. This phenomenon will place an increased dependency in internal IT systems to increase more automation; hence efficiencies, and output. Ultimately, this will put immense burden on internal IT teams.
There will be more constraint in terms of hiring and training new employees. So, IT will certainly have to deal with more action items with similar or reduced team sizes.
However, slower reaction to technology adoption may have even more damaging implications on businesses. So, it would be prudent for businesses to turn to specialized Managed IT services companies. Managing an ecosystem of specialized IT service providers along with an internal technology leadership to orchestrate the entire ecosystem will work just the fine.
A thorough due diligence of IT services partners would not just help companies reduce cost and increase operational efficiency but also make the process strong and the system secure in the longer run.
As mentioned above, hiring, training and re-skilling may get delayed for most companies as they open up post Covid. In such circumstances, hiring domain specialists or IT consulting firms would help organizations quickly leverage knowledge, skills and experience of consulting companies to do things faster, better and at reduced price points.
To sum up, the following are going to be some of the benefits of engaging a managed IT services company post Coivd-19:
- Adding more team members can be expensive compared to the fees managed IT services companies would charge
- As good managed IT service providers provide a secure, stable, and 24/7 available network to respond to trouble tickets, internal IT departments can do more with their time in the office.
- Good IT services providers or IT consulting companies would most likely have domain specialists. Hence they are capable of providing businesses direct access to a community of experts in a range of subject matter areas.
And lastly, when companies transition to new digitised businesses models in relatively lesser time, there are going to be chances of long down-time or some security breaches. No business would like to get into legal issues related to security or SLA breach in the post crisis era. Hence, taking the help of trusted IT service providers would always be a great idea.
The Way forward
Since the advent of various digital technologies over a period of several years, we have come a long way towards the digitisation of human experiences. We have gradually transitioned from a purely offline life to a kind of mixed reality entailing both the offline and online world’s seamlessly merging in our everyday lives. But the change has been slow and being considered as an option. The pandemic accelerated the change and the optional use of technology, in some way, became mandatory for survival.
With the pandemic, the planned, but slow, digitalisation of several industries such as education institutions, restaurants, and other non-tech savvy traditional businesses has been accelerated. The same process of phased digitization that would have taken months or even years is now happening in a matter of weeks. Although the complete digital transformation will take its own time for the majority of businesses, this acceleration of technology adoption represents an interesting paradigm shift. The current pandemic has totally eliminated the need to use digital technologies as an option. It would, in fact, be reasonable to assert that businesses globally are witnessing an accelerated digitisation of human experiences. And this is going to be the way forward for businesses to adopt new technologies and businesses to survive and thrive in the new world of accelerated digitization.
COVID-19 is has pushed organizations to rapidly adopt new business models and IT is being tested as never before. As businesses juggle a gamut of situation-led challenges― business continuity risks, sudden and deep drop in activities and volume, real-time decision-making, workforce productivity, security risks―leaders now need to be more agile than ever before to address immediate people, process and technology issues and lay a strong foundation for the future.
Once we get over this global crisis, it will be indispensable to establish long-term strategies for ensuring better resilience and to apply the lessons learned and create a systems (process and technology) and a talent roadmap that would better prepare us for future disruptions of this scale and intensity.
Continuous improvement would entail continuously adapting to new and uncertain market conditions such as financial challenges; addressing the needs of the workforce, customers and suppliers; addressing large scale supply chain disruptions; stabilizing revenue inflow, etc.
The global pandemic has forever changed our experiences forever―as potential or current customers, employers, employees, citizens of a country, and as humans on top of it all― leading to an immediate shift in our attitudes and behaviors. The crisis has fundamentally changed how and what consumers buy or react to an advertisement or pay for various services. Post Covid, companies will need to deeply evaluate the impact of these changes on the way they design, communicate, build and run the experiences that people need and want. With emerging new behavioral patterns, organizations have an opportunity to accelerate the transition towards digitization, by expanding existing service lines or altogether creating new lines of service. This acceleration will weed out the unfit or the laggards. And at the same time, it can be a blessing in disguise for those that are capable of adapting quickly.