The benchmarks for success or even survival will be dictated by how business leaders, statesmen, scientific community and citizens come together for the larger societal good.
Six weeks into the lockdown and it seems like the new normal is beginning to be accepted as the new reality. Even as we globally breached the 3 million mark in positive COVID-19 cases, there are fresh green shoots of hope and opportunity that is visible. As we wait for a miracle cure, there are close to 100 COVID-19 vaccine candidates under various stages of development and trials by universities and life science majors. The efforts globally, by federal agents, social agencies, healthcare & research experts are all indicative of a cardinal truth - every challenge is an opportunity waiting to be explored.
But what sets this pandemic apart from any other global crisis, is the sheer explosion of new innovations that have come to the fore. While no other economic or health crisis has had this kind of an impact on humanity, this pandemic has disrupted the DNA of every traditional business models and given birth to a new way of collaboration and innovation. Human lives are precious, and every life saved is a reminder of the opportunity to start afresh, think nimble and act swiftly in the right direction.
The post-COVID world will have a new political, economic and social regime. If the economy has to stabilize, and lives rebuilt, then the social fabric as we have known so far, needs to be rewoven. The benchmarks for success or even survival will be dictated by how business leaders, statesmen, scientific community and citizens come together for the larger societal good.
Open Innovation will have increasing acceptance
Innovation can longer happen in siloes. Open innovation has always been popular rhetoric, much less practiced in reality as much as it has been spoken about. Today, amidst the crisis, companies who have thrown open their open source technologies to help COVID warriors develop solutions have gained in trust & societal capital, something that stakeholders will value.
In response to the pandemic, Medtronics, a leading medical devices company, threw open its product IP for others to copy its ventilator product. Other pharma companies are giving access to their patented drug IPs to help promote the development of COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, the WHO has been propagating the creation of a patent pool to increase access to essential medicines and this could very well become a reality. Back in India, a team of engineers in Applied Materials, a leading material engineering company, is making open-source designs for low-cost medical gear available to the local community.
The open source community have been a sport during these uncertain times allowing academics, medical and research professions to use open API to create solutions that can help better understand how the contagion can be detected or even contained.
Traditional sectors will embrace digital faster
Pedagogy practiced for decades in schools will transform this academic year as virtual classrooms and self-paced learning will replace one to many lecturing. In India, a software skilling academy threw open its platform for a private university to take share lectures to 100s of students to ensure academic term continuity from the safe confines of home. As enterprise-grade collaborative video and conferencing tools become the tool of choice for teachers to impart primary education for children who may not see their physical schools for months, the impact of such a pedagogy on the facilitators, caregivers and students learning will be worth measuring. Not only will this help fast track digitalization but also allow service providers to learn from customer feedback and improve their UI and privacy measures. It is also time now for policymakers to explore provisions to bridge the digital divide with inclusive-e-learning solutions.
Alternately, a contra-cyclical trend is being witnessed in the healthcare space with hospitals recording negative growth owing to fewer footfalls as they take to digital consultation. Start-ups in the doctor consultation space and large private hospital players have seen a rise in teleconsultation becoming the tool of choice for doctor-patient interactions and second opinions. In the US, according to a new study led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, between March 2 and April 14, 2020, the daily average virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langdon Health grew by 683 per cent and non-urgent virtual care visits by an unprecedented 4,345 per cent in response to COVID-19.
Digital or digitally-enabled companies will be gainers
CEOs across the board are still mulling over if this pandemic has in fact brought forward anything new or just accelerated emerging trends to a newfound velocity.
According to start-up Genome's report, 12% of start-ups in the like telemedicine, education, fintech and banking, video platforms, e-commerce, gaming, and streaming media space, have seen their revenue increase by 10% or more since the start of the pandemic.
With demand superseding supply, several asset-light and internet-based companies found the agility to change their product/service offering to supply of essential goods. But the very definition of essential goods has evolved in the past weeks. ICT tools will now need to be considered as essentials with the lockdown extending and many companies deciding to adopt work from the regime as a normal course of business. Market Intelligence firm IDC suggests that as remote working extends, there will be greater demand for endpoint and network services, cloud services, infrastructure services and application management as well.
Contactless UI will redefine customer experiences
With social distancing being the norm, creating a touchless society is what is going to occupy the minds of researchers, technologies and app developers to create solutions that can provide seamless and simple customer experiences.
Design thinking will be the key guiding principle for businesses ahead as more and more people, at different stages of maturity in technology adoption, will shift to digital tools.
Many agile businesses, and essential as well as others, were quick to upgrade their apps and other customer interfaces with the options of contactless shopping and payments to keep the commerce on. In India, banks, traditionally known to be slow digital adopters, are now dispersing loans through Virtual KYCs and Aadhaar OTP authentications.
While fingerprint authentication will be replaced by facial recognition hardware's, voice-controlled devices will also find increasing applications in various sectors.
Cybersecurity will become a boardroom conversation
With the lockdown being sudden, not many organizations had the time to ensure that an overnight work from home transition could be both seamless and secure. Security of enterprise and customer data is sacrosanct for all businesses, but the pandemic allowed very little time for due diligence amidst the efforts for business continuity. Enterprise-grade level technology are being used on private and home networks with IT team facing several limitations in ensuring safe usage of applications outside of the safe network. Phishing and malware attacks have witnessed a surge, and brands are struggling to grapple with the cyberattacks which are largely instigated by unintended employees who are not aware of the risks involved while accessing sensitive information on various personal devices.
Cybersecurity which was erstwhile relegated to the CTO's domain should now become the primary boardroom conversation in light of safe and scalable business continuity. Business leaders must train their remote employees in safe internet practices and also proactively inform customers about the potential threats of opening links/apps that could be seemingly harmless but potentially dangerous. In the long run, a robust cybersecurity framework that cuts across the entire organisation IT network will need to be devised.
The physical workspace as we know, will cease to exist
With the scale at which most companies were able to transform to a remote work arrangement, many are now pondering over the post-COVID workspace design. Labor laws that have been in effect for long will now see changes with newer government mandates being put in place for worker safety against COVID. Staffing and scheduling the designated number of employees at the workspace and ensuring safe distance amidst them is beyond the realm of traditional HR Systems. A post COVID people strategy will need to be supported with robust workforce management tools that can help employers track employees, update them with timely information and also measure productivity with zero human bias.
Social capital will grow
The New Reality is birthed not by just our resilience but the humane side of organizations, governments and the society at large. It is a non-tangible truth that social distancing has brought society closer through digital contact. While this pandemic might have eroded traditional capitalism, social capital seems to be growing. The ease with which companies and luminaires have extended philanthropy will be a reminder of the social good that usually never gets measured. In the UK volunteering at a community and grassroot level to extend support to the most vulnerable during social isolation is proof of social capital gaining ground.
What lies ahead of us is unknown. The challenges are real, but so are the opportunities. How we harness opportunities into a world of possibilities, will be critical in oiling the economic engine and help us gain lost ground. While the US took 12 years to come back to its pre-great depression GDP levels, today, with the power of technology and industrial muscle, we can surely recover faster and get back to normalcy in the new reality.
This article was originally published on Business World and has been written by Nitin Rakesh, CEO and Executive Director, Mphasis.
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