COVID-19 hasn’t just seen the technology sector step up as never before to fight the virus; it’s also highlighted the importance of innovation in driving business evolution and survival.
Alongside collaborative global efforts to share insights and abilities — including Google and Tencent throwing open their data stores and advanced facilities — recent months have brought significant growth in adoption of smart tools to adapt to the Coronavirus climate. A fifth of large enterprises have dialled up investment in digital transformation initiatives and according to some estimates, the pandemic has fast-forwarded digitisation by five years.
But what are the key developments in this new age of tech-powered resilience and how they are helping businesses?
1. Technological partnerships
Ensuring COVID-19 transmission can be closely tracked is critical on many levels. First and foremost, minimising risk of exposure is a crucial aspect of every company’s responsibility to safeguard employee health — especially as workers begin to return to the office — and provide support for those affected by Coronavirus. Secondly, sudden drops in workforce capacity could also bring operations to a halt; leading to unfulfilled orders, unhappy customers, and ultimately putting future success in jeopardy.
But efforts to establish reliable methods of contact tracing have encountered several issues. In particular, relying on those who test positive to identify everyone they have come into contact with is challenging; and made more complicated by symptom-less infection that can mean individuals don’t enter isolation. Fortunately, tech is working to address this problem.
Several tech players have set their sights on developing software that eases the burden on workers by automatically notifying users if they have been in close proximity to someone who is diagnosed; and they are working together to do so. Apple and Google, for instance, have joined forces to build a Bluetooth-based model to provide ease of use and accuracy, including versatile operating system-level capabilities and application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be used across devices while consistently upholding consumer privacy.
In fact, the solution is so comprehensive that it will soon become the basis for a nationwide contact tracing tool, accessed via public health apps. Although exact dates remain unfixed, the launch of a tool that can be used throughout the UK will be a significant step forward in preventing the spread of the virus, as well as securing better workplace safety.
2. Making the most of AI and data science
Data-driven efficiency is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for businesses. Amid ongoing disruption, the ability to keep up with ever-shifting trends and make rapid but informed decisions is essential. On the positive side, companies now have greater access to the insight they need; as life and work has moved online, the availability of data covering varying consumer behaviour, demand patterns, and market changes has increased. The key obstacle, however, lies translating this data into an actionable state.
Enter artificial intelligence (AI). While the advanced data processing and analytical capacity of AI tech are nothing new, these assets have come into their own for organisations striving to navigate economic turbulence and maintain high performance, as well as service quality.
For example, EasyJet has partnered with UK-based AI firm, Black Swan Data, to streamline its food supply. With a blend of AI and machine learning (ML) the airline is evaluating food consumption to predict what customers will want and when, and order just enough; thereby minimising waste and costs. Similar initiatives using smart platforms such as Genpact are also enabling businesses to improve long-term resilience: testing supply chains in different simulated scenarios and pinpointing where adjustment is required to ensure uninterrupted flow.
3. Recovery and the 5G roll-out
Arguably the main powerhouse behind digitalisation, network connectivity is often unseen and under-appreciated. But it has played a key part in enabling the 60% of UK employees working from home to access their essential digital toolkit; from emails and shared cloud-based drives to instant messenger services and, of course, Zoom. A large portion of the credit still goes to copper and fibre, but with more homes and businesses connecting wirelessly, 4G and 5G networks also have a substantial supporting role.
Looking ahead, there is a compelling case for that role to be much bigger. According to a new report from Vodafone, the UK economy could achieve productivity gains of more than £38 billion in the next five years if the rollout of 5G is brought forward to 2025, with increases tipped to exceed £158 billion over a ten-year period. Data speeds as much as 100 times faster than 4G would near-eradicate capacity bottlenecks and make it easier for employees to download information and complete tasks, wherever they are located.
Given that three in five people would like to work remotely more often post-Coronavirus, an escalation in the arrival of 5G also has the potential to drive considerable benefits for both companies and their workforces; paving the way for greater flexibility that boost employee satisfaction, without impacting output.
Tech has always pivoted and developed to meet emerging challenges and COVID-19 is no different. This small selection of examples demonstrates the diverse ways tech solutions are fuelling adaptation and better equipping organisations to curb the impact on their teams, and bottom line. But it’s worth remembering that transformation never stops. To stay ahead of the curve, companies must keep up their innovative momentum far beyond the pandemic.
Victoria Usher is the Founder and CEO of GingerMay.