The human cost and socio-economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are of monumental proportions. But for the commitment, dedication, and hard work of our healthcare professionals, first responders and administrators, things could have been far worse, for which they deserve our heartfelt thanks. It is their efforts that give us hope and confidence that we will get COVID-19 in control sooner than later.
As a trusted technology innovation partner of our clients, we, at HCL, have been through a tough and busy quarter, trying to enable secure, agile, and remote operations for enterprise clients. Enough has been said and written on those, so I am going to focus on the future of ‘the new normal’ as we go past this situation that we have to build and embrace together.
As the lockdown gradually eases and central banks and governments try to increase money supply, one thing is certain—customer expectations from every dollar spent and the value received, went up—more so in the retail and consumer products space. This means, as enterprises, we have to innovate faster, transform deeper, and accelerate the value proposition for our end customers. The best lever available to execute on these. expectations in the current context is technology and automation.
Let’s look at some of the fundamental shifts in the business environments and the technology innovation levers needed to adapt to those shifts. First is the channel shift toward ‘Direct to consumer’—from food and beverage players that primarily served hotels, restaurants, airlines, and cruises to healthcare diagnostics providers who offered only in-facility diagnostics in the past, we have seen the shift to more direct-to-consumer channels, including diagnostic players now shipping diagnostic kits directly to customers and virtual healthcare service providers seeing 40%+ increase in patient services. This direct-to-consumer trend will only grow faster.
Mergers and acquisitions will become more common, beyond the traditional horizontal and vertical integration plays. This is due to the fact that companies try to navigate stressed balance sheets and significant hits to some industries than others.
Anywhere and anytime: Workplaces that shifted out of corporate offices and markets that moved out of brick and mortar stores are likely to remain the same in the new normal. Enterprises did well in enabling this during the lockdown, but need to evolve to adopt this anywhere-and-anytime workspace and marketplace as the structural normal.
There are other evolutions that also include a structural push toward localization, increased regulations, increased compliance requirements, and increased emphasis on workplace safety. The new normal is going to be significantly different for both enterprises and individuals. Let us see the top five technology levers apart from the obvious Cloud and IoT that will drive the new normal.
Data Management: In a fictional world long before COVID-19, Sherlock Holmes famously said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” Theorize we must before jumping into innovation and that’s where data management is going to play a lot more of a critical role than in the past. With the 3Vs of Big Data—volume, velocity, and variety—set to explode, enterprises are adopting comprehensive data management as we are already seeing customers implementing Actian cloud data warehouse or our data integration and management solutions.
AI: The dynamic business environment and the maturing AI curve together make it a compelling proposition for the new normal. From using AI powered thermal scanning (HCL Scanpro) for worker safety to decision support models entirely powered by AI for forecasting demand, supply, and cash flow in as unpredictable a business environment as it is today, we at HCL are already seeing increased traction in our engagements with AI.
Automation: When the data and AI foundations are in place, a machine’s first operating model becomes the obvious leverage. With the need to do more with less and pivot/ diversify in a short time, we have seen customers open up to reengineering the entire operating models for cognitive automation, be it on the business side or in IT ops.
Blockchain: From meat processors to fruit processors, consideration of blockchain for farm-to-table provenance has seen a surge in the past month. Also, from China to Singapore, we are seeing an acceleration of digital currency initiatives. Together, the need for blockchain and ecosystem evolution, including state-sponsored digital currencies, open up a world of business innovation opportunities. Platforms such as HCL CoTrust will only accelerate the adoption.
Rapid App Development: The abrupt lockdown brought with it the need to design and build responsive, functional apps in days rather than weeks or months. Thanks to low-code/no-code app development platforms that have evolved over the past couple of years on features, integration, cloud native capabilities, and security, we have built and deployed hundreds of apps, including some with AI powered virtual assistance, for our customers within a day or a week. The need for speed and agility in app development would only increase in the new normal and, with that, increased adoption of rapid app development.
Different studies in 2019 showed only about 20% of the Fortune 500 had their CIO or a technology innovation-focussed member on their board. I am not going to pretend to know everything about the new normal, but what I do know is that technology and automation will be at the front and centre of it driving innovation across businesses.