As the pandemic struck in 2020, the months ahead looked gloomy for the film industry when many countries had imposed lockdowns and restrictions that brought movie production to a halt. Until C U Soon1, an experimental, gripping thriller produced during the pandemic was released on a streaming platform to critical acclaim. This set things in motion, and now we have new format movies2 being written, produced, and released even as the pandemic continues.
The chaos of the pandemic sharpened the business sense of the movie industry the world over. They began to turn their attention to what consumers want. Streaming services were the only way consumers could get their movies and TV shows. Netflix Inc. added a record number of 26 million customers3 in the first half of 2020. Today, blockbusters no longer need cinemas, studios are making sitcoms, and media companies have set aside legacy businesses and learned how to stream.
From e-commerce to EdTech, from streaming platforms to collaboration tools, since the outbreak of the COVID-19, the world has taken many strides toward ensuring and enhancing human life, with digital technologies playing the lead role!
The movie industry is just one example. The pandemic is causing many industries and companies to transform their business and ways of working. The old ways are giving way to the new. Digital technologies are up and center as organizations accelerate their digital transformation journey. These companies are quickly moving from active experimentation to active scale. Many digital pilot programs which the companies had in place are now maturing into full-fledged digital initiatives.
However, these digital transformation initiatives cannot follow the pre-COVID path journey. They need to be looked at from a fresh perspective – with a COVID lens. Companies need to re-draw their roadmaps based on changing customer behavior, newer workforce demands, digitally enabled operations to support the core business, supplier dynamics, and regulations, etc. Any firm whose digital transformation journey does not align with the business priorities and considerations of the ‘new essential’ will lose its relevance to the market and its customers’ needs.
We do not need to look too far. Education systems across the world (school, higher education, and vocational training) were traditionally classroom-based with minimal dependency on technology. The pandemic and its restrictions dealt a serious blow to education systems worldwide. By the end of March 2020, schools across 180 countries had closed, impacting ~$1.5 billion learners. This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the EdTech sector. Using digital and platform technologies, the EdTech companies were able to quickly scale to meet the rising demand from educational institutions. India, which is one of the largest markets for online education, the EdTech startups received a funding of $2.22 billion in 2020 alone, compared to $553 million in 20194.
Similar digital collaboration technologies made a big impact in the corporate world as well. Business travel (events, summits, conferences, and client meetings) used to be a top priority for many leaders. Thanks to the usage and adoption of video conferencing and collaboration tools (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet), event delegates and participants can attend industry events (large-format or niche) from the comfort of their homes. It is only a matter of time before VR technology disrupts this space further to create human-like experiences. At HCL, with our digital technology support offerings and remote labs, we ensured delivery of services to our clients through pandemic-related lockdowns. Thanks to the existing digital infrastructure such as cloud, network connectivity, collaboration tools, etc., and the human-centricity it offers, people are quickly able to adapt to the new ways of working.
With ‘everything’ now moving to the cloud, and with the as-a-service business model being increasingly preferred, we see businesses actively seeking to transform themselves into digitally mature organizations. Enabled by new-age digital technologies such as 5G, cloud engineering, data engineering, and industry 4.0, etc., the use cases for edge, remote working, streaming (to name a few) keep getting stronger by the day since the beginning of this pandemic.
Take the Covid-19 vaccine management for example. In the US, some of the world’s largest cloud companies are stepping in to help the state and local health officials improve the process of scheduling Covid-19 vaccinations5. Leading companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google have each rolled out cloud-based platforms and applications in recent months, to tackle challenges in setting up and running appointment-booking websites and call centers. The digital tools include repurposed versions of scheduling apps for Covid-19 tests launched last year, as well as wholly new capabilities. Cloud plays a key role here.
However, this pandemic has proved that we might not hold technology to the same level of scrutiny if it means sharing data to protect our lives. Governments across the world are relying on app-based contact tracing6 which collects personal and health data from the users to identify patterns and manage the pandemic. These apps are being implemented as part of standard operating procedures for travel, entering offices, entry at schools, and shopping at malls, etc.
Earlier, we would have frowned if offices had installed face (facemask) recognition devices or had asked for our biometrics every time we entered the work-spot. China has effectively deployed facial recognition with mask algorithms and biometrics to allow entry of people into schools and offices, to enforce lockdowns, and track people coming out of hotspots. With the pandemic, our health and safety have taken precedence over our privacy concerns.
HCL is piloting UNLOCSafe, a comprehensive, scalable, and cloud-based product suite powered by AI, Edge computing and analytics. This offers enterprises a powerful framework to ensure employee safety and wellbeing in the office environment. It tracks employee temperature, proper use of mask, and social distancing norms etc., to ensure safety management in the office environment.
HCL is piloting UNLOCSafe, a comprehensive, scalable, cloud-based product suite powered by AI, Edge computing and analytics, that offers enterprises a powerful framework to ensure employee safety and wellbeing in the office environment.
COVID has bought about certain lasting changes in customers and patterns of user behavior. We are seeing people embrace social distancing, contactless technologies, and online buying. While companies look at long-term work from home (WFH), data security, health and safety, digital operations, newer business models, and supply chains, in the new essential, they must quickly adapt to these changing trends. Hence, there must be greater focus on enriching customer experiences.
“Customer leaders who care and innovate during this crisis and anticipate how customers will change their habits will build stronger relationships that will endure well beyond the crisis’s passing” – McKinsey7
- Covid-19: The world embraces contact-tracing technology to fight the virus (livemint.com)
This article was originally published in Business Today, June 2021 edition.