A new status quo

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How Covid-19 will change business and technology forever

The novel coronavirus has changed the way we live, already having claimed close to 200,000 lives globally. Like a typhoon, the novel coronavirus is crushing everything in sight, and the true extent of its damages — on the social, political, and economic front — will be known much later.

As the world fights the damage that is still being caused by the novel coronavirus, only one thing is certain — things will never be the same.

A new status quo will set in, the extent of which is impossible to predict right now. Thousands of businesses across the world will close, and millions of people will lose their jobs and become homeless.

The world will henceforth be divided into two time-frames: pre-covid and post-covid. In the post-covid world, only those businesses will be able to survive that have strong fundamentals and good value propositions, and visible cracks will appear in the cash-burn business model which relies solely on venture capital to grab market share.

Instead, new business models will come up with new value propositions to serve new customer needs, and the way business is done will also change. As the world gets used to life under a lockdown, professional as well as personal communications, too, will change forever.

New ways of professional interaction

Till a few years ago, Skype was one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of connecting with relatives settled abroad. But perhaps the most profitable use of services like Skype was to connect offshore centres of multinational companies in Asia with their counterparts in the Western world — which created the offshore-onshore model that has helped the service industry thrive.

The disruption in business due to coronavirus has seen a very huge chunk of the corporate world working from home, enabled by video conferencing software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. New security concerns related to these tools crop up almost daily, but their usage has only increased, and one wouldn’t be wrong in assuming this to be a sign of times to come. But video conferencing itself has a very limited shelf life, and is on its way to be replaced by more experiential tools.

As more people start working from their homes in the covid and post-covid world, video conferencing will be replaced by technologies that provide more tactile experiences, such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Where one is confined to one’s own room, staring at a screen in video conferencing, VR and AR help people get a flavour of actually being with the people they are interacting with. But one of the biggest impacts of VR and AR would be on users’ experiences.

Using VR headsets available for as low as $5, one can virtually travel to any part of the world, or even the galaxy. Doctors are already being trained using VR, and in a post-covid world where travel and physical human interaction would be severely limited, VR would be a game-changer.

Customers, too, can see direct benefit of VR headsets, as businesses would be able to provide experiences hitherto reserved only for the showroom or experience centres. Apple, too, recently allowed users to check out their latest iPhone SE in their own hands in the comfort of their homes, with the help of AR on their website.

These are not new technologies, but the post-covid world will see a lot more usage of them on a mass scale, bringing down costs for businesses, and improving experiences across the stakeholder value chain.

New ways of doing business

With an increasing number of people working from home and interacting with devices such as Alexa, or IoT devices such as medical wearables, unprecedented volumes of data are being exchanged between data servers.

This data is traditionally stored on the cloud, but with increasing demands to access this information with more urgency, businesses will be forced to switch to edge computing — which simply means that more data will now be stored on edge servers.

As a simple example, whenever a Netflix user requests for a video to be played, the video isn’t downloaded from the cloud storage that might be located on a different continent altogether. Instead, the video is downloaded from an edge server — a server that is located closer to home to the end user — thereby enabling faster streaming of videos.

The post-covid world will thus see a huge increase in edge computing and cloud computing, with more businesses finding it easier, cheaper, and safer to store data on the cloud than on-premise servers. Over The Top (OTT) platforms, which have seen a 50% increase in time spent by Indian users, make another very good case for increase in edge computing.

With more people demanding Video on Demand (VoD) services across the globe, faster access to these movies and TV shows would be the differentiator amongst providers, and investments in edge computing would increase.

The last elephant in the room that needs to be addressed is artificial intelligence. For long, there have been talks of an AI-powered future where humans are made redundant and robots take over. But more realistic have been fears of robots replacing humans, leading to mass unemployment.

Due to businesses no longer running with the current lockdowns, several thousand people have already been laid off from their jobs, and hundreds of thousands across the world now look at reduced incomes in the immediate future.

A direct consequence of this will be more extensive adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) by businesses of all sizes to replace humans. Manufacturing companies will look at entirely “human-less” AI powered manufacturing in a bid to save money and maintain hygiene standards.

For businesses to survive in the covid and post-covid world, fast decision-making based on new, rapidly changing data would be required. AI-driven analytics and automation of manual, repetitive processes using technologies like RPA, would gain traction.

The result would be a massive loss of jobs, unless the world as a whole is able to bring in place something like a robot tax as proposed by Bill Gates.

A new future

A new status quo is on the cards for a lot of businesses around the world. Even if working from home isn’t adopted full time, it might become the norm at least a few times every week. The connectivity and interactions that build around working remotely or from home will lead to interesting developments.

But the most critical factors that would enable businesses to connect remotely, or AI to drive growth, would be security and privacy. Video conferencing providers like Zoom are already under scrutiny for possible privacy violations, and apocalyptic scenarios like AI taking over humankind is a possibility that figures like Elon Musk do not rule out completely.

On the social front, bonds with teammates would become more superficial and bonhomie would be sacrificed. As such, the scale of adoption in the post-covid world might not be as much as the scale that would be achieved in the immediate future. But there is no doubt that adoption of video conferencing tools itself has increased by leaps and bounds — levels which would’ve taken several years to achieve. VR and AR are not far behind.

Other aspects of the new status quo include changes in personal lives, as people find themselves bonding virtually in a time of global lockdown. Online gaming has gained a lot of popularity, with old-school games like Ludo and Snakes & Ladders being revisited. How many eyes these apps are able to capture in the post-covid world, where people are no longer locked down in their homes, needs to be seen.

But one thing is certain — Over The Top (OTT) platforms are here to stay, especially with an increased user base belonging to the 60+ age group. The times to come will be interesting as they will be unfortunate. 

New business models and new technologies will replace humans and existing businesses. Ultimately, only the fittest will survive.

Aman Jain and Rishabh Kochhar are recent graduates of Information Management.