Co-authored by Therese Juda
Catastrophic events such as economic recessions, natural disasters, and pandemics have always altered the economic trajectory and changed the course of history in terms of how business is done.
Looking at recent years, the SARS pandemic of 2002 – 2004 initiated massive growth in the e-commerce market and changed how the retail business operates forever in the Asian market. The global financial crisis of 2008 provided the necessary impetus to catalyze the onset of ‘the sharing economy’ with service models like Airbnb and Uber gaining popularity.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a dramatic shift to virtual service delivery models in health, education, and ‘smart’ cities – driven by necessity rather than strategy.
As the world inches towards vaccination and recovery, strategies and policies will be revised for the new ‘normal’ and set the tone for what’s next.
Early pandemic tech surge
Tounge-in-cheek memes attributing digital transformations over the last 12 months from traditional change-makers like CIOs to a global pandemic encapsulate the frenzied pace that these changes have taken place in.
In many cases, these changes were enabled by suspending ‘business as usual’ with swift decisions and/or exemptions from existing policies and rules. The eventual trajectory of these technology surges will be influenced significantly by how these policies, regulations, and strategies are reshaped – or not, in the coming months.
With the global vaccination effort gaining traction, albeit, at a varied pace, we invite you to take stock of 4 critical technology surges born in the pandemic and explore what is likely to continue on a growth trajectory and/or be subject to subsequent shocks.
Embracing the ‘Tele-Everything’
The concept of ‘tele-everything’ coined in research published by the Pew Research Center and Elon University speaks to the exponential growth in remote working and virtual service offerings in health and education. These two sectors varied in pre-COVID digital capability and could be characterized as laggards in virtual service design and delivery.
Enhancing telehealth options and adoption has long been a line item in international public health strategies, with numerous small-scale pilots and varying levels of maturity in underlying infrastructure worldwide. Barriers for adoption widely quoted infrastructure, regulatory/structural impediments, and patient confidence as requiring significant investment and a medium-term horizon to drive uptake.
Seemingly overnight, with the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, the barriers preventing adoption and implementation at scale were overcome or mitigated. The proportion of physicians offering telehealth services increased from 28% to between 60-90% across the United States. This showed that the technology to deliver was already available, and regulatory/structural and patient confidence could be overcome in a few short weeks with sufficient motivation.
What’s next for telehealth? This large-scale experimentation with virtual service delivery by both patients and physicians presents regulatory bodies and insurers with valuable data on this approach’s efficacy, risk, and benefits. Key policies and financial arrangements put in place to support the shift to telehealth were temporary in nature, and unlikely to continue post-pandemic. As a result, providers may be unlikely to provide certain services virtually if it takes them more time to perform a telehealth consultation and they get paid less for it. Regulatory and insurer cooperation is the need of the hour to boost technology adoption in this sector.
The MOOC (online-course) revolution in college and professional training may accelerate into the primary/secondary grade levels to eliminate the disparity in access to first-class education based on geography.
The opportunity to reduce real estate and capital required for schools presents an attractive prospect to schooling systems operating on a lean budget, however, this would need to be balanced against the risk of increasing the digital divide.
What’s next for virtual education? Worldwide primary and secondary schools appear to be moving to completely face-to-face learning, either incrementally or in one swift transition. There does not appear to be a shift towards disrupting face-to-face learning for virtual delivery. However, augmentation of face-to-face learning may be part of the ‘catch-up’ strategy for countries where significant schooling time was lost in 2020/21.
Cloud Computing and Virtualization
The necessity of cloud computing and virtualization is even more relevant today as we emerge from a global pandemic.
The companies that migrated to cloud computing before the pandemic were able to sustain their operation through the global crisis. Major corporations worldwide are adopting digitization and cloud-based technology now to address the need to work remotely.
Recently, Satya Nadela – CEO of Microsoft, announced the agreement between Mars, the multinational confectionery giant, and Microsoft to accelerate its digital transformation by leveraging the Microsoft Azure platform to optimize its operational speed and intelligent manufacturing supply chains.
Organizational policy for ‘business as usual’ post-pandemic has seen a few large organizations announce permanent work-from-home arrangements, with Atlassian as an early example. This varies across nations and industries, with some government agencies taking a ‘back to the office’ approach and the majority yet to crystallize their permanent policies.
What’s next for cloud computing and virtualization? Numerous surveys show that most workers seek a hybrid office/remote working as the new normal; this means that in addition to investment in cloud capabilities and process optimization, consideration on capacity balancing through services that scale up and down is prudent.
Smart cities – The Future of Global Infrastructure
A smart city uses a framework of information and communication technologies to create, deploy and promote development practices to address urban challenges and create an integrated, technologically enabled, and sustainable infrastructure.
The pandemic has made us realize the criticality of having smart cities that can better manage the next catastrophic event. The nation heads of each country will learn from the rampant experiences of COVID-19 and invest in building more innovative infrastructure around the world. The IoT (Internet of Things) is the most crucial piece of the puzzle to make this vision come true; it builds between citizen’s movements and interactions through the virtual ‘bridge’.
The interconnectivity between smart cities and citizens relies on the ability to gain and use data, with the appropriate legislative, policy, and social license in place to enable this.
Initial privacy concerns when COVID-tracing apps were introduced were allayed by government assurances on the use of data and the severity of impacts of COVID-19 being reported. As cases lesson, resistance to government monitoring of citizens may increase, provoking decreased public cooperation with data sharing and pressure on COVID-era changes to privacy legislation and policy.
What’s next for smart cities? Maintaining the benefits gained through pandemic monitoring and increasing the capability for cities to respond to subsequent ‘shocks’ will require considered planning and public engagement. Government agencies should proactively identify which COVID-driven policies should be rolled back to support citizen privacy and promote engagement in the design of future emergency responses.
Our experience with this pandemic has changed life as we know it forever. The new normal will be far more tech-driven as consumers’ bond with technology continues to strengthen with larger sections of society depending more on digital systems. The trajectory of the tech surge born from the pandemic is currently being defined in policy and strategies worldwide. Organizations and government agencies with digital-ready infrastructure and the ability to decipher complex contextual factors will be well placed to thrive in the new normal and shape its future narrative.
Head, APAC Region and Communications, Media and Entertainment Practice
Roger joined Infosys Consulting in 2015 to lead the set-up and growth of the telecoms practice in the region. He also played a key role in establishing a number of large energy and utility clients for us, and has expanded our office and consultant presence throughout Australia. Today, he also serves as our APAC regional head, looking after our talented teams in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne. Roger has a rich background in transformational change, both as an executive and a consultant, and has focused primarily on infrastructure-based industries. He has over 20 years of experience working in various leadership roles at Telstra, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Downer Engineering. Roger graduated from the University of South Wales with a master’s degree in commerce.
Delivery Lead, Infosys Consulting
An experienced strategist and delivery leader, Therese has extensive experience in banking, innovation and the public sector. She is passionate about co-designing, leading and implementing strategies that convert original ideas into commercial success.