COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, changing the lives of individuals and deeply impacting how businesses, governments, and even countries operate. The closest equivalent is how 9/11 changed the world. But the permanency of changes from this pandemic could be even more pervasive than those caused by 9/11.
From a business technology perspective, the consumer changes, new business imperatives, and need for more dynamic businesses will permanently alter the landscape for business and government operations. (My colleague, Alan Pelz-Sharpe, has written an insightful research note on this very topic. See “The Way Ahead”.)
1) Healthcare will be radically impacted. Medical executives are always torn between investing in medical equipment that helps to diagnose and treat patients, and operational technologies that make hospital administration better and more efficient. Often, operational technologies are overlooked in favor of treating patients with the latest medical technologies available. But now, with the sheer impact of a global pandemic that may reoccur in future years there is no choice; medical executives must focus on operational technologies too, such as these:
- HIPAA-compliant healthcare portals will become omnipresent. Patients who in the past ignored invitations to join medical portals are starting to sign up for them to have access to their medical records, test results, and other digital information in one place. (An example of a patient portal can be seen in a short video demonstration from Athena Health.)
- HIPAA-compliant telemedicine will also become the norm as doctors who have been reluctant to go virtual now, of necessity, embrace digital tools to consult with patients. However, adoption will be uneven across the medical community. For example, some types of medicine lend themselves to virtual sessions, such as psychiatry, psychology, therapy, social work, and counseling, whereas other types may require the doctor to physically examine the patient.
- Patient case management software based on digital process automation will be used (in combination with tablets and IOT devices) for patient onboarding, care coordination, prior authorization, and many other steps required to care for patients from admission to post-discharge treatments. Hospitals and other medical facilities will seek technology solutions that reduce or eliminate the risk of making an error in manual operations by providing intelligent, paperless documentation from start to finish, and coordinating dynamic plans of care that involve testing, reviews from multiple physicians, insurance coordination, and other medical inputs.
- Patient care and nursing robots will eventually enter the U.S. workforce, with adoption
potentially accelerated by the global virus. This pandemic has underscored the vulnerability of committed, compassionate medical professionals to contracting the very diseases they battle. Soft medical robots, which are being tested in Japan and even used for patient care, nursing homes, rehabilitation, and companionship for the elderly, will eventually become a longer-term option for medical firms to augment and to support their most vulnerable workforce. This will also be a tool for addressing workforce shortages, as in Japan with its aging population. (For an example of a medical robot see Riken-Tri Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research and the figure below.)
Consumers will embrace technology that keeps them connected.
- Videoconferencing is rapidly becoming a ubiquitous tool for society at large. Churches, membership clubs (e.g., Rotary), gardening clubs, hobbyists—you name it—are keeping in touch during the pandemic through regularly scheduled video conferencing. Retailers who depend on in-store customers are quickly shifting to trunk shows and other digital ways to showcase their wares. The impact will be lasting as adherents and late-adopter consumers discover how to stay in touch via virtual connections.
- Telecommuting, already a typical work pattern for many, will expand rapidly after the pandemic retreats. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 26 million Americans—about 16% of the total workforce—now work remotely at least part of the time. Further, between 2005 and 2015, the number of U.S. workers who telecommuted increased by 115%. During the pandemic many people who never worked from home, and many businesses that have never embraced it, will see telecommuting as a reasonable, even effective and lower-cost, way of working.
- Use of collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams that enable knowledge workers and teams to chat, hold meetings, make calls, and collaborate on documents, presentations, budgets, etc. is now skyrocketing. Perhaps (finally!) this is the time when people and organizations start moving from email (which wasinvented in1969) to more modern, comprehensive ways to work together. In addition, the many people who use Facebook to communicate socially may discover the attraction of similar collaboration tools for the business world.
3 Businesses across many industries will find new ways of operating.
- Supply chain flexibility has become a hot-button issue during this pandemic, with government executives pleading for better, faster distribution of critically short supplies of medical equipment and materials. Once the pandemic subsides, manufacturers, distributors, and others in the supply chain will be compelled to create more dynamic automated processes that reduce inefficiencies, support rapid changes to the business processes (using digital process automation), eliminate tedious, time-consuming manual work (through robotic process automation,) and move to intelligent, digital documents.
- Workforce management has also become a big need during the pandemic, as companies rapidly switch their employees’ schedules, locations, and work assignments. Companies will need not only better ways to track a world in flux but also a way to operationalize quick changes to work assignments and then track the results.
- Dynamic case management solutions will be in significantly greater demand across many industry sectors to automate rapidly changing service requests, investigative processes, and incident management processes. The dynamic processes being automated often involve highly paid, highly trained professionals who work in dynamic environments that involve the constant reallocation of information, data, and people resources.
- Cloud-based “everything” will quickly emerge as organizations realize they should shed commoditized work, such as running data centers and operating extensive networks. By moving as much as possible to the cloud, organizations will be able to focus on resources and applications that are differentiating (versus infrastructure) and support the flexibility now required of businesses.
- Cybersecurity is on everyone’s mind because the bad guys are still lurking. In fact, the skeleton workforce or telecommuters may expose a new vulnerability in websites, data centers, and infrastructure. In particular, disaster-related government agencies may emphasize shoring up security risks once the pandemic subsides.
4 Retail will be massively disrupted by the pandemic—both positively and negatively.
- Drive-through businesses may become the new mantra for retailers, who may have a hard time coaxing customers to re-enter their stores. Applications that allow customers to shop online, order over the phone or through chat, and then pick up their items may be one more disruption to the already reeling retail industry. But at the same time, this may breathe new life into a different way to retail. Some merchants are using this as an opportunity to draw viewers to online trunk shows and other product-related events. For example, sellers could use 3D augmented reality projection to draw people to their storefronts and showcase products in a radically dramatic fashion. (See figure below.)
- Websites and e-commerce centers will become a major focus for IT investment during and after the pandemic, as website usage soars. Retailers will be concerned with scalability as well as with providing highly differentiated experiences. Firms looking to stand out from the crowd will likely use AI/machine learning to support “extreme” personalization, high-impact virtual experiences, sentiment analysis, and even augmented reality. At the same time, retailers must make the business operations processes just as wonderful as the customer experience, otherwise they risk a disconnect in the customer’s overall experience.
Undoubtedly there are myriad ways the COVID-19 pandemic will impact how consumers, businesses, and government agencies operate. The challenge and opportunity is how to add the experiences from this pandemic to the already in-flight efforts toward business and digital transformation.
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