CEO column | Technology Companies and Startups will Help Every Sector Emerge Stronger from the Pandemic
15 July 2020
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The new post-COVID-19 economy will be a low-touch economy that places restrictions on travel, socializing, public gatherings and big events. Industries with core operations in these areas will scale down and restructure in order to better operate under capacity — a state The Economist has termed “the 90% economy.” 

Innovators in digital and online products and services will see their businesses and market demand continue to surge. Both companies and the general workforce will need to adapt fast to a more digital, automated and competitive world. 

The labor market as we know it will transform, too. Remote work will explode, as witnessed by the slew of permanent work-from-home announcements. More people will turn to the gig economy as companies attempt to keep an agile, connected workforce. 

Import and export patterns will shift as countries reshore production and secure supply chains. Key strategic questions in boardrooms around the world will focus on the following questions: Can our business operate digitally? And can technology help us scale while remaining nimble, lean and efficient?

Technology companies and startups have a key role to play in helping the global economy bounce back from the coronavirus fallout. Specifically, I believe those focused on building AI and machine learning technologies will prove particularly useful, providing companies with a bulwark in sustaining their operations with more automation.

Retail, E-Commerce and Logistics

E-commerce is growing rapidly and has been a net beneficiary of the pandemic. The trend of buying online is only set to grow exponentially because consumer behavior will not go back to what it was before the pandemic. This means the whole retail experience, too, is forever changed. Going forward, retailers will need to adopt AI technologies to remain competitive and meet consumer demands. This will include things like contactless payments, digital onboarding logistics, inventory management and even live streaming.

Banking and Financial Services

On the finance side, small and medium-sized enterprises are in more need of credit than ever to get through this period. To better serve this segment, banks have accelerated their adoption of AI to expedite loan approvals. Facial recognition has been a key subcategory of AI on the credit scoring side, helping financial services institutions accurately manage risk and prevent fraud. Perhaps most importantly in the time of the pandemic, these technologies allow all this to be achieved virtually.

Digital transformation has been top of mind for banks and traditional finance companies for a long time now, but COVID-19 has forced an urgent reevaluation of timelines. Enabling automation in parts of operations (such as eKYC) to free up human workers, while reducing physical branch footprints through more mobile and digital banking, is no longer optional.

Healthcare And Travel

In healthcare, AI is being used to expedite the diagnosis of Covid-19 in hospitals to prevent hospital overloads. In the emerging economy of the Philippines, for example, the government is using chatbots, an important subcategory of AI, to ensure accurate information on the pandemic is broadcasted through public agency channels in real time.

Telemedicine has seen tremendous growth, thanks to changing needs during the outbreak. 

With economies starting to reopen around the world, the travel sector will emerge vastly different from what it was prior to the pandemic. With computer vision and AI, digital ID verification can accelerate real-time visa issuance and preflight medical certification, leading to expedited boarding and immigration clearance at the airport, and even embassy and hospital notifications at the point of arrival. A good real-world example of AI deployment in the travel industry is the biometric scans at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Manufacturing and education industries, such as 3D prototyping and printing, robotics, process automation and virtual showrooms, stand to be net beneficiaries in the manufacturing sector under the new normal. Meanwhile, technologies that have enabled e-learning, home-based schooling, online tuition, as well as new software and curriculum development, will continue to be darlings of a brave new digital education world.

Critical Investment in Infrastructure and National Frameworks 

So what will it take for companies, industries and even countries to thrive in this new normal? Investment in digital infrastructure and national frameworks to accelerate digital transformation will be critical. Key systems will need to be upgraded and stress-tested now, before the next crisis — virus or otherwise — hits. 

Education, and specifically science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) courses, should be increased globally to develop local talent pools of data scientists, software engineers, coders, designers and product managers. 

Along with this, an urgent reskilling, upgrading and reeducation of the current workforce is necessary so workers are not left behind and can stay relevant and productive in this new digital, remote working world. 

In sum, here are three questions to consider when thinking about how your business can embrace technology to emerge stronger from COVID-19:

How can your business operate and thrive in this new low-touch online world?

How can tech help your business automate and scale as you stay nimble and efficient? 

What impact and changes will this new low-touch world have on your industry?

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