The Covid-19 outbreak is the black swan event of our generation, with sweeping global impact. The unimaginable pain, distress and loss of life are tremendous—and will have lasting repercussions. But in the coming years, I predict that the coronavirus pandemic will serve as a turning point towards a new and better future.
What the post-Covid-19 world will look like bears examination. Most certainly, opportunities for businesses to become even stronger and more resilient will emerge when the global economy restarts and we begin to integrate lessons learned.
First and foremost, we’ve learned that traditional work environments are less necessary than we’ve long thought. With traditional office work turned upside down in a matter of weeks, we have learned that people can work from almost anywhere and that flexible schedules allow for effective balancing of business and personal affairs. Zoom meetings have become our 'new normal', and their rapid integration into our lives has even become the subject of parody in popular culture like Saturday Night Live. Today’s secure and robust remote infrastructure enables teamwork and remote collaboration, and my own company has transformed in this manner—enabling remote infrastructure for 10,000 associates—in just over a week.
The digital customer experience will also evolve. The need for social distancing will likely extend for months, if not years, as researchers and medical professionals learn more about how to protect us from Covid-19 and other unknown viruses. But the need for commerce will go on. A new era of 'touchless commerce' will be ushered in, characterised by AI-driven personalisation and immersive digital experiences.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will help customers experience products before they buy and in large part will replace the need for traditional retail stores and showrooms. Cosmetics company Estee Lauder has already embraced this approach, deploying a virtual makeover widget that enables consumers to sample new makeup styles and products using their own selfies. More of this sort of technology will come online soon, from virtual clothing try-ons to experiences that sell big-ticket items, such as virtual test drives for automobiles, combined with no-touch deliveries and after-sale service and support designed to help ensure social distancing.
Yet, another change to the post-pandemic world will be development of more robust supply chains. In manufacturing and retail, companies will be forced to develop more resilient supply chains that are more likely to function even in the face of asymmetric disruptions such as the coronavirus. Much of today’s difficulty is because many firms retain only enough inventory in their supply chain to support 'just in time' manufacturing, and when a key supplier goes offline, the entire operation can be derailed. In the future, companies will leverage big data and predictive analytics to model and build actionable contingency plans that enable redundancy and facilitate more agile, robust and flexible supply chains. Technology will provide greater visibility and predictability—meaning supply chains will be less likely to be compromised or break down in the face of a disaster.
Also real is the idea that a post-pandemic recovery will be characterised by the need to cut waste and run extremely lean business operations. Budget pressure will further expedite the emergence of zero-waste operations, a trend whose hallmarks include increased automation, greater use of AI and data analytics for predictability, as well as further cloud adoption for its combination of on-demand scalability and pay-as-you-go pricing. Additionally, machine learning will facilitate the development and use of autonomous and self-help systems that 'keep the lights on' when it comes to IT operations. This rapid push towards efficient operations will be a key element of the recovery.
Finally, the crisis reinforces the idea that companies’ most valuable assets are their people. When the new reality emerges, enterprises will have a very meaningful opportunity to pivot around workers and become more resilient. Corporate environments will evolve from compensation-driven to compassion-driven, with greater focus on employee well-being and experience, rather than purely metrics-driven performance. This more holistic approach values engagement and transparency and integrates employees into the larger corporate vision and mission for better business results. When employees know an employer is invested in them, they are more engaged and empowered to do their best work.
A hallmark of humanity has been our ability to rise up in the wake of a crisis. The indefatigable human spirit means that we will ultimately emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger and better as a species. For example, the business and industrial growth after World War II created financial superpowers and set the stage for decades of prosperity; the financial crisis of 2008 resulted in stricter regulations and a more resilient financial system. The AIDS and Ebola epidemics galvanised incredible progress in medical sciences and biotechnology, and those diseases are far less threatening now than in the past. No matter how bad the fall, humans have risen stronger and better than before. The Covid-19 crisis will provide us with lasting lessons and opportunities for positive change.
The writer is CEO and MD of Zensar Technologies