5 Ways COVID-19 Is Accelerating Digital TransformationJune 10, 2020
Paradoxically, the coronavirus has spurred both decline and growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the resulting recession will be the worst economic decline since the Great Depression — nicknaming it ‘the Great Lockdown.’ And yet, a flurry of unanticipated business activity is taking place in industries ranging from healthcare to manufacturing.
Some organizations are pivoting to focus on more critical services and production needs, whereas others are evolving to account for permanent changes in how we engage with the world.
Just as crafters everywhere have dusted off their sewing machines to create face masks, plenty of companies have retooled their production lines to supply personal protective equipment (PPE). For those businesses sticking with their original core offering, predictions about the new normal center on a contact-free economy that’s predominately virtual.
The Atlantic’s Ed Yong observes, “people, businesses, and institutions have been remarkably quick to adopt or call for practices that they might once have dragged their heels on, including working from home, conference-calling… and flexible child-care arrangements.” Put simply, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for change.
It is to this very tune that COVID-19 is accelerating digital business transformation. From smart factories and telehealth to digital commerce and virtual events, organizations are leaning on technology more than ever before.
Sure, we already had the capabilities to make such models mainstream. But until now, organizations lacked the incentive to overhaul existing infrastructure or modernize operations. Plenty of corporate adages — from “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” to “let’s not recreate the wheel” — warn against challenging the status quo.
Today, the coronavirus now presents ample incentive for recreating the wheel and is thereby forcing innovation. When it comes to business continuity in almost any sector, the need to adapt has never been so urgent.
1. Digital Supply Chains
First, it was toilet paper. Then came the meat shortage. The fragility of supply chains everywhere has become apparent during this crisis, as has the need for increased transparency and flexibility.
Streaming-enabled drones are among the many tools that will be leveraged to improve supply chain management — finding their way into agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. While there’s been plenty of buzz about Amazon using drones for delivery in recent years, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAE) further up the supply chain warrants attention. Examples include surveying crop yields in agricultural applications, performing safety inspections of manufacturing facilities, and assisting with quality assurance on the production line.
Cameras, sensors, and robotics connected to internet of things (IoT)- enabled ecosystems will shape the supply chain of the future. And because these new technologies help maintain social distancing guidelines, they’ll serve as a model for everything ranging from smart hospitals to smart cities.
2. Telehealth and Smart Hospitals
While digital supply chains can undoubtedly help solve the shortage of PPE during this crisis, new healthcare technologies might render N95 protective masks unnecessary altogether. Virtual doctor visits, remote patient monitoring, and the use of healthcare robots have surged in recent months — all of which reduce the need for people to physically interact with one another in hospital settings.
Camera-aided surgery has long played a role in laparoscopies and the like, but what about the use of nonsurgical robotics in healthcare facilities? Meal deliveries, disinfection routines, and specimen transportation can all be delegated to these intelligent machines as hospitals look to reduce exposure.
When it comes to remote patient monitoring, video streaming technology is being implemented from the triage stage through treatment. Emergency 911 centers are deploying real-time video to screen callers and reduce hospital traffic, while healthcare facilities are deploying around-the-clock live video tools to communicate with family members outside of the hospital.
Even after the pandemic subsides and physical proximity is no longer verboten, these telehealth capabilities will thrive. Why? The convenience of a virtual doctor visit simply can’t be disputed. Beyond that, video streaming brings skilled doctors to rural populations in the most affordable manner possible.
3. Remote Work
Doctors aren’t the only professionals benefitting from work-from-home flexibility. The corporate office has become increasingly remote, with virtual collaboration tools paving the way.
From executive communications and employee training to internal meetings and job interviews, live video streaming has become second nature in today’s professional settings. This trend isn’t just a result of external forces. Rather, the move to remote work is being echoed from within. In a recent survey of more than 500 tech founders, 70 percent of respondents reported that after their offices reopen, they will continue to let employees work remotely.
4. Digital Commerce
The employee is now remote, as is the consumer.
Several major department stores have filed for bankruptcy since the pandemic hit, confirming that ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option. Brick-and-mortar retail was already clinging to an outdated model. But just what will the future hold for the most digital-savvy brands?
Online has become one of the only places for retailers to connect with customers. And even as lockdowns ease, the physical mall will continue to crumble. However, this doesn’t mean that retailers should abandon every aspect of the in-person shopping experience. Live commerce, the convergence of streaming video and digital commerce, promises to revolutionize the industry and consumer shopping habits. Specifically, this model allows shoppers to engage with the seller via live chat and examine a product from multiple angles.
Augmented reality (AR) will also push live commerce forward. Picture this: After purchasing a new home, you enlist the expert help of an interior designer partnering with your favorite home furniture store. Within an app, you’re able to stream a video feed of the space you’re working with. Then, using augmented reality, you can try any suggested furniture on for size. Simply point your camera at the empty space, and let the app overlay an image of the couch, table, or rug you selected.
This trend already dominates in China. Taobao, the world’s biggest e-commerce website, lets users interact via live streaming features and a dedicated standalone app. Just last month, a live event on the platform attracted 2.7 million viewers, signifying continued growth for this trend in the post-coronavirus world.
With digital sales continuing to climb, it would behoove of Western corporations to adopt this strategy as a means of elevating the online experience.
5. Virtual Events
Sporting events, tradeshows, church services, and town halls have all gone virtual. This medically necessary move offers ancillary benefits as well. For instance, when it comes to the U.S. Congress moving legislation to a digital format, Ethan Zuckerman writes:
“In the long run, a virtualized Congress might help us tackle one of the great problems of the contemporary House of Representatives: reapportionment and expansion. The House has not grown meaningfully in size since the 1920s, which means that a representative, on average, speaks for 770,000 constituents, rather than the 30,000 the Founding Fathers mandated. If we demonstrate that a virtual Congress can do its job as well or better using 21st-century technologies, rather than 18th-century ones, perhaps we could return the house to the 30,000:1 ratio George Washington prescribed.”
It’s also worth noting that the move to virtual (for any type of event) helps reduce carbon emissions and connect global communities. And because the technology now exists to deliver immersive, interactive digital experiences, businesses can monetize these events in unexpected ways. Everything from poker tournaments to music festivals will thrive online.
Businesses are looking to technology to limit human contact and improve resiliency. The remote office is just one example that achieves both aims. Employees are empowered to work from anywhere, while employers eliminate downtime caused by unanticipated office closures in the future. This also conserves the money required to run a physical office and reduces the carbon footprint of all parties. The result? A more fluid workforce made up of happier employees.
Combating the losses that come with digital transformation requires redirecting and refunneling resources toward future-looking needs. By embracing change and reinvesting in future opportunities, businesses will survive the biggest disrupter (so far) of the 21st century: COVID-19.
No matter the industry or challenge, video streaming is fueling digital transformation for businesses adapting to the realities of the coronavirus. And when it comes to live video, one thing rings true: Wowza just works.