The COVID-19 outbreak has forced significant changes in business operations, human interactions, and acceptable social norms in just a few months. This impact is such a vast and worldwide phenomenon that it has the capacity and ability to make each person, business organizations, and governments rethink, rephrase, and reprioritize their actions towards the future.
The current situation has forced businesses to rethink their business models or face the risk of extinction. Taking a cue from the natural evolution journey where dinosaurs became extinct because they could not adapt to change, I believe there will be few business processes that will undergo a massive change, some will be extinct, while few others will evolve. The COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for such change.
In the past few weeks, we have seen complete disruption in the ways businesses operate. They are improvising by relying on the strength to survive the tough times. A popular online florist in South Africa leveraged its established network to deliver essentials. But, can they continue in the same way once this crisis subsides?
Multiple studies and surveys suggest that while the current crisis has caused the loss of lives and livelihoods pushing the entire world into an economic slowdown, it has also presented businesses with opportunities to start things afresh, to redefine and realign themselves so that they are more resilient and agile.
As a thought experiment, I tried to imagine how business models in some industries are going to change post-COVID, and here are some scenarios:
1. Hospitality: It has been one of the most severely hit sectors. Hence, it is fair to assume that there will be a significant change in their operations. In the future, hotels may be more aware of their guest details, especially their health. Hotel chains might collaborate with fitness-trackers and wearables with joint offerings for customers. Governments and businesses could retain a specified section of hotels as premium quarantine centers for a nominal yearly fee.
2. Telecom & Broadband: The telecom and broadband service providers have a vital role to play in navigating and recovering from this pandemic. Most of us are working from home, and virtual classrooms have replaced regular schools. Places of worship and courts have adopted online collaboration tools to continue working. In such a situation, the load on infrastructure can be immense and oddly distributed.
To ensure quality service across areas, telecom companies may switch to differential pricing. In the future, an internet connection in areas with high population density may attract a higher unit rate as compared to areas with lower population density. Or even ISPs could switch to metered connections charging subscribers as per usage.
3. Entertainment: Consider this for a thought experiment! Post this crisis, would you still be comfortable with going into a stadium with thirty thousand spectators or going for a movie in a theater? How long before you get over the fear of touching unknown surfaces and crowded places? It would be a very long time, in my opinion.
Such a change in behavior would force organizers of live events to rethink their strategies. The EPLs and the IPLs of the world may go for matches without a live audience. However, using advanced technology, the viewing experience, dynamics, and economics of live events could change forever. For example,
- The cheers and noise from home could be streamed live inside the stadiums.
- The audience would enjoy the match using virtual reality and virtual tickets would be sold out.
4. Smart Cities and Urban Planning: The fear of crowded places and touching surfaces would be at play in urban planning as well. Cities across the world would attempt at devising less-crowded and hassle-free methods of transportation. Transport for London (TFL) may use IoT sensors and analytics to ensure that only a certain number of passengers are traveling in a bus, a coach, or the tube. They might even move beyond the ‘touch & pay’ of oyster cards to facial recognition systems of payments where the train fare from Heathrow to Paddington is paid using a face ID.
5. Retail/Ecommerce: Major retailers may collaborate with smaller cafes or neighborhood shops so that customers do not have to walk longer for essentials, and one store does not get crowded. Alternatively, such retailers may even collaborate with workplaces to encourage employees to shop on weekdays so that stores are not crowded on weekends like they are now.
Imagine your employer rewarding you for shopping on a Monday! It seems unbelievable now, but such narratives can materialize soon.
No matter which way the world, the nations, and the businesses choose to go, I see Data & Analytics, AI, Automation, and Digital as the four key pillars to achieve transformation and build the necessary resilience and agility for the future. While each of the technologies appears different today, the boundaries are going to blur to offer integrated solutions to adapt and thrive in the ‘new normal.’ It is scary and exciting to think about the additional challenges that will follow with change. The world certainly would not remain as we know it.