The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is the ultimate catalyst for digital transformation and will greatly accelerate several major trends that were already well under way.
According to research conducted by telecommunications company Vodafone, 71% of firms have made at least one new technology investment in direct response to the pandemic.
This shows that businesses are planning to or have already implemented new business practices for a post-Covid world, leading to faster adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, among other technologies to drive digital transformation.
The coordination age
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, there was a steady increase in people choosing to work remotely, and many companies had moved to more flexible workplace models.
Investigating and investing in these tools is not only good risk mitigation for the pandemic, but could also allow for easier collaboration, quicker turnaround times and cost savings as a result of less travel.
Companies which previously embraced future-of-work practices, with virtual resources and technology support for remote workplaces, are well-positioned to sustain their operations and respond quickly to the demands of navigating the current crisis.
When done right, working remotely is effective if you can also restructure the organisational processes for how communication and coordination happens.
It is therefore vital for companies to take action and tackle lack of appropriate technology through utilising digital devices, virtual collaboration tools and platforms that support dynamic work locations.
Accelerated move to the cloud
In a post-Covid world, cloud technology is likely to receive a surge in implementation across all types of apps. There are obvious advantages to cloud-based services and infrastructure – they provide the convenience of accessing services from anywhere, anytime, from virtually any device.
New workflows can be pushed out quickly to enable self-service capabilities and on-the-fly process and configuration changes.
The progression of software and information technology services to the cloud has accelerated strongly over this period, driven by increased use of remote working and the need for maximum scalability in times of uncertain demand and supply of goods.
That said, there has been redoubled interest in hybrid cloud architectures to ensure resilience, something which edge computing also has a role to support.
In the long term, cloud-based solutions are critical for organisations to achieve quicker time to market and creating self-service solutions for businesses.
The rise of IoT
As societies and industries have rebuilt, there has been a focus on efficiency, automation and flexibility. A GSMA Intelligence report published in June forecasted that IoT connections would double between 2019 and 2025, reaching 24 billion.
An IoT solution can connect everything from vehicles, appliances and medical devices to computers, mobile devices and more.
In the post-Covid era, we will likely see greater adoption of IoT in several industries including manufacturing, healthcare and mining.
With a simple digital customer interface and interpretation of real-time data, IoT platforms offer the perfect opportunity for organisations to incorporate thermal cameras and other emerging technologies into their buildings to manage the health of their customers and staff.
For example, the Vodacom Business thermal scanner can be used to monitor employees and/or customers’ body temperature from a safe distance as they enter a specific area or building.
AI and analytics measure the employee or customer’s temperature and, in the event that it is elevated, generate a notification for further screening protocols in accordance with specific health safety and environment guidelines.
The technology provides thermal measurements which are non-invasive for those being monitored and produce objective, instant results to guide health safety and environment personnel.
Data are becoming the lifeblood of the modern economy and strategic assets for businesses. However, without the right technology to analyse and interpret, data are useless.
AI and machine learning provide businesses with the capabilities to gain insights from the data they gather.
AI tools analyse immense volumes of data to learn underlying patterns, enabling computer systems to make complex decisions, predict human behaviour and recognise images and human speech, among many other things. AI-enabled systems also continuously learn and adapt.
AI technology has been introduced already across various sectors including mobility, education, manufacturing, e-commerce, communication, health, insurance and finance.
These capabilities will be enormously valuable as companies confront and adapt to the new reality of the current crisis and its aftermath.
Machine learning feeds off massive volumes of data that need to be reliable and in real time. It therefore follows that the data accumulated from the IoT layer naturally feed into AI model. The immense insight derived is already being applied in the field, for example the ability to prescribe retail layout strategies, risk management, predictive maintenance work, preemptive route planning and customer experience.
While the evolution of new technologies and exponential growth of devices lead to new developments and innovation, they also increase the risk and impact of cyberattacks.
The World Economic Forum’s Covid-19 Risks Outlook [https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/recovering-from-covid-19-these-are-the-risks-to-anticipate-now/] found that 50% of enterprises were concerned about increased cyberattacks owing to a shift in work patterns alone.
The number of Covid-19-related phishing, ransomware attacks and business e-mail compromises increased during the nationwide lockdown.
Protection of computers, networks and clouds is commonly provided within enterprises by means of next-generation firewalls, domain name system filtering, malware protection, antivirus software and email security solutions. However, with millions of people working remotely, volumes of data are left unprotected and vulnerable.
The Covid-19 crisis has provided companies with an opportunity to drive home cybersecurity’s importance to the workforce.
Organisations must consider conducting a risk assessment and identifying enforcement mechanisms, such as multifactor authentication, single sign-on and automatic logout from unattended devices.
Many of these major technology shifts are either under way or are planned for many organisations.
Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitised world and staying current in the latest technology will be essential for any business and for South Africa to remain competitive in the post-Covid-19 world.
Mzimba is CO at Vodacom Business