The COVID-19 crisis offers an opportunity for businesses to push for innovations and efficiency improvements. Here are five trends that businesses can leverage during the crisis, to innovate and convert it into an opportunity.
1. A push to Digitalization
The new normal frowns upon physical contact or proximity, and social distancing and online delivery has become the norm. A digital ecosystem is tailor-made for such a world.
Businesses across the world, cutting across sectors, seek digital touchpoints for their customers. Digital quotes, virtual payments, online collaboration, and e-commerce is now standard. Adoption of such digital tools often requires paradigm changes to business models.
Maya, an AI chatbot by insurance provider Lemonade, reverses the traditional insurance model. Insures interact with Maya to avail and manage policies or process claims without any human intervention. Maya offers a policy in seconds, without bothering customers with paperwork or phone calls.
Most financial institutions toy with natural language processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). NLP and AI process loan applications faster and unlock new possibilities for customers. In the new digital era, customers could open up accounts or avail a loan without ever entering a branch.
Some experts caution against the use of paper money during the pandemic, for risk of virus transmission. In any case, social distancing makes the use of cash and credit card difficult to manage. COVID-19 may not give official sanctity to bitcoins, but it will give a fillip to Sweden’s move to introduce a digital currency. Other countries will soon emulate likewise. A “digital dollar” may also be on the anvil.
Several fintech vendors such as Ayden, Stripe, and Square offer retailers a seamless way to process online payments, including contactless payments. When such contactless payments become the norm, ATMs and even human tellers may become a relic of a bygone age. Digital transactions will automate accounting, and enforce strict compliance.
Plaid, recently acquired by Visa, allows users to bring together their bank accounts and investments in a single, single app. The app sets new benchmarks for integrated experiences, cutting across providers or platforms.
Blockchain-based digital lockers allow businesses to authenticate users without supporting documents. Several providers allow people to get their credentials in the electronic mode and store it in secure, digital lockers. The information holder shares the information electronically, eliminating messy paperwork. In the age of COVID-019, it also eliminates the risk of the physical documents spreading the virus. Standardization of disparate back-office systems will come the same way as the USB port became ubiquitous.
Many healthcare providers leverage Artificial Intelligence to push telemedicine. Solutions that record health parameters, and transfer real-time data to medical practitioners for accurate diagnosis are already commonplace. In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, such solutions are a godsend to ensure prompt treatment to people locked up in quarantine.
England’s NHS use machine learning to predict upcoming demand for intensive care beds, equipment, and staff. Hospitals use such insights to cater to increased demand during the pandemic.
Most businesses knew about such benefits even before the COVID-19 crisis struck. But many were not yet ready for digitization, as they worked with legacy platforms incapable of integrating the new-gen tools. Even enterprises invested in digital transformation find the disruption overwhelming.
The obstacles remain. But with status-quo no longer an option, businesses seek innovative ways to fast track digital adoption. A technology “adapter” between the legacy system and new digital tools allows a virtual overhaul of enterprise back-offices. Creating such API keys takes only a few weeks.
2. Remote work become more popular
The COVID-19 lockdowns has made telecommuting mainstream. Several leading corporates are instituting policies for making remote working permanent. JP Morgan Chase’s “Project Kennedy” plans to move 10% of its consumer-banking workforce remote. Tech majors such as TCS and IBM plan to move 25% to 75% of its workforce to work from home.
Online collaboration apps such as Zoom and Slack allow remote teams to get the work done, making the physical office redundant.
But companies face remote work challenges on two fronts.
The first challenge is getting work done seamlessly. Many employers make the mistake of assuming the availability of broadband internet at employee homes. Remote work is a non-starter without an outreach to equip employee homes with super-fast fibre connectivity.
Even with uninterrupted connectivity, setting up remote access is a complicated task. Many enterprises use Zoom as a readymade collaboration suite during the COVID-19 lockdowns. But such solutions are ad hoc and come with many limitations and security risks. Testing and implementing sustainable technologies suited for the enterprise is time-consuming. Solutions such as prooV mimic production environments, to evaluate multiple vendors simultaneously.
Security risks were a big deterrent to remote work, and such risks have not reduced during the pandemic. VPNs that connect users to the corporate network, and employee smartphones offer hackers convenient attack vectors to breach the enterprise network. Enterprises seeking to ward off such threats will have to invest in:
- Robust security protocols such as two-factor authentication
- Next-generation endpoint threat detection capabilities
- Robust encryption to ensure data integrity in transit
- Hardware security solutions such as HUB Security
- Updated BYOD policies to factor in work from home on a permanent basis
- Training employees in safe practices
The second and far bigger challenge to remote work is delivering customer-facing apps and resources.
Many banks, for instance, still do not have online solutions for end-to-end loan processing or opening accounts. Developing such apps is time-consuming. Several start-ups offer ready-made innovative solutions to help companies hit the online ground running. EasySend, for instance, helps financial institutions create, deploy, and maintain smart forms like loan applications, onboarding, and other tasks.
With remote work, enterprises will have to reinvent ways to communicate with their customers. The company app becomes the centre of its customer service. AI-based chatbots automate the bulk of the task, leaving human agents free to focus on higher cognitive tasks. Natural Language processing solutions help companies aggregate and analyze digital conversations.
3. The rise of Automated Commerce
A-commerce or automated commerce is the way forward for etailers. Automated commerce is applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to the transaction platform to enhance the customer’s shopping experience. The retailer delegates strategic decisions to the AI-powered analytics engine.
An automated commerce platform scours data from various sources, subjects it to analytics, and discovers trends, patterns, buying behaviours, and other insights. For instance, sensors on a smart refrigerator track items and reorder it. The analytic engine runs simulations on prices and delivery times among all available suppliers. It next places a combination of orders to deliver the best deal for the customer. Customers who still take the trouble to visit a physical store will have payments detected from the linked bank account or credit card, sparing the hassles (and contact risks) of the check-out queue.
Real-life examples of such machine-delegated shopping assistance have increased over the pandemic season, considering the virtues attached to contact-free interactions. Domino’s Pizza, in collaboration with Nuro, a robotics company, is pilot-testing driverless robot cars to deliver pizza in Houston, Texas.
A-commerce will get more intense. Advanced A commerce solutions would, for instance, link to the customer’s social profile, crosscheck the bank balance, and make buying decisions for the customer. An automated shopping assistant scans through the closet for clothing, and orders new, weather-appropriate clothes, matching the latest style and preferred colors!
For the customer, a-commerce delivers a highly personalized shopping experience without physical contact. For the storekeeper, greater insights on each customer’s buying preferences deliver massive inventory reductions, and the ability to predict demand better. Personalized promotions based on customer data increase sales.
4. The growth of Virtual Reality Economy
Virtual Reality solutions complement remote work and A-commerce.
An online class delivered through Zoom or Google Classroom works has its limitations. Now imagine the same class delivered with the students wearing VR headsets. When the professor lectures about the ancient Greek civilization, the virtual reality takes the student to an immersive replica of ancient Greece.
Virtual Reality infuses the much-needed realism to the hitherto flat representations of e-commerce products. Customers get a real-life visualization of the car they wish to buy, a live simulation of the holiday package they purchase, or try out a dress in different backgrounds. Retailers use VR solutions to create a cohesive and personal experience. The fresh way of immersive buying blurs the boundary between physical commerce and e-commerce, allowing customers the best of both worlds. Businesses could conduct business as usual even when brick and mortar shops remain shut.
Augmented Reality solutions help field agents such as HVAC technicians undertake their job better. The technician gets annotated hands-free instructions of the machinery they have to service, enabling a quick, contactless fix.
5. Robotic Process Automation becomes commonplace
Robotic Process Automation, or the unleashing of a virtual robotic workforce, is on the cusp of making paradigm shifts at work. RPA bots automate mundane, repetitive tasks. Assisted bots work alongside humans to speed up processes. The bots do the routine and tedious tasks, passing over tasks that require cognitive skills to humans.
In a bank, the RPA bot may manage replacing lost or stolen credit cards, reconcile scanned files with consultants’ timesheets, and monitor new regulations for compliance. These processes get done faster, and with far less cost than it takes humans to do it. The human workforce gets more working hours to craft strategies, design processes, engage with customers on a one-to-one basis, and manage exceptions.
RPA bots improve workforce safety. In HVAC installation or servicing, the bots reach places difficult or dangerous for human technicians to enter. Small, nimble bots enter isolated spaces and do repairs, sparing the painstaking efforts of scaffoldings or uninstalling the machinery.
Tech providers such as Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath offer a strong suite of RPA products for almost all work use-cases. Kryon’s innovative RPA solution automatically identifies the tasks for automation, facilitating a smooth adoption process. Applying Kyron to an insurance provider cuts down the time taken for bank verification and claim status processing from four days to two hours.
In Summary Digitalisation, remote work, A-commerce, VR, and RPA delivers speed, cost savings, and make things simple, allowing the enterprise to cope with the changes. Enterprises that leverage these technologies as a workaround to manage the crisis attain big efficiency gains and delight their customers. Even as many businesses becoming irrelevant or go bust, those who innovate and embrace cutting-edge technologies grow. Smart businesses never let a good crisis go to waste.