Part 2: Survive & Thrive – Strategies to Reinvent & Innovate
(The concluding instalment of a two-part article)
Innovating to meet new challenges
Building on this digital momentum requires examining the tactical manoeuvres that have guided companies during this unprecedented moment in time and the lessons learned along the way. As many businesses are discovering, moving forward also requires embracing unconventional strategies around culture, organizational structure, and leadership. Indeed, despite all the challenges of quick pivots and fast fails, the reality is,COVID-19 has shown organizations new ways of engaging consumers, connecting employees, and collaborating with competitors. For many, there’s no turning back.
Walgreens is a perfect example. The retail giant recently launched a number of new initiatives, including a contactless pickup service that allows customers to order products online and then pay for and pick up their items at more than 7,300 pharmacy drive-throughs nationwide. Also serving online customers is a new health care service chatbot on Walgreens’ Find Care online platform. This chatbot connects patients to a wide range of health services, enabling visitors to determine their risk of having COVID-19, as well as receiving real-time answers to commonly asked questions.
Northwell Health designed and deployed virtual artificial intelligence (AI) health care assistants, which are really chatbots, that direct patients to critical information, as well as provide them with COVID-19 lab results, without human intervention. During the surge in COVID-19 patients earlier this year, these AI-powered chatbots handled nearly 20% of Northwell Health’s total patient access contact centre calls.
The volume of telehealth visits increased dramatically as patients sought to safely obtain outpatient care. Many physicians saw their telehealth visit volume increase exponentially. This increase occurred over a very short period — often in days or at the most, weeks. Providers hastily constructed a temporary “bridge,” built with digital tools and operational workarounds that are not robust enough to sustain this level of use permanently. At the same time, patients have come to expect telehealth and many providers have become comfortable delivering care via the technology.
A recipe to survive & thrive in any crisis
The question before many organizations today is how to continue with the momentum they achieved during the pandemic. It is also a challenge for employees to stay relevant when technologies are changing so rapidly. While people must learn continuously to stay ahead, industries must constantly disrupt themselves and rediscover new competitive advantages. Despite the momentous changes we faced, certain basic principles have allowed us to meet these challenges and be ready for future ones.
- Staying future-ready: Companies that had already invested in robust technology infrastructure and solutions before the pandemic found themselves uniquely positioned to weather some of its more rattling effects. For instance, when the pandemic shut down offices worldwide, companies needed to provide a battalion of remote workers with secure and reliable access to corporate networks – and to do so fast.
- Leading with a purpose: The pandemic has taught many lessons, but one of the top ones may be that purpose can drive organizations to some of the most creative strategies and most fearless decisions. Witness that at a time when there were only 5,900 ventilators available in the U.K. with experts forecasting a need for 20,000 more machines, HVMC met this urgent request by embracing a creative and counterintuitive approach to competition.
- There’s no going back to old ways: Certainly, COVID-19 created a momentum that has enabled businesses to easily cram years of digital transformation into mere months. But it will take more than robust networks and collaboration platforms to prepare for a challenging future. Rather, businesses must take the lessons learned from the pandemic and use them to move forward in new and innovative ways when it comes to culture, organizational structure, and leadership.
- Keep delivering on the lessons learnt: Competitors must learn to collaborate, leaders to empathize with employees, and well-established companies to test new business models. Why? Because there is no going back to the way things were. When you take a rubber band and stretch it beyond its elastic limit, and release the pressure, it will not go back to its original shape. It will be permanently changed. COVID-19 has tested digital transformation’s elasticity, forever changing how organizations operate. Now the challenge is for organizations to maintain the boldness inspired by the pandemic’s disruption to continue to innovate in new and creative ways.
The future enterprise workplace
The future workplace will be defined by a much more integrated experience for employees. It will be adapted from traditional workplace models to far more physically and digitally reconfigurable spaces. Just as we have seen a shift from on premises to virtual cloud computing delivered as a service, the workplace of the future will be imagined adopting technologies initially designed to address COVID-19 in ways that make the workplace more agile and adaptive to new work models.
Most organizations will likely deploy a phased approach to getting the workforce back to their work location with a hybrid onsite/remote model as the end state. Fortunately, this will serve to create a more agile, resilient organization longer term where dynamic work models are second nature to the organization. Many are concerned about additional waves of COVID-19 forcing a return to fully remote work just as employees are getting used to safety practices in the workplace. As organizations lay the groundwork so they can pivot between remote and workplace modes of working, they are simultaneously encoding agile approaches to flex teams and deploy technologies at the heart of business resiliency and digital transformation.
Trends that will define the Next
- Heterogeneous Future: By 2025, one out of every 10 people in the western world will be older than the age of 65, while Generation Z (Gen Z) will increase in some countries, such as India, and account for 45% of the total global population.
- Terabyte Era: Terabyte smartphones and devices are being equipped with the new-generation of storage chips, which can both process massive amounts of data and power 5G and AI technology.
- Hyper-localization: With over 10,000 small satellites expected to be launched by 2030, geo-fencing as an opportunity is emerging; this will allow enterprises to cater to customers on-the go and contextualize experiences.
- Zero Latency/Zero Buffering World: With 5G, edge computing, AI approaches, and quantum computing merging abilities – virtuality experiences will be augmented manifold with untethered geo-spaces and zero buffering.
- Transhumanism: Humanity is entering the rise of technology-driven evolution at an unprecedented speed of change, thus, propelling deeper questions into what it means to be human.
- Personalized Retail: With the integration of automation, virtual reality and intelligent assistants, the in-store and online retail experiences will be seamlessly unified to personalize and uplift the overall customer experience.
- Integrated Mobility: By 2030, the user-transit experience will shift towards a more connected, personalized, and on-demand, multi-modal service.
- Everything-as-a-Service: Future XaaS models will be highly individualized, responsive, data-driven, and fully controlled by customers.
- Future of Economies: Over the next decade, economic power will shift from Europe and America to Asia and Africa, as nearly 70% of global economic growth will be generated in these regions.
- Future of Healthcare: The adoption of smart healthcare coupled with the potential of precision medicine will accentuate the era of preventative care.
The Last Word: This is not the last pandemic
Among the highest likelihood risks of the next ten years are extreme weather, climate action failure and human-led environmental damage; as well as digital power concentration, digital inequality and cybersecurity failure. Among the highest impact risks of the next decade, infectious diseases are in the top spot, followed by climate action failure and other environmental risks; as well as weapons of mass destruction, livelihood crises, debt crises and IT infrastructure breakdown.
We see this already happening. The Solar Winds hacking attack, the biggest such cyber attack in the history of the US, has shocked the world with its sophistication and exposed the vulnerabilities of even the most advanced technology infrastructure.
The advanced countries have booked and stocked more than 60% of global vaccines, far more than they require. This means that large swathes of global population in the poorer parts of the world will be denied the protection against the virus. What the richer nations do not realize that if these people get infected it won’t take much time to spread elsewhere and cripple the economies once again. The virus is also mutating, and new strains are spreading.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has increased digital interaction, e-commerce, online education and remote work. These shifts will transform society long after the pandemic and promise huge benefits—the ability to telework and rapid vaccine development are two examples—but they also risk exacerbating and creating inequalities. Remote work is possible only for the wealthier sections of the population, while online education is being denied to the weaker sections of the people as they lack bandwidth and access to devices. This will create social tensions which we see in the form of street protests in different parts of the world.
Climate change—to which no one is immune—continues to be a catastrophic risk. Although lockdowns worldwide caused global emissions to fall in the first half of 2020, evidence from the 2008–2009 Financial Crisis warns that emissions could bounce back. A shift towards greener economies cannot be delayed until the shocks of the pandemic subside.
Responses to the pandemic have caused new domestic and geopolitical tensions that threaten stability. Digital division and a future “lost generation” are likely to test social cohesion from within borders—exacerbating geopolitical fragmentation and global economic fragility. There is a growing feeling that capitalist economic systems have failed us during the pandemic, and this could be used by authoritarian leaders to stifle democratic voices.
At the same time all these risks, carry opportunities for organizations and innovative individuals to create social solutions and turn these stumbling blocks into steppingstones. For young people, these presents amazing possibilities to innovate solutions to reach healthcare, education to the masses. New technologies like low-earth-orbiting satellites open up incredible opportunities to connect the unconnected. Foundation technologies like 5G will make possible remote surgery, drug delivery, immersive education with the use of virtual/augmented/mixed reality. Advances in food technologies will enable farmers to increase yield as the world will face a massive challenge of feeding the millions. In each of these risks there’s embedded an opportunity. One will need critical thinking, complex problem solving, crisis management and communication capabilities to discover these opportunities and innovate new solutions. These are the skills that will never be disrupted by technology at least in the foreseeable future.