This is the latest installment of my ongoing series of discussions with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and corporate leaders on what to expect as the world recovers in the post-Covid era in terms of technology and innovation.
In parts of the world, the Covid crisis appears to be on the wane, hopefully. However, this is the time to resist the urge to revert back to the way things were in 2019. Instead, it’s an opportunity for re-invention — and there never has been a greater opportunity at that. Peoples’ attitudes toward many things — digitization, remote work, change — have shifted overnight.
Don’t waste this opportunity. “Companies may have a natural tendency to revert to the way things were prior to the pandemic because it’s familiar, easy, and comfortable,” says John Mullen, president of US markets for Capgemini. “But if they go down this route, once the pandemic ends and they are back in their previous routines, they won’t be taking advantage of all the great progress, innovation, and strides as a business that they took over the past year.”
As Covid wanes, “it’s also natural for people to slow down, get complacent, and lose adrenaline – but organizations and leaders must not take their feet off the gas,” Mullen advises. “The opportunity to move fast and capture new market share is still out there to be had, and if a business stops being aggressive, others will swoop in.”
This means time to move away from manual processes with all deliberate speed. “The greatest risk is for companies that rely on manual processes,” says Shan Haq, vice president of corporate strategy and development with Transcepta. “These organizations just won’t have the internal cost structure or access to data to be competitive. Not only will this hurt their decision-making capabilities and their ability to rapidly pivot in fluctuating markets, but it will also make it harder for them to attract and retain top talent.”
Talent is the key, and essential, piece of this coming rejuvenation. “One place where technology will have the biggest impact is an area that’s decidedly low tech – people,” says Tommy Weir, founder and CEO of Enaible. ““Improving productivity will be absolutely essential to build on or maintain positive momentum coming out of the Covid-era economy. The business leaders and entrepreneurs that realize this will be in the best position to thrive – but it won’t be easy.”
Perhaps the most profound impact of the Covid crisis on businesses was to remove the fear of extending too deeply too quickly into digital transformation, as well as new ways of working. “The new rate of change created by this crisis has made clients, consumers, partners, and suppliers more open to making bigger, bolder moves,” says Mullen. “The world has adjusted to this rate of change, and the appetite to take advantage of opportunities and seize the moment is there. Organizations shouldn’t be afraid to take aggressive leaps forward and reach farther to get the future they want. Now is the time to sprint to the front of the pack and chart the path forward in your industry category.”
This new attitude benefits individuals and their organizations “that both want to be better, work smarter and achieve more,” says Weir. “Many organizations are already dealing with the challenge of finding enough qualified employees to grow their business. And on top of that, for the workers they do have, organizations need to figure out how to reverse the troubling trend of declining productivity that’s materialized over the past year, despite people working more hours. Most potential productivity gains will derive from accelerated digitization and automation. Applying AI strategically – not just to automate remedial tasks, but to enhance the productivity of people – is what will give forward-looking organizations an edge.”
Looking ahead to the post-post-Covid era, the companies that succeed will have mastered the combined strengths of an engaged workforce and cutting-edge technology. “A more subtle but perhaps more impactful coming change is the type of technology companies are leveraging,” Haq predicts. “For example, robotic process automation is removing the need for people to do repetitive tasks. AI and machine learning may eliminate many of the tasks altogether. Through the lens of accounts payable, solutions are already leveraging AI and machine learning to achieve straight-through invoice processing and improve fraud detection capabilities—once again, freeing up significant resources and strengthening the business’s financial position. Looking ahead, the predictive and learning nature of these technologies will prevent many problems from occurring in the first place. In turn, organizations that embrace them will be well-positioned to thrive in the inevitable AI-powered future.”
Mullen sees great potential in the merger of IT and operational technology. “This connectivity brings intelligent systems and capabilities into the physical world of a power plant or automotive manufacturing factory, or optimizes the route for a supply chain’s transportation fleet. The companies of tomorrow will boldly unlock and redefine this connectivity in a way that balances resilience and agility – through data, cloud, AI, and 5G.”