Technological pandemic. How bad days will lead to a better world.

Text and picture by Dr. Aleksander Poniewierski, author of “Speed: no limits in the digital era” (www.speednolimits.com)

Over the last decade, companies worked on strategies pointing to the milestone date of 2020. Its attractive symmetry and association with visual acuity made it the ideal target to reach a range of ambitious goals based on increased automation and new business models, resulting in greater efficiency, speed and prosperity.

Governments in many countries also initiated revolutionary changes, backing modern technology, innovation and a knowledge-based world as the only realistic direction for our development.

In my book I wrote:

“The fourth industrial revolution has arrived. Get ready for even faster acceleration

What awaits us? Can we still develop, or will it all come to a sorry end? Should we side with the optimists or pessimists?

One thing is for sure: the time of industrial giants is behind us. The huge industrial behemoths are becoming a thing of the past. They began to be nibbled at by smaller, agile organisms who were better suited to adapting to the digital era. It is like the prehistoric period when dinosaurs became extinct, smothered in the smoke that enveloped the planet after colliding with an enormous asteroid.[1] The space, which remained below, half a meter above the ground, was inhabited by small mammals. Over time, they conquered the land.

We now stand at a similar moment. The information explosion of the 20th century left behind a completely new world. A cloud of noise and information, too dense to assimilate, is circulating around us. Before it was formed, we developed technologies and industries to master our environment. We learnt to subjugate the forces of nature and invent our own ways of generating energy.

The last 250 years have been primarily about the evolution of our minds and, with that, our needs, creativity, adaptability, health, longevity and wealth. (…)”[2]

Of course, none of us anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic. What I wrote in my book is that the era of great acceleration is just beginning.

Some of you will think because of what is happening all over the world now, there will be an economic decline, a major recession, we will be poorer, and it will be hopeless. To be sure, there will be tragedies.

Most likely, the tragedy of the pandemic that has overwhelmed us will bring the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. There will be loss of jobs and livelihoods. The supply and production chains between countries we knew on 1 January 2020 is unlikely to be the same again. Finally, our social relations will be completely reevaluated. The year 2020 will be called a breakthrough in the history of mankind, not because of the pandemic but because of SPEED and the 4th industrial revolution.

We will remember the pandemic very briefly — history has shown that the generation affected by an event experiences trauma and remembers its own tragedy. Memory will pass very quickly. We’ll forget it. For example, before the media started comparing COVID-19 to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–1920, only a handful of people were aware of this terrible event that infected a quarter of the world’s population at the time and killed at least 50 million people — quite likely, many more.

In the current context, how can we recover (quickly) from such an equally massive blow?

We are about to change so quickly that we need an accelerated course of learning. It is necessary to jump on the rushing train of positive thinking and the opportunities that lie ahead.

The need for mothers of invention

The economy hates a vacuum. As citizens, we will observe the changes around us. They will be very fast because, unlike previous economic crises, we now have a super-fast information exchange. Thanks to the Internet and social media platforms, a new product or service will spread like wildfire. Every day we will be bombarded with new ideas on how to protect ourselves against the virus or how to change the way we do business. There will also be a lot of misinformation and inaccurate news.

There’s a buzz of information all over the planet. Psychologically, humans hate uncertainty. In a situation of inadequate or incomplete messages, we prefer to accept unreliable but positive information. This is what makes us believe in magic potions and miracle cancer cures that offer hope and reassurance. We have already seen some of this, in news about unproven or not yet fully-tested “cures.” If we are told that the most susceptible group to the COVID-19 disease is the elderly and therefore the most susceptible to manipulation, we begin to form a perspective. What’s more, many older people, such as those in nursing homes, cannot be in physical contact with their children, adding to the sense of disaster.

It is this new state of fear that we find a need to create innovative products and services that only address a the basics, but also meet our safety needs — individually, socially, economically and commercially.

Today, there are some very basic business needs that have been “compromised” by the pandemic, which will be the pillar of the 4th industrial revolution.

The first is the need for real information. Reliable information has always been of great value to business. The thousands of terabytes per second of data we process gives us a powerful weapon to run it and allows us to anticipate and meet needs. But it turns out that today, the only reliable data comes directly and only from sensors. Both those placed on physical machines and soft sensors that track our consumer behavior on the Internet. All other (declarative) data sources have proved to be ineffective and even misleading.

It is possible not only to mislead big economies by giving false information about the number of the infected or deceased, but also to manipulate information to achieve political or economic aims. I am convinced that the new value chains, production, services and trade will soon implement reliable sources of data and information on a massive scale. In the light of the pandemic, all or almost all restrictions on personal rights have vanished and our privacy is part of the anti-crisis system. Tracking goods, people and various services will move from the Internet to the physical world. The Internet of things and artificial intelligence will no longer be a toy for the wealthy. It will become an essential tool. And very quickly.

The second need is to synchronize data and exchange it in real time. Remote working, remote learning or simply socializing has shown how weak and fragile the existing telecommunications infrastructure on our planet is. The pandemic has created the need to limit the amount of content transmitted between people. What is more, today, cloud solutions are the only way to ensure rational communication speeds. What is problematic today in exchanging files between primary school or college students will soon be a real problem for businesses still based on “classic paper workflow”. The speed of the world will force the synchronization of data in the cloud and processing it by using artificial intelligence algorithms.

What we see as salutary today will become an everyday reality for business in a few months. An excellent example is the central collection of X-ray images of COVID-19 patients’ lungs and then supporting the doctor’s diagnosis with artificial intelligence. Such databases have only collected thousands of patient images, but it still speeds up the diagnosis from a quarter of an hour to a single minute. And with the multitude of new cases, it is a powerful acceleration. And no one will reverse it, we will collect data, synchronize it and use AI for simulation and diagnosis.

As we talk about simulation, prediction and diagnosis, the last few weeks show how the available data has been shaved and the analytical tools (which are simple, and anyone can use them) turned into a ‘game’ for powerful communities to play predictions and run simulations based on “what if.” But there are powerful scientific applications for the seemingly recreational. Prediction is a tool of everyday use but has recently gained a new, unparalleled strength. Today, the results of these simulations influence radical actions of governments — closing borders, stopping all flights, locking down cities or quarantining millions of citizens. They are so powerful that they are able to convince leaders to change their minds about the strategy of managing the state in a few days as a result of the predictions and simulations being tested.

The last need that I want to mention is mass self-service. This is provided by robotization, intelligent automation and additive manufacturing, more widely known as 3-D printing. As I wrote earlier, the basic human need is to eliminate uncertainty. The basic problem of business (but also of state administrations and health services) is the inability to serve a huge number of customers in a short time. Information lines at hospitals, educational institutions or police and public services are, and will continue to be, under increasing pressure. People wanting information call and ask for answers to basic questions. An answer that satisfies them. This is a big problem. But there are companies or even entire industries (such as banks) that some time ago introduced a bot-based, self-service model. You don’t wait in line; you talk as if to a human and get information that satisfies you. Do you have to explain? But the same concept brings us “salvation” in other areas, which we have already got used to. Using teleconference software, online shopping with home delivery. The whole transaction taking place in seconds. The only problem is supply chains and delivery which hasn’t been able to scale up in demand surges. Nonetheless, imagine what would happen today if it wasn’t for digitization and smart handling. Whether it is a banal bot or a sophisticated order management system, they are scalable. Unlike closed post office windows or crowded emergency rooms in hospitals.

Sometimes, despite the massive money spent on automation or digitalization, the whole process is incomplete. Sometimes the lack of full automation leaves an island of inefficiency and gap in the system. I’m experiencing such a situation right now. I live in Europe, but I settle taxes in the U.S. I can download and fill in the tax declarations, I can print them out, but I have to deliver them signed by me personally. Time is running out. I can’t send registered mail to the U.S. There are more important needs for the use of cargo by the airlines. I can’t file the declaration online. The U.S. Government IRS has postponed the deadline, but it would be better if we could just digitally confirm the signature.

If, a few years ago, the world had trusted and mass-produced 3-D printing technologies, we could now remotely create spare parts that we cannot transport through conventional channels. The production and transportation of many vital pieces of equipment are currently at a standstill. Many of them will be dismantled into parts from others (as with cars being donor vehicles of parts for newer ones). 3-D printing can and will perform spare parts logistics. Very quickly.

The needs of people, businesses and countries have not changed much over the last 250 years. Since the first industrial revolution, we have had pandemics and economic crises. And so it will be in the current epoch. The key to success will be to meet the needs in the new world as soon as possible, under new conditions and on new terms.

Technology follows habits

The biggest problem with introducing innovation is resistance. People are afraid of change. They are afraid of, and avoid, the unknown; unwilling to change their behavior. The greatest investment in creating a new business or changing it, is to create an appropriate environment of change. Persuasion and training, extortion and rewarding. This dance usually lasts very long. Some time ago, it was already noticed that the best way to get people to adopt technology is to adapt it to the behaviors that a person (customer) is accustomed to. Getting used to the self-service model is simple. We use the most primitive tool, which is saving time and money. The rest happens by itself. Once, petrol stations were operated by an employee, which could be slow expensive. Today, in many locations, we fill up ourselves, pay on the phone and leave — SPEED. We put items into our shopping baskets and pay at the self-service counter, order plane tickets and book hotel rooms ourselves — via the Internet, often getting discounts, air-miles and special offers. Finding such juicy “carrots” is not so easy in other areas of life. Unfortunately, the factory boss believes that instead of a forklift truck operated by a qualified and employee, an autonomous platform robot could be used, freeing up the employee for more strategic work. But there are many reasons why it is not possible or worth it, so resistance is everywhere.

But sometimes there is a crisis, a pandemic. Fear is overwhelming everyone, including employers. They wonder what they can do to be less vulnerable. They learn quickly, they get used to being able to do business differently. Instead of issuing and posting paper invoices, they create and send them electronically in seconds, and instead of moving warehouse stock with manned shop-floor forklifts, they can use autonomous electric vehicles. You learn from your own server room where the infected employee came in, that you have to quarantine them for two weeks and there is no plan B for this. They start to learn how to use the cloud to send documents and do so in their business. Since people have learned to order without a sales representative; it may be possible to replace them with an intelligent bot. Our habits are changing. Our preferences soon forget the options that were available only a few weeks ago. There’s a chance. Customers are changing their habits. And this is paradoxically the beginning of a technological pandemic. A pandemic that will build new technological solutions based on new habits. A new, cheaper and more effective order will be realized thanks to the cloud, IoT, AI, mobility, blockchain, 3-D printing, robotics and intelligent automation.

In times of crisis, the power grows

I wrote in the epilogue of my book:

“ (…), here is the kicker, SPEED is not just about speed. In a typical scene from an old-school Western, a group of men sit in a bar playing poker. One man presents a royal flush and reaches across the center of the table to claim the pot of cash. The guy opposite jumps up and pulls out a gun. “Not so fast. I’ll take that, if ya don’t mind.”

Of course, strictly speaking, that’s against the rules. Every game has defined regulations describing how the game is won and what the limitations are. But then someone or something comes along that make the rules irrelevant. That’s why the horse never stood a chance against the car and SPEED has no limits in the digital era. It will change everything. Are you ready or are you still studying the rules of yesterday’s game?

Look ahead and keep your eyes on the road. It is coming toward you faster than ever before. Drive safely but keep your foot on the gas.

You have entered the world beyond SPEED… “[3]

This is a world where SPEED is not just a choice. It’s a world where there is no choice. There is only one way. You can cry in a crisis. You can wonder what will happen and how it will happen. You can also answer the question “Are you ready or are you still studying the rules of yesterday’s game?”

It’s up to you whether your company develops or is financially stressed. . You have a great chance and time to learn how to do it, to learn and understand the modern world and finally find a new way and overcome the “dirty puddle” of the COVID-19 pandemic. A puddle that everyone will forget in a few years.

The greatest economic powers are born in times of crisis. Speed is the key here. So hurry, educate, change and make changes. Give motivation to your employees and partners. Implement the 4th Industrial revolution.

Five possible ways to build prosperity in Industrial Revolution 4.1

The book, SPEED no limits in the digital era, is divided into five chapters. I would like to share a paragraph on what I think should be done in each of these areas. What is most important now?

SECURITY — security, safety, privacy and trust. Today, we see that these values are the most important. The protection of people (employees and customers) is paramount. Do you have an appropriate risk management system in your business? Do you have a business continuity plan? Of course, you couldn’t have predicted a pandemic, but are you dependent on a single supplier who may have an uncertain future for entirely different reasons? Are your IT systems prepared for your employees to work remotely more of the time? Do you protect your and your customers’ data? The pandemic is over, but the reputation of your brand, product or service will be judged by the importance you place on securing your transactions and your customers’ data. A crisis is a crisis, but business is business. Trust is the currency of the future. You need to build and maintain it within the company and in relations with customers and partners. Has it changed anything? It certainly has.

PARTNERSHIP — this is the ideal time to verify of all kinds of cooperation, alliances and partnerships. Remember, people are people. They will always take care of the things that are closer to their hearts and about which they have a greater sentiment. Maybe your partner from Europe, Asia-Africa or America is not a trustworthy partner, or just doesn’t have mature enough processes — so change them. But remember, they may think the same of you and conclude that you are the one who should be dropped. Partnerships in the 4th Industrial Revolution will be looking for technology-minded collaborators. Start today. Don’t wait, or you will be a client and not a partner.

EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES — you need to understand what this is about. Don’t just rely on the experts you have in the company. You go to MBA programs, you learn leadership. You were in no doubt that this was essential knoweldge. You have to understand it. We’re in a time when you either have technology and can use it or you’re sitting there crying. You have a chance to change considerably, but first, you need to understand how it works.

ECONOMY — Everything is going to be over in a few months. Basic products and services will come at a price. People will want normality, but they will not have money, trust or confidence. New business models now have a chance to take advantage of habits. Use what is happening as a springboard. Do it quickly and ethically, and the crisis won’t affect you seriously as you grow.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION — values in your company, new conditions and moods. You, as a leader, have a duty to guide your people through this current crisis and the even greater disruption that will result from new technologies and ways of working. This is uncharted territory for all of us and the quality (or lack) of true leadership will be exposed for all to see and judged accordingly. Those who pass muster will be the ones who demonstrate authenticity, effectively communicate the values of the company, and are able to connect meaningfully with a multigenerational workforce. The digital journey has just begun — are all your people onboard? Are you ready for unparalleled SPEED?

More in the book, SPEED no limits in the digital era. (www.speednolimits.com) copyright 2019.

[1] https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/dinosaurs-extinction-asteroid-eruptions-doom

[2] SPEED no limits in the digital era. www.speednolimits.com

[3] SPEED no limits in the digital era. www.speednolimits.com

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