COVID-19 and digital transformation:

Nikhil de Silva
May 25, 2020 · 5 min read

How innovation in a time of crisis is changing the business operations landscape

When we look at moments of great change and innovation in technology, most advances resulted from an incredible need or pain point.

It’s no secret we’re in the middle of one of those moments in history that breeds uncertainty and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented countries worldwide with problems they neither expected nor prepared for. And while the effects of and response to this unprecedented situation have had devastating consequences, we see more companies than ever working toward the advancement of human life through the power of technology and funded growth. As quickly as the way we live and work is changing, technology is emerging as the proverbial “hero” of the global pandemic, particularly for industries desperate to remain relevant.

We created Prospect Park Collective to ask the important questions: How can digital transformation further solve the complex problems facing companies globally? Can innovation align with our economic structure and prevent catastrophic consequences from similar scenarios in the future? After all, it’s rare that unexpected innovation isn’t preceded by the kind of global disruption we’re seeing because of COVID-19.

So, we ask ourselves — how can companies and industries innovate to shield themselves from the aftershock of COVID-19 or a future global pandemic? We’ll start with these critical questions.

How can supply chains adapt to the increased demand from online shopping?

With almost everyone confined to their homes and so many brick and mortar businesses closed to foot traffic, the demand for online goods is on a sharp incline. Many businesses that held onto the value of the face-to-face interactions with their customers have been forced into the digital sphere out of necessity, not a change of heart.

But this increased consumer need and business owners’ shift for survival heightens the demand for supply chain innovation. Companies that historically ran online-heavy operations are even struggling to keep up.

So, what comes next in the response to this increased demand?

Regional supply chains and micro-distribution will become more common. This will ease the pressure of heavy online buying accompanied by the demand for speedy home delivery. This new model will produce short, fast shipping times, and increased supply agility.

Innovative technologies will include warehouse robotics, drone and autonomous vehicles, and automated client communications.

The question remains — what is the new normal? Even AI-based modeling technology couldn’t predict consumer needs in today’s pandemic. Agility will become the game-changer. Models must adjust with the scale of disruption, and adjust for a wide range of needs and scenarios.

How important will automation become for critical industrial sectors?

IDC has reported purchases of industrial robots and service robots will total more than $30 billion in 2020. Discrete manufacturing will be responsible for nearly half of all robotics systems spending worldwide in 2020 with purchases totaling $53.8 billion. The next largest industries for robotics systems will be process manufacturing, resource industries, healthcare, and retail which have been forced to speed up their intent to integrate advanced technologies like these by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s because of this intention that investor interest in companies like ABB (NYSE: ABB) and Rockwell Automation (NYSE: ROK) is at an all-time high today.

This insight along with the fact that a global workforce has been sent home to work remotely could mean automation and IoT-powered solutions have now topped the lists of corporate planning priorities for most critical industrial sectors.

Innovation in automation can keep people home while still prioritizing business continuity. Outside of health and safety, it’s the opportunity for a new normal in industrial business operations. We can see this in the decision of major tech firms Twitter, Facebook, and Google, all giving employees the option to work remotely for the rest of the year or even the rest of their lives.

Automation can address some of the biggest challenges facing the industrial sector right now. This could include replacing human manpower with AI-powered machines and enhancing remote work productivity, which has already led to a rise in organizations looking to hire AI futurists to accelerate business performance recovery and capacity. It could manage the predictive and preventative maintenance of manufacturing plants and industrial operations. Automation could also be leveraged for operational analytics to improve day-to-day efficiencies and end-user experiences.

Business as usual in a global pandemic? It’s possible with automation.

Will we look to robotics to move to a pandemic-resistant society?

Perhaps the structure of our society and response to these threats is partly what makes us so susceptible to a large-scale global pandemic in the first place. We are largely dependent on each other for the prevention, testing, and treatment of infection.

The good news is that companies can leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning robotics to take us into a COVID-resistant way of living. Robots are already becoming a critical component of the inpatient care evolution. With the onset of COVID-19, new focus areas for robotic applications alleviate the stresses we’re experiencing today. Robots may be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting with border control. Humans can be removed from the front lines of disease control, protecting more lives, and using expertise where it’s needed most.

What role will Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots play in a contactless society?

Companies worldwide are using chatbot technology as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversational AI, or “chatbots”, allows the dissemination of information through either written or voice-based communication. Dusted off out of necessity, this technology is proving its value to companies.

Chatbots have shared pivotal health information during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the technology has been and will likely continue to be leveraged by companies who need it to keep up with their customers’ service demands. Artificial Intelligence offers the efficiency and productivity required by so many industries at this time.

Which industries have inherent opportunities for growth during the pandemic?

A global pandemic changes industries in different ways, but does the opportunity for growth exist through digital transformation? As mentioned earlier, great change lays the breeding ground for innovation. Adaptability in oil and gas, logistics, construction, engineering, utilities, and consumer retail industries can mean new normals for these verticals.

But responsible companies must look at the areas hit hardest by the global pandemic and how digital transformation can prevent a future downturn. Robotics, and even drones, can mean quicker and safer responses to protect more people and save more lives. After all, unmanned aerial vehicles were born from a military’s same desire to protect human life.

Increased efficiencies in the supply chain can ensure necessary supplies will be available and received before the need becomes critical. Automation allows for business continuity without the risk to human lives.

Digital transformation can keep people safe. It can also help us to make more informed decisions and prepare for the unexpected. Perhaps the silver lining in this devastating time can be the innovation that will be born from this pandemic — to create peace of mind in preparation.

Prospect Park Collective

Driving Economic Growth Through Future-Proof Impact

Prospect Park Collective

Prospective Park Collective is a non-profit organization founded by a group of spirited friends who evolved a passion-project into a vehicle for economic stimulation and recovery. We are motivated by emerging technologies, innovation, and entrepreneurs hoping to change the world.

Nikhil de Silva

Written by

Partner at Sayers. Ex-VP @Salesforce. Ex-Partner @PwC. Chair @ProspectParkCo. Playing at the intersection of human-centered design, data & next-gen intelligence

Prospect Park Collective

Prospective Park Collective is a non-profit organization founded by a group of spirited friends who evolved a passion-project into a vehicle for economic stimulation and recovery. We are motivated by emerging technologies, innovation, and entrepreneurs hoping to change the world.