By Nabeel Mahmood

For many of us, coronavirus reminds us of 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis, events that reshaped our society in lasting ways, from how we travel and work, to the level of security and surveillance we have all become accustomed to.  On 9/11, Americans discovered we are vulnerable to calamities we thought only happened in distant lands. The 2008 financial crisis told us we could also suffer the afflictions of the past, such as the economic meltdown of the Great Depression. Now, the 1918 flu pandemic is a sudden specter in our lives. A global pandemic that keeps us confined and contained in our homes possibly for months is already re-orienting our lifestyle, relationship to the outside world and even to each other.

We are seven weeks into the massive time-out; many of us have spent much of that time trying to get used to the radical lifestyle change.  Where will we be in six months, a year, ten years from now?  I lie awake at nights, wondering what the future holds for us. I wonder what will happen and what the new norm will be.  As I sit back and think about the end of the crisis and address the now, we must start planning for tomorrow; we must consider the lasting shifts that will be the legacy of the novel pandemic.  

As a technologist and futurist, I see COVID-19 spurring digital transformation, experience transformation, and technology adoption. Fear of contagion is leading many to use digital currencies; social distancing is promoting work from home and work from anywhere. We are leveraging robotics for the delivery of goods and transportation of people, tapping into the sharing economy to liberate additional capacity for housing, mobility, and freight during emergencies, building automated and flexible production lines and supply chains allowing scalability and regional independence, and massively deploying online and remote capabilities for education, healthcare, meetings, and entertainment.

COVID-19 has resulted in what is effectively the most extensive “work from home” & “work from anywhere” experiment ever conducted in human history. We see the effect of shifting internet traffic patterns. Homeschooling and online/ distance education is normal and accepted by society. We are finding unconventional ways to connect with coworkers, friends, and family, and employers are more flexible in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic technology. As the crisis continues, it will accelerate globalization and the development of a remote culture and new lifestyle.  

All over the world, COVID-19 has transformed online shopping from a nice-to-have to a must-have. Online shopping needs to be supported by a robust logistics system. As we move forward, we’ll see contactless delivery services where goods are picked up and dropped off at a designated location instead of from or into the hands of a person. However, before robot delivery services become prevalent, delivery companies need to establish clear protocols to safeguard the sanitary condition of delivered goods.

In healthcare, we have started to see the adoption of digital health tools—from assessment services to telemedicine. This has rapidly accelerated, with healthcare organizations globally looking to digital solutions to support their efforts against the pandemic. We are witnessing a step-change in the adoption of digital health solutions as it becomes an essential part of the way forward and the new norm. 

As we look at the reopening of the world, people will be looking for affordable, reliable ways to stay socially distant. At the same time, commuting, including turning to transportation options such as autonomous car ride shares, bike shares, and scooters. It is an opportunity for us to consider reshaping our cities and build them around people and not cars.

The pandemic will have a lasting impact on manufacturing as it gets a wakeup call. In the short term, companies are concerned about the supply chain. In the long term, once we emerge from the crisis, I expect businesses to quantify the risks better. The current way of building products in centralized factories with low-cost labor halfway around the world simply can’t weather storms of uncertainty.  Moving forward, factories and supply chains will be required, and businesses will mandate much more resilient manufacturing through onshoring, full automation, robotics, and machine learning. 

Since these technologies will generate efficiency gains, organizations will retain them. This process will reshape entire industries and reframe the nature of work and learning. Companies will rethink their real estate strategy and footprint, new collaboration and teamwork models will continue to emerge, and remote learning will redefine education.

All the aforementioned require a change, which is the new norm.  This experience transformation journey relies on 5G, artificial intelligence, machine learning (ML), Edge, Big Data, IoT, Blockchain, Quantum computing, augmented and virtual reality, location technologies, cloud and entertainment localization, and robotics.   The adoption of these technologies will help accelerate the digital transformation we have been exploring for the past decade. 

COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of digital readiness, which allows business and life to continue. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitized world, staying current with the latest technology, and taking a human-centered and inclusive approach to technology governance is essential for any business or country to remain competitive in a post-COVID-19 world.

With a good strategy and strong execution, we will return to a safer and more united world. 

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