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Technologies that will drive the 'new normal' post-COVID 19

As countries across the world continue to ease lockdowns, technology will play a critically important role in the recovery process.

COE-EDPCOE-EDP | Devdiscourse | Updated: 10-08-2020 12:44 IST | Created: 10-08-2020 12:44 IST
Technologies that will drive the 'new normal' post-COVID 19
To harness the true potential of technology during and beyond the crisis, it's extremely important to ensure that it safeguards digital rights including the right to privacy and accessibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, but a socio-economic crisis as well. The global economy is projected to decline sharply this year, owing to the disruptions in global markets and value chains. The pandemic-triggered global economic recession will likely be the deepest one in advanced economies since World War II and the first output contraction in emerging and developing economies in at least the past six decades, according to the World Bank's latest Global Economic Prospects report.

COVID-19-related confinement measures such as nationwide lockdowns, travel bans, border closures, and social distancing have impacted every individual and organization, regardless of its size, in one way or the other. Overall, the crisis has changed the way we socialize, work, learn, and perform basic day-to-day activities.

Amidst all this chaos, Information and Communication Technology has emerged as the lifeline for the global community and has become more vital than it was before the pandemic. Today more than ever, we are dependent on a plethora of new and emerging digital technologies for the continuity of essential day-to-day tasks and they will play an equally important role in the aftermath of the crisis. Here are the technologies that will define the new normal in the post-COVID-19 world:

5G

Recent developments have highlighted the importance of ubiquitous connectivity to keep things running smoothly during times of crisis. Telecom advancements have helped several countries in effectively responding to the pandemic and managing its socio-economic impacts. For instance, In China, high-speed 5G mobile connectivity, the fifth-generation successor to 4G network technology that promises to offer large bandwidth, lower latency, and 10 to 100 times higher speeds as compared to what the existing 4G LTE networks deliver, served as a critical enabler of services such as telemedicine, teleconferencing, and other information-based responses during the pandemic. 5G connectivity helped frontline hospitals in the Hubei and Zhejiang Provinces of China accomplish their critical mission of serving as fixed-point diagnosis and treatment institutions for coronavirus patients. In the Zhejiang Province, doctors used a 5G-powered robot to perform a remote ultrasound scan for cardiopulmonary assessment of a COVID-19 patient 700 km away in a makeshift hospital Wuhan, the early epicenter of coronavirus pandemic in China. Earlier generation networks would have difficulty performing such operations because of speed and bandwidth limitations. 5G connectivity has played an important role in China's response to the crisis and this is one of the reasons why China, despite the economic turmoil, is accelerating the development of new infrastructure, including the rollout of 5G. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China has over 200,000 operational 5G base stations as of mid-May and the country is expected to build another 600,000 5G base stations by the end of this year.

From connected healthcare to smart mobility and remote working to industrial automation, this emerging technology will drastically change the nature of connectivity and service delivery in the post-pandemic world by unlocking new possibilities. It will be a critical tool to drive the next wave of digital transformation triggered by COVID-19 and could also help bridge the urban-rural digital divide exacerbated by the current crisis.

After the pandemic subsides, the world will become accustomed to the virtualization of essential services such as online learning, remote working, telehealth, to name a few. As the number of connected devices and services grows, a reliable and high-speed connection with minimal lag times will be central to meet the data demand. When it comes to providing ultra-reliable and higher-bandwidth networks, 5G is more capable than any other network generation.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a collection of smart interconnected devices. In simple terms, it is an ecosystem of internet-connected physical devices that interact and exchange information over the network. IoT can also play a major role in the fight against a global crisis like COVID-19. Smart connected devices in the IoT network generate a huge amount of data which helps in damage assessment and decision-making for an effective and inclusive response. For example, government and policymakers can use the transportation and mobility data collected from IoT networks and sensors to analyze pedestrian traffic, commercial fleets activity and to gain relevant insights into how the sector is rebounding post-crisis and accordingly implement more targeted recovery measures. Ontario-based Geotab provides datasets based on aggregated and anonymized insights from a base of over 2 million commercial vehicles worldwide to help governments and businesses make informed decisions.

Ranging from healthcare to mobility, IoT can catalyze growth and innovation across different verticals. Utilizing IoT technologies, authorities around the world are effectively dealing with the pandemic and the challenges linked to it. For example, for real-time tracking and identification of COVID-19 clusters, authorities are using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the most commonly used wireless protocol in IoT devices for connectivity. Drones and robots are being used to deliver essential supplies including medicines and food. The use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) to address various challenges facing the manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare sectors during COVID-19 lockdowns have proved the capabilities of IoT in providing uninterrupted services.

In the post-pandemic world, the IoT market will witness a boom as all major verticals will look up to the smart connected services to recover from COVID-19 disruptions and futureproofing, with transport and healthcare sector being the most promising sectors for the growth of IoT tech.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing, the on-demand delivery of computing services over the internet, has become an absolute necessity to sustain operations in times of this crisis and is likely to be the key to business resilience in the aftermath of the pandemic. Cloud-based solutions are experiencing unprecedented demand due to the rapid adoption of work from home (WFH), online learning models, digital finance, and remote medical consultations during this unparalleled time. One of the major advantages of cloud services is that they serve as a central hub for people to virtually meet and exchange resources and the ability to scale dynamically, both up and down, as needed.

Major cloud service providers including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, among others saw demand spikes during the crisis. For instance, at the end of March 2020, Microsoft Teams, a cloud-based collaboration software, witnessed a dramatic upsurge in demand as the world moved to remote work and learning models. Teams set a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in a single day, while the number climbed to 4.1 billion meeting minutes in April. Similarly, AWS and other major cloud service providers experienced healthy growth during global lockdowns.

The pandemic has accelerated cloud migration in government organizations too. For instance, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is leveraging digital technologies, particularly cloud computing to enable teleworking and increase productivity during the pandemic. To support DOD personnel's transition towards remote working, the department has created a Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment based on the Microsoft Teams' cloud-enabled collaboration tool that facilitates collaboration from any location.

Cloud computing will likely become a must-have technology as remote work transition is accelerating across the board and organizations are struggling to adapt to the changing customer needs (e.g. people increasingly moving to online services including shopping, gaming) and market landscape. From reducing infrastructure costs to increasing operational efficiencies, cloud technology will help every enterprise sustain into the future.

Artificial Intelligence and automation

Prior to the pandemic, the debate was raging over the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation - a major use case of AI, on humans, but during this difficult time, the technologies are supporting humanity in conquering the deadly virus. From identifying infection hotspots to facilitating diagnosis and research, artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a central role in tackling the pandemic. A host of industries including healthcare, automotive are deploying artificial intelligence systems to automate essential services.

In the long run, organizations will need to incorporate digital technologies like AI and machine learning into their business processes to adapt to the changing business landscape and improve their resiliency for future crises.

COVID-19 is expected to push a majority of industries into more automation in the post-COVID-19 world. In the foreseeable future, we will see large parts of our lives influenced by this revolutionary technology.

Read more: Automation Post-COVID 19: Narrative to change, adoption to increase

Immersive technology

The immersive technology industry is one of the many industries witnessing a significant uptick in demand during the pandemic and as we navigate the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, the AR/VR technology is poised to gain momentum. The rapid shift to remote work, virtual learning, and online shopping in times of social distancing and lockdowns have given a significant impetus to the adoption and development of immersive technologies namely augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR), subsequently stoking the interest of both consumers and investors.

The education sector, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, is harnessing immersive technology in several ways to deliver more interactive content and drive learner engagement. One such example is of the Case Western Reserve University where all the first-year medical students attended an all-online anatomy class via HoloAnatomy, a mixed-reality app that uses Microsoft's HoloLens to enhance teaching and research. Similarly in the healthcare sector, researchers and health experts are leveraging immersive real-time collaboration tools to better understand viruses or diseases like COVID-19 while hospitals and healthcare workers are using them to monitor coronavirus patients remotely.

The tech-driven future will see higher adoption of immersive technologies by businesses and organizations to enhance remote collaboration and workplace productivity, thereby accelerating the growth of the AR and VR markets globally. Virtual tourism and gaming segments will likely be the major adopter of immersive technologies once the pandemic subsides.

For more details, read- Immersive technologies during and after COVID-19

Cybersecurity

COVID-19 has created a lucrative environment for opportunistic cybercriminals who seek to capitalize on the mass anxiety, social and economic circumstances created by the pandemic. As more and more organizations are leveraging digital channels or services or adopting the work-from-home model to ensure business continuity, they have also become targets of cybercriminals. Malware, scams, ransomware, and phishing attacks have dramatically increased since the onset of COVID-19. According to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), a 350 percent increase in phishing websites was reported globally in the first quarter of 2020, with hospitals and health care systems being the main targets.

The new normal of remote working and the alarming rise in the number of cyberattacks has prompted individuals and organizations to rethink their cyber defense strategies and ramp up cybersecurity spending to adapt to the new circumstances created by the pandemic. Adoption of sound information security strategy and policies based on the evolving nature of attacks will help organizations stand vigilant against future attacks. In the post-pandemic world, cybersecurity will remain a top priority for organizations embarking on a digital transformation and automation journey. A holistic risk-based approach to cybersecurity will be vital for them to address security gaps and maintain business continuity in the event of a similar crisis in the future.

Read more: Tracking Cybersecurity: Laying the groundwork for tougher regulations post-COVID 19

3D printing

With the pandemic disrupting global supply chains and creating a shortage of essential products, 3D printing, aka additive manufacturing, has joined the medical community and the general public in their fight against COVID-19. By quickly scaling up the prototyping and production, the transformative technology is supporting the manufacturing of critical medical devices or equipment like face shields, test swabs, and ventilator components that are in short supply due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

For instance, 3D printing came to the rescue of a hospital in Italy, one of the worst-affected countries by COVID-19, when the original supplier for respiratory valves failed to handle the sudden upsurge in demand. In March 2020, Isinnova, an Italian engineering firm teamed up with another local 3D-printer company to produce 100 respirator valves in just 24 hours. Similarly, HP, an industry leader in 3D printing technology, said that it along with its global partners and customers has produced more than 3.3 million 3D printed parts for face shields, respirators, nasal swabs, and other medical items for hospitals.

The demand for advanced manufacturing technologies including 3D printing has increased exponentially across many sectors ranging from automotive to medical. As economies are opening up, the technology will help businesses bolster their manufacturing capabilities and reduce over-dependence on selected suppliers for critical situations like the present crisis. Overall, 3D printing has the potential to transform manufacturing and catalyze efforts to build resilient supply chains. To reap the true opportunities that this digital manufacturing technology can bring, policymakers and regulators will have to resolve some challenges including enabling regulatory environments.

To see more detailed insights on the 3D printing technology, read- 3D printing and the future of manufacturing post COVID-19

Summing up

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of advanced digital technologies to improve connectivity and strengthen resilience to effectively deal with the current and the next crisis down the road. Be it education, healthcare, entertainment, or finance, the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented demand for digital technologies in every industry and the trend will continue in the future as well. As the world eases lockdowns, technology will continue to play a critically important role in the socio-economic recovery process.

While technological innovation has the potential to amplify human potential and ease lives, it can also increase inequality and pose risks to individual privacy if not used safely and responsibly. To harness the true potential of technology, it's extremely important to ensure that it safeguards digital rights including the right to accessibility. Governments, policymakers, international organizations, and all stakeholders will need to collaborate to put forth proactive measures and standards covering both ethical and legal aspects to ensure inclusive, transparent, and accountable use of digital technologies during and after the crisis.

Technology can be a lifeline for everyone, it just needs proper regulation and responsible usage.

VisionRI's Centre of Excellence on Emerging Development Perspectives (COE-EDP) aims to keep track of the transition trajectory of global development and works towards conceptualization, development, and mainstreaming of innovative developmental approaches, frameworks, and practices.


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