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COVID-19 Accelerated Changes by Hearts & Science’s Fadi Maktabi

By Fadi Maktabi, Managing Director, Hearts & Science UAE.

As COVID-19 forces us to transform the way we live, bringing streets to a standstill, some things are accelerating faster than we thought. I’m not talking about the surge in e-commerce purchases or the rising demand for streaming services but the cool “futuristic” concepts we liked to show off in presentations.

Five are particularly relevant in this context. They are Blockchain Application & Digital Currency, AI/ML & Automation, Cloud Computing & Cybersecurity, Fluid Talent Management and finally the real application of the Internet of Things.

Over the coming weeks I will be delving into each of these topics, exploring how COVID-19 is acting as a catalyst in their acceleration, the benefits for people, governments and corporations, and the marketing applications.

 

Blockchain Application & Digital Currency:

With this new world taking shape, I have changed my mind about concepts and ideas that I thought wouldn’t have the scale of application in my lifetime. The first one is blockchain. Don’t get me wrong, I personally love the technology, concept and its philosophical application, but three months ago, I truly believed the world was not ready for its application. We were too focused on privacy and regulations that applying the technology before COVID-19 would have jeopardized the global economic state of play. It seems we’ve now placed the concerns on the backburner to focus on how it can help turn the economic slowdown around.

As a quick refresher, blockchain technology is focused on storing and processing information in a decentralized manner, making sure that the information is accurate, trustworthy and unchangeable.

The pandemic has now created a new set of problems that makes the application of blockchain by governments and corporations much more urgent. Here are two examples:

The US stimulus package: The US government recently passed a $2 Trillion stimulus package to put $1,200 a month into its citizens’ hands. The problem was how to do this without having to deal with the slow banking system. The blockchain solution proposed by some US Senators is the launch of the digital dollar, a digital currency with the same value as the paper US dollar that could be directly transferred to people through a digital wallet.

Essential medical supplies: Hospitals across the world are rushing to stock up on essential supplies (masks, gloves and ventilators) without truly knowing the scale of the impact the virus will have on their population. There are now discussions about a centralized medical supply platform using blockchain technology, to replenish supplies from a central source as they run out at a country, city or even hospital level.

The more the technology helps solve pressing real-life problems, the more it will be used across the board, including marketing.

Governments & Corporations:

The biggest change in the application of blockchain will come in the amount of information governments will have moving forward, especially as they digitize their services and begin to use identity at the center. This is now being accelerated as contactless becomes more and more of a consumer expectation. In a contactless world, blockchain is the most efficient technology to make sure that governments keep the data secure, accurate and fast. In fact, the UAE is already taking massive strides after launching its paperless drive through the blockchain (https://www.smartdubai.ae/initiatives/paperless). The application for governments can go as far as the launch of a digital currency that would then grant them even more control over their financial system and increase their ability to “follow the dollar”.

Corporations will follow suit as consumers begin to expect them to be transparent about the supply chain of their products. With COVID-19, end users want to know how their packages are being handled and if they are virus-free. This will quickly expand into the full details of how companies source their product and how much they are paying their workers, for example. This could bring a whole new meaning to sustainability and purpose, two increasingly pressing concerns for brands.

People:

In theory, blockchain is all about decentralization and democratization. It should give people more power through greater transparency, accessibility, speed, security and identity resolution. It would facilitate administrative tasks, give people greater control over their money and provide them with full transparency into what they are buying.

The growing demand for contactless will quickly lead into digital currency. It would give people a greater visibility into where their money is going. With charity donations for example, blockchain technology would allow people to “follow their dollar” to its final destination, stimulating greater levels of generosity.

Marketing:

As consumers get visibility into how products are made, ethical brands will end up winning. If their products are sourced ethically and meet the highest standards, they will rise thanks to their brand equity and purpose. For example, current consumer concerns around where/how produce is grown/harvested and by whom could easily be embedded into the final product (think of a QR code or barcode with all the necessary information). This level of transparency has never been available to people at scale.

Another major change will be in how marketing and media is conducted. The media supply chain for example has always been questioned, especially when it comes to fraud, viewability and brand safety. Applying the blockchain here will help address these concerns and truly determine the right KPIs/ROI for clients.

In the current situation, it’s no longer a question of if but when for blockchain and digital currency. In fact, it will also be sooner rather than later because the emergency requires urgency. We are searching for solutions across the world. At least, we have one right in front of us.

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