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Covid-19 did not disrupt; it accelerated the inevitable – by Fusion 5’s Elie Haber

By Elie Haber, Managing Partner – Fusion5

When my partner and I set out to launch Fusion5 a few years ago, we did not in our wildest dreams expect the tremendous challenges and hurdles that awaited us. Surely, the task at hand did come with tremendous growth over a short period of time, however, it also served up complex problems. To this day, we have had to rely on hard market data to formulate our next steps – and, as much as we would have liked to plan forward, we found that attempting to plan even a year ahead was already further than this current era will allow. Particularly this year when preset long-term plans became accelerated due to the greatest reset button of all: a virus that saw us transforming our entire model, sooner than we had expected – much sooner.

There are multiple ways to view this current situation – the infamous post-Covid-19 era – which served as a means to identify the urgent necessities of a new modus operandi, which was in the making for years anyway – it is just the urgency that changed. In all fairness, it did happen overnight. But, as daunting and devastating as it has been on every level imaginable, it did also present a major opportunity for businesses to flourish in this new so-called reality.

Ultimately, our line of work remains unchanged. We analyse and harness market conditions and consumer dynamics to help brands and companies to maintain loyalty within their markets and respective segments. As simple as that. But the terms of the game have changed. And dramatically, at that.

Going into lockdown and coming out of it have proved to be totally different scenarios.  Driven by a dramatic $82.5bn global surge in e-commerce demand, some sectors in the region have reported up to 800 per cent growth in revenues (heck, gym equipment alone saw a rise of 600 per cent in sales). To give you a sizeable measure, in the Middle East and Africa alone, there are more than 445 million mobile money wallets, as opposed to 286 million bank accounts.

The increase in online sales brought forward a fundamental ‘need for speed’ (pun intended), for adaptability and agility. The reality is that no sector has been spared from resorting to “disruptive innovation” to survive the new status quo at the cost of compromising mainstream businesses – forever.

Multimedia production, data analytics, remarketing, AI and machine learning are now vital components of every sector, helping us to “unlearn what we once learned” and overhauling the way we perform every aspect of our business. Let us be pragmatic here: digital transformation has the potential to make our jobs easier, our budgets more flexible, each dollar spent more measurable, and our ability to optimise performance phenomenal.

Surely, companies that had been delaying their plans for digital transformation and had deemed it a luxury at the time have already suffered the brunt of business disruption because they were unable to match the changing consumer demands for their products or services. What this pandemic did was force leaders to move towards a “digital-first” approach at super speed thus imposing agility in the in adoption of their newly found operational model. And the world is becoming a more efficient place because of it. Bank tellers have shifted to fully online-based services in Indonesia. India is rising on the global manufacturing platform – now set to start producing Apple products and empowering consumers thanks to the reduced retail pricing.

Whether we return to fully virtual or semi-virtual workplaces, schools and businesses, chances are this “virus-induced” online culture is here to stay. Maybe not at the same scale of growth, but permanency of consumer habits is in the horizon to some extent.

The good news is that with markets like the UAE enjoying an almost 100 per cent mobile penetration and the number of smartphone users in the Middle East doubling way before Covid-19 even came into view, the appetite for digital solutions has never been this great. With technological means at our disposal, we have reinvented our business model, and we are willing to bet that no sector is exempt from reaping the benefits we have seen manifested in a matter of months.

Humans are resilient and so are extensions of them, which include the economy. Eventually, vaccine or not, Covid-19 will be behind us and the world will move on, more informed than it was and far more technologically advanced that it ever was. What is required now is creative leadership, an innovation-led organisational mentality, and a highly adaptive and agile mindset in order to continue to reinvent our businesses and drive value to the clients and industries we serve. How we respond now will define the results we reap tomorrow – or not.