The Digital Transformation that came from a Virus, by OMD’s Karan Kukreja

By Karan Kukreja, General Manager, OMD.

The world is caught in the clutches of the coronavirus. Economies are collapsing, routines are being disrupted, movement is restricted, cities are deserted and officials are patrolling the streets during curfew. It certainly sounds like a scene from a Hollywood film about the end of the world. But as in most movies where humans are challenged, we shall prevail too.

COVID-19 is a transformational moment in economic history. The pandemic is going to rewrite our future for years to come. We will experience the forced acceleration of previously slow-moving trends and these are going to give rise to new ways of interacting and transacting with customers. Here are the five most prominent trends:

1. Stronger digital infrastructure 

A significant proportion of the global workforce is now conducting its business from home and for many this will become the new default setting of work. This massive and rapid shift has affected life in many ways. We’re now relying on tech for learning, conducting business, health & well-being, shopping and entertainment at a scale never seen before. This increased demand requires a better digital infrastructure everywhere. This will range all the way from better home broadband with faster upload speeds to remote workplace technology and virtual educational environments.

Business continuity in this environment requires three things. First, a cloud-based data solution with secure remote access. Second, a video-conferencing facility that ensures seamless connectivity from anywhere to everywhere. Third, a project management tool for better control and visibility. 5G will play a key role in this.

2. More content creators

More than 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, have been asked or ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. Even though restrictions are beginning to ease in some parts of the world, people are still staying at home in isolation, unable to compromise their safety and engage as a community. As a result, they have turned to social platforms to combat boredom and anxiety. More and more are creating content as a means of self-expression and a form of entertainment.

While most social platforms are experiencing a surge in time spent, @TikTok, the world’s most downloaded app with 2 billion+ installs, is showing unprecedented growth in both downloads and activity. From global music sensations, to famous actors, TikTok now boasts a long list of celebrities who have taken to the platform to post videos while confined in their homes. The addition of these new users outside of its usual demographic of teenagers has enabled the platform to deliver extraordinary levels of reach and engagement. For instance, their hashtag #HappyAtHome alone currently has 14.7 billion views with content from creators around the world.

Brands need to review their content strategies, especially during these times, to make sure the messaging and the platforms are optimal. Social media, and TikTok in particular, will feature even more prominently to promote products and services, increase engagement, and drive loyalty among consumers. Bear in mind that you will need to relinquish control to these social media creators to leverage their respective platforms to their full potential.

3. More contactless interactions

A colleague’s handshake, a friend’s hug, a relative’s warm embrace or a simple pat on the back are now a nostalgic memory, a thing of the past. Societies across the world will need to adapt and come up with their own touch-free greeting. Social distancing is going to be the rule rather than the exception, creating a surge for contactless technologies and procedures. We have spent the last decade talking about touch screens and touch interfaces, but we need to go beyond this. Voice has taken a new prominence as a replacement to a keyboard. Deliveries through autonomous vehicles and drones will be another step in that direction.

As a result, we will see more contactless payments through digital wallets and wave technology. Businesses will deploy effective footfall optimization technologies to manage in-store traffic. In retail environments, self-checkouts and interfaces that recognize voice, face and hand gestures for access and transactions will become standard.

4. Accessibility of virtual health care

The importance of digital health solutions is evident during these challenging times. Hospitals and health practitioners are reminding their patients that consultations can be done virtually through video or even over phone to reduce patient traffic. Remote care provides patients with access to medical consult while reducing the risk of infection. It is crucial we recognize the pressure the health sector is under now due to the increased volume of patients in need of care.

While the government and private hospitals are working on solutions to increase capacity, support healthcare professionals and macro-manage the surge in patients, the wider community must be receptive to the measures taken to support non-COVID patients We will learn to accept that a physician’s phone of video call to determine whether an in-person visit is necessary and receive a diagnostic remotely. This may even spread to other instances of customer service in other categories, including retail. Pre-scheduled appointments could become the norm for a more personalized and socially safer experience, thereby replacing the traditional walk-ins.

5. Increased online transactions

We are experiencing an unprecedented situation and one of the most obvious impacts of living in a lockdown has been on our shopping behaviors. From bulk-buying to online shopping, people are changing what they’re buying, when, how and how much. While the change is evident across categories, the most notable mention is for groceries. We might just have a permanent change in shopping behavior.

COVID-19 has strained existing systems like never before as businesses were not prepared to deal with the sudden surge and shift of demand to online channels. Companies that did not have an online alternative to physical trade have been at a disadvantage, unlike those that could scale up an existing infrastructure. The primary challenge remains the last mile fulfillment.

To remain competitive, businesses must ensure product/service availability online even if they retain a brick-and-mortar presence. They must also invest to improve their omni-channel experience and revisit the logistics setup to accommodate for sudden surges in demand.

Even after the COVID storm passes, we will not return to the ‘usual practice’. Daily routines will change, remote working will become the norm, interactions will be more virtual and new business opportunities will arise. This will bring challenges, but this is what evolution looks like. The Fourth Industrial Revolution may be a lot faster than anticipated, all because of a virus.