The COVID-19 Impact
While a global pandemic has been a looming threat for decades, COVID-19 has come as a shock. The lockdown from March 23 is already taking a heavy toll on people and business. New figures of unemployment for April from the Office for National Statistics showed there was a rise of 856,500 pushing the number to more than 2 million. Whilst the Bank of England forecasted unemployment is set to double to around 10% by June, the government’s stimulus package and furlough program has saved (at least for now) approximately 8 million jobs, thus limiting the damage to the labour market.
The global economy is of course also facing an economic meltdown. In the US, government’s employment records for April were in themselves record-breaking with a historical 20.5 million jobs lost. For context, 8.6 million jobs were lost over the whole of 2008 – 2009 during the financial crisis. COVID-19 could end up dwarfing this period in economic damage. An unemployment rate of 14.7% is currently the highest level recorded since the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
In Europe, the IMF stated that GDP declined by a record 21.3% in France, 19.2% in Spain, and 17.5% in Italy in the first quarter of 2020 and the second quarter unfortunately looks set to get worse.
What’s the new normal?
As these gloomy figures weigh on our livelihoods what is next pattern of the economy. Many are predicting the rise of the contact-free economy as more goods and services are bought online. McKinsey have stated that in Europe, in early April, 13% of consumers were planning to browse online e-tailers for the first time. In Italy where shoppers have been historically slower to adopt online shopping, e-commerce transactions have risen 81% since the end of February. COVID-19 has also reshaped businesses as many have been forced to operate remotely, the continuation of these practices will allow for more flexible workforces.
Could technology be the answer?
1. Artificial intelligence (AI)
Machine learning will help companies determine new underlying purchasing patterns and deliver a greater personalized experience to increase online conversions. AI enabled systems will in turn continuously learn and adapt and become invaluable as companies manoeuvre through the new normal. Chatbots are already becoming the first port of call for many online customers and these were overwhelmed during the lockdown, there is still much work to do to ensure these become effective assistants rather than just a delay in reaching an answer you need.
AI and digital healthcare have come under the spotlight with the use of AI supporting detection, diagnosis and the prediction of the spread and containment. AI could also play a critical role in the decision-making process for the development of treatments and vaccines. For example, AI is being used to predict the protein structures which could speed up the development of vaccines. At the same time, it is imperative that the data sources are accurate so as to avoid the potential bias in machine learning. Some fear also that the ethics of data privacy could be compromised as we push towards e-healthcare.
2. Cloud computing
In a post-COVID-19 world, cloud technology is likely to receive a surge in implementation.
As the virus spread, the majority of the employees were asked to work remotely and the demand for private cloud networks to improve internet connectivity and security of vital data skyrocketed. There was also a sudden surge in demand for collaboration solutions – often in the form of cloud-based video conferencing. In March, Microsoft saw a very significant spike in Teams usage that cumulated in more than 44 million daily users who generated over 900 million minutes on Teams in a single week. The other winner in this space was, Zoom, whose usage and subsequent brand awareness went through the roof, this saw its share price catapult from under $70 in January to $150 by the end of March, this despite a general stock market downturn. Various cloud service vendors have actively upgraded their functions and provided resources to meet this demand.
As the market for this technology continues to grow, implementation of this technology into effective mobile applications for easier access will be key.
Cybersecurity is also under focus with the rise of malicious cyber activity as criminals exploit the surge in online activity. Working from home without the right protection leaves volumes of private data potentially very vulnerable. The latest cyber-attack on EasyJet where 2,208 credit card details were accessed in one incident, demonstrates yet again the importance of cybersecurity. In addition, there has been an increase in ransomware attacks on health institutions and even hacking of research centres to steal any information about possible vaccines of COVID19. Further proof of the importance of implementing strong cybersecurity practices, something all organisation need to push for in the new normal.
This moment offers an opportunity for companies and individuals to realise the potential of a global digital society. COVID-19 has showed how essential technology is to stay connected and its ability to help make big decision. As we navigate past the pandemic, the role of data will be indispensable in all aspects of our lives from how we work to our healthcare systems.