By: Bhaskar Majumdar, a Corporate Affairs, Communication & Digital media specialist
The global COVID 19 pandemic will definitely alter the way the world functions, across verticals, industries, and businesses. The change would be akin to how the Great Depression, the Dot-com bubble and the 2008 global financial recession did in the past. There will be a ‘new normal’ that would emerge.
Speaking in terms of businesses, the technology and the telecom sector, particularly, will witness far-reaching impacts in 2020 and beyond. However, experts opine that most of the implications will be rather a short term. As the world will be more connected digitally, in the post-COVID-19 era, the telecom industry will need to perform better to stay afloat.
The country has more Internet users in rural areas than in urban cities today. As per a recent report by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen, rural India had 227 million active Internet users, 10% more than urban India–about 205 million, as of November 2019. On April 15th, 2020, in the midst of the COVID crisis, the Government launched the Aarogya Setu app to track COVID-19 cases. This singularly indicates the utility of smartphones during and post-COVID era.
From a sectoral perspective, owing to retail store closures and disruptions in the supply chain, telecom markets worldwide will face umpteen challenges, operationally. The average revenue per user (ARPU) may also take a hit as countries will demand on bill waiver programs to keep the financially weak industries floating. With the scarcity of labor and available workforce, customer support functions will also witness ramified implications. Wherever possible, the staff will be required to work from home. As we all know, 5G spectrum auctions and their deployments are witnessing delays across countries worldwide.
However, in the longer term, the market outlook seems to be pretty positive, as reliable connectivity becomes a critical necessity. As the post-COVID 19 world emerges, millions of the people worldwide would already be comfortable with digital tools, services, and platforms. Telecom networks would have garnered rich experience in managing dynamic network traffic and businesses and telcos would have got a fair understanding of the challenges of working from home. New technologies such as robotic healthcare workers, biometric virus identifiers and predictors, AI, and automation-enabled health management products will provide new use cases and investment avenues for 5G. Therefore, one can expect fresh innovations around AI and machine learning and a booster for app and solution innovation ecosystems.
Let us have a look at some of the key industries that will observe seismic shifts. First, the digital and Internet economy will become more proliferated. Online-based products and services companies will see demand from new areas, hitherto non-existent. Similarly, Ed-tech and Online Education along with firms involved with online-skill development, upskilling, and reskilling will witness rapid uptick. All schools and colleges during the on-going lockdown have taken the digital route to reach out to their students for daily classes. Classes now have become virtual and this has also increased the demand for laptops as well as smartphones; online grocery shopping has seen an impressive increase. Moreover, until now, several businesses have been using digital technology and connectivity as a secondary support function, rather than essential! This will now change as technology will increasingly be viewed as a frontier requirement in most firms. Tech will now generate revenues, just like sales and business development does.
Many of the present trends and dynamics that we see around us will accelerate further. AI and automation will gather steam and investments in IT systems and infrastructures will outpace spends on human resources. Jobs of the future will be more contract-based rather than full time. Jobs in routine tasks will shift to consulting and advising functions and roles and such gig economy will be commonplace across emerging as well as in the developed markets around the globe. Work from home has already become the new normal. Many companies are realizing the fact that many employees who are currently working from home are just as much productive as they were when they were working from the office. Infrastructure costs are also saved when they opt for work from home.
One thing is certain! The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated our transition to a digital future–more digital products, more virtual, interactive, and immersive modes of communication are emerging. Further, simple and digital customer experiences, which go right the first time at a lower cost, have become essential for continued growth—and in some industries, even for survival. In the post-COVID 19 eras, incremental improvements will not cut ice any longer. It is now necessary for companies to traverse years in a span of months – to deliver digital experiences that are easy, intuitive, and engaging. As business landscapes are shaking up, businesses need to develop plans that not only strengthen their value proposition but also provide easy, convenient sales and setup; and wring out bad costs.
Businesses are quickly adapting to a digital world and this is proving to be a big problem for those of us who weren’t already prepared with devices and connections. Getting a new Internet connection is a challenging prospect right now, and mobile connections are the only way for many people to stay online and work.
As per a study by McKinsey, even in the pre-COVID 19 periods, a whopping 92% of companies felt that their business ecosystems need to be adaptive, to keep pace with rapid digitization. Despite blitzkrieg progress and technological innovations and advancements that businesses have witnessed over the years, the pandemic has shown how vulnerable we still are.
Many eCommerce and FMCG companies once witnessed their online orders go through the roof, only to find themselves struggling to keep up with the surge in demand from an operational standpoint. The 40-day long nationwide lockdown made them witness chaos again with no sales on the horizon. Tech-powered businesses, however, were able to thrive, for example, Zomato, which used their platform to work with grocery start-ups to meet online-order demand.
Therefore, in the post-COVID 19 worlds, firms will be left with just one option–to amplify and consolidate their digital transformation, driven by active scale-up and consistent improvement. Now is the time to act!
Business leaders will now have more available time at hand to focus on new initiatives. Much small business, which never before invested in a quality customer-relationship-management (CRM) program, are doing so now. Given how fast change is happening, waiting until one sees signs of recovery will be too late. It is time to be resilient by choice, or by the lack of it.
Organizations today have a new role to play – infuse value creation as well as flexibility, cybersecurity, and resilience. In order to do this, the leadership will have to work in tandem with their chief information officers (CIOs) or chief technology officers (CTOs) to make tech investments in legacy-system up-gradation and in microservice-architecture development, or in creating a new tech stack altogether, by developing new business. To accommodate such effective decision engineering, many CEOs have included CIOs into their leadership teams and have asked them to report directly to them. Getting CIOs actively involved in mold business strategies and agenda has proven to facilitate faster progress in achieving a company’s digital goals.
Big data, their aggregation, and advanced analytics services will transform business models of the future. For example, the Government of South Korea, along with some tech companies launched a unique COVID-19 data platform that was able to reduce the contact-tracing time from 24 hours in early February to less than ten minutes on March 26. They created a digital surveillance system that gathered and analyzed critical information from 27 public and private organizations. This explains how intelligent data management will gain prominence and importance, as we stride ahead.
Digitization has also integrated ecosystems in hitherto unheard-of ways. Like, for example, as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, some banks and financial institutions, in order to serve their customers better, have integrated medical-care advice, doctor-appointment services, and automotive services for their customers. As these processes get more and more normalized once protocols and standards fall in place, data will be more important to businesses than ever before. Data has undoubtedly become as precious as oil. In the near future, data careers such as laptops and smartphones will be in key demand for every household.
From a micro perspective, we have seen that earlier, on average, a family used to have one laptop and several individual mobile phones. In the post-COVID era, we may see a minimum of two laptops and spare smartphones in all houses for better and streamlined connectivity and seamless usage. Smartphones in sub-INR 10,000 and sub 15,000 category will see huge growth in demand over the coming years. Besides the camera and battery, RAM and memory will be key consideration criteria for the buyers. Aggressive pricing models to address the demand latency will make mobile manufacturers heavily incentivize both their offline as well as online channels.
There is also a possibility of an increase in sales of refurbished handsets too and the major customer will be senior citizens, school students, etc. Sale of refurbished mobile phones is expected to rise post lockdown as people will be more frugal with spending money. The Ministry of Electronics and IT has recommended to the Home Ministry to include mobile devices, including laptops, in the list of essential goods.
We are aware that mobile phones, laptops, tablets, etc are mission-critical to the functioning of governments, offices, hospitals, doctors, healthcare workers, law enforcement agencies, schools, colleges, and alike. This trend will only snowball in the coming years.
In reality, we do not know when the crisis will end. Nor do we know exactly when recovery will come. Organizations will need to adopt a more digitally future-forward approach to effectively sail through the storm and secure a brighter future.