The COVID-19 pandemic is putting a strain on the global economy. In addition to financial crisis, the epidemic also changes the way many businesses produce and operate. The economy and society are expected to never return to their “normal” status as before the pandemic, because of the emergence of new development perspectives, new trends and new economic rules. Prominent in this game is the rise of future technologies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies are playing a crucial role in keeping our society functional in a time of lockdowns and quarantines. These technologies may have a long-lasting impact beyond COVID-19 and also bring enterprises a myriad of opportunities for breakthroughs.
In a study of the COVID impact on the IT market in China, IDC pointed out new opportunities that may be exist in the future:
- Opportunities for digital platforms and big data regarding the intelligentization and modernisation of governmental operations
- Opportunities for new smart cities and parks about the decentralization of city clusters + central cities
- Opportunities for online healthcare services in relation to the acceleration of healthcare system digital transformation
- Opportunities for online classroom and education, remote office and online activities, 5G industry applications, unmanned commerce and services, and fresh food e-commerce in relation to the accelerating rise of contactless businesses and services
- Opportunities for supply chain management, manufacturing and service robots in relation to the acceleration China+1 global supply chain strategy
Online Shopping and Robot Deliveries
In late 2002, the SARS outbreak led to tremendous growth of both business-to-business and business-to-consumer online marketplace platforms in China.
Similarly, COVID-19 has transformed online shopping from a nice-to-have to a must-have around the world. Some bars in Beijing have even continued to offer happy hours through online orders and delivery.
Online shopping needs to be supported by a robust logistics system. In-person delivery is not virus-proof. Many delivery companies and restaurants in the US and China are launching contactless delivery services where goods are picked up and dropped off at a designated location instead of from or into the hands of a person. Chinese e-commerce giants are also ramping up their development of robot deliveries. However, before robot delivery services become prevalent, delivery companies need to establish clear protocols to safeguard the sanitary condition of delivered goods.
Digital and Contactless Payments
Cash might carry the virus, so central banks in China, US and South Korea have implemented various measures to ensure banknotes are clean before they go into circulation. Now, contactless digital payments, either in the form of cards or e-wallets, are the recommended payment method to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Digital payments enable people to make online purchases and payments of goods, services and even utility payments, as well as to receive stimulus funds faster.
However, according to the World Bank, there are more than 1.7 billion unbanked people, who may not have easy access to digital payments. The availability of digital payments also relies on internet availability, devices and a network to convert cash into a digitalized format.
Remote Work and distance learning
Many companies have asked employees to work from home. Remote work is enabled by technologies including virtual private networks (VPNs), voice over internet protocols (VoIPs), virtual meetings, cloud technology, work collaboration tools and even facial recognition technologies that enable a person to appear before a virtual background to preserve the privacy of the home. In addition to preventing the spread of viruses, remote work also saves commute time and provides more flexibility.
As of mid-April, 191 countries announced or implemented school or university closures, impacting 1.57 billion students. Many educational institutions started offering courses online to ensure education was not disrupted by quarantine measures. Technologies involved in distant learning are similar to those for remote work and also include virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and artificial-intelligence-enabled robot teachers.
Telehealth can be an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19 while still providing essential primary care. Wearable personal IoT devices can track vital signs. Chatbots can make initial diagnoses based on symptoms identified by patients.
However, in countries where medical costs are high, it’s important to ensure telehealth will be covered by insurance. Telehealth also requires a certain level of tech literacy to operate, as well as a good internet connection. And as medical services are one of the most heavily regulated businesses, doctors typically can only provide medical care to patients who live in the same jurisdiction. Regulations, at the time they were written, may not have envisioned a world where telehealth would be available.
Supply Chain 4.0
The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruptions to the global supply chain. With distancing and quarantine orders, some factories are completely shut down. While demand for food and personal protective equipment soar, some countries have implemented different levels of export bans on those items. Heavy reliance on paper-based records, a lack of visibility on data and lack of diversity and flexibility have made existing supply chain system vulnerable to any pandemic.
Core technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as Big Data, cloud computing, Internet-of-Things (“IoT”) and blockchain are building a more resilient supply chain management system for the future by enhancing the accuracy of data and encouraging data sharing.
Robotics and Drones
COVID-19 makes the world realize how heavily we rely on human interactions to make things work. Labor intensive businesses, such as retail, food, manufacturing and logistics are the worst hit.
COVID-19 provided a strong push to rollout the usage of robots and research on robotics. In recent weeks, robots have been used to disinfect areas and to deliver food to those in quarantine. Drones have walked dogs and delivered items.
5G and Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
All the aforementioned technology trends rely on a stable, high-speed and affordable internet. While 5G has demonstrated its importance in remote monitoring and healthcare consultation, the rollout of 5G is delayed in Europe at the time when the technology may be needed the most. The adoption of 5G will increase the cost of compatible devices and the cost of data plans. Addressing these issues to ensure inclusive access to internet will continue to be a challenge as the 5G network expands globally.
For IT businesses, the challenges from pandemic also bring many opportunities to make breakthroughs. According to a report from Deloitte, the changing trend in the “IT Service” industry includes:
- Demand for cloud infrastructure services (cloud infrastructure service) will increase, leading to the potential for spending on specialized software (specialized software). The report also predicts a sharp increase in the trend of distance learning and work, leading to the need for communication equipment and telecom services.
- Most companies do not have an IT team strong enough to support the maintenance of remote work and will need help from IT service providers in their problems of network security, equipment procurement, etc.
- The need for fast and automatic data access will lead to an increase in demand for network line devices. Therefore, 5G network will be prioritized more than ever.
In Vietnam, compared to many other businesses, IT companies are considered to be more adaptable and flexible to the current complicated situation. According to a survey by TopDev, more than 60% of IT businesses “adapt quickly” to job management solutions and technology-centric personnel. Only 7% chose to dismiss employees and 5% of businesses went bankrupt. This shows that the business activities of software service providers in Vietnam are maintaining at a stable level, which combines with the good disease control situation of the Government to prove the development potential and investment attraction of IT market in Vietnam.
Besides, the trend of moving factories out of China has “become more and more apparent”, and Vietnam, with the ability to effectively fight against the pandemic, is the target of foreign investors. According to the latest updates, Vietnam and Indonesia are the two countries that many large US corporations choose as destinations to replace China. Specifically, the paralysis in Apple’s production chain in China has pushed the pace of production moving out of the country as quickly as possible. Pegatron, which specializes in assembling iPhones, has invested a factory in Indonesia and it is expected to be completed in early 2021. Inventec – an enterprise specializing in assembling AirPods headsets – is also preparing to build a factory in Vietnam. Earlier, Foxconn had promptly invested factories in Vietnam and India.
The epidemic will pass, but its effects will remain. Thus, we will certainly take a long time to restore our economy and production. Only by quickly seizing the opportunity to break through and accurately positioning themselves in the post-epidemic period, IT enterprises can overcome the crisis.