Some manufacturers have completely ceased production, a few have seen significantly reduced demand and a few others witnessed a surge in demand that was not matching their supplies. Financial services, telecom, IT, and professional services have managed to operate from homes in truncated magnitude. Economists and social researchers have been making predictions about the economic downfall that countries have to face as an after effect of the crisis.
With news channels reporting numbers on growing infections and deaths across the globe, and stock markets dipping on the trends, there is negativity around the normalcy. However, there is a lot more to think in a positive direction for business agility. A deeper look into the evolution of industries reveals several situations of major crisis and come-backs. Examples include the great depression that helped to redefine the role of governments, World War-II that redefined the manufacturing stimuli, the great recession of 2007 opening gates for offshoring, etc. The silver bullet lies in demonstrating business agility.
The focus should be on building a contingency infrastructure and that becomes essential for organisations to save their businesses from future disruptions. Those firms that do not remain to be passive observers but ready to experiment, innovate, and demonstrate agility will eventually emerge, thriving over the chaos.
Digital technologies and Industry 4.0 have a big role to play in redefining the current business operations towards creating the newer new. Technologies like the Internet of Things, Big Data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Robotics have already created an explosion in business value chains even before the crisis. Leveraging these technologies in higher magnitude and pace will create a significant difference in the world of business after the crisis. From a manufacturing perspective, real-time visualisation technologies provide an end-end view of supply chains to present the state of supplies, people, inventory, and finished products. 3D printing of spare parts will change the future of production.
Digital twins, mobile technology along augmented/virtual reality will offer remote support opportunities and improve the availability of assets.
While traditional manufacturing requires people to be physically present on-site to control machines, the future may lead ways to a virtual shift. Online monitoring of machines and the emergence of cyber-physical systems combined with the need for social distancing will reduce on-site personnel up to 50%. Further, with the introduction of bulk handling systems, robots use artificial intelligence with deep learning help in recycling, more reliably and effectively to encourage sustainable manufacturing (bulkhandlingsystems.com).
While western manufacturers may focus on the revival of domestic manufacturing to increase their ability to produce necessities, non-critical items like apparel will strengthen the global supply chains in the future. On the other hand, automobiles may look up to innovate designs of small cars that can accommodate social distancing norms.
The healthcare sector can see a radical application of treating patients virtually. With high-risk clinical processes that have already embraced digital technologies and Tele ICUs and robotic surgeries becoming popular, there is no doubt that general physicians could turn to online consulting models. Just like how the millennials seldom visit banks and have always enjoyed the net-banking, the future will open doors for online-healthcare and medicine. One may argue that the healthcare business can never be successful online, as the feel and touch of a doctor still makes a difference. However, the recent launch of Mitra, a robot that interacts and screens visitors at Fortis hospital (Bangalore, India) using facial and speech recognition, and autonomous navigation reaffirm the possibility of redefining healthcare for the future.
The recent technological innovation of swallowable capsule robots used for screening stomach diseases (ankoninc.com.cn) will support online healthcare consulting.
Another such example is that of using nanochips to generate body cells to heal body parts, introduced at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. 3D-printed hyper-elastic bones may help generate new bones for the skull and facial reconstruction. Recent research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed low-cost ventilator models that exploit clinical engineering for medical devise designs (e-vent.mit.edu).
Autonomous electric vehicles and drones can reduce the reliance on people and further assist with social distancing, creating a new normal for future healthcare. The financial services sector that has already experimented with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to support non-value-add labor-intensive activities, will now open doors for artificial intelligence to explore prospects to automate decision-making processes. While RPA service providers like Automation Anywhere have started positioning themselves as “Bot stores” where employers can purchase robots with cognitive ability to work without employment contracts, financial services will strike towards the digital workforce to synthesise and advance the augmentation of human efforts. Digital banking and the emergence of cryptocurrency may push ATMs and branch banking into history books leading to a new digital normality. The characterization of farming and agriculture would change.
With the introduction of IoT and Big Data Analytics, the preparations for organic farming will improve. Firms like John Deere have already embarked on such a journey to provide digital farming prescriptions through RFIDs on their heavy and lawn care equipment. Technologies like Blockchain that can offer more than a virtual currency can bring the cycle of events in agriculture on a shared ledger to improve transparency and ensure incorruptible trust.
Alongside providing farmers with instant data on seed quality, soil moisture, and climate, Blockchain can enable payments, demand, and sale, on one platform, towards establishing a direct link between farmers and consumers, enabling farmers to get the real price for their produce. With the introduction of AGRAS-MG, an agricultural drone, by DJI Technologies Ltd., China that is used for the application of liquid pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides up to 6.5m width a new level of precision and manageability of agriculture will emerge.
Alongside organic farming, the future of food and hospitality can witness organic restaurants.
Spyce, a contemporary restaurant in Boston, has introduced robotic chefs that serve delicious food with no human involvement, using a technology invented by Nicola Tesla. The robotic kitchen not only appears to promote ‘no-touch’ cooking to enable hygienic cuisines but also is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation, USA.
The education sector that has been considering online-teaching will have to explore newer pedagogical paradigms. Technology-based teaching protocols using Zoom and Google Classroom have been most used among many other technology applications to provide continuity in learning during the pandemic situation. Virtual reality in education can redefine the ways of delivering educational content.
These virtual reality devices can eventually replace physical science labs and provide a ‘learning by doing’ experience and develop creativity among students. For example, at ETH Zurich, factory visit apps and affordable cardboard viewers are used to provide students rare access to multiple factory sites and their inner workings, without moving students physically from a classroom. With the increasing demand for online-shopping, several new and existing retailers may redefine their purposes and ways of working to give some competition to eCommerce giants like Amazon. The recent partnership between Reliance Jio and Facebook Inc., in India, points to a potential e-commerce system that can avoid warehousing via partnering with local grocery stores, online recommendations via social networking apps (like WhatsApp), in combination with online payments and home delivery.
Further, the online purchasing experience can undergo a transformation moving away from last-mile delivery to increase customer pick-up points, towards reducing the workforce involved in the delivery and transportation of online orders. With the introduction of self-driving grocery stores using autonomous electric vehicle technology, the future will witness Robo-marts that bring fresh foods and essentials to doorsteps (robomart.co). With the above changes creating the newer new for the future, working for a home will no more be a special case. As business organisations integrate the cloud infrastructure with robust information security protocols, the definition of “office” will undergo a radical change.
This will lead to improvements in businesses that relate to the newer lifestyle of people. For example, entertainment-based businesses may flourish as people being at home for a higher duration may search for entertainment. Arts, music, and wellness (home based yoga/gym) will develop demand. Organisations like Knowledge Seven have already started propagating the use of computer science to create newer jobs related to creative arts, music, and entertainment. Similarly, Natural Create Inc., of Japan has recently introduced water-walkers (underwater treadmills) that enable next-level wellness at homes. Contrarily, businesses that involve higher human touch like kindergarten, saloons, and housekeeping may lose their charm, as these may eventually become basic skills/routines of the home-based workforce.
The future of work is waiting to embrace technology at a much higher magnitude and pace after the COVID-19 crisis. It is time to recognise the opportunity to create a newer new with a positive outlook. The world will soon appear to be a better place again.
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