Amidst the socio-economic disruptions caused by COVID-19, the common cause of finding a solution to the pandemic has brought together individuals, institutions, communities, governments and society at large. Looking at such collaborative initiatives, says CP Gurnani, MD and CEO, Tech Mahindra.
I get a sense of optimism, since my conviction is that the advanced knowledge of technology and ingenuity will help the global population to fight and defeat this viral attack.
One may argue that it may take some time before an antidote is found. Meanwhile, alternative systems and approaches can be developed that will not only help manage the current crisis but also create new ways of doing business in future.
Global impact and what different countries are doing in countermeasures
Measures taken by various countries to counter COVID-19 have set a few benchmarks. They provide options for agriculture, manufacturing and other industries to conduct their operations in the face of such a crisis.
Singapore, for instance, has an aggressive contact tracing effort and legal authority to order people into quarantine. In Italy, the country’s whole population of 60 million has been restricted from travelling out of their homes, except for urgent healthcare or work reasons. Schools and universities, as well as public gatherings, have been banned until further orders. Similarly, India, the United States, China, the United Kingdom and African countries have shown solidarity in this time of global crisis. All of them are exploring alternative methods, systems and processes to ensure that there is business continuity.
US agencies are encouraging people who feel unwell to first talk to doctors remotely, by video or phone, to avoid filling waiting rooms. Imagine the comfort with such a permanent healthcare system for patients in a country like India, travelling from distant places for specialised health services.
Telemedicine in India is currently at a nascent stage. Systems like those adopted by the US administration to counter COVID-19, when powered with the network of the future – 5G – will give a tremendous boost to telemedicine in India. It will also open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to set up back-end operations in remote, inaccessible and remote parts of India, which in turn would also create job opportunities.
The Kerala government in India has announced that it will provide extra 5G bandwidth across the state, as it expects more people to work and learn online amid the virus outbreak. All school districts in New Jersey have prepared for remote classes, in case schools needs to be closed. A colleague spent all of last week testing systems with students at homes for online learning. E-learning, without any doubt, is in the limelight. Could this be the new future of school education? I am sure it would be the new normal, even after the world has mitigated the effects of COVID-19.
In few other parts of the world, robots are already doing farm work. With the breakout of COVID-19, it has gained more traction and robots have replaced a slew of farming activities. In agriculture, 5G can further enable improvement in the entire value-chain, from precision farming, smart irrigation, improved soil and crop monitoring, to livestock management. 5G technologies’ promise of expanding and accelerating connectivity without sacrificing battery life will be particularly beneficial to farmers, and is already improving veterinary diagnostics, crop protection, reduction of fertiliser use and smart irrigation systems that conserve water.
During my last visit to the US, many of the conversations I had were centred around COVID-19. I must admit that there is a perceptible change in the way we socialise, work and commute. But the significant changes are already visible. The ‘workplace of the future’ is ever-evolving and gradually shifting to accommodate new ideas, technology and working arrangements.
In addition to encouraging our employees to work from home, we have also deferred all our internal events, which required large gatherings and encouraged everyone to leverage technologies like Tele-Presence and Video Conferencing adequately. Industry reports before COVID-19 outbreak estimated the value of enterprise video conferencing at US$4.48 billion by 2023, but now it could touch that figure in 2020. This is a clear indicator of a new trend that will enable and support work from remote locations.
We are currently in an ‘existential crisis’ where the focus is on issues that relate to personal safety, emerging practices required for handling the pandemic, managing concerns about employees and customers.
However, this will ultimately enable us to re-structure our priorities, and ways of living and working to define a ‘new normal’. It will help us reimagine the future, ensuring we remember – the importance of building a sustainable world, focusing on healthcare and general hygiene, leveraging technology to enable new ways of working and living.
The author is CP Gurnani, MD and CEO of Tech Mahindra.