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How Covid-19 is sparking a massive technological revolution.
This article is the kick-off in a series of articles about the global change we are facing in the near future. In this series we'll explore the impact of the so called "fourth industrial revolution" or 4IR. Its upsides and potential pitfalls. Your thoughts on this subject? Mail us at [email protected]
The far-reaching effects of Covid-19 are unheard of in modern history. However, while the global pandemic has had many rippling negative consequences, such as widespread unemployment, there have also been other more positive outcomes. In order to continue operating during an extreme period of upheaval and turmoil, both organisations and people have been forced to adopt technology at a faster rate than ever before. Whether it’s video conferencing software, artificial intelligence, or greater levels of automation, the pressures created by Covid-19 are fundamentally accelerating the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
The World Economic Forum describes 4IR as complete digitisation of production processes and its supply chains as we begin “merging the physical, digital and biological worlds”. Importantly, like all previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth has the potential to improve lives and income on a global scale. Coming out of 2020's pandemic, the necessity for the 4IR is fueled by the need to continue ‘business as usual’ in unusual circumstances.
In pre-Covid-19 times, 4IR progress was held back by lack of buy-in, a change-resistant culture, and limited knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as the fact that it is simply not an easy operation. Covid-19 has highlighted the urgency for companies to reconsider their stance on this, and implement progressive change, fast. And the impact has been massive - research from McKinsey reveals that consumer and business adoption of digital has leapfrogged forward five years in a matter of only eight weeks.
The healthcare industry is a perfect example of a sector embracing this necessary, rapid digital revolution. Previously criticised for its slow adoption - reliance on paper files is rife with research showing the adoption of electronic medical records range from just 3% in Europe to 35% in the US - Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change in both fighting the virus and providing non-Covid related care with technology. Telemedicine is booming; in March alone, Frost and Sullivan found that telehealth visits surged 50%, while Teladoc, a telemedicine provider, reported a spike in video requests to over 15,000 per day. This trend will likely have a long lasting effect and will “forever change the way consumers seek and receive healthcare”, says Forrester’s senior analyst, Arielle Trzcinski.
Alternatively, in the education sector, the quality of tools and buy-in at the frontline have been a large problem. Research from 2012 showed the teachers were “intimidated by technology” and reluctant to adopt it in the classroom. Yet, since March 2020, teachers worldwide have been forced to shift to online teaching as 1.37 billion students across the globe were sent home due to school closures.
Overall, after months of forced practice across all industries, there are no longer any barriers that are too big or arguments strong enough as to why digital transformation cannot take place.
In their search for tools to avoid staff spending time in high-risk areas during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust found the Hololens as solution. One doctor doing ward rounds wearing a hololens, feeding live footage to a nearby room where healthcare teams are able to watch at safe distance. This led to a drop of 83% of time staff spending in high-risk areas.
Only when businesses were facing complete shutdowns or disruptions to routine processes did they begin to comprehend the full potential and benefits that digital transformation could offer. Where before transformation was viewed as a problem, it suddenly became the solution.
For example, Reuters reported in May that a handful Oil and Gas companies postponed maintenance and repairs due to social distancing measures and travel restrictions. Halting such practices can lead to unattended problems, increasing the risk of potential environmental dangers, such as leaks or a reduced production due to faulty equipment.
Fortunately, businesses operating in remote areas are realising that challenges can easily be overcome or contained by utilising existing technology, for example remote monitoring via the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors can track data points such as a leak or a pressure build up, delivering the data to a central urban hub and flagging anomalies remotely. This benefits the business through faster response time as well as saving cost of hiring, certifying and flying in personnel to carry out tests. Deloitte reports that the mining industry is also now looking at the benefits of integrating operations and automating vital tasks.
Other mindset evolutions have occurred throughout critical industries, where the impacts of the virus have been felt the worst. With the virus hitting hard in China at the beginning of the pandemic, the centre of our global supply chain, production all around the globe has been impacted. Due to labour shortages, suppliers have been unable to fulfil orders. Rippling impacts reverberated down the supply chain causing unfulfilled orders, slow shipments, inconsistent delivery and so on.
Despite the fact that paper processes are prone to human error at every intersection, companies within the supply chain have previously refused to digitise until now, due to a lack of clear efficiency benefit. To digitise the entire supply chain is no small feat, and comes with plenty of logistical and bureaucratic issues: there are multiple parties from factory to consumer, which all need to agree to share data with each other. Issues such as who pays for what and who owns the data can come to the surface and smother the initiative in negotiations. However, Covid-19 has highlighted that the benefits real-time, digital insight can provide to the supply chain outweigh any logistical obstacles. As a result, in a matter of months, the business focus of the supply chain changed from low cost sourcing to supply chain resilience.
Data sharing and analytics across the supply chain enables businesses to be more predictive, reactive, and adaptable. Data can identify and flag issues early, such as a manufacturer that has been unable to fulfill orders. This enables the supplier to immediately begin sourcing other options as well as set up automatic alerts to the consumer, warning them about potential delays. And it’s not just beneficial in the short term, PwC reports that if businesses align strategically to create solutions, growth and competitive advantage can be created for many years to come as they will be able to diversify consumer reach and delivery options.
If there is one moment to get buy-in from the management for a project like this, it is during the current pandemic.
Issues with the supply chain during this global pandemic has compounded another worldwide dilemma - the food crisis. Sadly there have been over 600,000 registered Covid-19 deaths worldwide to date, however, a global food crisis is potentially much more lethal. 130 million people are facing acute hunger and it is predicted that it will rise to 236 million by the end of 2020. In June this year, the UN warned that the world was on the brink of the worst food crisis seen in 50 years and urged governments to act swiftly to combat the threat.
The frustrating part is that there is no food shortage globally - it is a distribution problem. The logistics behind planting, harvesting, and transporting are causing shortages in less developed countries. No less than 30% of all food production goes to waste, which mainly occurs between harvest and first storage or processing. COVID-19 became a huge burden on the industry. While harvests were complete, with the borders locked down and processing plants shut down, operations became increasingly complex, leading to greater levels of waste. By digitally monitoring conditions in storage facilities and tracking and monitoring commodity transport, a massive improvement in waste reduction could be realised. The biggest challenge here is also ensuring full visibility is available throughout every step of the supply chain. However, the current crisis is serving as a trigger to at last digitise this chain increasing collaboration, efficiency and transparency, ultimately reducing production losses. This is a first but critical step in the right direction to tackling the food crisis.
At Hiber we see the challenges that humanity is facing, and we see the impact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is making. If done right, it will have a massive beneficial impact for people, planet, and profit. Innovation is taking place across all industries and sectors globally, including energy, food, raw materials, and transport. Because of Covid-19 we are taking a step into a new era of business - and it is digital.
Hiber is a Dutch-based company with headquarters in Amsterdam and research facility in Delft. It also operates out of Maryland. In late October 2018 it successfully launched its first two nano satellites from California and India. It was also voted the Amazon Web Services Commercial Start-Up Launch of the Year, 2018. (Previous winners include Pinterest and AirBnB.) Current applications include monitoring crops in Africa, groundwater in Australia, fishing vessels across the Pacific, carbon-free vehicles in Antarctica, rail cars in America, cattle in South America, beehives in Europe, and even Dutch flowers.
Find out more at www.hiber.global.