Tech-Talk spoke to Chintan Patel, chief technology officer for Cisco & Collin Seward CIO EMEAR Enterprise Mobility Cisco on their view into the 10 tech impacts in the next normal.       

This is what they had to say: The year 2020 will arguably be known as the year that dramatically changed both society and business. Within a few short weeks, billions of us have been forced to re-think how we live and work more differently than ever before. As the world looks to adjust into a new normal, people and organisations are re-thinking priorities – aiming for better, and safer, ways to meet their needs. 

A stand-out theme to emerge during the Coronavirus health pandemic (COVID-19) outbreak has been the value of resiliency. In the business world, this refers to the ability to absorb a shock, and come out of it smarter than the competition. Resiliency, backed by a strong infrastructure, is a critical characteristic for any organisation to be able to withstand a real-life stress test like the pandemic, a lesson so powerful that even companies that were once slow or resistant to digitise have adapted quickly. This adoption process and their associated experiments along the way, have led to the rise of new technological trends. 

Making your digital infrastructure work harder for you

Take remote care as an example. Remote care, both in the public and private sector, has experienced rapid increase globally. In the health sector, telemedicine and virtual sessions have become a fundamental part of patient care – whether to curb traffic at hospitals and GP surgeries, or treat those who are self- isolating or in quarantine. 

Let’s give this some perspective. Before the virus, video appointments globally made up only one percent of the 340 million or so annual visits to primary care doctors and nurses in the NHS. Now all of this has changed. The NHS has up scaled its 111 service to remotely class patients for coronavirus symptoms and advise them on their next steps. It is also rolling out devices and apps for remote monitoring of symptoms to cystic fibrosis sufferers – aiming to extend home spirometry to 4,000 patients in the UK.

In South Africa, telehealth remains largely an untapped tool for healthcare professionals. But this is due to change. According to the health index 40% of healthcare professionals are currently using digital health. Whilst a further 35% are using AI within their healthcare practice and a third of all healthcare professionals believe that state of the art technology, would best to enable an environment where healthcare professionals can optimally provide care to the population and empower these healthcare professionals to deliver the best care to their patients.

Remote care extends too many other aspects of our lives. Contact centres have had to become remote within days of the lockdown. Changing what was effectively a very office-based function to be a remote operation has, in some cases, yielded surprising outcomes. 

In fact, in the UK, one banking executive reported a 40% increase in productivity from remote customer service staff – raising questions about whether the business will ever go back to its previous model. 

Furthermore, locally the retail demand for online services soared, with the current lockdown and temporary ban of non-essential products and services. Consumers have switched to digital shopping alternatives as 37% of South Africans have taken to online platforms for groceries, medicines, and other essential goods as stated by Nielsen. Additionally, one-third of consumers had expressed a willingness to shop online. This coupled with the current lockdown scenario means that there is likely to be prolonged behavioural changes in in-store and online shopping.

Business resiliency: climbing the ranks in Board-level concerns

Leaders now appreciate the speed at which their organisations can change. They have a better sense of what can, and cannot be done outside their traditional way of operating. As lockdown restrictions gradually lift, a different kind of resiliency will take form. This means not only conducting business continuity planning to withstand future disruption, but also developing strategic roadmaps towards this next normal. 

It should come as no surprise that business continuity planning is now a board level issue. While quick adoption has been impressive, the choices companies made only a mere couple of months ago are now being re-evaluated for the long term. We will see many starting to align with strategic partners – an option which underscores the importance of trust. 

In this new playing field, the role of the CIO has become even more critical. In turn, CIOs have become even more aware of the need for a strategic approach towards technology. According to a Cisco research, over four in five (84%) believe that the challenges they face present opportunities for a successful digital transformation. In terms of their strategic priorities, 95% of CIOs agree that a successful transformation involves a combination of securing data, empowering teams, transforming infrastructure and reimagining applications.

New priorities are emerging and businesses are accelerating these based on their importance, and transformational value. While the resiliency shown so far has been, in so many cases, commendable, leaders are pivoting towards future-proofing business continuity. And so they should. After all, the next normal may be even more volatile and rapidly changing than the previous status quo:

Listed below are 10 technology trends for the next normal

New experiences 

1)      Online has become the frontline. E-commerce may have already been eating into the sales of brick-and-mortar stores, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated everything.

2)      Contactless interfaces and interactions are now, and will continue to be, more commonplace to minimise social contact.

3)      Remote care will skyrocket, both for public services and customers in the private sector – increasing efficiency and easing pressure points from large-scale providers such as the NHS.

New norms

4)      The future of work will be distributed. Numerous calculations are being made to provide an environment that will keep employees safe, healthy and productive.

5)      Learning to e-learn. Education has changed dramatically. Research suggests that online learning helps increase retention of information and takes less time. These changes, or a hybrid form of them, might be here to stay.

6)      The day of digital events has arrived. The value of bringing people together hasn’t gone away but for the foreseeable future, organisations will seek to switch in-person events for virtual ones.  

New priorities

7)      Experiments will move to strategic choices. Leaders will develop strategic roadmaps towards their next normal. Creating a more resilient and agile business model will be front and centre.

8)      Digital infrastructure must be strengthened. The need for connectivity will grow as will the reliance of businesses on Cloud and Software as a Service solutions. 

9)      Cybersecurity will remain at the forefront – more so than ever before. Organisations need to be even more vigilant. The need for networks to have robust cybersecurity baked into their design is critical.

10)   Increased reliance on data, automation and robots. Whether they are used to deliver groceries, take vitals in healthcare, or keep a factory running, organisations realise how robots could support us today and play an important role in a post-COVID-19 world.

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