COVID-19 hasn’t just shut down huge swaths of American businesses and sent many employees scrambling to work from home – it’s also driving the acceleration of technological adoption. As people adapt to new modes of life, start-ups and small businesses that enable us to work, study, shop, and interact virtually have skyrocketed to mainstream adoption. Driving these companies are key underlying technologies that have been growing in importance slowly for years and now have become essential; maybe the tech trends developing out of the COVID chaos are a silver-lining of sorts.
“Businesses that had not only developed digital strategies but executed on them prior to the pandemic are now in a position to leapfrog their less nimble competitors,” writes consultancy BDO in a report on how COVID is accelerating the rise of the digital economy. “That isn’t to understate the COVID-19-related challenges they now face, irrespective of their current level of digital maturity. Going digital in and of itself isn’t a panacea to all that ails businesses in the current economic environment. They do, however, have significantly more tools at their disposal to not only weather the storm, but to come out the other side stronger for it, ” stated BDO.
The fact that these companies, since day one, have focused on cloud connectivity, digital marketing and distribution to consumers, and virtual rather than in-person interactions, gives this group an advantage. Many have hired new employees since the pandemic began – that’s a direct result of many of them scaling faster to meet surging demand before the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these companies report demand for their core products has more than doubled since the coronavirus crisis unleashed itself across the world. Being digital-first put many companies in a position to quickly develop and introduce new products or services to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
For many, the ability to accelerate business growth and develop new products is a result of breakthrough technologies that were core to their disruptive businesses in the first place. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are hands down the most prevalent of these technologies. C3.ai, a company that is so defined by artificial intelligence that it changed its name from C3 to IoT a few years ago, has taken a leading role in using the technology to fight COVID-19. The company teamed up with Amazon Web Services in April to create a COVID-19 “data lake,” which unifies data sets, updates them in real-time and offers researchers a clearer starting point for generating usable insights. It’s now the largest source of COVID-19 data in the world, according to C3.ai.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are speeding up the development of medical treatments to fight the virus. Tempus built a drug discovery-and-development platform designed to be disease-agnostic. So when the pandemic hit, it was in a strong position to pivot and support efforts to slow the spread and find short-term and long-term treatments. Tempus brought a test to market in April and launched a research project examining 50,0o0 COVID-positive patients to find the most effective treatments and other insights.
Other technologies have helped companies take advantage of the forced acceleration of tech trends. Some companies are saying cloud computing is critical to their underlying businesses, helping support everything from virtual learning to telemedicine, to food delivery. Others say they rely on software-defined security, which cybersecurity companies like Sentinel One use to fight the growing number of attacks as criminals prey on new vulnerabilities created as a result of so many being forced to limit their life to online interactions, including work and school and shopping from home.
The pandemic also accelerated the adoption of disruptive trends in financial services, which is epitomized by Stripe – the online digital payment platform – reflecting the accelerated shift of so much commerce and banking to online as a result of the stay-at-home economy. The surge in e-commerce is also reflected in logistics and delivery companies, including companies like Coupang, South Korea’s largest e-commerce platform. It’s end-to-end fulfillment and logistics operation enables the company to deliver millions of items to customers within hours. Attabotics, a supply chain solution for e-commerce companies, replaces traditional warehouses with vertical storage, accessed by robots and inspired by ant colonies.
Which of these companies graduate to the public markets will depend on their ability to continue to adapt to the economic downturn and to a new set of demands as people return to work, retail and entertainment, in distanced settings. As we look forward to the future, we expect to see these same underlying technologies help address the next wave of challenges as we adapt to a world with COVID. Perhaps more important, as established public giants follow these companies’ lead and embrace digital disruption, we’ll see how these private companies fare against the incumbents investing in their own transformation for this new, increasingly digital world.
Source material from BDO and CNBC