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Will Technology Accelerate the Bounce Back?

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By Manoj Chugh, President – Group Public Affairs and Member, Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

For long, technology has focused on improving the productivity of the back office, making scores of bean counters redundant. Sales pitches were honed around tasks like, automating financial accounting, production planning, payroll, inventory management.

Word processors came into being and drove efficiency within the office. The idea of an error free, high quality output , with the ability to reuse content was truly novel. The old order always yields, making way for the new and unsurprisingly a new breed of professionals sprung up. Colleges updated their curriculum and EDP made way for Information Technology Departments and MIS Teams. At each inflexion point of human endeavour, technology metamorphosed the fundamental ways in which we lived and worked.

COVID will change the fundamental rules and norms in ways that have never been seen before. Uncertainty is truly the “new normal.” And COVID is not going to be the last biological challenge that is going to impact our behaviour, social etiquette, economy and survivability. Technology has a huge opportunity, yet again, to drive exponential growth by upturning conventional methods.

We have all witnessed the huge positive impact of Work From Home (WFH) on organizational survivability, enabled by technology, at Global Scale. Overnight, millions of white- collar executives switched mode and continued to remain hugely productive. Industries that frowned on such formulations, were pleasantly surprised that their employees did not let them, miss, even a single heartbeat. In fact most employees are working longer hours and much harder. No longer distracted by arduous business trips, the intellectual output has gone up several notches.

IT Hardware vendors, network service providers, services firms, all came together instantaneously and instinctively, without any formal structures, to deliver excellence. The resilience of our technology infrastructure is being tested in real time and it has even left the naysayers truly impressed.

One niggling question that remains in our mind relates to the millions, whose roles and livelihoods do not offer an opportunity to deliver productively from home. This includes folks in front end customer facing roles in brick and mortar dealerships, shops, retail stores, where a physical interaction with customers is the order of the day. Workers in factories, logistics related activities and many other areas necessitate physical engagement. How will this change in the New World Order? How will technology ensure that everyone remains gainfully employed? How will new roles emerge creating greater employment and will we be able to protect those that exist? Will technology deliver again?

I am reminded of the era when Cloud Computing was gaining traction. There were many surveys that predicted the end of the Indian IT Outsourcing Industry and loss of millions of jobs. None of that happened. New jobs got created and the Industry grew manifold, opening up massive opportunities.

How do we Bounce back, this time around? Will we be able to cross the chasm, yet again? How can technology come to the rescue? It is my belief that Technology, led by Digital Transformation will help us to rebuild better and more efficiently. More value will get created than ever before.

Let me attempt to share a few perspectives:

  •  Organisations who have largely depended on physical mechanisms of engaging with customers are turning to digital mechanisms.
  • New Product Launches, whether they are mobile phones or automobiles have moved to Digital Channels. In a few strokes of the keyboard, customers can acquire aspirational products, quicker than a pizza
  • Services organisations are reaching out to potential customer to “pitch” their products over video calls. Their value proposition is greatly sharpened given that they have to deal with a shorter attention span in the new medium. No more, hours of chit chat over multiple cups of tea while making a long winded pitch. Productivity will be enhanced
  • Physical Engagement Channels are being replaced with Digital. We have witnessed how “kirana” stores have started accepting orders online. Street vendor has turned tech savvy. Taking orders from customers in the evening over a messaging App and then delivering fresh vegetables “contact less” at the doorstep, whilst payments are being made Online
  • Education, Entertainment, Partying has all moved Online. We now dress up to join such extravaganzas over video. The engagement is personal. Long lost friends have got reconnected. Relatives in distant parts of the World seem so near and many of us have realized that in the hurry-burry of life, we had forgotten the warmth of many beautiful relationships that we can thankfully experience now.
  • Online help has become the order of the day. Let us look at Healthcare, Doctors are Consulting online. Apps have come up literally overnight.
  • Manufacturing will embrace Factory 4.0 quicker than ever before. A boon for customers, who will get tailor made “ everything.”
  • Physical stores will have a Virtual twin. Customers could choose the experience they prefer.
  • New skills will be imparted online and help reskill everyone to ensure we remain employable. AR, VR will play an important role in helping us become more productive.
  • New Platforms and Ecosystems will get created to being together diverse players to create even greater wealth
  •  Folks who have been working in the front store will start helping build robust back end supply chains, support logistics and other roles. Their high EQ will be of great value.

Every Industry is transforming at break neck speed. Those that have not moved fast enough and embraced Digital, will clearly jump onto the bandwagon, really quickly. Technology will ensure that the Bounce Back will be resilient and enable growth at a higher trajectory. The take off could be rough, but the landing, I assure you, much smoother.

If COVID is here, will AI be far behind? A point that we need to ponder about and perhaps talk about too, the next time..

Till then, Stay Safe!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They may or may not reflect the opinions or views of the author’s organisation)

Other articles by Manoj Chugh

Mirror Mirror on the wall: Can Technology bring hope to all?

New Year Wish: CIOs, May Your Tribe Increase!

The Second Renaissance – Seize The Moment

Will Smarter Citizens deliver Smart Cities?

Safe Cities: Melding Technology with Compassion

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