One of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic is the accelerated the uptake of new technologies that would have taken longer to be adopted. For both corporations and individuals, the technological leap has been remarkable.
Virtual meetings have been normalized and there has been an increase in uptake of cashless transactions. Remote working and cloud solutions are now common words. For corporates, the leap has been huge. Reports show that corporates have accelerated the digitization of their internal operations by up to three or four years. In creating digitally enhanced offerings, some companies have made leaps of up to ten years. It is like the world has made a ten-year leap in the form of technology adoption. All this is thanks to the pandemic.
Tech Adoption Fueling Development
How did the increased uptake of different technologies during the pandemic impact the development of the same?
Usually, user adoption is one of the factors that dictate the speed of development of new technologies. One classic example is the cloud meeting service provider Zoom which existed before the pandemic. Zoom was a little-known company before the pandemic struck. Once Covid-19 hit, social distancing measures and limits on physical gatherings meant that people could not meet as often as was necessary. Zoom had its big moment when it emerged as the market leader in cloud meetings.
But that was just a start. The Zoom that was before the pandemic is not the Zoom that we have today. It has undergone a lot of changes to suit mass usage. It is now more secure to use. Zoom can allow conferences to run smoothly. It has mechanisms for registration and to prevent meeting gate crashing (Zoombombing). Other meeting cloud meeting providers such as Meet, Skype, Teams and others have also undergone intensive development to make them easier to use. All this has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 and Emerging Technologies
The rapid development of new technologies triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is not limited to cloud meeting solutions. Individuals and corporates have been looking for solutions in the areas of education, healthcare, production, business, productivity, research and development, among others.
This has led to rapid use of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data. Today, we see the Big Tech rushing into the world of virtual reality and increasingly talking about the metaverse. This is in anticipation that the world will need to embrace virtual reality even more, with Covid-19 having acted as a dry run.
The supply of goods and services was also widely disrupted by Covid-19, with both manufacturing and supply chain systems taking a direct hit. Consequently, more firms are embracing increased automation to guard against such disruptive events. Labor shortage is being mitigated by the use of cobots and this has opened an opportunity for the growth of the automation industry.
Robotics has also found useful applications and accelerated development. A case example is Boston Dynamics creating robots that helped reduce exposure of frontline health workers to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Another technology that has received a shot in the arm from Covid-19 is the 5G technology. As people moved to work from home and cloud meetings became more necessary, robust communication networks were necessary to ensure that people remained connected. One such technology is the 5G network, which allows for better internet speeds and more devices to be connected to the internet. The period after the pandemic marked a huge growth in the adoption of 5G technologies.
There are many other cases of technology application driven by Covid-19. Online civic education has accelerated. Online entertainment services such as Netflix had tremendous growth. Ecommerce and food delivery services peaked. Chatbots have been used to provide Covid-19 related information, as well as for mental health support. Hospitals started using robots to minimize human contact. 3D printing helped to quickly produce components for ventilators. Drones have found a place in delivery services. The list is long.
Locally, EdTech startups are experiencing momentous growth. Parents and schools are finding it necessary to employ AI-based learning platforms that can provide an individualized learning plan for their children. AI-based learning platform M-Shule has experienced remarkable growth. In areas where skills and resources have not enabled remote learning, people are working on simple solutions that can work on basic phones and do not consume a lot of resources. A case example is the growth of the M-Lugha app which is helping students in Northern Kenya to continue learning even when schools are closed.
In the health sector, startups like AfyaRekod employ AI and various blockchain modules to help health facilities work around health data. Covid-19 pandemic made their services even more necessary as people adopted e-health, something that was picking up sluggishly before the pandemic. As this happens, more health startups are focusing on the same.
The impact of all these is people are exposed to new technologies, and developers start to focus on these people since they have increased capacity to use different technologies. The other direct impact is that prompted by the pandemic, there are more venture capitalists committed to investing in the same areas. This further fuels the adoption of several of these emerging technologies locally and globally.
It is not easy to precisely quantify the extent to which Covid-19 has impacted the development and adoption of many of these emerging technologies, but there is a clear indication that it has increased both adoption and development. Technologically, the pandemic has helped the world leapfrog several years ahead.