Picture: STEPHAN KARG
Picture: STEPHAN KARG

The Covid-19 pandemic is the ultimate catalyst for digital transformation and will greatly accelerate several trends already well under way before the pandemic. According to research by Vodafone, 71% of firms have made at least one new technology investment in direct response to the pandemic.

This shows that businesses are planning or have implemented new business practices for a post-Covid-19 world, leading to faster adoption of the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-computing, among other technologies to drive digital transformation.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, there was a steady increase in people choosing to work remotely, and many companies have moved to more flexible workplace models. Investigating and investing in these tools will not only be good risk mitigation for the Covid-19 pandemic, but could also allow for easier collaboration, quicker turnaround times and cost savings as a result of less travel.

Companies that have previously embraced future-of-work practices, with virtual resources and technology support for remote workplaces, are well-positioned to sustain their operations and respond quickly to the demands of navigating the crisis.

When done correctly, remote working is effective if you can also restructure the organisational processes for how communication and co-ordination happens. It is therefore vital for companies to tackle a lack of appropriate technology, such as digital devices, virtual collaboration tools and platforms that will support dynamic work locations.

In a post-Covid-19 world, cloud technology is likely to receive a surge in implementation across all types of apps. There are obvious advantages to cloud-based services and infrastructure: they provide the convenience of accessing services from anywhere, any time, from virtually any device. New workflows can be pushed out quickly to enable self-service capabilities and on-the-fly process and configuration changes.

The progression of software and information technology services to the cloud has accelerated strongly over this period, driven by increased use of remote working and the need for maximum scalability in times of uncertain demand and supply of goods. That said, there has been redoubled interest in hybrid-cloud architectures to ensure resilience — something edge-computing also has a role to support.

In the long term, cloud-based solutions are critical for organisations to achieve quicker time to market and create self-service solutions for businesses. As societies and industries have rebuilt, there has been a focus on efficiency, automation and flexibility. The GSMA Intelligence report suggests IoT connections are to double between 2019 and 2025, reaching 24-billion.

An IoT solution can connect everything from vehicles, appliances and medical devices to computers, mobile devices and more. In the post-Covid-19 era, we are likely to see greater adoption of IoT in several industries, such as manufacturing, health care and mining.

Thermal scanner

With a simple digital customer interface and interpretation of real-time data, IoT platforms offer the perfect opportunity for organisations to incorporate thermal cameras and other emerging technologies into their buildings to manage the health of their customers and staff. For example, the Vodacom Business thermal scanner can be used to monitor employees or customers’ body temperature from a safe distance as they enter a specific area or building.

AI and analytics will then measure the employee or customer’s temperature and in the event it is elevated, generate a notification for further screening protocols in accordance with their specific health, safety and environment (HSE) guidelines. The technology provides thermal measurements that are non-invasive for those being monitored and produce objective, instant results to guide HSE personnel.

Data is becoming the lifeblood of the modern economy and a strategic asset for businesses. Data continues to grow exponentially. However, without the right technology to analyse and interpret it, it is useless.

AI and machine learning (ML) provide businesses with the capabilities to gain insights from the data they gather. AI tools analyse immense volumes of data to learn underlying patterns, enabling computer systems to make complex decisions, predict human behaviour, and recognise images and human speech, among many other things. AI-enabled systems also continuously learn and adapt.

AI technology has been introduced across various sectors such as mobility, education, manufacturing, e-commerce, communication, health, insurance and finance. These capabilities will be enormously valuable as companies confront and adapt to the new reality of the current crisis and its aftermath.

ML feeds off massive volumes of data that need to be reliable and in real time. It therefore follows that the data accumulated from the IoT layer naturally feeds into the AI models. The immense insight derived is already being applied in the field, for example the ability to prescribe retail layout strategies, risk management, predictive maintenance work, and pre-emptive route planning as well as customer experience.

While the evolution of new technologies and exponential growth of devices leads to new developments and innovation, it also increases the risk and impact of cyberattacks.

The World Economic Forum’s Covid-19 Risks Outlook found 50% of enterprises were concerned about increased cyberattacks due to a shift in work patterns alone. The number of Covid-19 phishing, ransomware attacks and business e-mail compromises increased during the nationwide lockdown.

Protection of computers, networks and clouds is commonly provided within enterprises by the means of next-generation firewalls, DNS filtering, malware protection, antivirus software and e-mail security solutions. However, with millions of people working remotely, volumes of data is left unprotected and vulnerable.

The crisis has provided companies with an opportunity to drive home cybersecurity’s importance to the workforce. Organisations must consider conducting a risk assessment and identifying enforcement mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, and automatic logout from unattended devices.

• Mzimba is CEO for Vodacom Business.

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