How technology keeps us going in a pandemic

Man wearing blue medical gloves using drone for fast delivery of package

How technology keeps us going in a pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic surge in the use of technology and online tools, thanks to social distancing and work-from-home measures.

Technology cannot prevent the onset of pandemics. However, it can help prevent the spread, educate, warn, and empower those on the ground to be aware of the situation and noticeably lessen the impact.

With converging technologies like mobile, cloud, analytics, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, 4G and 5G, and high-speed internet, it has become possible to apply many innovative approaches to life during a pandemic.

In this article, we assess what technology has had the most positive impact on our ‘lockdown lives’ during the Covid-19 pandemic and what might shape our future.

Big Data

Big data played an important role in pandemic response and management by helping to identify infected individuals quickly, connect with them, track who they have come in contact with, and so on.

Covid-19 data set using Tableau

Tools like Tableau (example shown above) provided big data analytics that helped businesses make decisions confidently and quickly. These businesses have combined publicly-available data with data gathered internally to make decisions about employee safety and working from home.

Check out the global coronavirus dashboards built with Tableau.

Artificial Intelligence

Risk assessment and forecasting using Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a vital part of healthcare. AI-based data analytics and predictive modelling enable medical professionals to understand more about Covid-19 and other diseases.

Body temperature scanner at an airport

AI tools have helped differentiate whether the patients have a common cold, flu, or Covid-19. Chinese technology company Baidu created an AI-based solution to screen large populations and detect changes in body temperatures while on the move. This system can examine about 200 people per minute without disrupting the flow of people.

Robotics

 

Self-driving cars, drones, robots have all helped at a time when people needed to avoid close human contact. For example, in some parts of the world, robots have been used to deliver groceries, sterilise hospitals and even patrol the streets.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) applications have been on the rise during the pandemic, with virtual “try-before-you-buy” experiences ranging from previewing furniture and products in your home with everyday brands like IKEA to trying on clothing with ASOS and Adidas.

Retailers are also beginning to use AR technology to reimagine the digital shopping experience with virtual shop displays.

A person using Augmented Reality technology on a tablet device to shop for furniture

Ecommerce

Ecommerce has played a vital role in helping us survive the Covid-19 pandemic. More people than ever shopped online in 2020. Research suggests that the pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years.

In the UK, online sales grew 74% year-on-year in January 2021. Total online sales growth rose by 36.6% year-on-year in 2020 – the most considerable growth seen since 2007.
Source: IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Results

 

Over half of all textile, clothing and footwear sales in the UK came through online channels in the first month of 2021.

A person buying shoes on a mobile phone standing near a window

As a nation, we have ordered more food online than ever before, mostly using mobile apps. Uber Eats’ revenue from online orders was up 224% year-on-year in Q4 2020.

The technology behind ecommerce

There are many different technologies behind what we see as a simple online purchase, most of which are invisible.

Amazon

Amazon says it delivered more than one billion parcels to shoppers worldwide in 2020, as pandemic-struck consumers flocked online to do their shopping. As a result, they posted record sales and profit.

Shopify

Shopify powers over 1 million ecommerce websites across the globe and recently overtook eBay to become the second most prominent ecommerce platform in the world behind Amazon.

Shopify has been heavily investing in its product by developing its software, support capabilities and fulfilment processes to benefit from the move to online shopping. And the results? Shopify’s fourth-quarter 2020 revenue rose 94% year-on-year to $977.7 million.

Payment services

Online payment services like PayPal, Stripe, Square and Klarna have benefited too, of course. PayPal reported its strongest growth in 2020, with annual revenue that increased by over 20% year-on-year. The digital payment provider’s biggest revenue segment was transaction revenues.

Although now facing stricter regulations in the UK, Klarna is another technology success story from the Covid-19 pandemic. The buy-now, pay-later service enabled many thousands of customers to purchase products they couldn’t immediately afford. The number of monthly active users of the Klarna smartphone app in the United Kingdom grew by almost 200% year-on-year in February 2021.

Communication tools

When the pandemic started, the race was on to facilitate virtual meetings and conferences for people around the world.

Together Mode in Teams

Video and chat software providers were the biggest beneficiaries of the work from home transition. Nearly 60% of companies that took part in a survey by NEA increased their spend in this category of software, and 40% maintained existing spend.

And during these challenging times, it has been even more important to stay in touch with family and friends, as well as colleagues and customers.

Zoom

Zoom’s generous free tier and ease-of-access brought them millions of customers at the start of the pandemic as people searched for a frictionless way to hold meetings and communicate easily during the first lockdown.

Figures in late 2020 suggest the platform had 300 million daily meeting participants, compared to just 10 million in December 2019. And more than 100,000 schools worldwide are now using Zoom for online classes, according to the company. Zoom zoomed up in value over the pandemic year, peaking on October 12 with a market cap of over $159B. It began 2021 at $102.52B.

While Zoom has been the communication tool that has benefited the most from the enforced need for virtual meetings and cloud conferencing, is it the best choice for the future and can it fight off the competition?

Speaking of competition, it’s time to talk about Microsoft Teams…

Microsoft Teams

The use of Microsoft Teams boomed in 2020, again owing to the massive rise in remote working forced upon businesses by the coronavirus pandemic. Teams has added another 40 million daily active users since April 2020 and now has more than 115 million daily users. Healthy competition for any other communication tool.

More than 100 new capabilities were added to Teams over the past six months, including breakout rooms, Together mode, meeting recaps, Tasks in Teams, Lists, and even bigger meetings. Teams also owes much of its success to its tight integration with Microsoft’s other workplace-oriented software tools, notably Microsoft 365.

Need a hand ensuring Microsoft 365 is working hard for your business? Check out our Microsoft 365 service.

You may also be interested in our article, Ten tips for getting the most out of Microsoft Teams.

Notable mentions

  • Google Meet: Around 100 million participants logging into meetings every day during the last quarter of 2020
  • Skype: This popular video chat tool was widely used during the pandemic, both within businesses and between family and friends
  • WhatsApp: WhatsApp’s global usage spiked by over 50% during the pandemic
  • Slack: Slack experienced almost 350% growth in native Slack calls in the early months of the pandemic.
  • Facebook/Messenger: Facebook’s ‘Messenger Rooms’ feature allowed Facebook members to create public or private video chatrooms that could hold up to 50 people for an unlimited amount of time but it was plain old Messenger that picked up the most users – especially popular with small businesses and their local customers

Customer interaction

Zendesk, a customer relationship management (CRM) company, landed more than 170,000 paid accounts across 160 countries worldwide in 2020 and hit a $1 billion revenue milestone during that challenging year.

Why such strong growth in online communication tools – and will it last?

The Covid-19 pandemic forced buyers and sellers to go digital in a big way. Self-service and remote interactions have made it easier for buyers to get information, place orders, and arrange service. Customers have enjoyed that speed and convenience.

What is the future of cloud-based communication tools?

Reopening offices may not necessarily spell doom for these tools and platforms. Since online meetings worked for many purposes and reduced the need for travel, expect them to remain essential for the businesses that have come to rely on them.

And more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions—a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended.

Collaboration and productivity

While face-to-face meetings haven’t been possible, technology has taken over to provide us with a way of working together. Remote working is a blessing that comes due to technology and is one of the greatest social distancing solutions.

For collaboration software providers, 2020 was a year to remember. Project management, asset collaboration tools, and remote work software like Hive, Asana, Google Drive, Dropbox, Xtensio, Trello, and Monday.com all saw solid growth during the pandemic as well.

Connectivity

Of course, with a poor internet or mobile connection, remote working becomes difficult or even impossible. We have all suffered through bad connections, sound problems, and slow loading pages in the past. Thankfully, technology has moved on, and we are in a golden age of connectivity.

4G and 5G

The Covid-19 pandemic drove sales of 4G and 5G-enabled PCs to new heights in 2020. Global sales of cellular-enabled mobile PCs reached more than 10 million units for the first time in 2020 as homeworkers sought improved connectivity in response to the closure of office facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Using a mobile phone outside on a sunny day near green trees to download Microsoft TeamsWith retail locations closed for long periods, 5G handset sales didn’t take off as expected but, as restrictions ease, demand for 5G is expected to be high as customers desire faster mobile speeds (and ignore the 5G conspiracies).

High-speed internet

The constant reliance on high-speed internet during the pandemic led to a 40% increase in its usage. The number of high-speed fibre-optic broadband lines in Europe is expected to more than double over the next six years from last year’s levels as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates demand for faster internet services.

You will soon be able to achieve higher interest speeds for less with our business broadband with speeds up to 1Gbps (coming Spring 2021).

Security

With increased virtual work environments comes increased vulnerabilities and opportunities for hacking. The coronavirus pandemic created new challenges for businesses as cybercriminals capitalised on the situation.

Phishing

We have observed a spike in phishing attacks and malware attacks as cybercriminals use Covid-19 as bait to impersonate brands, misleading employees and customers, infecting more personal computers and phones.

Ransomware

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) was a critical tool used by network administrators to manage and patch Windows systems remotely during the pandemic. RDP became an increasingly large target for ransomware.

Cyber attack detection and response

Many security teams were impaired as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns. Detection of malicious activities proved difficult, and responding to these activities became even more complicated.

Patching

Updating patches on systems became a challenge as security teams were not fully operational. Almost overnight, organisations decentralised patch management, letting machines auto-update and auto-patch.

This was a considerable change for in-house IT teams, which had long managed its endpoints manually to ensure visibility and quality control of the entire environment.

Personal devices

The use of personal laptops, smartphones and tablets shot up significantly during the pandemic. These personal devices aren’t always under the control of IT teams and therefore aren’t looped into corporate vulnerability management.

80% of hacking-related security breaches are a direct result of compromised or weak credentials. This is a huge blind spot that continues to leave businesses more exposed to cyberattacks and data leakage incidents.

Security advice and assistance

Learn more about remote IT security in our article, ‘Optimising and securing remote work in your business’.

And you can get peace of mind that your devices are all secure, up-to-date, and protected 24/7 with our Managed IT Support service.

Need expert technology support?

We have been busier than ever helping businesses and organisations secure their remote working set up, put reliable high-speed internet in place, make the most of Microsoft 365, and improve their web presence.

We are always on hand to support you, making sure technology is working hard for your business.

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