Disruptive Technology Adoption In Emerging Markets Post-Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted people’s lives, families, communities and the global economy and its future evolution remains uncertain. Moreover, the
pandemic is exposing a large divide between high-income/upper-middle-income countries and poorer countries in digital usage and the availability of technology solutions to support the pandemic’s response.
Despite the divide, disruptive technologies are enabling numerous responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in emerging markets. Technologies adopted include online health care; blockchain-based epidemic monitoring platforms; robots that deliver food and medications and that screen people’s temperatures; online education platforms and home-based working solutions; and robotics and 3D-printing technologies to manage social distancing in manufacturing plants. Disruptive technologies like AI, blockchain, robotics, and 3D printing are playing a key role in supporting the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts in emerging markets. Technologies have also been used to soften the economic shocks.
Governments, often in partnership with the private sector, have introduced disruptive technologies such as digital platforms, big data analytics, and AI to provide social welfare programs to the poorest, which are often paid out using mobile money. Technology companies in emerging markets are attracting investor interest even at times of capital outflows from emerging markets. For example, 54Gene, a two-year old company specializing in the collection of genetic samples in Nigeria, raised $15 million; Bigbasket, an Indian online grocery platform, raised $60 million in funding while the country was in lockdown.
The contribution of technology companies to COVID responses varies across sectors and it’s dependent on the presence of relatively developed digital ecosystems. In addition, their contribution is linked to their ability to quickly pivot toward new services and models, and their ability to expand into adjacent markets and to reach the underserved in a more cost-effective manner than traditional businesses.
Despite uncertainties surrounding the economic outlook post–COVID-19, emerging markets are expected to experience an acceleration in the adoption of disruptive technologies and a proliferation of online business models and platforms. The pace of the acceleration will likely be faster in upper-middle-income countries than in low-income countries. However, such acceleration will mean not only increased adoption of technologies developed in high-income markets but also innovation relevant to local needs.
Here are some few social and economic changes that may propel the potential of disruptive technologies to unprecedented heights. The focus is on 3D printing, the Internet of things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and robotics.
Global supply chains left many companies vulnerable to coronavirus disruptions. The pandemic has thus brought to the forefront a lot of attention to 3D printing. In the health care sector, manufacturing companies have relied on advanced technologies like 3D printing to manage social distancing. Many healthcare facilities turned to 3D printing to supply their staff with much-needed protective equipment. Northwell Health, a New York-based hospital started to make its own nasal swabs using 3D printing. This enabled the production of thousands of swabs a day that could be used in testing for the coronavirus. Also, online pharmaceutical and diagnostics platforms and telemedicine companies have experienced a surge in demand as patients’ preferences for health care services have shifted online. The crisis has also put industrial 3D printing technology center stage illustrating its capabilities.
INTERNET OF THINGS (IOT)
The pandemic crisis has highlighted the importance of IoT to companies for business continuity and healthcare. In terms of business continuity, IoT-enabled warehouse technologies have enhanced transparency in global supply chains. The IoT also includes networks of CCTV cameras and smart connected sensors which have enabled firms to continue operating with reduced human involvement in line with the required social distancing protocols. As part of the response to the health crisis, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly relying on genomics. This helps them to accelerate the time from viral genetic sequence selection to potentially shortening the time to the discovery of an effective vaccine. Countries like Hong Kong turned to IoT- and GPS-enabled apps to track and, when necessary, to enforce self-quarantine measures.
In China, Lianfei Technology launched the first blockchain epidemic monitoring platform which track the progress of COVID-19 in all provinces in real time. The platform registered the relevant epidemic data on the chain so that the data can be traced and cannot be tampered with. The global spending on the Internet of Things (IoT) is forecast to reach 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars in 2022. New technologies such as 5G is expected to drive market growth in the coming years as well.
The pivot to working from home has accentuated the benefits of cloud-based services: within companies, for interacting with clients and for delivering product and services. Moreover, cloud-based services help make adjustments to match computing needs easier. At the same time, remote working has sufficiently increased demand from the data centres that support streaming and cloud computing. In effect, this boosted memory chip prices. In the long-run, remote working and dispersed offices may see sustained demand for cloud infrastructure.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING
Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to be one of the disruptive technology trends. Today, AI contributes to society numerously, for example, in the form of virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa.
In the business sector, AI is used to detect the changing patterns of customer behaviour by analyzing data in near real-time. This helps to drive revenues and enhance personalized customer experiences. In the health sector, AI is used to predict demand for services like hospitals enabling authorities to make better decisions about resource utilization.
A report by Markets and Markets indicates that AI market will grow to a $190 billion industry by 2025 with global spending on cognitive and AI systems reaching over $57 billion in 2021. With AI spreading its wings across sectors, new jobs will be created in development, programming, testing, support and maintenance, among others.
Machine Learning, the subset of AI, is also being deployed in all kinds of industries, creating a huge demand for skilled professionals. Machine learning is the application of artificial intelligence to allow systems to learn and improve themselves without explicit programming.
As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear. Robotics’ companies have reported that businesses across all sectors are re-assessing the value that robots and automation might bring in order to decrease the number of human contacts involved in production and supply chains, as well as to manage public health and infectious diseases. During the outbreak, robots have been taking on a greater share of work from monitoring stock levels to helping with sanitizing in some grocery stores; using light beams to eliminate hospital viruses and assisting with deliveries. In Rwanda, the government deployed robots that can deliver food and medications. The robots can also screen the temperatures of 50–150 people per minute, helping to limit health care workers’ exposure.
In conclusion, the world’s biggest problem today could be the world’s biggest business opportunities tomorrow. As COVID-19 has disrupted the way companies operate, the digital expectations of consumers have reached a new level. New digital business models are accelerating as necessity drives innovation. We are witnessing the application of innovative solutions and higher reliance on technology-enabled work and operations. It is therefore paramount for business leaders, societies and governments to steer a digital technology that drives transitions to the new normal. Areas where surges in demand are expected include online health care, education, commerce, e-logistics, fintech, and software-as-a-service. Areas at risk of reduced demand in the short term because of COVID-related disruptions may include urban mobility, hospitality, and tourism.