Covid-19 has indelibly altered the way we live and work.
As lockdown restrictions ease, it is vital that British businesses address the implications of the pandemic as part of their long-term strategies. However, rather than viewing this as a “restart”, companies should make the most of this opportunity to “rethink” their approach to a post-lockdown world.
So, what exactly can London’s businesses do to make a success of the return to work, and which technology trends will be fundamental to a sustained recovery?
Everything starts with employees. It’s one thing to have the technology for remote working, but building an empowered remote workforce goes much further. Real empowerment means ensuring that employees have the skills, tools and support they need to excel wherever they are based. That’s why chatbots have suddenly come into their own. Take Siemens, which enabled an AI chatbot for its HR function called Carl that was answering one million employee queries a month.
Similar technology is helping businesses engage customers virtually. TSB, for example, has launched a Smart Agent, allowing customers to “chat” live online with staff for the first time. Post-pandemic, we will likely see more companies exploring next-generation contact centres, adopting messaging versus voice, and investing in artificial intelligence to deliver real-time personalised experiences.
Outside the workplace, these technologies have also advanced the ways some of London’s top universities have interacted with their students and their wider communities. UCL students have used IBM Watson to develop a VR game which helps users, such as the elderly, feel less isolated.
And just this week, University of the Arts London announced that it will be holding its signature UAL Graduate Showcase through a curated and richly layered digital platform created by IBM and hosted on its public cloud. The platform will allow members of the public to interact with the next generation of creative talent, buy their work and attend live digital events.
Of course, the infrastructure needed for companies to adopt new styles of working requires optimisation, and ensuring reliable access to data centres is critical. Some organisations have added “burst capacity” to cope with surges in demand. Others are fast-tracking the migration of applications to the cloud. Now that physical access can no longer be taken for granted, this should be a consideration for any data-dependant business.
The pandemic has put health providers and government services under immense strain, but the agility offered by new technologies can help. To reduce overload, we have seen the NHS providing extra support for key workers and patients by introducing virtual agent technology. In London, the Royal Marsden Hospital used IBM’s Watson Assistant to create Ask Maisie, its first ever virtual assistant, to provide staff with up-to-date information on Covid-related workplace policies.
Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy announced that the UK has become the first country outside the US to join the Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which uses supercomputing to develop predictive models and model new therapies.
The crisis has also highlighted the importance of enhanced supply chain resiliency. Real-time insights are becoming increasingly vital, with sensors and external data sources providing hyperlocal visibility of inventory fluctuations and logistics constraints. Using AI, it is possible to correlate real-time Covid-19 data with supply chain locations, helping organisations try to predict disruptions.
Finally, we have seen how critical it is for organisations to urgently enhance their security capabilities. Savvy organisations will conduct user awareness training to educate employees, secure collaboration tools and take advantage of tools that protect endpoints from connecting to known malicious domains, malware and phishing sites.
By adjusting quickly and investing in the right technology, organisations can build their long-term resiliency in the face of myriad unknowns and new vulnerabilities. The uncertainties are great, but so are the opportunities, and London stands to benefit. As a city, we have always shown an in-built ability to rebound from adversity, as well as a great capacity for the type of “rethink” required to emerge stronger for the pandemic-informed road ahead.
Main image credit: Getty