COVID-19 and the impact on selected technologies

COVID-19 has accelerated digitisation, e-commerce, and automation

COVID-19 gave all things digital what behavioural economists call a big nudge by turning proximity into a risk.

Consumers and businesses quickly grasped the convenience and efficiency delivered by digital practices and processes they had previously ignored. The pandemic thus expanded and secured digitisation’s reach, though it may recede somewhat as people return to more normal patterns of consumption and work after the pandemic.

China, where e-commerce was already thriving when COVID-19 arrived, is a case in point: while it had contained the virus by spring 2020, consumers continued to order more groceries online, engage in more online medical consultations, and use more digital platforms to communicate with one another than in the past.

Automation and deployment of AI did not accelerate significantly during the pandemic; if anything, the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 may have reduced corporate investment in those technologies. Nonetheless, there are several reasons to anticipate an acceleration in 2021 and beyond. That pattern of reduced investment in automation during economic downturns followed by sharp upticks as recoveries take hold is historic, and responses to surveys of executives suggest that the period after COVID-19 will be no different.

Investors seem to think so, and stock prices of robotics companies have risen during the pandemic. Finally, there have been anecdotes of companies relying on AI and automation to conduct cleaning and sanitation in stores, warehouses, factories, and other venues during lockdowns and quarantines.

Going forward, companies may accelerate adoption of automation and AI for a variety of reasons: to better cope with pandemic induced surges in demand (for instance, in food processing and consumer goods), to reduce density in crowded spaces (as in meat processing plants that were the site of virus outbreaks), to provide customers with contactless customer experiences (for example, self-checkout in grocery stores, ordering on apps or by QR codes in restaurants), and simply to boost speed, efficiency, and productivity as they reimagine business after the pandemic.

Other companies are likely to maintain new automation and AI technologies adopted during the pandemic to cope with lockdowns and quarantines: for instance, chatbot agents deployed to replace call centre agents who could not work from home or to cope with surges in volume at call centres from increased e-commerce.

Interested in learning more? Contact us today

"Executives say that COVID-19 is accelerating adoption of automation and digital technologies."

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, how has your company’s or business area’s adoption of the following technology tends changed?

Source: McKinsey Global Business Executive Survey, July 2020; McKinsey Global Institute analysis.

Let's have a conversation about the opportunities of working with ERA

Whether you’re interested in digitalisation or accelerating your adoption of automation and digital technologies, our global network of industry specialists can provide sustainable support in achieving your long term goals. And it all starts with a conversation, so contact us today and a member of our team can explain precisely what we can do for your business during an informal, no obligation conversation.