The coronavirus pandemic lockdown has highlighted a series of new social changes, but with it, a whole new set of software and hardware technologies have become our coping mechanisms.
During the onset of the lockdown in March this year, businesses across a broad range of industries were forced to adapt rapidly in order to survive. Across the country, millions of staff began working from home and shoppers were unable to visit the high street.
However, despite the disruption and challenges of Covid-19, a host of sectors are thriving. In this article, we will look at some of the major sectors that have benefitted from the ‘stay at home’ culture and explore how the digital transformation of our daily lives has allowed us to cope with lockdown measures.
Remote Working Technologies
It is no secret that the office working environment has changed forever. What we know as traditional working days have changed entirely now that we can do them all from our homes.
As our working lives get altered, the technologies that we use to carry out our work change too. Early in the pandemic, Zoom saw its user numbers jump from 10 million to 200 million per day as people started using video communication software to contact colleagues and families more than ever before.
This brought with it a raft of issues, chiefly that Zoom was not ready for such an immediate increase in usage. What followed was a series of privacy and security challenges, such as the advent of ‘Zoom-Bombers’– users who would join public chats without password protections and post inappropriate content.
As well as Zoom, Microsoft Teams has also seen a large boost in numbers. Chiefly used for workplace meetings and communications, Teams’ userbase more than doubled in the early days of lockdown – from 32 million on March 12, 2019, to 75 million as of April 30, 2020.
As the pandemic continues to spread across the world, and case numbers in the UK rise sharply, it looks likely that the traditional office workplace environment will never be the same, if it is ever able to return.
Many firms, including Facebook, have told staff that they will be working from home for the foreseeable future, while many others have given workers flexible office time.
A major drop in office usage, and the demand for business growth as the economy tries to recover, could mean that platforms such as these will continue to thrive.
Another area that has seen a huge boost in usage during the lockdown period are financial technologies (fintech).
During the pandemic, fintech services have become more and more popular as a way to buy and trade products digitally. People are moving away from physical currency, partly because people are unable to visit shops, but also for fears it could spread the virus.
Even before Covid-19, people were turning more to digital payments. Research has revealed just 23% of all payments made in 2019 were cash-based, whilst card payments were used to make up to 50% of payments last year for the first time.
In a further sign that the sector is maintaining growth even during a time of economic downturn, Edinburgh-based FinTech Scotland gained a £22.5-million funding boost in June to boost Scotland’s fintech cluster.
The Group’s CEO Stephen Ingledew said that during the pandemic, there was an “acceleration in the demand for fintech innovation” which is reflected by many enterprises seeing an increase in business.
“The number of firms in the fintech community in Scotland has gone up, even during this Covid period,” he said.
And the growth of fintech looks unlikely to slow any time soon. There is clear evidence that financial technology is seeing countrywide growth, and the sector accounts for around £7 billion of the UK economy. It has become vital for fintech sector growth to continue.
Drone technology is a huge industry, and companies and the government are beginning to realise their full potential, particularly during our time in lockdown.
Companies like Amazon have been utilising the tech, having been granted permission in the US to trial a drone delivery service. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is allowing the company to operate as a ‘drone airline’.
Tesco, too, was granted permission in Ireland to trial grocery delivery drones, looking to reduce delivery times to 30 minutes, free up delivery drivers and help vulnerable customers, all vital during the pandemic.
And the technology has begun seeing applications in other areas beside e-commerce. A recent project run by trainee doctors as part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme sought to have supplies delivered between hospitals across the UK to speed up the process and free up manpower.
Research carried out by PWC showed a keen interest in utilising drones in the UK in the future. The research states that, by 2030, drones could add £16bn in net cost savings to the UK economy, as well as potentially adding 628,000 jobs to the drone industry.
A report by the UK Government in October 2019 discussed the current and continued use of drones across Britain, concluding that drones “can have a positive effect on society”.
Technology has been quickly utilised and adapted for teachers to communicate with entire classrooms of students from their homes.
What seemed impossible eight months ago has now become the reality for many, and educational software tools are allowing this change to happen.
One of the biggest challenges for distance learning is that natural discussion and communication becomes more difficult when teachers and students are not in the same room. A large amount of the tasks must also be driven by self-direction, and it may be difficult to get young students to focus on whilst home learning.
However, the realms of virtual teaching appear to be borne out of a need during the coronavirus pandemic. The move away from physical classrooms is unlikely to continue after lockdown ends as the process of teaching students away from a classroom environment is unmanageable.
Governments worldwide are pushing hard to get students back into schools, and with events like the recent exam fiasco in England, a purely digital education environment is unlikely to remain permanent.
However, the Scottish Government says it would like to provide some form of ‘blended learning’ as part of future curriculums after Covid-19.
Education Secretary John Swinney said that digital access for students will remain a “fundamental aspect” of education in Scotland and revealed that blended learning is still being considered by the Scottish Government.
“We know that the effects of the pandemic will be long-lasting, and individual circumstances mean not every family will have had access to such technology, but we will ensure that no young person is left behind,” he said.
Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) now resides in many households across the UK, from smart speaker devices to yoga mats and even fridges and toasters.
Developers are seeing a perfect opportunity to implement digital transformation in our homes. The use of these devices has seen a sharp increase during the lockdown period as people look for home convenience.
Data from Deloitte’s Digital Consumer Trends 2020 report says that one in five UK adults (21%) bought at least one new digital device for their home during the lockdown.
IoT devices can also be used in the fight against Covid-19, according to a medical paper released in July. Researchers suggest that an IoT enabled healthcare system is “useful for proper monitoring of Covid-19 patients,” by employing an interconnected network. “This technology helps to increase patient satisfaction and reduces readmission rate in the hospital,” the research states.
But, although IoT clearly has positive uses, there have been criticisms dogging smart devices since development began.
Issues with privacy and cybersecurity have been discussed in recent months, with many customers accusing Amazon of spying on them through Amazon Echo devices. There has also been criticism of lax security software, allowing the tech to be accessed by hackers.
In February this year, IoT company Petnet announced a system outage which saw its SmartFeeders unable to dispense food. This meant that some pets were left without food for a week before systems were restored.
However, Stephen Milne, business development manager at CENSIS believes that IoT can help transform Scotland’s social infrastructure, something that will be vital post-lockdown.
IoT Scotland announced in March that it was extending its connectivity across the Scottish Borders, including Peebles, Melrose, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Hawick.
The expansion was part of a three-year, £2.7mn project funded by the Scottish Government in 2018.
At the time, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, said: “The Internet of Things is set to transform every sector of our economy, from manufacturing to agriculture, and presents an exciting opportunity to revolutionise the way businesses and the public sector across Scotland work.”