Businesses have had to move their operations online with urgency driven by government-imposed lockdowns in the US, India and Singapore, to name a few. Consumer goods retailers face supply chain disruptions and a surge in demand for delivery services, and digital communication and data platforms are hot topics now as people are leaning heavily on the Internet for their learning, working and leisure needs.
Here is a look at five tech-based industries which have emerged as indispensable during the pandemic, and what we think are the next sectors investors and entrepreneurs should look to during the ‘new normal’ when the world emerges and recovers.
Schools all over the world were among the first to close, even before governments had non-essential businesses shut down. UNESCO estimates that about 290.5 million schoolchildren are experiencing disruption to their lessons – and that’s not counting older students in higher education institutions.
The demand for online learning resources for children and adults confined to their homes grew exponentially, and the industry’s growth is projected at a CAGR of 9.23% in the next five years, reaching a total market size of US$319.167 billion in 2025. This is almost the double of its 2019 market value of US$187.877 billion.
There is no better time for education technology startups to shine after rising to the challenge of meeting the heavier demands of a larger user base.
These startups are the bridge between educational institutes, educators and students. As the arbiter of access to knowledge, they must ensure they are agile and sensitive to the educational needs of the market.
The boom in this field will also benefit emerging markets the most, placing knowledge resources within reach of children and adults in far-flung villages and locales where accessing education has been difficult. Those who have lost job opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis will also be another key target audience who can use such educational tools to re-enter the knowledge workforce.
Live video conferencing and streaming
Life as we knew it has moved online. With social distancing and remote working, anything and everything that involved multiple parties had to be done via video conferencing or streaming – this included professional meetings, training sessions, personal fitness classes and even pub quizzes for some.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have had to turn to live video streaming to keep their sales going. Brian Gu, vice chairman and president of XPENG Motors, noted, “Now people are stranded at home, they have to live and think about ways to broadcast the merchandise to them, so we offer, for example, online direct broadcasting showrooms. We partnered with Douyin (TikTok) to demonstrate our cars on the platform. It was very successful.” He noted that TikTok was looking to replicate the same livestreaming format with other car retailers in the country as well.
Video conferencing grew beyond a common tool for work and became an integral part of how people stayed socially connected and communicative for work and play. Zoom, for instance, has seen its daily meeting participants soar from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020.
Other tech giants Microsoft, Google and Facebook are also rushing in to fill the gap, developing their own video conferencing platforms or making them available for free during the pandemic period.
The surge in users flocking to video conferencing and streaming has been an excellent object lesson – there are so many face-to-face interactions which can be easily replaced.
When we emerge from isolation, we can expect this to be part of the new normal, where people could choose to do more video conferencing for work meetings and Friday night drinks.
During the crisis period, businesses are streamlining their spending. However, B2B services remain popular, necessitated by the needs of the shift to remote working worldwide. Aside from the obvious video conferencing software, there are cybersecurity services, technical support, facial recognition and more.
According to TrustRadar, a review site for business technology, a survey conducted in early April found that businesses continued to spend, or even planned to increase spending for web conferencing software, collaboration tools and security among others.
87% of the businesses surveyed also expected to continue paying for the tools they purchased during the COVID-19 period.
Enterprise software company HashiCorp’s Chief People Officer Jeff Harper said that the company has seen increased interest from some businesses “because they’re starting to see the necessity to migrate to a heavier reliance on cloud level activity.” He also commented that the products his team has seen the heavier demands for center around provisioning and security, two needs businesses are seeing the importance of in these times.
Healthcare workers and services are at a premium in this period. With the World Health Organization advocating telemedicine as a tool to monitor patients and reduce risks of them spreading the virus by travelling to hospitals, there is no doubt that telemedicine is here to stay.
As in-patient care becomes the last resort, telemedicine platforms are seeing a dramatic spike in virtual consultations. NYU Lagone Health in the US reported that “virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langone Health grew by 683 percent and non-urgent virtual care visits grew by an unprecedented 4,345 percent in response to COVID-19, in daily averages” between early March and mid-April.
In China, Ping An Good Doctor saw a growth of 10 times in new user registrations between early January to mid-February, and their average daily consultations reaching nine times as many normal users.
Governments have also been making moves to recognise the role of telehealth in the fight against COVID-19, with Australia expanding subsidies to cover the remote treatment of patients and permitting clinical staff who have been exposed to the virus, and those under quarantine, to continue working by telehealth. South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines have also made strides in promoting the use of telemedicine.
Logistics and Online Delivery Services
As countries and individuals began to self-isolate, this disrupted B2B delivery and supply chain logistics, and grew the need for B2C delivery services. International shipments of goods are hindered by cross-border restrictions, the grounding of most airplanes, and the ban on maritime shipments by some countries.
With remote working becoming essential, a move to digital tools is essential for the logistics industry, which has been heavily reliant on physical forms for packing lists and other paperwork – some firms have been looking to adopt software tracking shipments and electronic signatures in place of paper-based forms, allowing remotely placed staff to log and track goods without being onsite.
This brings us to data visibility and transparency. The move from paper to digital databases allows both logistic companies and their clients to view information which allows them to react to any crisis and manage disruptions to the supply chain.
Superapps like Grab have been quick to ensure an ideal consumer experience by repurposing passenger drivers for delivery and bringing more F&B businesses onboard. Its new feature, GrabMart, also ropes in supermarkets, organic food producers, florists and dessert shops and more.
As China begins to get back on its feet, and countries like Singapore consider easing up on lockdown measures, the post-COVID-19 future is about to arrive. While the five industries we have mentioned above have been doing considerably well in challenging times, we are also excited to see how they will maintain the momentum they have gained in the past months, and solidify their standing in the new order of work and play in the post-pandemic months.