Following the first instalment of 10 Tech Trends that Defined 2020, here is part 2 in the series; the touchless workplace, 5G, AI, contact tracing and finally the rise of the streaming services.
The touchless workplace
In a world where physical contact needs to be minimised, we all look at how we can reduce contact with physical surfaces, whether it be the office lift button or a cafe door handle. When we were still travelling on trains, I can remember the morning stand-off, everyone waiting for someone to touch the button, to open the train doors, strange times!
Many retailers quickly switched to a cash-free approach, contactless payments now being the preferred choice, cash is no longer king! In fact, cash withdrawals from ATM’s were 60% lower in March 2020 than the previous year. Like many of our trends from Part 1, this shift was already happening, but Covid accelerated things. Tourist cities saw the biggest drop in cash withdrawals, as the travellers stayed at home, the cash stayed in the ATM’s.
As we all know by now, Covid-19 can survive on surfaces for up to 3 days. For those operating shared workspaces, this presents its own set of problems. Door handles are one of the most heavily touched surfaces in an office, so many employers and workspace managers have turned to touchless technologies, removing the need for the door handle completely.
One solution is a touch plate, you simply use your elbow to press the plate, and open sesame. This solution, whilst simple, is not completely touchless. Taking things to the next level, when Zaha Hadid Architects designed the new headquarters for UAE-based waste management company Bee’ah, they chose to design the office around “contactless pathways”. Motion sensors and facial recognition technology were used, enabling employees to open doors automatically. The building’s lift’s got a similar treatment, letting employees use their smartphones to operate them.
Voice activation is another technology that is being explored for commercial workspace applications. We are all familiar with Siri and Alexa in our homes, can we harness the same tech to operate office lighting, blinds and heating? Will we also use voice control to sign-in at reception, order lunch or book a meeting room? Only time will tell, but one thing that will help power the next-gen of IoT will be the roll-out of 5G.
5G Networks roll-out
The next-generation mobile network has caught a lot of headlines over the last couple of years, some good, some bad. Some believed that 5G even had a part to play in the pandemic itself.
In the UK, this led to over 90 masts being attacked and hundreds of incidents of violent and intimidating behaviour towards mobile network operator staff and subcontractors. A range of conspiracy theories about mobile communications appears to have encouraged these attacks, including that the antennas are actually causing the symptoms of Covid-19.
Another false theory suggested that the pandemic is a hoax fabricated to give either the government or various forms of secret powers controlling the government, greater control of the population using mobile phone technology.
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei also suffered fall-out as countries started to roll-out their 5G infrastructure. Huawei is one of the leading global providers of 5G hardware and has been one of the main hardware suppliers for numerous countries, including the UK. The Trump administration was the first to take action, Trump’s executive order banned US companies from working with or buying telecommunications equipment from companies deemed a national security risk. In a statement, a Huawei spokesperson said the company was the “unparalleled leader in 5G” and suggested a ban would raise “serious legal issues.”
“We are ready and willing to engage with the US government and come up with effective measures to ensure product security,” the spokesperson said, adding that restrictions “will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of US companies and consumers.”
Bowing to pressure from the US government, the UK quickly followed suit, stopping telecom providers from using Huawei hardware, effectively banning the Chinese firm from the network.
Outside of all the controversy, the benefits 5G bring cannot be understated. As consumers, faster upload and download speed are clearly appealing, particularly when it comes to streaming content, however, the benefits go much further. With cars getting smarter every year, 5G will play a huge role in the rise of “connected vehicles”. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) makes it possible for cars linked to smart traffic management systems to exchange information such as location, speed and destination, alerting drivers about a variety of road conditions and potential hazards ahead of time.
Another field that will see the benefit of 5G is healthcare. In a world where accurate and fast decision making is paramount, 5G technology will dissolve borders and allow Doctors to reach patients from every corner of the globe. Telemedicine, AI-powered diagnosis and even remote robotic surgery are all possible through 5G, truly a game-changer in global healthcare.
AI and Machine learning
Despite still being in its infancy, AI has already declared itself to be a critical component of a company’s long-term success, being an integral part of many digital transformation strategies.
Effective customer relations are a vital part of any companies success and customer services is one area where AI has some interesting applications, let me introduce the chatbot! Interestingly, consumers already prefer automated chatbots to human customer service reps, but a lack of human bandwidth during repeated lockdowns helped drive this demand to the next level.
During the pandemic, businesses already faced increased demand on their customer service teams, this problem was further compounded as the availability of employees decreased due to lockdowns. This led to long delays in customer service queries, which dramatically affected the customer experience. Conversational AI systems remove the risk of bottlenecks occurring in such a situation, pre-qualifying live interactions and resolving issues automatically to maintain quality of service. It allows businesses to transform customer and employee touchpoints into fast, meaningful, rich interactions, allowing the customer to get the answer they need 24/7 over any channel.
As enterprises try to reimagine what their company will look like in a digitally transformed post-Covid world, the ability to communicate in a meaningful, intelligent and automated manner with their customers will be a key priority.
Looking at conversational AI growth specifically, a conservative outlook provided by MarketsandMarkets estimates that the global conversational AI market size will grow from $4.2 billion in 2019 to $15.7 billion by 2024.
A business is only as good as it’s people and AI increasingly has a role to play in the hiring decision-making process.
Manually screening of applicants CV’s is still the most time-consuming part of recruiting. Screening CV’s and shortlisting candidates to interview is estimated to take 23 hours of a Recruiter’s time for every single hire!
These time consuming and repetitive tasks are where AI really comes to the fore, automating tasks such as candidate screening and scheduling face to face interviews. By automatically measuring candidates suitability against the job requirements, you not only ensure the best candidates rise to the top of the pile but importantly you also remove the element of human bias. Whilst humans still have a vital role to play in the hiring process, early adopter companies using AI-powered recruiting software have seen their cost per screen reduced by 75%, their revenue per employee improve by 4%, and their staff turnover decreased by 35%.
Contact tracing apps
Contact tracing is by no means a new thing, it has been effectively used across multiple pandemics from H1N1 to Ebola. The principle is simple, identifying who an infected person has come into contact with. Digital contact tracing works in exactly the same way, but by using digital tracking devices, most often a mobile phone.
There are currently 43 “official” country tracing apps available, these apps typically fall into one of two approaches, centralised and decentralised contact tracing. So, what are the key differences between the two?
Both types use Bluetooth signals to log when smartphone owners are close to each other, if someone develops Covid-19 symptoms, an alert can be sent to other users that may have been infected.
The centralised model takes the anonymised data gathered and uploads it to a remote server where matches are made with other contacts, should a person start to develop Covid-19 symptoms.
South Korea has been one of the most successful countries in tackling Covid-19, in part due to their experience with the MERS outbreak in 2015. They took the centralised approach to contact tracing but interestingly chose not to use a dedicated app, using mobile device tracking data and card transaction data instead.
Advocates of the centralised approach argue that it gives authorities deeper insights into the spread of the virus, however, this comes at a price, raising questions about personal data and privacy.
In contrast, the decentralised model gives users more control over their information by keeping it on the phone, rather than sending data to a remote server. It is then on the device that any contact matches are made. This is the path the UK’s NHS took when developing its app (having earlier championed a centralised approach), this was also the approach promoted by Google and Apple.
The effectiveness of these apps is only as good as the user uptake and this is where many have come unstuck. Fears around privacy and government mass surveillance drove suspicion around the true intentions with the apps, this led to low adoption rates in many countries. In England and Wales, over 10 million people have downloaded the NHS app, 6 million on the first day. At the other end of the scale, India’s Covid-19 tracking app Aarogya Setu became the world’s fastest-growing application, beating Pokémon Go with 50 million users in the first 13 days of its release.
Finding ourselves stuck at home for long periods of time over the course of 2020 has left many of us wondering what we can do with our free time when everything else is shut? Sure, you can go for a walk, read a book, learn a new skill, but when it comes to pure escapism, you can’t beat a movie.
Much like the explosion in “home dining”, we are now streaming more content at home than ever, whether it be Disney+, Netflix or Amazon Video, streaming platforms have seen huge growth over the last year. In fact, the market for streaming services has grown by 37% in 2020, with most of that growth coming from Disney+. Whilst not planned, Disney could not have timed things better.
Disney+ launched on November 12, 2019, their target was for 30 million subscribers in their first 12 months, by December 10, 2020, they had over 86 million subscribers. Staggering growth by any standard. By comparison, at the end of 2020, Netflix had 195 million subscribers worldwide. However, Netflix had a 13-year head start on Disney!
It’s easy to see the platform’s appeal, a great back catalogue that spans two of the largest movie franchises in history, Marvel and Star Wars. Add into the mix Pixar and it’s own Disney content and you can see why the platform is loved by adults and children alike.
The global Video Streaming Market is projected to attain US$184.3 billion by the end 2027, according to a new report released by Million Insights.
New content is vital for streaming platforms, the main ingredient in ensuring your subscribers don’t leave and go elsewhere. The shutdown in film and television productions, forced by lockdowns throughout 2020, has placed a major focus on how Disney and its competitors can keep up with our appetite for content. In response, Netflix plans to spend about $19.03 billion on video content in 2021, an increase of about 10% from the $17.3 billion spent in 2020. A mind-blowing budget, but as the streaming wars hot up, it really is the quality of the content that will help grow your market share.
That’s a wrap for part two, we will watch with interest over the course of 2021 to see if these trends stick. Is there anything that has not made the shortlist that you think we should have mentioned?
Covid-19 have brought societal changes that none of us could have expected 12 months ago, we hope 2021 brings happier times and a return to “normal” for us all. Be safe and stay positive.