The ‘digital normal’

What is the new normal? Take a look at these facts and figures:

– Video-conferencing and online-meeting platform Zoom says its user base grew to 300 million in the last three weeks, a 50-percent jump from 200 million at the beginning of the month.

– Netflix added 15.8 million new subscribers worldwide during the first three months of 2020, more than doubling its growth forecast for the quarter. It was the largest one-quarter growth spurt in the company’s history.

– Data from SimilarWeb show desktop and mobile visits to the e-commerce sites of Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Target soared by between 28 and 76 percent in the first half of March versus a year ago.

– Cloud-computing providers, such as AWS, Google and Microsoft, reportedly sustained a 50-percent increase in utilization during the past month, as they become the essential link for many people to remain connected with work and families.

– Global telecommunications company (telco) T-Mobile experienced a 60-percent increase in mobile hotspot usage, an 87-percent increase in online collaboration tools and an 85-percent increase in video game traffic, as reported by Business Insider. Local telcos, on the other hand, have recorded up to over 40-percent spike in internet traffic during the Luzon-wide quarantine.

The new normal is a “digital normal” — i.e. societies and people will permanently and profoundly live, work, and play in a digital world. This is driven by the accelerated digital consumption of consumers and business customers, which will be sustained even after a coronavirus vaccine is discovered.

The coronavirus pandemic will make humanity leapfrog its current cognitive capacity and technological limitations by 10 years through a global wave of technology investments. Tech companies and startups will pour in investments in the coming years to make the digital experience of people richer and more immersive.

Developments in multisensory design of digital experiences will accelerate. Soon, apps and websites can communicate with consumers through taste and smell. This will be coupled with advances in virtual and augmented reality applications in communications, entertainment and leisure.

As an example, just a couple of years ago, scientists from Malaysia experimented with “electric smell” technology capable of conveying odors, as well as sights and sounds. “If electric smell pans out, long-distance conversations could one day be far more immersive — enabling you to share with a loved one the aroma of a meal you just prepared, for example, or letting you catch a whiff of the sea from your sister’s beach vacation,” an NBC News report said.

This may be far-fetched and laughable a few years ago, but the dining experience is changing as we speak. Restaurants resort to deliveries and takeouts through apps.

Industry players will be forced to innovate to stand out in the digital normal by making the dining experience more immersive.

At the heart of technological innovation is the advancement in artificial intelligence (AI). Scientists are already progressing in making AI mimic human emotions and interactions, potentially replacing many human jobs.

The risk of automation in the business process outsourcing sector is more palpable than ever as a result. “Seeing as you’re working from home and there’s a lag in the service, we’ll use more AI, more chatbots, more automation. That is permanent change, automation will hit that sector very deeply” a Financial Times report quoted Mohandas Pai, former executive at outsourcing groups Infosys, as saying.

With the digital normal, organizations and companies would, therefore, need to pivot their business models, processes and competencies to take advantage of it. Digital transformation, as a strategic direction, will be more compelling than ever. Business leaders need to embrace a digital-normal mindset to steer their organizations in these turbulent times. They need to learn and understand new emerging consumer and customer behaviors, and tweak their organizational processes to deliver a seamless digital experience.

But the biggest challenge for business leaders is how to accelerate the retooling of their employees. They have to find ways to develop talent internally, to develop soft and hard skills. Digital skills in AI, machine learning, coding and analytics are urgently needed.

But apart from these hard skills, employees need to develop digital normal soft skills, such as empathy, collaboration and complex problem-solving. Employees need to better understand their customers through empathy, collaborate more in a dispersed work-from-home setup, and jointly solve complex problems in the organization and with customers.
The digital normal is here now. We have to act urgently now.

The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is also the country representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia and fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. He can be reached at