Covid#19 – The first true test for modern technologies

We are living in a period which the world has not faced in the last 100 years as per many statistics. Covid-19 has threatened humanity to the extent that almost many of the developed countries have imposed a self lock-down for weeks now. The need to stay at home is more necessary and important. Sure, there was pandemic even in the older days, but the current advancements in technology let us stay informed and stay alert. As I started to stay at home during these lock-down days, I started to realize how some of the technological advancements have let me stay at home without the need to go out for many of my tasks.

Let’s start with working from home. Companies around the globe have let their employees, who can connect from home and still perform the day to day task, to work remotely. This comes with some challenges. As per 2018 data, only 5% of the employees in the US work from home or have home office setup. Not every job can be done from home. So the first thing is to classify what can be done from home and what critical operations may not be done from home. There is a huge surge in enabling the rest of the workforce to work from home. In some cases, it is not even a well-planned and thought through process, rather it was a quick reaction. Many office workers were still on their desktop and do not have laptops. In this case, technologies like cloud identity, endpoint verification, and context-aware proxies let the user connect and access the needed data even from their personal desktop or laptop without needing to install other security software and in some cases, it even eliminates the need for VPN. Overall, cloud-based solutions win big during these pandemic days.

Secure and scalable work from home – Google’s Beyond Corp Model

Now, It is time to realize that we are already into the second wave of digital transformation. Amazon has launched press-to-order dash buttons a couple of years ago in 2015 with lots of fanfare. I have always wondered how would it work with kids at home. The first thing the kids would do with the dash button is to start pressing the buttons and place more orders than needed. Also, think about having buttons for every household item. Its a mess now. With the emergence of voice assistants, Amazon realized that the dash buttons are overkill and things could be accomplished with assistants itself. In 2019, Amazon has announced that the physical dash buttons won’t work anymore. Now the sophisticated voice assistants come with UI also, hence Amazon has decided to move with digital dash buttons. The dash buttons are just a click in your Amazon Echo Show, however, we can enforce 4 digit lock before actually placing the order. This is one complete life cycle that we have witnessed in the IoT journey and transformation. The use case or customer journey has transitioned to a new way of accomplishing the same thing. We all know of digital transformation, but this transformation right here, to me is self-realization and reminder that we are in the second phase of digital transformation. As a daily household item, I can not think of any other IoT product that has already transitioned to its next phase.

The second wave of digital transformation – Digital dash buttons in Echo show

Next, let us talk about adopting some new technologies whenever and wherever possible to maintain social distancing. Amazon introduced In-home delivery in 2017 to deal with situations of items being lost when it is delivered in front of the doors at the customer’s delivery address. Understandably, there was both positive and negative feedback with this mode of delivery. However, Amazon promised the security of the home. A year later, Amazon also introduced In-Car delivery to even remove the negative feedback over In-home delivery. There are increasing concerns and confusion around how long and in what surfaces can the virus survive. Even though I could not find enough statistical data to understand the success of In-car delivery, it comes in handy for practicing social distancing.

However at the time, when I am writing this blog, Amazon has suspended the In-car delivery option in the checkout process until further notice.

Adoption of new technologies – In-car delivery

Next, I want to talk about the sudden surge in online delivery. Staying at home comes with a surge in online delivery. We rely on thousands of humans who are delivering the essential things right at our doorsteps by risking their own life. First, my salute to them. However, taking a step back, it makes me think about the dream of self-driving trucks between warehouses and using drones for the last leg of delivery. To me, this is an ideal situation to test and increase the fleet of self-driving heavy trucks and the high-end technology with near-zero latency it comes with. Why? 2 main reasons. 1) Human life is invaluable and we can give the same safety to the delivery workers like how we do for others, 2) As per Inrix data, the traffic in major cities in the US has plunged by almost 30% for the week of March 14-March 20, 2020. And this trend will continue for some time now. The reduced traffic on road reduces the potential risk of the trucks over running on other vehicles. Similarly in my older blog dated 3 years ago (April 16, 2017), discussed having futuristic drone delivery. While I am aware that there are many testings and regulatory approvals in process for the drone deliveries, this period may be crucial to try out drone deliveries for the most affected regions to avoid the spread of the virus.

Out of way, Human!, Let drones help you

And the next is about how do some companies used existing technology to build trust and win customer accolades. Yes, many companies adopted so quickly (Almost in days to a week) in maintaining social distancing with their customers. One example that I want to highlight here is Papa John’s Pizza. Many of the dine-in options are ruled out in a nationwide lock-down and stay at home policy. Families staying at home, cooking their food, may want some food from outside for a change. There are some concerns about outside food. I can not speak about how the food is being prepared or what I kind of sanitation measures are in place at the restaurant kitchen. But, Papa John’s was quick to roll-out No-Contact delivery. The key here is the way to introduce new elements to the existing shopping journey. They have carefully considered 2 things here – 1) Customer journey and the 2) Pizza delivery journey. To address the first they have added a checkbox ‘Leave order at my door’ when you choose ‘Delivery’ in the ordering mode. They have taken care of the pizza delivery journey by prompting pre-tipping options, thereby enabling no-contact in this entire transaction.

Introducing new elements with the same technologies – No-Contact Delivery

Finally, I want to talk about how some new opportunities were created during this pandemic period. Unacast is one such company that started to provide the Covid-19 social distancing scoreboard based on the location data collected through a variety of third-party sources. Data is the core for understanding any situation and helps in deriving actions to solve a problem. Even though Unacast’s score has not been vetted by health officials or epidemiologists, this is a very good initiative in the right direction. So how does Unacast collect the location data? Unacast collects data from their partners and also from many apps that use their SDK’s for location related needs. Unlike Facebook’s Data for good initiative, where the user has to opt-in for collecting the data and also requiring to be a member of Facebook, Unacast derives un-identified data from a variety of sources. Depending on multiple streams for the location data helps in eliminating overlapped and fraudulent data. Unacast came up with a social distancing tool kit for any companies that are in need, to benefit from their data.

New opportunities – Social distancing scoreboard – Measurement technique

Share your thoughts on how technology is impacting or can make an impact on the real-world problems in situations like Covid-19.

Stay home and stay safe!

Happy learning!

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