Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the increasing role that technology has played in the economy and the questions it has posed about how its increased efficiencies would change the nature of the future of business. We are in a changing world and the Covid-19 pandemic, as historian Yuval Harari has noted, will fast-forward history.
In the sphere of business, it certainly will. The crisis is forcing corporations to rethink how they operate in a world of physical distancing and just they will survive. Those businesses and industries that innovate – and quickly, given how fast the ground is moving – will be able to firstly keep their heads above water and then prosper as they better adapt to whatever the new normal will be. Contact engagements are becoming a thing of the past and while most businesses are reporting declining revenues in the face of global lockdowns, online business giants such as Amazon are only growing in strength.
These changing times were pretty evident to me as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Silicon Valley based giant was launching a “shops” feature that allows any small business to sell directly from social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, for free. It’s a new way for commerce to sell directly to customers, changing the landscape for conducting business.
These and other changes are going to going to drive disruption in the jobs market and one wonders what will happen to traditional marketing channels. To preserve jobs in what is an already high unemployment environment, business and indeed the state are going to have to be innovative to avert an even greater economic crisis that will emerge from these changes.
One welcome example of such innovation from the state is in the area of allocating temporary emergency spectrum to internet service providers for the duration of the national state of disaster. Following a request from government, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) invited operators in early April to apply for emergency spectrum to meet the spike in demand for bandwidth triggered by the many businesses operating from home during lockdown.
This spirit needs to be extended beyond lockdown – Icasa has made it clear that this is a temporary arrangement and does not affect the process for the permanent assignment of spectrum. Yet the auctions to allocate permanent 4G and 5G spectrum licensing have suffered repeated delays. One hopes that is a characteristic of “pre-Covid South Africa” and post-Covid is marked by less intransigence and more innovation, with quicker reactions to business’ requirements. Certainly, the need for permanent spectrum licensing will be more pressing as more and more business is conducted online in the post-Covid environment.
There will be a shift, too, in many other industries, such as the retail sector, which must be asking whether it is too heavily exposed to the great many malls that dominate our cities and towns. The automotive sector, historically so reliant on showroom floors that are owned by some of our large listed companies, has already had to rethink that format because of falling foot traffic. Covid-19 will add impetus to this review. Furthermore, during the past couple of months, many businesses have learnt to operate from home. Do they keep their office space with the overhead costs?
In education, social distancing will disrupt the norm. In a recent webinar, UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said we’ll have to create conducive environments for students to learn such as ensuring learners have the right equipment, signal, data, living conditions as well as nutritional conditions. There has to be a shift also from a regulatory perspective in cross-border education where what is taught in one country is relevant or acceptable to others.
Under level four of lockdown, restaurants have been allowed to operate only on a delivery basis. It’s a shift that many have struggled to adjust to, but even when we eventually reach level one, can they really operate as normal again? How will some restaurants manage physical distancing with limited space given that their business model is one based on high numbers and low margins?
With international air travel likely to remain banned for an extended period across much of the globe, South Africa’s tourism sector is set for its own existential crisis. One can imagine that when we finally reach level one restrictions, there’ll be pent up demand for some local travel, but there won’t be for the international traveller. Pricing models geared towards this clientele are going to have to change, and innovative price packages will also be needed at some of our five-star resorts in places such as the Kruger National Park.
While Covid-19 in the immediate future poses a significant challenge for our healthcare sector as we try ensure the minimum number of lives is lost, in the medium to longer term it will test the innovative capabilities of both business and government. For it is through them that business will survive and resuscitate themselves and government will reap the tax dividend to help offset the worst impact on the most vulnerable segments of society.
This article was written by Busi Mavuso and was first published in Business Report.
For related posts, click here.
Have your say.
Share your opinion