Following the recent relaxation of Lockdown, and with reports circulating of further loosening, we can all start to look forward to something approaching normality. But what will constitute “normal” in the future, and what will this mean for the technology we use?
Loving the NHS
It will be interesting to see how the disruption of COVID will shape healthcare. Politically, the NHS has never been in a stronger position than it is today, and despite the unavoidably reduced capacity for expenditure, the government will be under renewed and increased pressure to fund the health service and better prepare for future eventualities. The sector was already looking to digital to improve treatments whilst lowering costs; it is now certain that this will accelerate.
Over the next few years expect to see a proliferation of services like Babylon and MyGP supported by a plethora of new IoT monitoring devices connected to mobile apps. The COVID response already includes a self-certifying app which is used by over 3,000,000 people, and should tests prove successful in the Isle of Wight we should see the nation roll out of the contact application in the next month. Maybe next time there’s a pandemic we will see app-based home testing on a mass scale, and “scientific” decisions being made on the basis of real data rather than conjecture.
Storm clouds ahead
Away from healthcare, it’s inevitable that we will experience the deepest recession of our lifetimes, and it will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this and what impact it will have. We have already seen intervention of a scale previously unheard of, but it’s unlikely there will be a change of tack in the near term.
Lessons learned from the credit crunch and the disasters of the late 80s suggest homeowners will be offered protection, and we may therefore avoid mortgage defaults, repossessions and a subsequent drop in house prices. Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has already signalled the Government’s intent in this regard, and if the housing market can be saved, some consumer confidence may be retained and this can only be a good thing.
However, the accepted wisdom is that retail will be hit hard and will therefore continue its relentless charge away from the high street, but I’m not convinced this is the case. With the recession ahead it’s inconceivable that the massive spike in supermarket grocery deliveries will continue. With time on their hands, greater flexibility and lower incomes for many, shoppers are unlikely to favour convenience over cost.
There is also the potential that local shops continue to diversify, leveraging the new skills and capability they’ve gained on a “needs must” basis, thereby enhancing their income potential. If they do it will be interesting to see if customers stay loyal. I’ve benefited from deliveries of fresh produce and plan to extend my custom to these shops in the future. Maybe there’s life in the high street yet? Similarly, as the lockdown ends it’s easy to envisage excited consumers celebrating their new-found freedom buying summer clothing to show off their “Joe Wicks”-sculpted bodies, but first wanting to try for size in the time-honoured fashion.
That’s not to say the high-street will remain unscathed. Banks will see the COVID-forced increase in digital banking activity as a great opportunity to close more branches, and as such there will be a renewed focus on high-quality enterprise mobile applications, particularly those that meet the needs of users with low digital literacy.
Others in the financial services sector have experienced varying levels of COVID impact. The mortgage market has ground to a halt, as has consumer loans. However, market volatility is welcomed in some areas, providing an opportunity to trade, and with many companies requiring injections of working capital, corporate finance is sure to see a boom. I expect to see a surge in new technology solutions in this area like Swoop and Primary Bid, bringing investors and borrowers together.
Working from home
The potential changes I find most intriguing are those related to the acceptance of remote working. Although many with young children at home will have found the last few months challenging, this should ease with the reopening of schools and nurseries, and there will always be some who want to be in office because the physical set up at home is not good enough or, like me, just prefer an office environment.
After some initial minor Teams hic-ups and Zoom security fears, technology has stood up to the challenge, and companies like Scott Logic have finally been able to prove their business continuity plans work. Even companies that operate in heavily regulated environments have found that their staff can work successfully from home with minimal barriers - one of our Financial Services clients has even reported an increase in productivity.
Employers will surely see the last two months as a strong justification to invest less in expensive real estate, whilst employees will look forward to greater flexibility in their daily lives. The impact seems almost boundless. Will we see an exodus away from expensive cities to more pleasant rural areas? Will we finally see a solution to overcrowded commuter trains? Is there any point in HS2? Will foreign business travel drop, and will the climate breathe a sigh of relief?
If those of us who have successfully demonstrated we can work from home continue to do so, even for only a couple of days of the week, the direct impact will be huge. At a time when it is needed most, workers will benefit from reduced commuting costs, better air quality, and more time with their families. What’s not to like?
But what does this mean for technology?
With the health service and banks leading the way for those of us whose lives pre-date digital natives, we can expect an accelerated proliferation of apps for all of our everyday needs, and a focused drive to move to electronic payments in all sectors. Over the last year Scott Logic has worked with the Scottish Government on the development of its payments platform – I suspect this programme will receive a new impetus over the coming months. Anyone who has been reliant on the arrival and depositing of cheques through lockdown will surely be demanding future change.
Increased online activity (can this really happen?) will of course all generate data, which hopefully will support wider government policy decisions (“we’re trusting the science”). Although protection of personal information will again be under the microscope, there will be a renewed push to open systems to better leverage legacy investment (and reduce future spend), provide greater access, and reduce integration costs. Following the lead of banking, we may see the introduction of data policies akin to Open Banking.
I’m looking forward to spending less time at home, whilst conversely enjoying more time at home. The end of Lockdown will find me appreciating the delights of the Scott Logic office and dining out at the local restaurants – but a greater reliance on remote communication and collaboration will hopefully see me taking fewer flights, and enjoying more evenings with my wife rather than in lonely hotel rooms.