Home / Blog / Lights and Shadows… let’s wrap it up – II

Lights and Shadows… let’s wrap it up – II

A four step response to the pandemic for companies: 1. Ensure people’s safety (both company employees and customers/providers). 2. Communicate with all parts of the value chain including end customers and retune interactions. 3. Maintain biz continuity addressing liquidity, finding alternate supply chains, leverage institutional support. 4. Redesign the organisation for recovery and learn from experience. Image credit: EY

Organisations and Processes

As companies scrambled to adjust to the pandemic they had to face the suitability of present processes to the new reality. Organisation and processes are a crucial component of today’s business. They shape the company and provide the competitive advantage. Changing processes and the organisation is more complex than changing people and suppliers because those are what define the company. Besides, they are the result of a long, and continuous process of adaptation to changing market, competitive context, regulatory framework, supply and distribution chains. They are shaping up to maximise competitiveness, hence if the context keeps changing they focus on a very flexible operation environment, if the context tends to be more stable the focus is on continuous improvement (and usually leads to much more rigid operation environment). The sudden changes brought by the pandemic is requiring a re-thinking of the way processes and organisation are designed.
Over time a top down approach in redesigning business organisation has become mainstream but now there is a growing push towards a bottom up approach, the so called zero-based organisation redesign. This approach involves starting off a clean organisational sheet and filling it taking into account internal (people and other resources assets) and external factors (constraints and levers). Notice that knowledge in this approach is seen both as part of the internal and of the external sets and it can remain such, i.e. leading to an organisation based on operation distributed knowledge.
A few of the CEOs I have been talking to in the last two months are seeing the rethinking of processes as crucial to survival in the short medium term, whilst innovation is seen more as a factor for long term competitiveness (hence not a priority at the moment).

Communication across the cyberspace

In these two months even people who never made a conf call became sort of experts. This does not mean that everybody is finding Skype, Teams, WebEx, Zoom easy to use (not mention to master). It is just that people “had to” use them. The fact that there are several almost equivalent tools (want to take a look at some 30 of them? Click here), each with its own user interface, is just adding to the confusion.
The lesson learnt is that wee have plenty of ways (most of them free) to communicate across the cyberspace but probably none of them is the ideal one, none is really seamless nor able to recreate the feeling of being face to face. This is why companies working in the recreation of physical spaces in the cyberspace are now attracting attention and investment in hope that they can “crack” the recipe for and effective communications.

AR and VR are promising technologies that might change the rules of the game. Improvement in devices, particularly in screens and cameras can surely help. Having a conf call on my 75″ television screen delivers quite a different experience than using my laptop screen. However, a large screen is not enough. Today’s video cameras require a very good lighting to deliver good images, something that is usually not available in a home environment. Additionally, the sound is not “sounding” natural. One of the most obvious negative issue with conf call is the difficulty in “synchronising” interactions. When we conversate face to face subtle signs tell us that the person is abot to finish speaking and that another is getting ready to talk, hence we wait for our turn. This is not the case in a conf call where several people are usually starting to talk at the same time and then it starts “sorry, go ahead .. no, you go ahead….” and so on. This is jsut a sign that today’s technology is not able to mimic a physical experience.

Sure, the experience is way better than what we experienced 1′ years ago but this is something that is perceived only by those that have been using conf calls in the past. Most people who have discovered this service forced by the pandemic are usually feeling excited at first (something is better than nothing) but after a few calls are longing for in-person conversation…

Connection to the cyberspace: XR

Forecast of impact of Covid-19 on the VR market. Red signlas a decrease, yellow neutral and green an increase of market demand/sales. Image credit: DigiCapital

As with other market sectors there are lights and shadows for AR, MR and VR . The overall shift towards a greater use of the cyberspace naturally favours an uptake of XR and at the same time the connection and interaction with the cyberspace would benefit from XR. Having said that, the present situation of devices supporting XR is not satisfactory to the consumer market both in terms of performances and in terms of affordability. Solutions that are affordable, like use of existing smartphones are not delivering credible perceptions of the artificial world. More sophisticated solutions are pricey and still do not feel like the “real thing”. The economic downturn is likely to affect the purchasing capability, however the lock down  and the need to access the cyberspace and to a certain extent to “live” in the cyberspace can become a catalyst for innovation in this area. As shown in the graphic the lockdown (outermost circle) is expected to stimulate XR hardware sales, development of Apps, use for enhanced video, more engaging e-commerce and as support to enterprise activities that have shifted to the cyberspace (green areas in the outermost circle).
Because of lock down and the perception of unsafeness that will linger in the months ahead, location based entertainment is likely to suffer (red colour), as well as Ads expenditure (apart from the lock down period).
Supply chains have suffered and in several cases have been disrupted and this is negatively affecting the whole area that is still relaying for hardware components on a few manufacturers that are now focussing in, giving priority to different segments.
On the bright side, the recent AWE conference saw several announcements of XR support, like the new XR Collaboration Platform, bringing several tools (and implicitly establishing a much needed standardisation) to XR developers. Also, the prevailing sentiment at AWE 2020 (run in the cyberspace) was that in the next 2 – 3 years AR and VR devices will meet the performance and affordability needs of the consumer market and that will result in a rapid uptake of XR.

Touch-less technologies

Touch-less technologies  are receiving a big boost by pandemic countermeasures and, possibly even more important, by the perception of people that touching something might be a source of contagion. This (perception) is particularly strong when one has to touch something that is being touched by many other people, like a handle or knob to open a door, a keypad to key-in a code… This explains the uprise of companies like Swiftlane and  Clear  that offer touch-less biometrics. Clear also has an interesting business model. You can enrol for an annual fee (15$ at time I am writing this post) and have they manage your biometrics so that when you have to go through a barrier at an airport or any other controlled venue they will check you against your biometrics and interact with the local authority that will be able to recognise you and grant access permission. This should result in a much quicker access and no need to touch anything (face scan-based biometrics).

Digital Identity and Personal Digital Twins

Digital identity and characteristics, aka Digital Twin, are also on the rise. The health passport that has been adopted in some Countries and is being considered by many others is an example of a Personal Digital Twin. Again, as an example, Clear is offering a Health Pass and associates it to biometric identification (which, from a service and technology standpoint makes perfect sense. However, all these collections of personal data (biometrics, health parameters, contacts, places visited) are fraught with privacy and security issue (you surely don’t want to have someone out there hacking into your data …).  Imagine a lift that looks at your face and listen to your request to go to a specific floor. Cool! Well, in order to do that there should be a computer processing your voice and face. Sure, it can enable access control and avoid you touching any button but at the same time it can accrue date on when, what and even your mood change as you went up and then down. The point is that we are getting used to these interactions and we even appreciate the possibility they offer but at the same time they open up the  flank to undesired big brother scenarios.
A common transnational framework would be needed.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.