Navigating the Tech-clash and COVID-19

Digital is everywhere, playing an increasingly significant role in our daily lives. But outdated business and technology models are causing many people to doubt the approaches businesses are taking to deliver their digital products and services.

This is fueling what some are calling a “techlash” or backlash against technology. But that fails to acknowledge that people are using technology more than ever. In fact, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Montreal executives agree technology has become an inextricable part of the human experience.

Our research shows it’s a broader societal concern with bigger implications for every company. It’s not a “techlash” rather it’s a tech-clash—a collision between old models that are incongruous with people’s current expectations. To address this, companies must balance their drive to create business value, with their customers’ values and expectations.

COVID-19 doesn’t overshadow this issue, it exacerbates it. While the global pandemic brought much of the world to a halt, technology innovation has done anything but hit the pause button. Given the urgent need for solutions, a massive innovation effort has ensued led by companies, governments and individuals alike across all sectors. But focusing only on immediate goals could sabotage efforts to align with people in the long-term, amplifying tech-clash. The challenges we need to solve are now two-fold: surviving COVID-19 and surviving tech-clash.

The focus will turn to elevating the human experience through challenging core assumptions about how the enterprise works and preparing for continuing transformation.

Accenture’s annual Technology Vision report identified the most significant technology trends likely to impact businesses over the next three years, and we believe they’ll be more relevant that ever in the post-COVID world.

1. The I in Experience

COVID-19 has greatly transformed the role digital experiences play in people’s lives. Fortunately, the next generation of business offerings has arrived ⁠— collaborative experiences based around customer agency and shared control. In the next year, 58 percent of Montreal executives say delivering highly personalized experiences with their products and/or services is one of their organization’s top three priorities.

In accordance with social distancing orders around the world, digital platforms and experiences are now facilitating and even replacing many people’s interactions, requiring old engagement strategies to be updated. Without doing so, consumers may risk feeling increasingly isolated in a time when they crave virtual connections. In response, videoconferencing apps have seen incredible growth in demand and increased their server capacity.

In the fitness sphere, startups like Peloton have capitalized on consumers’ desires to stay on track while traditional gyms and studios are closed. Virtually and on their own schedule, members are able to try out a wide range of instructor-led classes focusing on the likes of strength, cardio and even meditation. Community-oriented features such as instructor shoutouts and the ability to high five other members go the final mile in helping keep users motivated.

As current restrictions relax, emerging technologies such as 5G and augmented reality (AR) will enable an explosion of new interactions and channels for these collaborative experiences in the physical world. But the risk of overstepping boundaries around privacy and personalization will continue to challenge businesses.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and Me

Humans and machines are two incredible forces for innovation, transformation and growth ⁠— and organizations are starting to recognize they work best together. In fact, the generative and imaginative benefits of human-AI collaboration have never been more alluring than now. Here at home, 79 percent of Montreal executives agree collaboration between humans and machines will be critical to innovation in the years ahead.

Having mastered machines’ use potential for automation, enterprises have largely turned to engineering opportunities for human employees to combine their talents with the limitless capacity of machines to create unimagined solutions. Amidst COVID-19, companies have used joint human-AI efforts to speed up drug discovery processes and identify patterns. Given the public health benefits, the public is becoming more trustful of AI, allowing enterprises to scale the technology.

On December 31, 2019, Canadian company BlueDot spotted the first 27 suspected cases of pneumonia around an animal market in Wuhan, China and alerted authorities. BlueDot's algorithms analyze millions of sources of information using an algorithm that scans hundreds of thousands of news articles every day, as well as air traffic data. Its experts discovered what became the great pandemic nine days before the World Health Organization.

3. The Dilemma of Smart Things

Some of the most agile and adaptable aspects of digital technology may require businesses to take extra caution. Meet the beta burden: the unintended consequences when products, and their contained experiences, are constantly in flux, enabling their value and utility to grow over time rather than fade.

COVID-19 is increasing our need for updateable products and expandable services thanks to their great public health potential, but it has far from eliminated concerns around privacy. Some countries are using location data to trace COVID-19 cases and notify close contacts, while others are using wearables to monitor active patients. Leading companies like Apple are emphasizing clear communication as a key sensitivity around smart technology and the beta burden, making their systems entirely opt-in and only collecting data when and from whom it’s necessary. Moreover, they are committing to disabling tracking tools functionality when the pandemic is over and it’s no longer needed.

Canadian company Videotron has launched a bracelet which allows you to know when you are within two meters of other people, and thus meet the standards of physical distance at work. Called Radius, the bracelet works with Bluetooth technology and thus captures interactions with other bracelets without having to use geolocation or the holders' personal data. Knowing that the government measures issued by the Public health expertise and reference centre (INSPQ) will evolve depending on the context, the Radius wristband has been designed to allow adjustments so that it can continue to assist you in the best way possible, while respecting individual privacy.

New business considerations going forward include designing for the journey ⁠— releasing products made to evolve over time, despite them feeling conventionally “unfinished”. Businesses that fail to fully support the changes and updates they make to their products today will find the benefits short lived.


4. Robots in the Wild

The robot revolution is here: Advances in robotics, sensors, speech recognition and computer vision, combined with shrinking hardware costs and the rollout of 5G, have enabled newfound accessibility for robots in the open world. They’ve already come out in full force to help battle COVID-19, with drones sanitizing cities and tele-operated robots spreading information and enforcing stay-at-home orders.

The first UV disinfection robot in Canada was tested at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC) in Montreal. The robot is programmed to produce UV-C concentrated ultraviolet light in places where viruses, bacteria and other types of harmful organic microorganisms are concentrated, in order to eliminate them. Made by the Danish company UV disinfection Robots, it could therefore reduce infectious diseases in hospitals.

The full realization of this migration will take years, but there is already a wave of opportunities to imagine new use cases for robotics, particularly in non-traditional industries. The challenges of robotic companies will quickly become enterprise-wide obstacles, such as the need to make necessary talent investments and upskill workforces. However, it seems these are challenges we’re willing to take on: 61 percent of executives worldwide say they expect their organizations will use robotics in uncontrolled environments within the next two years.

5. Innovation DNA

Amidst increased pressure in the marketplace, businesses can no longer afford to stand still or move incrementally. The solution: forming unique innovation DNAs that allow organizations to take full control of the unprecedented amount of disruptive technology available to them.

An innovation DNA has three core building blocks: digital technology that is accessible and commoditized; discrete yet disruptive scientific advancements, and emerging DARQ technologies (distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing). But creating this innovation DNA is no longer just about crafting a culture of constant innovation — it’s about surviving.

Innovation is accelerating as organizations pool their resources and technology to stop the spread of the virus, relying on AI systems to employing human-AI collaboration to speed up the search for a vaccine. In Montreal, Mila has just launched a pan-Canadian website named IA-Against-COVID in order to structure the collaboration between the various partners who can provide mass data from the health sector or from research institutions, with the objective to find and focus on the projects most likely to lead to innovative and, above all, effective solutions. The analysis will help the understanding of the progression of COVID-19 according to the different patient profiles and define more clearly the targets for the antiviral agents and vaccines that are under development.

This pandemic is forcing businesses to test new partnerships and possibilities, setting the course for the next decade and beyond. Leaders are already beginning to weave these traits together to build the foundation for an innovation engine—fueling experimentation and building a culture and ecosystem that drives deep transformation at scale. Consider how many restaurants have stayed open, keeping people employed and reaching new customers through food delivery startups, or cities that are partnering with hotels to house homeless populations and frontline workers.

Elevating the human experience

The new models that enterprises build must be rooted in collaboration. As technology’s level of impact grows ever higher throughout society, successful businesses will be those that use new models to invite people—customers, employees, partners or the public—to co-create their new course for the future.

The challenges of the pandemic have also brought organizations a unique reprieve— 1) more creative liberty to transform their products and services and evolve their capabilities, 2) rapidly growing their and their customers’ comfortability with unfamiliar but powerful technologies. Opportunities abound to shape the post-COVID world.

About the author

Martine Lapointe is Accenture’s Montreal Office Managing Director. She also serves as managing director in Accenture’s Technology practice where she leads the Accenture SAP Business Group.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.

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