The positive impact of COVID-19

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omebody once told me I could make a brown paper bag sound interesting. Not sure if that was a compliment but I do find interesting aspects to most anything. While there is so much doom and gloom around the coronavirus and the impact on the economy, I am also seeing amazing agility and innovation.

Healthcare: in spite of the huge size of the industry or probably because of it, it has always been bureaucratic and wasteful. We are starting to see telemedicine take off, clinical trials get accelerated, new diagnostics, vaccines and therapies being investigated. We are seeing infrastructure changes – drive-through tents for testing, operating and other rooms being turned into ICUs at hospitals.  China constructed a 645,000 sq. ft hospital in just 10 days in Wuhan! In the US, the Army Corp of Engineers is being brought in to increase hospital capacity, floating Naval hospitals like the Mercy are on standby (I wrote about the Mercy way back in 2009. It is a massive former oil tanker.)

Re-jigged supply chains: Since the outbreak in China in December, most supply chains have been scrambling. McKinsey has this nice graph about impact of China on supply chain of various industries. The ripple effects will continue to be be felt for months with people evaluating other global sources, re-evaluating modes of transport, rethinking stock at distribution centers v. shipping direct to customers and so many permutations.

McKinsey Supply chain impact

I wrote about Amazon’s Kiva and other robots in its distribution centers after a visit here. It uses concepts like “chaotic storage”. It is adding to the chaos by prioritizing medical supplies and household staples in its orders. Hard to imagine it could do that quickly with traditional warehouses.

Agile manufacturing: 3M is ramping up production of its N95 respirator masks, GM and Ford are shuttering auto production for a few weeks and looking to make medical equipment like ventilators. Paper product makers are shifting production to more toilet paper. Distilleries are churning out hand sanitizers. Scaling production or changing assortments of products is not unusual – the speed at which they are being done is striking.

Last-mile delivery: The US last-mile delivery infrastructure has been evolving over the least few years (I recently wrote about it here)  is now being tested at scale. Downloads of Instacart, Walmart’s grocery and Shipt apps have doubled and tripled. Domino’s is offering contactless delivery – adding features to its already extensive delivery capabilities.

Drive-throughs – most fast food restaurants, banks, pharmacies are seeing massive use of their drive-through infrastructure, their kiosks and other automation. Pioneered in S. Korea we are starting to see drive-through tents in the US for testing for the virus.

Re-purposing of technologies: It is nice to see creative uses of technologies. I was one of Gartner’s first remote analysts starting in 1995. Since then I have done thousands of calls, interviews, webinars from my home office, more recently with extensive use of Zoom. Most of us improved home infrastructure to cut cable and install smart appliances. Now, it is being used like never before for work from home.  This infrastructure is allowing for home schooling and telemedicine.  As Peter Diamandis writes “drones above various parts of China are sharing information on loudspeakers, carrying signs with QR codes (for no-contact registration purposes), spraying disinfectant, delivering packages, and taking people’s temperatures.” Singapore has required citizens to scan QR codes at various public places and even in taxis to be able to allow for digital tracking. Israel is using its surveillance technology to similarly track people flows.

Of course, as the crisis shrinks, we will hear complaints about too much automation, too little privacy, loneliness in work from home, the slow start to testing for the virus in the US. For now, we are seeing an amazing use of technologies and concepts we have been maturing for years, and brand new ones.

And yes, about that humble brown paper bag. I find it even more interesting with the increase in drive-throughs and home deliveries we  are all experiencing.

Stay safe and sane, folks!

(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)

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