By Ved Sen, Digital Evangelist & Business Innovation Lead, TCS UK

Businesses were grappling with balancing the opportunities of digital technology and automation with the need to be human and purpose-led even before the outbreak of COVID-19. The pandemic has only hastened and exaggerated this.

Now that lockdowns are easing in many countries, the questions over the best way to rebuild while prioritizing safety and reducing contagion bring this challenge into sharper focus. 

This may signal a greater shift towards machine-first businesses that take advantage of automation, but this should not jeopardize the empathetic and human elements we prize as customers and employees.

Against this dramatically altered backdrop, the model businesses follow should be constantly evolving. And we suggest it should be led by the following guiding principles: touch-free, empathetic, and context-sensitive. These elements will help build the foundations of more resilient, adaptable, purposeful and ultimately successful enterprises.

Touch-free – rethinking key processes and leveraging technology

Every industry must rethink existing processes and structures so that physical human contact can be minimized. We already have the makings of solutions to many of the challenges this creates: automation, robotics, drones, video communication, Internet of Things and nanotech among them.

In the field of automation, we are working with thermal imaging and face-recognition products to enable the next generation of access systems. We have created an invisible ticketing system for a European transport provider, which enables customers’ phones to be recognized by trains, and tickets automatically booked. This removes the need for travellers to touch screens to buy tickets.

We are talking to start-ups that use robots to provide ultraviolet cleaning – this could become key to sanitizing public transport and improving turnaround time of aircrafts, for example.

And smart surfaces could in the future use nanotechnology to guard against disease or alert us to unfriendly environments. TCS WaferWise™, for example, already uses custom AI to detect and classify anomalies by analyzing nanoscale images generated during the semiconductor manufacturing process.


Empathetic – taking advantage of technology but allowing for exceptions

Businesses need to build empathy into their structures even as they automate. For example, how do you create a self-check-in at an airport that can also make an exception for a traveller with small children whose bags are 1kg over the limit?

Designing in empathy from the start is a large part of the answer. This means understanding the key touchpoints and how flexibility, empathetic exceptions and business processes can be included.

For instance, our business innovation team in the UK has been working on using ambient sensors to keep older citizens safe at home, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. Designing in empathy means, for example, ensuring the sensors can be delivered in a way that they can be installed by the older person themselves, irrespective of their technology competence.

Purpose-led businesses will build empathy into every layer and focus on delivering a human experience to employees, customers and the community.

Context-sensitive – adapting to changes and local situations 

Businesses must find solutions that can evolve and be adjusted quickly. They need to be able to adapt as the context they operate in changes with time, location and circumstance.

The recovery from coronavirus will be different country to country and city to city. What may be appropriate in one location might not be applicable across an entire business. And as lockdowns and outbreaks evolve, a country, city or locality which was safe for business last month may no longer be so, or vice versa.

More so than ever, context-sensitive businesses need to leverage data to inform their decisions. This will involve getting close to real-time data about the changing conditions on the ground. And this will inform decisions around supply chains, worker safety, operational procedures, health and safety guidelines, and much more. 

Across the world, our Data & Insights team works with clients to build data architectures and toolkits that help with decision making. Good examples include a business we are working with that maximizes internal data discovery and structures it autonomously, helping C-level executives to make better decisions. Businesses can struggle to make use of the data they already have simply because they aren’t aware they have it.

A number of businesses are thinking beyond their own data to capturing and leveraging the information within their wider networks and operating environment. We are introducing a data marketplace model for one of our UK clients that allows information from across the business ecosystem to be commercially harnessed, making the company and its partners more contextually aware. 

Agile businesses will be best placed to make use of these data advances and respond to new and changing contexts. They can act quickly, address opportunities faster, and have a culture of experimentation.

Businesses must find solutions that can evolve and be adjusted quickly. Source: Shutterstock

Putting the plan to the test

A model using the pillars above acknowledges that many things can be automated, but it is also essential to safeguard emotional and interpersonal connections. It is this human outlook that makes for better functioning, happier and more successful societies, communities and teams. 

Alongside this, enterprises must pull on the strength of their ecosystems and all the partners they work with to help create more resilience. Networks are stronger than traditional chain-like structures, where the loss of one link can break a system.

And among all the uncertainty, it is important businesses continue to look to the future and invest in R&D and innovation. This means focusing on the future direction and shape of both their own company and that of their clients.

Drawing these elements together will enable businesses to weather the immediate impact of the crisis, but also create a more sustainable and successful model that fits a fundamentally shifted world.