[Column] Kirtan Sita: Laying the groundwork now for future business recovery
The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has forced business, education, and social activities to be conducted virtually. But amidst the crisis, platform companies are enabling video conferencing, food, grocery and essential supplies delivery, AI-driven COVID-19 tracking, social connectivity, and entertainment for a restless population sheltering in place.
Providing this sense of "normalcy" is becoming more important every day as people across the world adopt new digital behaviours.
With an expected increase in global reliance, platform companies must act now to implement essential functions that come with this vital cross-industry leadership role.
The challenge will be managing current business while laying the groundwork for future recovery and growth. Based on our unique work in major platform hubs, we believe platform executives should focus on five opportunity areas for short-term continuity and long-term success.
Ensure uninterrupted platform access
Platforms are the backbone of the digital society and have the ability and responsibility to ensure uninterrupted platform access. The crisis has brought to the forefront the critically important role of platforms as the mainstay of the digital society.
Platform services dominate internet traffic: on a typical evening, streaming video makes up more than 1/3 of traffic. New load largely comes from increased use of streaming services, video conferencing and social networking.
Platforms have taken the weight of society's need for information, to stay connected, work, operate businesses, and stay entertained. Platform availability and services must be sustainable from a human and system perspective, and allocating resources to maintaining access is job number one.
Enable changing user behaviours
COVID-19 is driving rapid digital behaviour change as offline activities have been forced to become online in a short span of time. Behavioural changes that have historically taken years to manifest broadly have occurred in a matter of days.
Despite an increase in video conferencing, more workers experience minimal impact to work and pockets of free time are being unlocked. These new behaviours have been forced due to mandatory work from home and shelter-in-place policies, but it is likely that some new digital behaviours will stick when life returns to normal.
South Africans will likely continue their increased video conferencing behaviour after COVID-19, as well as their levels of online shopping. Platforms must lead with humility during this time of crisis, and it is imperative that platforms enable products that aid large portions of the population.
Build long-term customer relationships
Business success or failure will be determined during the COVID-19 crisis. Some companies' products will accelerate to scale. Others who fail to properly serve customers during the crisis will burn critical bridges. New unicorns will be created, and customer preferences will be solidified. For example, dating apps have seen increased first time usage.
Platform consumers, however, are experiencing a mix of service-related issues as companies scramble to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers are closely watching how companies navigate issues and how they are treated. There is an opportunity for platforms to develop positive and lasting relationships with users, which can help define their success.
Provide trusted information and combat bad actors
South Africans turn to news websites, television, and government websites, and are exposed to information in social and search for the data on COVID-19 crisis. Platforms have responded by actively promoting official sources. In China, Tencent's anti-fake news platform Jiaozhen shows posted content alongside expert and official sources.
Misinformation has always pushed up against broad free speech arguments when forming policy. The tension is very significant in a scenario with broad-reaching public health consequences.
The scale, speed, and seriousness of information dissemination has tested the ability of operations to keep pace. But information is just one target for bad actors. Amazon has deactivated thousands of price gougers and more than a million fake products and fake reviews. The opportunity for AI to help meet demand and adapt quickly to new threats has never been clearer.
Enable rapid return growth
The crisis has hit industries hard and fast. Many are deep in response mode and need help now to survive. As they emerge from the crisis, many will reflect on the imperative and opportunity to adapt to thrive. Those late to optimise supply chains, move to the cloud or omni-channel strategies, and those overly reliant on specific audiences or channels, will see competitors come out faster and stronger.
Companies on the brink of failure will turn to platforms for their resiliency, scale, cost effectiveness, enterprise services, and audience. Platforms are helping shape eCommerce, shift advertising online, and access new audiences.
Advertising platforms can help buyers adapt to new behaviours and budgets. As consumer confidence returns and 'never normal' behaviours are established, platforms will see early signals in their data and be able to guide customers to focus their spend and maximise ROI.
Act now to protect against future crises
The COVID-19 crisis is a human tragedy that will have a lasting impact on our lives. Platforms are in a unique position to help resolve wide-spread challenges as the crisis unfolds. As a result, platform companies will likely experience increased adoption and digital behaviours that will remain long after the crisis is over.
Platforms play a vital role in helping their employees, customers, ecosystem partners, and communities weather the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders must act now to create stability while laying the foundation for growth and protection against future crises.