This pandemic has brought out the best in all of us – reminding us of our resilience, enhancing our ability to adapt and embrace the unfamiliar, and bringing us together to hold each other up. (Pixabay)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope…”

When Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1859, little did he know that over 160 years later, his eloquent words would hold truer than perhaps they ever have in modern history.

Indeed, the turn of this decade was the worst of times, as Covid-19 worked its way across the globe, forcing countries into lockdowns, pushing healthcare systems beyond their limits, and testing our ability to withstand change at a speed and scale we’ve never done before. 

But I believe this pandemic has brought out the best in all of us – reminding us of our resilience, enhancing our ability to adapt and embrace the unfamiliar, and bringing us together to hold each other up. 

While we’re not out of the woods yet, this new-found resolve, strength, and empathy is ushering in an epoch of hope and possibility. Because for the first time in our history, every individual, every country, and every business has a common goal – to get out of this stronger, and more importantly, leave no one behind as we march into the new world. In this journey, the greatest enabler and ally will be technology, allowing us to reach everyone and connect everything.

While technology adoption was already seeing an uptick before the pandemic, it has been accelerated by several years in just a few months. In fact, according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey of executives, companies have fast-tracked the digitisation of their businesses by up to four years, and of the digital or digitally-enabled products in their portfolios by seven years! 

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What’s interesting is that earlier, digitisation took place in silos – individuals, companies, governments would adopt different technologies in different ways. Today, the lines between individuals and enterprises have blurred. Whether it’s my customers I speak to or my peers, everyone wants technologies that are easy to use, manage, pay for, and consume. In other words, they want everything to be delivered as a service.

And this is already becoming evident, with working, learning, shopping, healthcare, etc., donning digital avatars. For instance, according to a PwC report, India is likely to account for 2.2% of the global digital payments market by 2023. An EY-IPA study has found that the Indian telemedicine market will reach $5.5 billion by 2025, with as much as 20% of the healthcare sector becoming virtualized. And according to a Cisco survey, 53% of Indian organisations expect over half of their workforce to continue working remotely post-pandemic.

What does this mean for businesses?

For the business itself, the crisis has wiped the slate clean in some sense. As consumers become increasingly digital, the old battlegrounds, where competition stayed within industry walls with a dominant few, will be lost and the demand for ‘everything-as-a-service’ will gain momentum. Hence, companies are re-thinking everything they do – how they create, sell to, serve customers, and even the way they view their own people and purpose.

In the process, they are restructuring their investments, focusing on building software-defined and intent-driven IT infrastructure, reimagining their applications to enhance the customer experience. 

Additionally, with work becoming an activity rather than an actual place, they are empowering their employees to collaborate seamlessly, from anywhere and any device. And as companies digitise and services go virtual, data security is taking center-stage.

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All of this means that we will see companies becoming more innovative and empathetic than ever before – in the products and services they create, how they delight their customers, how they value their privacy, how they treat their employees, and in the partnerships they forge. 

At the same time, I believe that in this new reality, the triple bottom line that considers profit, people and planet, will become much more pervasive in business, and we will start to see companies taking active and consistent measures to amplify their positive impact on people and communities while diminishing their footprint on the environment.

While the last few months have been incredibly challenging both from human and economic standpoints, they have also heightened our collective awareness of not just what we do but also what we stand for as individuals, companies, and even countries. In many ways, the pandemic has compelled us to stop and take stock of what really matters, and this is what will shape the next normal into a “spring of hope”.

This article has been written by Sameer Garde, President, Cisco India & SAARC