We will get over COVID-19, but what should come next?

Experts say that nothing or anyone will remain the same after this pandemic that has us confined, like hikikomoris, teleworking and holding meetings via cloud meeting platforms, exercising via social media, watching conventional TV shows on which the presenters have become YouTubers and conventional films or series on digital channels; talking with family via video messaging apps and trying to keep our head as we redefine our daily lives on the screen.

On the corporate front, analysts highlight that this corona crisis is an opportunity to digitize more processes, to de-risk end-to-end supply chains, to find new lines of business and accelerate remote working. In that sense, these days of confinement are like a stress test for the system. But, like in any trial, the context in which it unfolds affects the outcome.

When this confinement has ended, some workers will still prefer to discuss problems and solutions while having a coffee over the panoply of cloud meeting technologies. Still, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the issue. Remote working has its advantages and disadvantages.

“After COVID-19, some companies will return to their usual way of doing – provided they have survived. Others will make all the changes needed to be more digital, which will also make them more agile and global”, points out Benjamí Villoslada, optimist bitologist. This might not be plain sailing as COVID-19 is affecting raw materials supply, disrupting the electronics value chain, and causing an inflationary risk on products, as Deloitte’s Global Tech, Media, & Telecom Industry Leader, Paul Sallomi underlines.

Despite that, the internet network, the digital infrastructure -meaning fiber, Wi-Fi and 4G connections-, is up to the challenge. Video conferencing is working reasonably well, there are a bunch of training initiatives running on different channels, and many ideas to improve remote working conditions. All in all, even if pretty everything has been improvised, technology companies are weathering the storm. “Each month of the COVID-19 crisis equals a year in the growing importance of turning into software whatever can be software”, insists Villoslada.

On the other hand, the crisis is also an opportunity for many companies to explore new lines of business, even if that means turning into wartime solutions. Aerospace and engineering group Rolls-Royce and vacuum company Dyson are producing ventilators. In Spain, SEAT is also manufacturing them using elements of car windshields, while Italy is recycling shipping containers for the same purpose. Meanwhile, Artificial Intelligence and supercomputing are assisting in the fight against SARS-COV-2. There are also biometric systems adding temperature to fingerprint, iris and facial recognition as well as technology to detect faces through masks. Accordingly, we may soon know whether our immune system has produced antibodies to fight a repeat attack by the Coronavirus, all in the name of public safety.

Privacy challenges

Yet, this whole scenario, which looks like an episode of Black Mirror, involves heavy use of data and poses privacy and security problems. Several countries have recently implemented a rather permissive approach to data processing activities such as tracking of mobile phones, public mapping of infected individuals and mass surveillance techniques to monitor and enforce lockdown, quarantine and social distancing.

Who controls this data? Are the COVID-19 apps GDPR compliant? Governments say: yes, of course. But citizens are already claiming their rights. Big data must be subject to democratic rules.

In this respect, Yolanda Peña, expert lawyer specializing in data protection and Compliance Officer, highlights that “any use of data made through technological platforms can be very useful and necessary to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but such uses must always be made in accordance with regulations and principles governing personal data protection (e.g. data anonymization) in such a way that the right to privacy within the framework of the action of public administrations and health authorities is guaranteed.”

All in all, the situation raises many questions that remain unanswered. Many will be discussed at the IOT Solutions World Congress (IOTSWC). This year, the event will be focusing more on end-users and business cases with the aim of helping the technology community find new ways of doing business, connecting and learning from each other, thus providing solutions to the post-COVID-19 world. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

By Anna Solana

Pedro Mier

Pedro Mier holds a degree in Telecommunications Engineer ing from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, MBA from ESADE and PADE from IESE. He is currently President of AMETIC (Association of Electronics, Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies of Spain), Shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of TRYO Aerospace & Electronics, Board Member of the Premo Group and Committee of CTTC. member of Space Angels Network and Member of the Sc ientific Advisory