The American government is currently planning for the coronavirus pandemic to last at least 18 months. We have no choice but to change. The social distancing, fears over shortages and the dread of contracting the illness don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Those who adapt sooner will survive and more importantly lead the recovery.
Telecommunications tech company Zoom, previously a respected but relatively niche brand, has become a legend overnight. Amazon is looking to hire 100,000 workers as folks order goods online. The Internet is buckling under the weight of binge watching on Netflix.
Our times illustrate the wisdom dropped recently by Benchmark Capital’s Chetan Puttagunta in a podcast. Puttagunta noted how businesses that invest smartly in online distribution and automation are now the best prepared for, and therefore making the most initial headway in the new coronavirus economy. Businesses that have products that are fast to launch, easy to use and provide value quickly are already weathering the initial stages of the crisis.
Countless shuttered schools, colleges and universities are now using Zoom to conduct classes through the end of the academic year, for example. The ones that ramp up that system best will be well poised to open in the fall when the pandemic might still be raging. We’ll have a summer to see what works.
Notice that the solutions we need now amid the coronavirus don’t and shouldn’t involve throwing people at it. We have good people. We need to set up better systems for people to work remotely or part-time or when they’re in quarantine. These systems also have to be explainable to workers so they make use of them easily.
We also shouldn’t need to spend more capital to invent new systems. They’re already out there.
Tech companies have been selling cloud computing, data operations, online distribution and enterprise services for years. Some businesses have them central to their operations. In the private funds world where we operate, consider how some hedge funds, private equity and fund administrators have been using automation to assemble sufficient data for their investments quickly and efficiently.
Those who haven’t made progress decoupling from legacy systems for data and information might not survive. There are only so many people they can successfully throw at the problem. That is what is threatening millions of small businesses in America today. Main Street shops are vital to communities and the economy, but if their day-to-day operations haven’t changed in 50 years, bailouts and Small Business Administration loans probably won’t save them from an 18-month-long slump.
Evolution has to occur in a hurry.
A relevant example of how to do things differently is Singapore. The tiny Southeast Asian country quickly deployed tests, halted travel and used mobile apps to track the first victims. Today, Singapore has managed to keep its cases down relative to the rest of the world given its connections to China.
The respected British medical journal The Lancet recently published a paper explaining how Singaporean officials were not only decisive in the early days of the pandemic but also have embraced data operations that kept in mind the lessons of SARS and avian flu. The same authorities have established mechanisms for doctors to share information, logistics updates for the private sector and public relations and social media presence that debunks misinformation.
Singapore had been investing in these tools as part of a campaign to cut costs as its healthcare system treated an aging population. The same tools that reflected foresight a few years ago happen to have been well-suited to our more immediate crisis. It turns out that efficiency is beneficial under all conditions.
In a pandemic, the public health experts say that whatever you did two weeks ago was how you prepared for the worst. The next two weeks are ahead of us.