Larisa Zdravković, owner Opposite Mind: New technologies and communications – A perfect match or an optical illusion?

Will new technologies combined with and powered by artificial intelligence be ready to functionally and substantively replace humans?

Present global economic challenges have forced many companies to review and optimize their business models. They also necessitated massive ad hoc solutions to problems at hand. It appears that some temporary solutions are here to stay and become generally accepted as the “new normal” in the future. How much instability and uncertainty will the pandemic disruptions impose on businesses and global employment?

In developed markets and important modern industries (sectors), new technological solutions and methodologies for business process optimization have been used for a long time to respond to internal and external shocks. Nevertheless, today they face major operating disruptions and large financial losses. Owners, employees, and the state were all adversely affected by the pandemic. Despite generous fiscal and financial stimulus packages, production, employment, household income and consumer demand are all falling.

What is the right measure (size and scope) of responding to these problems? How does one properly analyze the vital needs of the population and the economy (small and large companies alike)? How to eliminate the gap between the need of customers/families to have a secure job and a source of income, while at the same time accepting the use of new labor-saving technologies in order to remain competitive in the market. Overall, that increases risks, stress and uncertainty, and reduces their consumer confidence and potential to commit to longer term contracts (essential for the real-estate industry) in a world where the global problem of rising unemployment is not going away.

This paradox is at the heart of today’s economic challenge. Companies are indisputably looking for a magical formula on how to meet their standard business goals that suddenly have become unrealistic in the conditions of growing competition and galloping technological change. It seems easier to formally blame the pandemic for all the problems, while feverishly seeking answers to many open questions. Companies are now struggling to further reduce costs! They desperately try to lower the number of employees today (and don’t think about tomorrow)! Individuals and families question their need for vacation or a new car. We no longer know what is the cause is and what is the consequence. And we fail to resolve the old chicken and egg problem.

“One thing is certain: pandemic was a huge shock that exposed many weaknesses of the existing system”

But it also showed that no one individually has a solution. We can only find a solution if we work together if we coordinate and communicate. More than ever before.

Thus, it is not surprising that innovative internet based communication platforms (e.g. Zoom) saw an enormous increase in their share prices. At the same time, some existing older platforms were not able to utilize recent growth opportunities. Microsoft has managed to push through with the Teams platform, while Skype slowly falls behind. Simple rules of success do not exist. Deeper insights and analyses show that business and consumer needs (demand) for cheap and quality communication have not changed. But our ability to provide those services globally (supply) has changed. And some companies and platforms were more successful in responding to the communication needs in an efficient, user-friendly, and custom-tailored way,

The world has changed overnight; our habits and key elements of everyday life have changed. Fear of uncertainty, as unmeasurable risk, has increased, causing general distrust. The fear of unknown has slowed people reactions. It is difficult to predict how this will affect the global economy and investors’ behavior in the future. We know that e-commerce is growing, significantly based on mobile devices. Today, platforms not optimized for smartphones are doomed to fail. Further growth of online shopping expected in Q4 2020 will be largely based on mobile purchases. Companies will have to adapt to new consumer trends in record time, primarily by relying on new costumer care technologies, distribution services, and new ways of communication that will become increasingly more tailor made in the future.

A lot will change in corporate and commercial communications. Companies will continue to optimize costs, primarily through more efficient use of business space, number and skill mix of employees, marketing investments and much more. The big challenge will be to improve communication with the market (consumers), but also internally. Suddenly, internal communications gain a major supporting role in modern management systems, from the lowest to the highest level of management.

If we look at the big picture, the main challenge is how to digitally empower our society. Research shows a high percentage of penetration of the Internet and certain communication platforms (e.g. Viber). But high penetration numbers in the use of the Internet do not imply high digital literacy, or readiness to define longer-term digitalization strategies. What does that actually mean? Global corporations systematically monitor technological changes and opportunities, while there is a huge dispersion of digital literacy in the markets.

“Domestic IT companies follow global trends while our market probably lags a full decade behind”

This is confirmed by the fact that the majority of IT products services (almost 1.5 billion euros in 2019) went to outsourcing. The essence of the problem lies deep in the primary education system and goes all the way up. Commercial companies can help but cannot do the work of the education system and public institutions. Until this problem is properly addressed, we will continue to face the failures of innovative digital communication channels and their objectives.

On the pragmatic side, digitalization is a process that should have been completed by every successful organization in the past few years. Those who have done by now have a slight advantage over those that will be forced to digitalize their business processes overnight, before the legal deadline. The gap between the targets and market absorption can be addressed by engaging some of the professionals working in IT exports (programmers and engineers) to help with digitalization effort. To make this happen, one would need to secure financing and, more importantly, true social acceptance of the digitalization agenda in all (or most) of the domains. Only then will companies that invest in full digitalization be able to have acceptable return on their investments and sustain the demand for domestic IT products and services.

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