What do supermarkets, doctor visits, Disney movies and nightlife have in common? Their business models have been forever changed by the pandemic.
Over the course of a single year, how we live, work and play have branched out into unfamiliar territory. It’s clear the long-term effects of COVID-19 across varying industries are only becoming more noticeable as innovative technologies transform our sense of place and experience, as well as create consequential changes in our behaviors and choices.
For West Michigan businesses, investments in digital transformation have begun to pay off in industry-altering ways.
The experience industry
Will people ever feel comfortable attending large events at DeVos Place again? Regardless of vaccination progress or the lifting of state restrictions, many are expected to carry a lingering sense of distance and density aversion impacting live events such as business conferences, concerts, sporting events, theme parks, nightlife and weddings. Fortunately, technological advances are alleviating those worries.
The Internet of Things, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning are rapidly innovating the experience industry as sensors, smart screens, wearables and apps allow venues to monitor and control traffic flow, conduct contactless payment and mobile ordering, assign large-scale seating in perfectly distanced fashion and even use heat mapping to identify less crowded areas during an event. Smart buildings and airflow quality monitoring also are becoming vitally important within large consumer and industrial spaces.
For many businesses, virtual conferencing platforms have allowed professionals to network, engage in sessions, break out into groups, interact with speakers and download important source material. While this has kept the conferences themselves alive, the shift has had its own multilayered effect on travel and hospitality by keeping speakers and attendees plugged in from home. Many conference companies expect to continue with a hybrid virtual/in-person model long after restrictions are gone.
In West Michigan cities, like Grand Rapids and Holland, outdoor refreshment areas allow patrons to enjoy expanded restaurant seating and carry alcoholic beverages within a designated downtown area — allowing for the support of local businesses while also helping visitors maintain social distance. Initiatives like this help make these cities more appealing tourist destinations.
Health care industry
Last year, as in-person medical care became restricted throughout the country, telehealth services grew at a colossal rate. With providers rapidly scaling telehealth offerings and seeing 50 to 175 times the number of remote patients than they did pre-pandemic, it’s clear this is a trend that will only persist in the months and years to come. In fact, the majority of leaders at large health systems named telehealth their No. 1 IT priority.
Telehealth plays an important role in a place like Grand Rapids, where sprawling rural pockets can be found just a few miles outside the metropolitan area. Now able to connect to health care providers via technology, patients in these pastoral regions can get the help they need in as timely a manner as one living in the city.
In addition to telehealth, a recent Blue Cross study concluded that nearly 30% of ER visits could potentially be treated in retail clinics. This has prompted brands like Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and more to begin trialing clinical services at a low cost. Today, thousands of retail clinics across the nation serve 10.5 million visits annually — numbers that are only expected to rise in the coming years.
When the corporate world moved its workers from offices to homes, the retail industry moved its products from on-site to online en masse. Throughout 2020, 90% of consumers preferred home delivery over a store visit, sending retailers of all sizes scrambling to improve their e-commerce infrastructure. These drastic shifts in buyer behavior translated into an additional $41 billion in digital revenue, and that was just during the holidays.
While online shopping giants like Amazon and Wayfair were positively positioned for this sudden digital acceleration, local and national big-box retailers, alike, also performed extremely well, thanks to smart investments in digital transformation and the rise of localized micro-fulfillment technology that helps automate their operations, maximize store footprints, cut down delivery times and reduce order-related costs by as much as 75% compared to traditional distribution models.
To compete and keep business moving smoothly, many West Michigan retailers and supermarkets adopted new technology and digital transformation processes — from online payments and ordering to instant communication tools — that make it easier for customers and employees to connect and get what they need.
Do you remember the last time you went to a movie theater? The way things are going, your streak just might continue. Last year, WarnerMedia announced it would debut its entire slate of 2021 theatrical releases on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters, prompting other film studios like Disney Plus and NBCUniversal to enact similar strategies benefitting their own streaming platforms.
These announcements come as research shows we are more comfortable entertaining ourselves at home, and why not, with the rise in streaming platforms offering endless hours and options of entertainment? In fact, a Variety survey found that if new movies were available in both theaters and on a streaming service for the same price, 7 out of 10 people would choose to stream it at home.
Movie theaters were some of the first COVID-19-related casualties, and though the majority have reopened and even revamped their experience with new ticketing, concessions and viewing technologies, the troubling trend toward home entertainment suggests they may never see pre-pandemic numbers again.
The time is now
These are just a few of the innumerable industries impacted by the pandemic, and technology has often played an extraordinary role in how these organizations have adapted, innovated, survived and thrived.
With the expanded reliance on technology also comes a rise in security vulnerabilities for businesses, as we’ve seen most recently with the upsurge in ransomware attacks. Companies of all sizes in every industry now require sophisticated, high-grade tools like VPN, network security, threat management and software allowing IT teams to manage it all.
While it may take years for the butterfly effect of COVID-19 to be fully realized in West Michigan and the global business ecosystem, one thing is undeniably certain: The time to invest, plan for and expand technology’s role in your business is now.