Predicting post-pandemic tech startups and industry disruption

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This article is contributed by Hari Shetty, sector head and senior vice president of technology platforms & products at Wipro Limited.

After a disruptive year, enterprises and startups are finding greater success together.

Prior to 2020, the term “disruption” typically referred to startups and innovators that were doing things differently — disrupting established industries like ecommerce, banking, and health services through a combination of new technologies and innovative business models. But the pandemic pushed companies over a technological tipping point. 

Now, even leaders who were reluctant to change with the times are embracing technology to keep pace. The turn to remote work in 2020 forced more businesses to integrate collaborative software and platforms into day-to-day operations. Retailers doubled down on ecommerce when their stores closed. When panic buying strained supply chains, distributors started looking to AI for help managing inventory and distribution throughout their supply chains. 

With the growth of ecommerce and the digitization of nearly every aspect of the economy, the pandemic leveled the playing field and reduced the role of borders and geographic proximity in shaping consumer preferences. Companies that adapted quickly to the new conditions were able to reach global consumers like never before. Increasing digitization has yielded significant benefits that scale accordingly. Just a few years ago, for companies to truly go global, they needed physical locations in other countries. Today, a startup in Bangalore can serve consumers in Bogota quickly and efficiently.

Perhaps because the pandemic itself was so disruptive, the concept of “disruption” in business and the tech industry had to shift. Established businesses have started seeing new tech not as a threat to traditional operations but as a tool to help them adapt and stay competitive. 

Companies that invested heavily in technology prior to or during the pandemic have been able to navigate the crisis more successfully than those that have not. Now, the positive aspects of industry disruption have become synonymous with transitioning to digital business models and leveraging technologies like AI and hyperautomation to increase flexibility, agility, and business resilience. These are universal goals for businesses — building a competitive organization capable of navigating change and end. As a result of these developments, businesses of all sizes have become more enthusiastic about investing in technology.

Innovative and path-breaking technology has even found a welcome place in industries that are not typically associated with high levels of digitization such as agriculture. For example, the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) is being leveraged in American farms to increase crop yield and boost flavor by constantly monitoring each aspect of the growing process. But the implications are bigger, smart agriculture has the potential to decrease dependence on pesticides, reduce operational costs, optimize water usage, and ensure better land management. As climate change continues to worsen, disruptive technologies such as this offer a preview of how innovation can help meet growing needs.

The pandemic separated tech startups into two groups: those with potential and those likely to fail fast. And reinforced how the concept of disruption itself has evolved. Pathbreaking new business models don’t appear as frequently as they did a decade ago. This doesn’t mean that innovation has stagnated. As technology has become more pervasive in our work and personal lives, the very nature of disruption has evolved. 

For instance, innovations in cybersecurity will cater to RPA and bot security governance, mitigating attacks on IoT and cyber-physical systems, countering espionage attacks on emerging digital twins, and so on. Companies developing solutions to support remote work and remote collaboration saw their business increase tremendously during the pandemic. Other winners include companies focused on education and remote learning, automation, electric vehicles, battery technology, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning technologies. Demand is also expected to increase for new tech in healthcare, ecommerce, logistics, and SaaS segments.

What’s clear here, and true to the evolution of industry disruption, is that the most popular ideas to come out of the pandemic focus on better understanding the end user — whether that’s a customer or an employee — and on leveraging technology to develop more sustainable business models. Often, these interests are combined and rely primarily on insights generated from vast amounts of data. For example, anticipatory design leverages AI and machine learning to anticipate customer journey and create a design that reflects the current context. This becomes relevant in an emerging business model — direct-to-consumer, or D2C. Along the same lines, and rooted in data, is conversational smart assistance which can help organizations simultaneously streamline operations and improve the employee as well as customer experience. 

Talent and focus: The keys to successful industry disruption

In this transformative time, businesses and startups need top talent to help strategize and develop their next moves. Most large-scale transformation initiatives fail due to a lack of critical talent. Since top-notch tech talent is scarce, companies that can acquire, train, and retain talent will be well equipped to grow and adapt to whatever lies ahead.

While it’s difficult to say for sure what the post-pandemic economy will look like, business leaders can prepare their organizations by remaining open to disruptive technologies and embracing the agile operations of smaller organizations.

Hari Shetty is sector head and senior vice president of technology platforms & products at Wipro Limited.

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