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Economic growth has been lacklustre for nearly 10 months now. As businesses get back on their feet and overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic and its aftermath, Information Technology has emerged as a propeller that drives future growth in a market where customer behaviour and expectations stand completely transformed.

The latest episode of Mint CXO Dialogues, a virtual panel discussion powered by Microsoft titled ‘Unifying Transformation with Technology’, looks at using digital tools to tap the high growth potential for new age businesses with a special focus on innovation.

In the discussion, business leaders from across industries listed the challenges posed by the pandemic with an aim to find out more about the ideal IT infrastructure inducive to rapid yet sustainable growth in a post Covid era.

Industries like hospitality, which had low penetration of technology in the mass market traditionally, have used this downtime to leverage digital tools and use them to disrupt the entire value chain. They are, at the same time, preparing to adjust to changing consumer demands with ‘workations’ becoming the new trend.

“In a recent survey, about 65 per cent customers said hygiene and safety are their biggest requirements. The other trend is on vacation homes where people are willing to travel within driving distance of their home cities and stay longer as its work from home and school from home. So we need to prepare for lodging with an inhouse kitchen setup and improved network connectivity," said Ankit Gupta, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at OYO Frontiers.

Much of this shift seems to be here to stay. As we got into a major healthcare crisis with the pandemic, areas such as telemedicine emerged as complete game changers.

“Telemedicine has been the biggest transformation that the Indian health industry has ever seen. In the Metros, there was a 300 per cent shift to telemedicine and even smaller cities saw a 700 per cent jump with a majority being first time users," said Abhinav Lal, Co-Founder and CTO at Practo.

He added: “The other big change that Covid has brought about is the awareness about mental health, which was a taboo in our society traditionally. We saw a 400 percent rise in mental health consultation outside Metro cities."

Even for industries like logistics, that saw business soaring even during the lockdown, turned to technology to keep up with the growing demand and deployed digital tools for better collaboration across business systems. Delhivery was able to deliver essential goods across the country during the lockdown. With the help of technology, they was able to get 5000 PIN Codes live just after two days of the lockdown being announced.

“All of this was possible through digitization for a number of reasons. The government was publishing a list of containment zones and on the other side there was an ever changing list of essential goods. Every state had different regulations around movement of people and goods. To be able to run this through just manual decisions with no coordination across the network would have been pretty impossible," said Rajiv Dinesh, Head, Data Products at Delhivery.

The insurance sector, on the other hand, had to be agile and flexible as customer demands changed from month to month and companies had to be quick to adapt and cater to the changing behaviours. Platforms like Policy Bazaar had the tech well in place which helped them in this transition giving them an edge over competition.

“When Covid started, people saw it as a threat to life and there was a sudden demand for term insurance. Then, over about one month, there was a sudden shift from term to health insurance. And when the lockdown opened up, the shift happened from health to car insurance. We saw increased demand at a time when affordability was low. So we had to come up with innovative solutions like insurance on EMIs," said Saurabh Tiwari, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Policy Bazaar.

The media industry too has seen rough times but in some areas like news, the consumption has really shot up.

“Suddenly, the demand for content has shot up the roof but new content creation has been affected due to the lockdown. Covid has been a catalyst for the virtualization of business processes and activities and acceleration to the movement to cloud," said Ramki Sankaranarayanan, Founder at Prime Focus Limited.

“We have gone from 13 offices to 3,000 offices with the lockdown as everyone is working from home and every process from onboarding to meetings and collaborations. On the customer side, we have seen that there is a lot of in customer automation," said Girish Subramanium, Vice President at Freshworks.

So, how can technology help unicorns in identifying shifting markets and changing consumer trends? “Technology can help in four main ways – optimising operations so that you can yield more returns, innovating better which is the need of the hour, empowering employees to be far more productive and collaborative especially in a remote working environment, and transforming products. The most fundamental fabric of remote collaboration has to be security," said Abhishek Awadhiya, Enterprise Sales Director at Microsoft India.

The digitization process that was started before the pandemic hit got a rush of adrenaline as companies put the right systems in place that could be scaled up fast. “2021 will see AI go mainstream. It won’t be a buzzword any longer but a standard integral part of the system. An increased focus on intelligent automation will be critical," Manisha Khadge, Director Marketing at Icertis concluded.

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