How Technology Will Take Us Beyond COVID
After the events of this year, business leaders are seeing an increase in divergent potential outcomes for the future. A global pandemic has a way of shaking up econometric as well strategic forecasting.
But if you are looking for signs of what the new, post-COVID normal might look like, think about a distinguishing feature of our current abnormal: you almost certainly used a new app or adopted new technology software or hardware, and you most likely have no plans to give up its use.
The pandemic forced many of us to stay home and focus on what was truly important: relationships, health, and the safety of our friends and family. Technology allowed us to maintain those relationships.
Not just that, but it also helped us stay in touch at work when locked out of the office, fill our refrigerators without leaving our homes, and even stay in shape (through internet-based exercise equipment and fitness classes) when gyms were shut down.
Simply put, technology was our lifeline during the strictest lockdown of the pandemic, and it will be the through line of our recovery from it.
Until there's a widely distributed vaccine, we simply will not be able to accomplish things safely in the ways we used to. There is no viable alternative other than leveraging technology to innovate new means and methods.
Technology is like water. It seeks the path of least resistance, always moving forward — sometimes fast, sometimes slow — but never stopping. Today, the dam has broken, and what was once a trickle has become a torrent.
This is exactly what happened when COVID-19 hit the world.
Physical gatherings halted, creating space for virtual meeting software to flow in and offer a new approach.
Zoom parties may not replace birthday dinners in the long run, but there are meetings that used to happen in person that work better online and will remain there. Restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms, providing an opportunity for tech companies to simplify their local delivery processes and deliver meals to consumers quickly and safely across the country.
Technology connected the dots during the pandemic, and it will provide the roadmap for our return to normal once this disease is no longer a global threat. A pandemic can physically shut down our world, but technology ensures we will never be fully disconnected.
A pandemic can physically shut down our world, but technology ensures we will never be fully disconnected.
The pace of adoption is truly remarkable. In less than one generation, the internet has gone from a niche product to something used by 4.5 billion people every day — 58 percent of the world's population. Facebook has added nearly 2.7 billion users in just 16 years of existence as a company. To put this in context, there are tens of millions of people using computers to access Facebook who are more than four times older than Facebook itself.
The appeal of the internet is simple: it allows for quality, inexpensive, and easy-to-use forms of connection that were not possible in the past. It has validated the political and economic power of geographically distributed communities and changed the way many companies do business.
And this technology is going to be the overarching force in shaping our post-pandemic new normal.
Small early pandemic innovations like touchless food delivery and contactless payments are not going away. Even when we have a vaccine, new technology that will allow airport security to be conducted with minimal physical touch is a smart approach and will remain in effect long after COVID leaves our daily conversations.
But the bigger picture is more exciting. The goal after we control this virus cannot be to go back to our former systems and practices prior to their pre-COVID levels of resiliency.
Instead, we must act as if this pandemic exposed a new, but permanent threat and design our infrastructure to be resistant to this as well. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the need to build a better world is greater now than ever.
At Parsons, we pride ourselves on moving quickly and getting ahead of major threats. When COVID-19 first emerged thousands of miles from home, our global footprint provided an early warning that 2020 would be no typical year from both health and economic perspectives.
By January, our corporate response management team was meeting daily, focusing first and foremost on protecting our 16,000 employees around the world. By the middle of March, everyone who could do so was working from home — 90 percent of our workforce.
Next, we turned our focus to how we could help the world battle this pandemic. Parsons was able to repurpose its distributed network of 3D printers to make face masks for our employees, and extras were donated to those in need.
Innovating through technology is the way Parsons — and other companies — can make the biggest impact. A face mask is ultimately a band-aid, whereas a new, transformative technology is more akin to reconstructive surgery.
COVID-19 exposed weaknesses that nations and states did not realize their systems had. Instead of taping over them, we and others looked at ways to harden those vulnerabilities.
For example, one of the worst parts of this pandemic was the way it turned social gatherings and public interaction into danger zones. Isolating at home was a necessary reaction to a novel and deadly virus, but people need to be together to maintain the relationships that are so fundamental to societies and cultures around the globe.
This is true for personal relationships and business continuity.
That's why we made it a priority to focus on technology that would help people get back to work, back to exploring the world and most importantly, back to spending time with each other. We had to look for ways to rapidly deploy solutions that allowed businesses to reopen while protecting the public. But this new normal is not just about more physical separation — it also involves using data to make safer choices.
The platform Parsons developed, DetectWise™, incorporates touchless kiosks and biometric sensors in high-traffic areas to minimize disease transmission risk and maximize the safety of customers, passengers, and employees.
These kiosks work in conjunction with modular rapid testing centers, building essentially a web of protection that gives people peace of mind when they move through these highly trafficked hubs.
DetectWise is currently being used across the United States in the education, aviation, healthcare, and retirement industries; within the Department of Defense; and in several corporate offices.
Best of all, this technology is scalable, turning a weak point today — keeping sick people from flying — into a strength in the future. The kiosks currently have been built to screen health symptoms on a software-enabled system that can easily be adapted to detect other diseases in the future. When the next disease of global concern hits, protecting our air travelers and flight crews might be as simple as updating the software.
For Parsons, COVID-19 has amplified the hot bed of innovation that we live every day. The virtual shift has forced us to think differently, resulting in not only DetectWise but also other innovations beyond public health, like a wildfire mitigation platform (GridArmorTM) that can be used to predict the next hot spot and joint all-domain command and control solutions being used with the Department of Defense to better protect our nation's warfighters.
That is the type of resilient innovation our country can put at the center of its comeback from this pandemic. The technology is already pushing forward.
Get on board and ride the technology wave into the future.