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How pandemics put industries at a crossroad

How pandemics put industries at a crossroad
As businesses around the world face shortages of resources, one would assume the world has stopped indefinitely. Indeed, as companies now face lockdowns, quarantines, and other measures to stop the spread of COVID-19; the world looks similar to an apocalyptic movie, stuck in a never-ending standstill. However, this is far from the truth as every economy is still very much moving and technology is finding its way to facilitate its activities.
According to a report by the Brookings Institute, robots are ready to work where humans are not able or allowed to. This is hardly a surprise as automation was slated to take over certain jobs. Although, the rate of automation adoption might be higher than normal. The report also stated that many jobs where routine actions are commonplace can see a higher rate of automation adoption.
The spread of COVID-19 now offers two equally plausible, yet different scenarios for the future.

1. Automate now to prevent future crisis

Many companies benefit by having activity hubs in areas with cheap labor which means they will have a large number of employees; direct or sub-contracted. While this is not a problem under normal circumstances, having a large number of employees is far riskier during times of a pandemic. The risk comes in more than just a potential disease outbreak in areas previously untouched, it also comes from a question of what will happen when the employees cannot be utilized due to pandemic mitigation efforts?
Automation will have no such problems as the machines and systems cannot be sick from a disease and can be scaled up almost indefinitely. Of course, true automation where an entire workforce is replaced by systems might not be applicable in all industries, but this can greatly reduce the human reliance and focus the human aspects on more specialized functions.
One example given by the World Economic Forum is how transportation and deliveries might revive interest in driverless vehicles and technologies. It is a given that even in times of pandemic, people and goods will still need to be moved, transported, and delivered. However there is now an emphasis on minimizing human contact to comply with disease containment guidelines and this technology might be the solution. 

2. Delay automation for continued existence

Certain industries can be noticeably behind others in terms of their technological adoption because they didn’t necessarily need to be too concerned about such improvements. Under normal circumstances, automation or technology adoption can be delayed as companies build up their cache for improvements as necessary. However, the time of pandemic might force businesses to make drastic changes that they might not be used to doing and now cannot afford to make.
Many industries that are human reliant will undoubtedly face difficulties in replacing their workforce with machines and systems. They have to follow labor laws and business practices which means replacing the workers will cost them double; in workforce termination and in adopting technology & automation. Businesses that are now in survival mode will have to reduce costs even further or ask outside help to continue their existence. The easier of the two; reducing costs will give them more capital to fund operations while they weather the storm.
Undoubtedly businesses have already chosen their path for their continued existence and it might significantly differ from what was expected. In this time of great uncertainty, businesses will need to consider all possible options not only for their short term existence, but for their long term growth as well.

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