As an unprecedented disruptive event, the Covid-19 pandemic has, unsurprisingly, prompted all sorts of innovations – from increased home-working to investment in data security. Many of these innovations were implemented at much greater speed than would have been expected pre-pandemic. Let's look at three pre-existing technologies that benefitted from the unprecedented conditions created by Covid.
You can't talk about the pandemic without mentioning Zoom. While the videoconferencing platform has been around since 2011, it didn't become a household name until the pandemic. Much of its success is down to the fact that it found a place beyond work meetings. People used Zoom for family catch ups, pub quizzes and discos. I even used it to host a global party with over 100 guests.
Though other videoconferencing tools are available, Zoom's ease of use, stability and free-to-use option saw it establish itself as the go-to videoconferencing tool. From Zoom's perspective, the 45-minute limit on free meetings meant many users who tried it out ended up signing up for the paid-for version. Gaining such traction and rapid growth without the mandatory shift to home working and home socialising prompted by the pandemic would have been unthinkable.
2. Non-fungible tokens
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are another technology innovation that existed pre-pandemic, but that accelerated in the peculiar conditions of lockdown. NFTs are unique and authenticated digital assets, like website domains and digital art. They can be bought and sold like physical assets, which is why traditional art dealers, like Christie's and Sotheby's, are now launching specialised marketplaces to trade them.
When physical cultural activities became impossible during the pandemic, institutions like Saatchi Art and the British Museum began selling NFTs. In 2021 alone, sales of art-related NFTs increased a hundredfold to over $2 billion. While interest in NFTs would certainly have grown in this period, it's likely that some institutions would have been slower to get involved if they hadn't found themselves without revenue from visitors or physical auctions.
Another pre-existing technology that grew in use at a similar scale during the pandemic was remote healthcare services, known as telemedicine. In just three months in early 2020 the use of telemedicine services grew by a factor of 80. Though the idea wasn't new, most healthcare services hadn't offered telemedicine previously. During the pandemic, no-one wanted potentially infected patients visiting healthcare settings; patients didn’t want to risk catching Covid themselves either. Both sides were therefore more willing to embrace telemedicine than ever before.
As we all became accustomed to chatting to our doctors over the phone, people started appreciating the time-saving benefits of this alternative approach. And as remote health services became more popular, investment in telemedicine technology grew at record levels. The pandemic transformed this innovation-in-waiting into a reality, a reality that will enhance and expand access to healthcare for many.
These are just three examples of pandemic-accelerated innovation, but there are plenty more. So what can we learn from them? For some, it's simply that you need a world-changing event to drive take-up. For instance, I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people wouldn't have started using Zoom for family chats and parties if we hadn't all been locked at home. But there's another lesson too, which is that people will adapt and change when their environment and needs change. We may not see another pandemic on this scale, but the world is forever evolving. There's therefore value in spotting emerging trends and innovating behind the scenes. That way, you'll be ready to respond when the next new trend takes off.
Anna Faherty is an author for accountingcpd. To see her courses, click here.