Among economic augurs worldwide, in particular survival theorists have had a free global field of observation over the past almost two years. Just because of a virus. This situation would have been of particular interest to Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer or Thomas Huxley had they been around in today’s times. That's because CORONA became synonymous with how quickly companies around the world have to adapt to new situations in order to remain viable.
The new decade of 2020 was expected to spur digital awakening, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world into the "Digital Only" mode more swiftly than expected. In fact, according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey, companies sped up digitization of their supply chain, customer interactions, and internal operations by three to four years. Moreover, the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their offerings increased by a whopping seven years!
This means, the digitization that was expected in a span of three to seven years was fitted into 18-20 months since the pandemic struck. A major driver for this quick adoption was bold ideas that busted common business myths.
The pandemic uprooted many commonly held assumptions. The first to go out of the window was the idea that customers only value human touch. Lockdowns and social distancing meant that both B2C and B2B companies had to look for safer alternatives to continue functioning and serving their end customers — and the only viable approach was to give a well architected all-digital and engaging experience. Naturally, the demand for online shopping apps, banking apps, healthcare apps and video conferencing apps skyrocketed. It also proved that customers are willing to pay for all-digital services if the experience is engaging — as aptly demonstrated by Amazon and Netflix.
The speed that these conditions demanded meant that companies just couldn’t wait to see how the “early adopters” of new and trending technologies are faring before taking the plunge. They had to take more risks to stay in the game. For instance, EdTech companies, such as Duolingo, Coursera, BYJU'S, UpGrad, among others, boomed during the pandemic with people opting for online learning.
Moreover, the thinking that highly regulated industries wouldn’t be open to digitalization was also debunked when healthcare players – who have to adhere to a high number of regulations – jumped into the fray to keep pace with the COVID-induced "new normal" of policy and societal expectations. Telemedicine, for example, picked up steam during the pandemic. US regulators – the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – recently granted emergency waivers, including temporary approval of more than 80 new services through telemedicine, and similar new codes and reimbursement models have emerged in other countries, including Germany.
Among the companies that had to adapt very quickly to changing customer needs and effectively address their challenges since the pandemic broke out are Deutsche Telekom and its subsidiary T-Systems. Here are a few instances of how ideas quickly turned into a digital reality.
The Corona Warn App – created jointly by Deutsche Telekom, the “Digital Solutions” division of T-Systems, and SAP – was programmed in less than 50 days using an open-source approach, and adhered to Germany's highly stringent data protection regulations. The team digitalized the process to successfully break infection chains, especially with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic — right from possible infection to the warning of potentially exposed contact persons, and from smartphone to testing lab.
That’s not all. The app also met the three critical conditions that Germans wanted, according to the Nuremberg Institute for Market Decisions – it is decentralized, completely voluntary, and without any user identifiability. On the information security front, the app has the BSI’s (German Federal Office for Information Security) seal of approval: BSI has determined that the source code of the app has a very high level of quality.
No wonder then, that almost half of all Germans had downloaded the app by the end of August 2021!
Talking about the app, Adel al-Saleh, CEO of T-Systems, proudly says: “With the Corona Warn App, we have shown that we can create digital solutions "Made in Germany" as partners, even under challenging conditions – and do it quickly, yet securely for millions of private users.”
Jürgen Müller, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Board member of SAP SE, adds: “The project team worked closely together to develop an app in record time that helped us interrupt the infection chains of the coronavirus. The engagement from our open-source community on GitHub was and still is outstanding and a clear sign of the lively software engineering culture in Germany.”
T-Systems understood how the global lockdown impacted customers and restricted them from effectively seeking support for their problems. Industry Solutions Map was created to help companies implement a wide range of industry solutions through a virtual world of "gamified" interaction. The map helps to identify digitalization challenges through questions that lead the visitor to specific resources such as white papers, workshops or test offers for each topic. During this journey, the user is guided by simple navigation tools, such as an industry selector, to playfully explore T-Systems’ portfolio in an industry context. Each industry has a dedicated layout on the map, and sub-industries can be experienced in great visual detail — all from the comfort of the customer’s home or office.
Adel’s vision on digitalization of our industries is clear: “We take our customers forward on their digital journeys. With a clear focus on selected industries, regions and offerings with unique selling propositions, T-Systems’ strategy is to be the leading vertically-focused integrated service provider in Europe.”
Going one step further, T-Systems also ensured that lockdowns don’t hamper customer reach and relationships. On joining hands with a virtual reality startup named doob group, the idea of a virtual space for customer workshops took shape. The 3D specialists at doob group create virtual worlds and avatars for VR applications by using a company-owned gaming engine hosted in the Open Telekom Cloud. Apart from gaming, this software is suitable for any graphic application with high performance requirements.
T-Systems teamed up with doob group to develop software based on the gaming engine that enables them to invite customers from across the globe to their virtual innovation center and interact with them. Both collaborated very smartly to leverage gaming technology for a business collaboration platform.
Different media such as audio and video conferences as well as live streams via camera can be integrated into the virtual space for an extensive blending of the real and virtual world. This turns the virtual innovation center into a real collaboration platform. Andreas Droste, Senior Innovation Manager at T-Systems International, says: “With the virtual offer, we are now breaking new ground and enabling customers to participate in our workshops completely independent of location.”
Participants don’t necessarily need VR glasses for this; they can simply participate in virtual sessions via their browser. The outcome is a mixed reality environment that brings together virtual face-to-face meetings with digitalized showcases and live streams. The 3D avatars on stage together with video conferencing provide a convincing demonstration of technical expertise to the customers.
The Virtual Innovation Center has gained the attention of one of the largest statutory health insurance companies in Germany, which is also an active contributor to the digitalization of the healthcare system – BARMER. The company will be leveraging T-Systems’ Virtual Innovation Center with their B2B team in the fall of 2021.
Gordon Kiehl, from the Key Account Management at BARMER, says: “Our next department meeting will be held at the Virtual Innovation Center, which we think is a good way to get the best of both worlds – online conferencing and on-site meetings. The Center helps small teams to work together on a common goal with the results visible to all. This enables the participants to communicate effectively and appreciate each other through features like the applause function. All this convinced us that we are choosing the right and futuristic way towards a new mode of working.”
The Corona crisis has fueled the neural networks of digitization and given rise to entirely new ones. It is pioneers like T-Systems, who – as an old saying goes – “have made a virtue out of necessity”. Or simply understood their customers' confidence in a time to respire — as a time to inspire. And took the call to do so.