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Digital Technologies To Watch: 2020 & Beyond
May 15, 2020
The long-term impact of COVID-19 will be felt far and wide, long after the dust has settled on the periods of lockdown and social isolation. Whilst normality will return, there will be some aspects of our behaviour that are permanently changed by the experiences of these past months, particularly where digital technologies have provided solutions to significant disruption; fledgling technologies have been thrust into the mainstream and given market exposure that would have previously seemed impossible, and positive consumer experiences throughout this period will lay the foundation for exponential growth late in 2020 and beyond.
A recent survey conducted by the Royal Society of Arts found that only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ post-COVID19, suggesting there is real appetite for societal change. In light of this, the following sectors (no doubt amongst others) will likely see significant opportunity driven by our recent experiences, and the resulting changes in consumer behaviour.
The closing of the UK’s schools and universities in mid-March, as part of a broader global practice, have left millions of children, teenagers and students facing the prospect of months of home education, overseen by their parents or their own self discipline.
This shutdown has ignited a fire under the Edtech sector, whose technologies have gone from luxury to necessity, providing the tools to ensure learning can continue effectively, and students (and parents) remained engaged with their education. Players have been afforded a unique opportunity to showcase their products across a wide audience, and success here could cause permanent, positive disruption to the sector as whole.
Solutions exist across the entire supply chain, with examples including Teacher Enablement and Content Delivery tools, Learning Management Systems, Parent Engagement solutions, as well as AI-assisted and AR/VR learning platforms. Many commentators believe it is only a matter of time before online education becomes the norm, and our recent experiences will only accelerate this eventuality.
This is not a mature sector, however, with many of the technologies still under development. As such, many players are using the opportunity to offer their products on a free trial basis, however positive outcomes here will no doubt see Edtech establish itself as a boom sector in 2021 and beyond.
Ones to watch; Third Space Learning, BibliU, MarcoPolo Learning, Sparx, Tutorful
Remote Working Technologies
With working from home being the ‘normal’ for the majority of the workforce for the foreseeable future, it is likely that our experiences now will alter our perceptions of this practice, and what can be achieved when working remotely.
Prior to COVID-19, it is estimated that only 5% of the UK’s working population regularly worked from home, meaning huge numbers are now experiencing this practice for the first time. As workers become more comfortable with this arrangement, it is likely that large numbers will expect greater flexibility to work remotely once normality returns, and employers will need to be sympathetic to these expectations. Outdated attitudes here could be potentially harmful to company morale and productivity, so this shift in mindset will be important for companies to consider.
Digital Collaboration Tools are not new; geographically dispersed businesses have used these technologies for years, and in 2019 the market was estimated to be worth over $30 bn. Technologies such as video conferencing, project management, analytics and file sharing tools, enterprise social networks and employee portal platforms are already mature, however demand is set to grow exponentially as more widespread remote working practices are adopted, giving start-up players ripe opportunity to challenge the established providers.
Additionally, with this sudden growth, new opportunities will arise as the ecosystem expands; for example, as more and more employees work from home, solutions to foster company culture and employee retention, promote employee socialisation, and support employee mental health and combat loneliness will become critical to company success.
Ones to watch; LoopUp, Huddle, Starleaf, Cognisess, Unmind, Hive HR
Another human behaviour that looks set to alter significantly following our experiences with COVID-19 concerns our approach to fitness, with millions of gym-goers forced to consider other approaches to exercise after the doors shut in early March.
Fitness Technology has been gathering momentum in recent years, showcased by Google’s $2bn acquisition of FitBit in January this year, and Peloton’s $1.1bn IPO in 2019, however as consumers look for new ways to keep exercise varied and interesting whilst in lockdown, digital solutions supporting home exercise have a better market opportunity than ever before.
Apps offering training guidance, exercise programmes and tracking, socialisation and gamification have seen significant uptake, and positive consumer experiences here combined with a different attitude to enclosed public spaces may drastically alter how we approach exercise once normality returns. This is a particularly fragmented market at present, so opportunities will be extensive should our approaches indeed change significantly.
Ones to watch; Freeletics, Aaptiv, 8fit, Virtuagym, WatchFit
Whilst this is not an exhaustive list of sectors, and there will of course be other technology markets that are presented with significant opportunities due to experiences of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns (e-commerce, healthtech, cleantech for example) these will be the areas that I will be keeping a keen eye on, and I’m intrigued to see how these develop in the coming months.