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Digigram Newsletter of March 2021

Welcome to the spring DIGIGRAM of 2021. Things are looking up here in California, where soon, 20% of the population will have received their vaccination against COVID-19. While life still happens mostly at home and wearing masks outside is the new normal, the overall mood is better. Hope is in the air, and most expect a return to our previous lives after the summer. While COVID appears to finally be in retreat mode, there’s no doubt that it’s profoundly changed us— and that it’s changed the use of technology, too. It’s been a terrible disease, but it’s also been a great digitalizer!

COVID accelerated the digital transformation like few have before
(Image credit: Sven Ruoss via Twitter, Dec 10, 2020).

What will remain from our forced COVID digital acceleration? I don’t think that we’ll go back to using technology as before; we’re not putting that toothpaste back in the tube. This newsletter is my wishlist for post-COVID tech trends. And please join me on March 17 to discuss our tech wishlists for post-COVID: Click here to attend, and I’ll send you the link.

I see three areas with immense potential:

#1: The (not-so) New Virtual Workplace.  Gig-jobbing, telecommuting, home-officing, co-working, $100,000 video conferencing rooms – they’ve all been around for years. But we only really learned to appreciate their full potential over the last 12 months, when we were all forced to move from mostly in-person working to working entirely remotely. When we go back to normalcy, how much of the remoting will stay? And are we ready for the next step? Has COVID-working prepared us for virtual working?

2: Automation of services: COVID gave the biggest-ever boost to e-commerce.

COVID boosted US online retail sales 2020 like nothing before (Image credit: Digital Commerce 360, January 29, 2021)

Companies without an online presence worked frantically to catch up—and companies with significant online presence reaped the rewards, customers, and profits. Online retail sales grew by a staggering 44% during 2020 vs. 15% annually in the previous 10 years.

But there’s more. Another revolution is waiting to take e-commerce and all online services to the next level—the automation of services! Customer service bots were only the beginning. There’s so much potential in industrial applications, in the service industry, and in back-office processes. AI, for example, is perfect for automating routine services at scale.

#3: “Data is the new oil:” This phrase was coined in 2006 by British mathematician and businessman Clive Humby.

Digital technology companies have overtaken oil companies as the most valuable in the world (Image credit: Leon Yeh, August 2020)

Humby used data to launch Kroger Supermarkets’ loyalty cards in the U.S. and Tesco’s in the U.K. COVID only reinforced that we’re capable of using more data to run our businesses. We can do this now, both to conduct ex-post analysis of previously impossible depths and, even more importantly, make better predictions of the future and better decisions. Why now? Several things came together: The computer chips are capable of powering the computations needed, and the clouds are here to make this computing power available and affordable to all.

Happy reading, and stay healthy during this last phase of COVID. As always, I love to hear from you and what you think about DIGIGRAM’s topics.

And please join me for the first-ever online DIGIGRAM meetup on March 17, at 9 am San Francisco time (noon on the East Coast, 6 pm in Zurich). I look forward to discussing my tech 2021 wishlist, and what you think should be added! Click here to attend, and I’ll send you the link.

Till soon, Gert

Top of the Month

The sky above Mars is blue!

Perseverance flying thru Mars’ atmosphere to land on Mars on February 19, 2021 (Image credit: NASA)

I was glued to the screen to follow the landing of Perseverance on Mars. It slowed down by deploying a parachute, followed by a “skytrain” lowering the vehicle to the surface of Mars before flying away. What a remarkable, incredible technical achievement! But what totally blew me away was the view of the sky above Mars, briefly visible during the parachute deployment. It’s blue, just like on Earth! I’d never thought about it and expected a red color. Maybe Elon Musk is right, and Mars isn’t that different from Earth, and going there and staying there is within our reach. What do you think? And you can relive the landing minute-by-minute here.

Flop of the month

COVID tracing apps did not have an impact, sadly.

Germany’s coronavirus tracing App. (Image credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images, Bloomberg June 2020)

I was very bullish on the use of apps to trace COVID transmissions (see the article in Digigram of October 2020 for more).

However, we’ve now realized that these apps weren’t adopted widely enough to have an impact, except in countries where they were strictly enforced and policed. One success story came from Taiwan, where visitors are forced to install the app and get a local SIM card before they’re allowed into the country. The app also tracks and reports each user’s location, ensuring that they don’t break quarantine. Such draconian measures work. But they were unacceptable to populations and politicians in most countries. We’ll never know how many deaths could have been avoided by stricter use of tracing apps. It seems that the general public in Western cultures viewed contact tracing apps as too big an invasion of their privacy, and accepted the risk of getting sick and potentially dying instead. Please take note, all who think of introducing identity cards with chips and personal and biometric data on them or cameras with face recognition. There’s a limit to what Western people find acceptable, and that limit is low.


Meet me here

Let’s meet! Join me for the first-ever online DIGIGRAM. On Wednesday, March 17, at 9 am San Francisco time (12 noon East Coast, 6 pm in Zurich).

Click here to attend, and I’ll send you the link.

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