Students from EADA Sustainability Club have been speaking to a range of professors and experts from the EADA community to discuss how we can learn about COVID-19 and the what implications are for sustainability and business. This week, Richard Ferraro shares his thoughts on technology and innovation in times of COVID-19.
Richard Ferraro is an entrepreneurial sales and business development executive with a track record of start-up growth success across EMEA, currently Sales Director at the GSMA for the 4YFN event. His background in mobile technology makes him a key player in digital innovation, big data and mobile tech, such as Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality.
During EADA’s Sustainability Week, he co-jointly led the “Digital Innovation as a Driver for Sustainable Economies” course. He speaks four languages, is a seasoned conference speaker and has authored his own business publication, Location Aware Mobile Applications.
In the ongoing global crusade against COVID-19, everyone has a part to play. As the situation intensifies, Big Tech firms have been rallying to help governments and healthcare organizations cope with the situation, including grants and ad credits, fact-checking for local news as well as COVID-19 research and frontline support. Meanwhile, businesses and governments are becoming increasingly reliant on technology to support citizens and workers forced to self-isolate, placing new demands on data centre infrastructure. However, there seems to be no consensus on the role technology has to play in the long-term. In our interview, Ferraro spoke about the opportunities and challenges of mobile technology in times during and post COVID-19, data privacy, new innovations and value propositions and moral leadership.
Technology as an “enabler”
While trying to best anticipate and formulate new scenarios and “unknowns”, Ferraro predicts digital technology to play a significant role in shaping a “new normal”. Now that we are unable to engage in face-to-face contact, remote communication and digital technologies are vital to staying connected. In our transition to a new low-touch economy, technology’s role is two-fold. On the one hand, technology acts as an “enabler.” It is the infrastructure that will host new ideas, foster innovation and create new business models, developed through remote meetings enabled through digital services. On the other hand, Ferraro foresees these innovations, hosted by technology, to be in the form of digital services and technology-based businesses models themselves.
Technology solutions will be offered both to overcome isolation as well as to adapt to more remote working styles – a transition that is likely to stick around post COVID. Ferraro explores the possibility of new ways of displaying and sharing content in remote meetings to support our new style of work, as something we can expect to develop in the scope of new services. This dualistic role of technology is predicted to increase both use of and spend on existing (and new, yet-to-be-developed) technology in the next two to three years.
The role of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence, in particular, will help us simulate what awaits us in this “new reality” by leveraging data points that are being collected as we speak. Data traces we are leaving at present are much richer and more informative than before, given that almost all our activity has shifted online. These insights into the evolving needs of consumers both allow us to understand and anticipate what may happen as well as build resilience as a society for future pandemics. And its influence doesn’t stop here: Ferraro sees AI to be increasingly deployed in corporate settings as well, to aid companies to manage uncertainty. The key question here is: what price are we willing to pay for crisis management?
Data privacy as a “premium”
COVID-19 and its lockdown safety measures inevitably entail higher surveillance of how we behave, what we do and where we go. This poses unique threats and greater challenges to data privacy. A deciding factor in judging the acceptance of this greater scrutiny are the cultural norms and data security measures we expect in our countries. While governments are hopeful that people are more willing to give up privacy in favour of the common good, it is not guaranteed and is likely to cause tensions – especially when it comes to corporate surveillance.
Ferraro foresees the trend of privacy as a “premium” in society to be accelerated in the wake of COVID-19. In short: there is an increasing probability that some consumers and some units in society will be willing to pay extra in order for their privacy to be protected. In this way, the right to be invisible will have a greater premium. Ferraro urges businesses to consider this growing need as an opportunity for unique value propositions to customers.
A redistribution of wealth and the value of the non-monetary
The memory of this crisis will, undoubtedly, stay with us for a long time. Our current capitalist system is seen to be “failing to a degree” in its inefficiency in allocating resources. With many people losing their jobs, a redistribution of wealth becomes inevitable, especially considering many of these jobs may not be reinstated. Ferraro sees the potential of a historical moment in which we reconsider our allocation of resources, entailing a possible dilution of wealth from the wealthy to concentrate on those less fortunate – a move towards equalising the revenue distribution. Ferraro cites the implementation of a Universal Basic Income – on a temporary basis – as a potential pathway to greater equality, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Some elements of this may even persist in a post-COVID-world. Judging by historical economic cycles and downturns – albeit triggered by other stimuli – investing in technology is likely to pay great dividends. Ferraro calls upon society to shift financial rewards into the background, making room for non-monetary returns, such as ESG motives. Value will be transferred to propositions such as safety, proximity to loved ones, well-being and health, which will be incorporated into new incentives and non-financial benefits in our work.
Segmentation based on health – is it ethical?
In this new contactless society, a new demographic emerges: the high-immunity demographic. This group of consumers possess exemplary health and complication-free medical records and, more importantly, are able to prove and document this. Companies may seek to target this group, both as consumers and employees. This new segmentation of consumers and selective hiring based on health immunisation requires specific data mining as well as new value propositions to target these new demographic groups.
While increasingly feasible, Ferraro sees the ethical dilemmas involved in such activities and approaches to necessitate new legislation, given its implications on a new form of, what could be, inequality in society.
The key to navigating the future: agility
Ferraro’s advice to business students is to be agile – prepare for the ‘unpreparable’. We are entering into a new era, posing new challenges and new opportunities. We should be prepared to have our understanding of the world turned upside down more than once in the next few months.
Ferraro urges us to stand in solidarity, act altruistically, and use this time of isolation to reflect and re-evaluate. In particular, Ferraro recommends using this time as an opportunity to reconfigure social relations, the economy and how businesses work as well as our relationship with the environment. This pandemic is evidence of just how fragile our ecosystem is and how crises are inevitably global in our interconnected society. Agility will help us, as the new generation, anticipate what’s next and put moral leadership to play in overcoming this crisis.
About the author
Lina Baumstark is currently enrolled in the International Masters Sustainable Business & Innovation and is one of the contributors to the EADA Sustainability Club Newsletter. Lina has a background in media and journalism, and though originally from Germany, she lived and studied in the U.K. and Switzerland before coming to EADA. She is a proactive volunteer and competitive swimmer and she is passionate about making a tangible difference in the world.
About the interview series
In this series of interviews, contributors to the EADA Sustainability Club Newsletter explore how the role of business in society is shifting and adjusting to these unpredictable and complex times with COVID-19, covering topics such as digital data technology, emotional intelligence and global governance. Other articles include: Managing the Transition with Professor Joan-Miquel Piqué, Back to Basics with Associate Dean Jordi Díaz and The Challenge of Ethical Leadership with Professor Ferran Velasco.