By Benjamin Boesch, Chief Digital Officer at VFS Global
COVID-19 is not the first virus outbreak that the world has witnessed. However, the main distinction in the way the world is combating this, as compared to SARS, Ebola, and the Spanish Flu, is that we have technology on our side today. Every aspect of human interaction—from healthcare, access to essential goods and services, our work or social lives—has managed to make a more or less smooth transition to becoming digital-first.
While we can do everything possible to shield ourselves from the virus, technology plays a key role today in ensuring we have all the information needed to keep safe and navigate through a new way of life.
In the MENA region, vital sectors are transforming technologically and we can witness hospitals and clinics use digital technologies efficiently to curb the spread of the virus as well as enabling distance learning and remote work. Each sector and the respective governing authority have a role to play in leading the digital transformation the region is currently undergoing.
Existing tech innovating itself
This is a crucial time for businesses to re-evaluate their strategies for the near future, and we predict those that embrace technology as part of their blueprint to fare far better than the rest.
The travel ecosystem witnessed tools that were far ahead of other industries and have proven especially apt to cater to our current situation. One example is to employ the convenience and security of mobile biometric systems to offer travellers the option of “Visa At Your Doorstep” that enables them to accept visa applications and register the traveller’s biometric data from the comfort and safety of the traveller’s home or office.
This is especially useful now, to keep up with consumers who wish to travel but also want to avoid trips to visa application centres. This service allows an end-to-end personalization of the visa application process in a secure manner, ending with the passport being couriered to the customer’s location of choice.
The emergence of new tech
The pandemic has given impetus to many new strides in technology, especially in healthcare, beginning with testing kits, contact tracing. Technology is now enabling people to better understand risks in their immediate surroundings and to respond with physical distancing and other preventative measures accordingly. Successful examples include the Al Hosn UAE app which detects if an individual has been in close proximity to someone who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19. A chatbot service titled “Virtual Doctor” asks vital questions that help it to deduce if a person is at risk of getting COVID.
As we inch back to normalcy, travel is one of the most aspirational activities that people are looking forward to getting back to—and hospitality brands have already started preparing for when travellers start trickling in after the lockdown. Hotels are moving to near-total digitalization of booking and check-in processes—bypassing the front-desk altogether, allowing guests to reduce as many human touch-points as possible.
While travel upgrades were earlier associated with breakthrough technology, most businesses today will also benefit from making simple revisions to their existing tech infrastructure—initiating small, but effective changes that help shape a distinct consumer journey.
From crucial healthcare applications to everyday grocery shopping—we are at a tipping point in our transition to a complete digital ecosystem. It will be interesting to watch how companies balance the need to build an integrated digital world for users while safeguarding and regulating their personal information online.