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Impact of Covid-19: Corona as a catalyst for digitalization? (Part 3)

Whether it be virtual conferences while working from home, math lessons via class chat or the daily video call with the grandparents: the pandemic has developed from an unwanted stress test to an accelerator of digitalization in all areas of life - from the economy to education to private life. Why we can profit from this development in the long term - and how life will continue after Corona.

young pupils working with laptops

The "digital school" is rare in Germany. The pandemic relentlessly reveals that there is a need to catch up. © lizenzfrei:

Why are many schools and nursery schools lacking hardware and software? Are teachers overstrained with online teaching? What has to happen for young people not to become the losers of the crisis? These were the pressing questions that the guests of the TV discussion round "Hart, aber fair" enthusiastically discussed a few days ago - among them education policy-makers, representatives of teacher and parent committees and a digital entrepreneur. The takeaway of the controversial round, which was broadcasted at prime time on ARD: on the one hand, the Corona pandemic has mercilessly exposed the digital deficits of the German education system. On the other hand, it has put the topic right at the top of the agenda. For a good reason. It's good that this topic is no longer just talk, as a look at the city of Cologne shows: at the end of May, the city launched a program, intending to purchase 27,000 additional digital devices, such as tablet computers, for Cologne pupils as quickly as possible.

empty waiting room

Even after the Corona pandemic there probably will no empty waiting rooms. Nevertheless: telemedicine will gain in importance. © lizenzfrei:

From stress test to catalyst for digitalization

Whether we take a look at TV debates or political decisions - these two examples show: the Covid-19 pandemic has developed from an unintentional stress test into an unstoppable catalyst for the digitalization of our society. Be it in schools, companies or medical practices - the last weeks and months have shown: in the fight against the spread of the pandemic, digitalization has gained considerable momentum in all areas of our lives. It has even proved to be a key pillar of support in the crisis - for companies of all sizes and in all industries, for the education and healthcare sectors, and for most of us. Video conferencing, e-learning and digital working will increasingly become commonplace, at the latest in the much-cited "new normal". Due to the experiences with the current Corona pandemic, we have become much more open-minded towards the digitalization of sensitive areas like our health care system, which is also proved in a current, representative Bitkom study: according to the survey in Germany, 93 percent of the German respondents are in favor of expanding digital health care. On average, around 60 percent of those surveyed want medical advice via chat and telemedicine to become the medical standard in the future. And 53 percent believe that crises like the current one can be better managed with the help of digital technologies.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is the catalyst for digitalization," said our CEO Tim Höttges at the recent kickoff of Digital X, Europe's leading digitalization initiative - which is itself an example of the creative power that digitalization can unleash in times of crisis: after all, we managed to convert this event with around a dozen speakers and numerous speeches to a virtual format in a very short time. With success: 17,000 participants followed the sessions from their computers. In total, this major digital event recorded 3.75 million impressions across all channels. "If you don't know what to do - digitalize," Höttges appealed to the participants of Digital X. "This is a task for every one of us as well as for every company. Because it enables new efficiencies, new sales channels and more flexibility in workflows and processes."

Key role for telcos

The telecommunications industry will play a key role in this development - as a technical enabler and strategic advisor at the service of its customers. The reason: the value of stable connectivity and creative digital solutions is higher than ever, today and in the future. For telecommunications companies, this will not only offer the opportunity to sell more bandwidth and higher speed in the future. They will also be able to find contemporary, digitally supported solutions - products and services - with and for their customers across industries. We have just shown that we can drive digitalization: after all, the critical infrastructure has passed the stress test during the crisis with flying colors, proving how indispensable a reliable digital basis is as the backbone of both the economy and society. It will also be interesting to see whether it will be possible for Germany to simplify and accelerate approval conditions for further network expansion in the light of recent experiences. Why is this crucial? Because this way we are strengthening our resilience against future crises and helping to find constructive solutions to the greatest challenges facing our society.

Starting into the new normal with courage

What do these experiences of the last weeks show us? Fear is a bad advisor in uncertain times and instead, initiative is needed to overcome a crisis like the current one. What I find particularly encouraging is that we are all experiencing the positive power of digitalization. We had and continue to have the opportunity to recognize that digitalization enables our companies and institutions, our society as a whole and each and every one of us to make a positive new start into the future. Because it should become clear to all of us: Corona is a turning point, a return to the "before" is impossible. Instead, we now have the chance to set the course for the time after the pandemic. In other words, to shape the "new normal" and achieve real digital progress.

But how can this "new normal" look in a time when the Corona crisis has been overcome? Below is an outlook in seven theses:  

Accelerated digitalization of the economy

The crisis is forcing many companies to save money - now and in the long term. As T-Systems CEO Adel Al-Saleh emphasized, digitalization has always been a catalyst for increasing efficiency and financial stability. The acceleration of the digital agenda may be a consequence of the Corona crisis - with the telecommunications industry as a key player.

Acceptance of digital collaboration

The massive move to working from home finally made it clear that this is not work from the hammock. The speed at which the changeover took place also counteracted many technical concerns. After the Corona crisis, presumably the question of the necessity of business trips – when virtual meetings are a sufficient option – will be raised increasingly. Especially in the light of a new ecological-sustainable reality that redefines the basis for competitiveness and hence economic survival.

man in a hammock

The prejudice that "working from home is like vacation" has probably been overcome by the Corona crisis. © lizenzfrei:

Development of hybrid working models

Replacing compulsory office attendance completely with working from home cannot be the goal of our new working world. Yet, the aim should be to develop hybrid working models that optimally combine the advantages of both worlds. This includes, on the one hand, finding ways to promote digital skills for productive working from home and ensuring that employees are motivated despite reduced social interaction. On the other hand, it must become clear when being at the office is necessary – not only for higher performance, but especially for team building and a face-to-face encounter.

More interactions with private customers  

The exchange with existing and potential customers will become even more important in private customer business in the future. Although these interactions will continue to be held in analog form to a certain extent, they will increasingly take place via digital channels - simply because customers expect companies to make every service digitally accessible. But this is also a development in the interest of companies – after all, the growing availability of customer data through digital communication offers many opportunities for tailor-made solutions, additional business or even new business models. A prerequisite for the use of this data: customers need to be able to rely on a high level of data protection.  

Resilient value chains for business customers  

Even if personal customer contact will remain essential in the business customer segment, this is an area in which we will see a significant acceleration of digitalization and automation in all sectors. Combined with an increased demand for the establishment of resilient value chains, this is a clear reaction to the experiences of the Corona crisis. The encouraging message is that the capital market will reward such investments in the digitalization of all business processes.

Exploiting the potential of digital education

Certainly, schools won’t completely replace traditional classroom instruction with home schooling. Nevertheless, schools have recently learned that they have to move towards greater digitalization in the future. The experience of the Corona crisis has made it clear that digital education is not only feasible but also extremely reasonable. And that we have not yet begun to exploit the constructive potential of digital education.

Digital momentum for social life

The lockdown can be lonely. Large sections of society are currently learning that you can stay in touch via FaceTime and Skype, even do sports together or drink a beer after work. Of course, the internet will never be a complete substitute for the sports field, or the pub. Deutsche Telekom is well aware of this. Nevertheless, the fact that everyone can still participate in digital social life is our top priority. We won't stop until everyone is connected!

What are your experiences with the crisis? And what experiences do you think will remain after the pandemic? We look forward to exchanging insights with you!

Does the collaboration run smoothly when working from home? Do the networks remain stable and our customers solvent? And in the long term, will digitalization become a catalyst for the digitalization of our work and education? In this three-part series, we're talking about the impact of the pandemic - on Deutsche Telekom (Part 1), the telecommunications industry (Part 2) and our society (Part 3).