A worker wears a face mask as he works in the office of a tech company in Beijing. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
A worker wears a face mask as he works in the office of a tech company in Beijing. Picture: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The impact of coronavirus and self-isolation on the tech industry

By Zunaid Omar Time of article published Mar 31, 2020

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It is almost impossible to write about everyday technology topics with the country and most of the world being on some form of lockdown. 

'Do not touch' is probably the most important precautionary three words given the current global situation due to the Covid-19 aka Coronavirus pandemic that we face. The impact on every economy, industry and aspect of our lives is being re-calculated daily. 

Rightfully, the priority and primary concern is to address the loss of lives, whilst simultaneously trying to prevent the loss of livelihoods across all affected sectors. 

What this means for the Tech Industry in South Africa and how it will translate during and post-Covid-19 is speculative at best, but the impact it has had thus far has been dire and needs a fairy tale ending if we are to remain positive about the future.

That being said, isolation affords one the time to reflect on just how we got here and where exactly here is. For small to medium enterprises in the surface computing arena, here, is the reality of physically being almost everywhere but at the same time being nowhere.

I say this based on the fact that this component of the tech industry built their businesses on touch and the market demand for more non-conventional interaction points. 

Gradually our landscape was filled with more digitally driven engagement on an experiential level which required increased physical interaction with technology. Interactive touch screens that facilitated the convenience of self-service became a requirement for almost any and all destinations.  Add to this the multiple user aspect and without me saying more you are able to understand why the analogy. 

We now have tech filled, crowd empty; malls, airports, conference venues, stadiums and even offices – everywhere but nowhere. For independent specialists this is disastrous, some local interactive technology firms having reported revenue losses of up to ninety percent. 

Statistically, businesses that turn over less than R2.5 million per annum are unlikely to survive three months of financial non-activity. This will see many of the respective startups and medium sized entities struggling to weather the storm, confirming that to date, no person or business is immune to the impact of Covid-19. 

Back to the fairy tale ending and much needed positive outlook, the number of people complying to isolation and social distancing for what could be weeks, months or even years means that going back to a two-man, garage operation could potentially be your “Microsoft” moment. 

Provided of course that you are able to reinvent and reposition your offering to cater to a transformed market, needing enabling technologies to accommodate social distancing – there are other senses after all, let’s explore them.

* Zunaid Omar is a managing partner of South African touch technology company, Billings Technologies.

** All views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of IOL TECH.

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