COVID-19 and Proof of Concept

A look at three industries: education, logistics, and financial services in the context of COVID-19 and POC…

COVID-19 and Proof of Concept - CIO&Leader

A recent Google search of “COVID-19 Information Technology” produced 6,100 million results. This column is not going to add to the clutter of ideas, thoughts, opinions and models. Instead we will examine an observation that has slowly taken hold under the radar. A lot of technology has existed on shelves or niche areas for years. The usual path for their business adoption includes a Proof of Concept (POC) project. Thanks to COVID-19, the time expended on such POC has been reduced dramatically, if not completely eliminated. We will look at three industries in this context: education, logistics, and financial services.

The most remarkable change was in the education industry; and it is not in Study From Home. But it is in Testing and Assessment From Home. The Education industry, especially in the West, adopted techniques used by law enforcement agencies. The first step was the easiest; take over control of the home computer of the examinee and disallow any other window or outer world connect except the examination portal. And then, use the camera on this computer to “keep an eye” on the examinee; without any human looking at the system could detect that the examinee’s eyes have moved away from the screen for an unacceptable period of time. This was considered an integrity compromise, and the examinee was disqualified. And there were the usual hygiene features like detecting that a specific network connection has dropped, and arrange for an automated time-bound e-mail based examination. All of this pre-existing technology enabled colleges to complete their school year as originally planned. It also enabled significant exams like Advanced Placement is US High Schools to be administered to lakhs of students all across the country; simultaneously. No POC; just test and administer the exam that can be life-altering for a very large number of students.

Another industry that saw a remarkable rising from the ashes within weeks of lockdowns was the logistics industry; especially the SME operators who earned their livelihood by odd jobs through their 1-2 vehicles. The large e-commerce players saw a sudden uptick in demand, and started hiring these SME operators for last mile deliveries; instead of growing their own or the preferred partners’ resources. The technology existed; just add a firewall to limit access to need-to-know data for these operators. The earlier reservations about using “outsiders” and the need to start with a small set of SME operators as a POC went out of the window because the focus was market share of this upsurge in demand. So, next time there is a delivery from Amazon or Flipkart, the chances are that the vehicle sports some fancy name that you have never heard of.

As a matter of fact, this rapid onboarding of logistics players (a process successfully used by HR for decades) was expanded to mom-and-pop retailers, thus expanding the supply base too.

Financial Services has also been a remarkable story in this regard. A lot of technology has been invented and created for this sector. But the adoption and implementation was mired in the cycles of POCs and testing + validation. There were no issues that the technology could do the job; as an example, the Real Estate industry had been widely using streaming and recorded video to buy and sell property. However, the Housing Finance companies were reluctant to use it for valuations and PD. Similarly, banks still insisted on physical visits for KYC, even though the entire Aadhaar validation is contact-less. Come COVID-19, and the Housing Companies and Banks were scrambling for very short POCs followed by immediate rollout. Today, valuations are being done without the expensive assessors having to travel around; and PD no longer requires a home visit. And, this writer has personally opened a new bank account with a large Bank in India; all online including video KYC and holding up the PAN Card and a Signature page for the banker to take a photograph during the video call. The account was fully operational in 20 minutes.

Perhaps, it is not that the life span of a POC has changed; it is more likely that the definition of POC has changed. A POC does not need to be specific to my industry and my organization; its application elsewhere: from a different industry to a different function or a different geography, might be enough of a POC.

The author managed large IT organizations for global players like MasterCard and Reliance, as well as lean IT organizations for startups, with experience in financial and retail technologies

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