Digital services

The COVID-19 lockdown created extra demand for cloud computing and digital services. That means companies are looking for cloud computing executives to help move more of their business and services online. A report by one international recruitment agency found queries for cloud computing executives have increased by 224 percent since the beginning of March, while demand for technology officers, chief digital revenue officers, and cybersecurity professionals has also risen.

Social distancing measures have also accelerated the use of digital payment technology. 60 percent of US retailers now accept Apple Pay, while the number of people using account-to-account payment scheme Trustly is up by 600% since this time last year. Meanwhile, the Indian Government recently announced a 'Digital India' initiative. It includes helping retailers and online sellers integrate digital payment technologies into their existing business models. 

Fintech experts think the current crisis is a once in a lifetime opportunity for companies involved with digital payment services. Nigel Green, chief executive of the Zurich-based financial consultancy deVere Group, says, "Without question, this is a major turning point. Those payments companies that have invested in mobile and digital technologies will be big winners.”

Video conferencing apps

The video conference industry was one of the few businesses that actually grew during the first few weeks of lockdown. In one week alone, more than 62 million users downloaded at least one video app. Zoom was the biggest winner by far. In January, Zoom had around 650,000 users and was nowhere near the list of top 100 searches in the US App Store. By the end of April, 13 million people had Zoom on one or more device. That equates to a growth rate of almost 2,000% within just four months!

This is largely due to companies switching to remote working models, at least for the time being. However, plenty of other people have used video conferencing apps to stay connected to friends and family, setting up quiz nights, book clubs, and even coffee afternoons through apps such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

The switch to remote working and virtual hangouts has not been without its problems. Some people struggled with complicated software, incompatible hardware, and time lags which interrupted the natural flow of conversation. Kate Connally's weekly book club was a lively affair before lockdown, but the group struggled to recreate the same stimulating atmosphere when it went online. "We had an absolute problem of not knowing who could talk when," says Kate. "Two minutes in, the most reluctant person about having this be a virtual book club was like, 'this is the worst book club we've ever had.'" 

Moreover, many of these apps weren't designed for the corporate environment. Kashish Gupta is the CEO of travel startup Carry. His team began using video conference apps as soon as lockdown measures came into place. However, they're yet to find one with the right features to deliver great pitches or presentations to potential new clients. "It's pretty hard to follow along with someone when they're doing work on a computer," Gupta said. In other words, while more people than ever are using video conference apps, not everyone is satisfied with them, meaning there are many opportunities to innovate in terms of existing and new products.

Robotics

COVID-19 has pushed online shopping back into the limelight, along with several other related industries, including robotics. In China, the team behind delivery app Meituan Dianping are ramping up investment in drone technology to provide contactless delivery. They are already using automated vehicles to drop off grocery orders, but have plans to develop flying drones which could deliver food and other goods.

A US school is already using this type of technology to fly library books to students while schools remain closed. Such services are essential during the current pandemic, but the convenience factor means they are likely to become part of everyday life in a post-COVID-19 world.

In fact, Amazon is already testing its new Prime Air delivery service. If everything goes to plan, Amazon's automated drones could deliver packages within 30 minutes of ordering. Google's parent company, Alphabet, also has its own drone delivery service called Wing. It’s already operating in Australia, Finland, and the US, with the number of delivery requests doubling each month.

Online education 

By mid-April, universities and schools in over 190 countries had implemented lockdown measures. The closures impacted 1.57 billion students, which equates to around 60% of the world's student population. This led schools to adopt more distance learning tools and software, including language apps, virtual tutoring, and learning management systems such as Blackboard and Google Classroom. The online learning industry is now expected to hit $350 billion by 2025

Some experts are concerned by this rapid and unexpected period of growth. For example, many teachers have little or no experience with online teaching. At the same time, students without a reliable internet connection or regular access to a computer could begin falling behind their classmates. In the US, one survey found 25% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds didn't have a computer to work on.

Schools are now providing digital equipment to those in need, but with online learning here to stay, more needs to be done to ensure no students fall behind. Again, innovation is the key. Faster broadband connections, accessible and affordable technologies, and new digital platforms that provide a unique learning experience for every student will be in high demand over the next few years.

Renewable energy

The shutdown caused severe economic repercussions all across the globe. The stock market crashed in February, leading to the biggest drop in market value since the 2008 financial crisis. Two months later, the International Monetary Fund announced all G7 nations were on the verge of a deep economic recession. What's more, economic growth in emerging economies also slowed down.

Now governments are turning to a tried and tested method of stimulating economic recovery: investment in construction and infrastructure. This time, however, they are doing things a little differently. As well as supporting traditional construction projects, several governments are using the current crisis as an opportunity to stimulate the green economy.

According to financial experts, this investment in renewable energy and infrastructure could add $98 trillion to the global economy by 2050, returning $3-$8 for every $1 spent. It could also create 40 million jobs over the next three decades, leading to more equitable economic opportunities and outcomes. Francesco La Camera, the director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, says, "By accelerating renewables and making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve multiple economic and social objectives in the pursuit of a resilient future that leaves nobody behind." 

There is still a long way to go before the global economy recovers. However, graduates can look forward to a range of exciting opportunities in these next-generation industries that will stimulate growth while tackling the most pressing social issues of our time.