The Great Lockdown

Winners and losers, the mother of invention and virtual social distancing

There is only one topic at the moment, its effects are so wide-reaching that discussion about almost anything else will have some relation to the virus SARS-COV-2 which causes Covid-19. That’s why this week’s issue is not exclusively about Digital Transformation. Let me just start by saying, that the seriousness of this pandemic is not to be taken lightly. I’m not a scientist, nor an epidemiologist, so I have no comment on what is right or wrong

I had much trouble writing this article because the situation was changing almost immediately. After doing some research and obtaining figures, they were out of date almost immediately, which explains why I am light on detailed statistics. I thought the best path would be to look at this at a distance.

On to the issue.

PS. I’ll be recording the narrated version shortly. Hope to have it edited and published later today.


The Lockdown

Many governments around the world are currently implementing bans on large-scale gatherings or restricting the amounts of attendees severely. In France, and by extension throughout the French West Indies, severe restrictions have been placed on movement. Citizens are required to stay at home for a minimum of 14 days from yesterday’s announcement. We have to carry signed declarations for the reasons of movement at all times, with each trip requiring a new form. All sports events and competitions have been postponed/cancelled until further notice. A local international tennis competition has stopped all matches as of Friday 13th, a scenario we see replicated throughout the Caribbean.

In the wider Caribbean, we have seen the first cases of Covid-19, with Antigua, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad being the latest to reception the infections. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is going to be very busy over the coming months, and there are the roots of a concerted effort around the Caribbean to tackle this menace. Earlier Cricket West Indies suspended all cricket in the region for a minimum of 30 days 😢.

Sad reading also is this schedule of upcoming tech conferences around the world. Take a look at the forthcoming conferences being cancelled or postponed on the Techmeme events calendar as of this morning the 18/3/2020:

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Interesting that many are switching on Virtual Conferences, possibly opening up participation to members of their respective communities that couldn’t otherwise attend. We’ve been saying this for years that virtual conferences would be the way to go in the future. Still, there is too much money to made from organising and hosting paying meat-bag attended conventions in a beautiful hotel resort. Last year, I attended the Virtual Island Summit and was impressed by the range of subjects and professional organisation. Incidentally, you should take a look at this year’s summit page to view last year’s content and stay in touch for this year’s agenda.

Finally, more lockdowns are coming, and they are progressively being implemented region by region. It is only a matter of time before you are directly affected.

Out of necessity…

Or, putting it better, necessity is the mother of invention.

There have been a few times in modern human history where this proverb is as pertinent as it is currently. Just looking at the previous section, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that further and more-restrictive lockdowns are coming. However, despite all of this, we here in the Caribbean have an enormous opportunity to deal with this pandemic better than virtually any other country in the world, with only the Chinese being the exception —but I’m not sure I want to live in a totalitarian state on balance. It is going to take a gargantuan effort from all nations, with differences being put aside for the benefit of everyone.

As island nations, there are already travel restrictions in place since before the modern era. You can’t get in and out easily or cheaply from major continents, much to our consternation when we do want to leave. Inter-island travel is a little easier, although not necessarily cheaper.

Although these are structural issues that contribute to our collective response, the real opportunity for us is the fact that we are several weeks behind the curve. If we look at infections over time from the start of this crisis, we see that the Caribbean being behind the times is an advantage. I’ve sketched it out below with very rough approximations.

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Image: Matthew Cowen/The Future is Digital Newsletter

That extra time may help us develop effective measures, but only if we’re collectively willing to learn from others’ experiences. And, if we can do that for this crisis, we should strive to make it a habit in anything we do in the future as a region!

There are examples of this in the business world too. If you properly analyse Apple Inc., you’ll note that they are seldom the first to come out with any particular technology. What Apple does is observe the new tech and then improve upon it to the point that it solves many of the issues it had while out in “beta” test by other companies; touch screens, Bluetooth headphones, wireless speakers —I have a theory about this one btw, but that can wait for another day). Apple could not accurately be called an inventor.

Surprisingly, other services are becoming more innovative as a result of this situation. Therapy is about to go online in a big way, I believe. Traditionally the couch-laden office is the right environment for effective treatment. Being in neutral territory is a phycological trick that helps kick-start the brain into accepting treatment. But what are we to do in the event of a restriction in movement?

I estimate that the quantity of anxiety cases is about to rise substantially with fear of Covid-19 becoming stronger as further cases reported locally. Therapists, with minimal effort and investment, could open up their practices to online and virtual consultations through services like Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom for one-to-one video and online payment processing systems like Stripe and SumUp for billing. It’s no replacement of course, but it’s probably the best we can do in the circumstances.

Those who will lose out

It is not all opportunity, however, as I hinted at in the last issue, Defining Productivity and Collaboration:

But as always in these situations, there are winners and losers. Airlines, for example, are bracing for huge losses over the coming weeks and months.

As always, the digital world makes it both better and worse, all at the same time. Unscrupulous opportunists are lifting their heads from the rocks under which they crawled, to dupe already vulnerable people into giving up personal details. I mentioned the forms the French government have issued, they look like this:

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If you can’t print — you’ve run out of ink, or you have no printer — you can fill one out on the fly with the authorities who will at some point stop and interrogate you. But that hasn’t stopped fraudulent attempts at phishing. This morning on a WhatsApp group I’m a member of for the Parents Association of my child’s school, one “helpful” parent sent a link to an online form that is supposed to help you fill out the form and present it in the case you can’t print. A quick look at the URL, .sh from Saint Helene a British Overseas territory and not from gouv.fr, it was apparent to me that it was fake. But not everyone understands or has the same critical thinking. Stay braced for many more scams and the consequences of those over the coming weeks and months. There’s a lot of scum out there on the Internet.

If I have one piece of advice for this period, it is, assume every email you receive is a fake until you can prove otherwise. Similarly, for social media posts that are forwarded from friends and on groups of which you are a member. Do not immediately circulate them (see above). 

Traditional businesses are going to have to face important questions about how they are going to cope with wide-scale bans on the movement of people. In the very first instance, that will directly impact on the number of workers that can come to work. Staff reductions are going to put pressure on not only productivity but also physiological stress on those that can work. A global slow-down will only limit that so much. The service industry, and particularly those like myself in consulting, are likely to be least affected as much of our work can be done remotely. Site visits can be kept to a strict minimum and optimised for maximum efficiency where necessary. Services such as hospitality, however, are going to feel the pain.

It’s refreshing and heart-warming to see so many IT businesses offering free services to help small businesses get up and running with Microsoft Teams or other platforms. But as I’ve said since I started this newsletter, digital tools are not the problem in Digital Transformation, culture is. Dropping Teams or Slack into a 30-year old business that has never had to think about how it can work remotely is going to nothing but make life difficult initially. Of course, you’ll tell me that it’s already tricky what have they got to lose, and you’d be right. 

This is possibly the most significant opportunity for all businesses to rethink about digitising not just their communications and meetings to stay safe and stay lawful in the event of curfews but to automate and optimise business processes that are both manual and repetitive. Teams and Slack are not going to do that all by themselves. Serious reflection over the coming weeks about how your business is structured and how it needs to change in this new world order. Taking an individual look at all the separate parts of your value chain as a starting point, assessing where you stand digitally is an excellent exercise to perform at this juncture.

Let’s be honest. You’re not going to be doing much business at the moment unless you are one of the vital parts of life-sustaining activities in your island or country. Taking this time to evaluate and plan for the future is a bitter-tasting gift that you should embrace.

Virtual social-distancing is easier than real social-distancing

Watching the movement around my local town here in Martinique, it would appear that many people have not entirely integrated just how serious this can be for others around them. Despite us seeing many instances of goodwill, charity and general humanity, both online and off, in places that are severely affected. For example, in Spain people have been playing apartment block bingo, group aerobic classes from their balconies and generally messing around on Tik Tok for fun. The #coronavirus hashtag currently has 12 billion views on Tok Tok alone! However, there are still too many instances of people who show complete disregard for others.

The situation in shops around the globe is saddening. Shocking to me, was the reaction of politicians and supporters when results were announced for the first round of local elections here in the FWI. Supporters and politicians were filmed shaking hands, hugging and kissing (as is the custom in regular times) and in some cases, this happened between reasonably large groups. One friend put it this way, ‘something to increase the rate of growth of the virus. 🤦‍♂️’

Stay safe, stay at home, seriously, Stay At Home and respect your local government’s advice.

We’ll talk soon.


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