How the Pandemic is Teaching Tech Some Crossover Moves

eWEEK INNOVATION PERSPECTIVE: For too long, businesses have been reluctant to adopt technologies used by companies in other industries, seeing the challenges they face as unique to a single type of business. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that thinking.

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The long-term impact of COVID-19 will be written not just in the acceleration of remote work and the concomitant adoption of enabling technologies such as cloud, collaboration tools and video conferencing. This pandemic will also come to be seen as a moment when industries were forced to look outside their boxes and borrow ideas from one another to stay afloat and adapt to new ways of doing business. 

For too long--and I have seen this as a reporter--businesses have been reluctant to adopt technologies used by companies in other industries, seeing the challenges they face as unique to a single type of business. Knowledge workers, some argued, couldn’t use cloud-based word-processing applications because the interfaces weren’t familiar or compatible with older document types. Health-care data couldn’t possibly be shared. Whole industries, such as construction, were seemingly proscribed from using computers at all.

It turns out that industries can, in fact, learn from one another.

IT solutions can work in more than one environment

One example of this kind of crossover actually involves construction. RFID, a tracking technology that uses small chips to transmit signals to remote scanners, has been part of the retail landscape for the better part of two decades. It has been used mostly to help stores track inventory, but it is now also being used to create better in-store experiences. Now the same technology is being used on gate readers at construction sites and at manufacturing facilities to create touchless receiving, said Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director and co-founder of the Oracle Industries Innovation Lab.

Kaplanoglu said the technology enables construction crews and production-line workers to receive goods and locate them when needed without the need for signing bills of lading or other paperwork usually associated with this type of transaction. But the benefits go beyond reducing disease contagion, he said, which is why this type of change is here to stay. 

“Knowing where material is on site and knowing when it’s been installed--all these things help projects stay on schedule. Transparency has a huge impact on productivity,” Kaplanoglu said. 

Another industry crossover stems from a longstanding concern in the building and construction industries: worker safety. Indeed, falls are a leading cause of death on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Builders have thus long been on the hunt for technology that helps prevent workers from injuring themselves at construction sites that are often poorly lit and littered with potential hazards.

How augmented reality can negate potential hazards in construction

Construction companies are now using a combination of augmented reality to help workers visualize a site--and its potential hazards--and wearable sensors to warn them when they’re getting too close to the edge of a surface from which they could fall.

These same sensors can also be worn by people working in retail to warn them when they’re getting too close to a co-worker or customer, Kaplanoglu said. At first, the technology will create a reactive effect, reminding people to keep their distance, but over time it will reinforce more positive behaviors as employees proactively “social distance” on their own.

The pandemic has created an environment where everyone is trying to continue operating while adopting new safety and health measures dictated by the virus. Kaplanoglu said these necessary steps have the potential to create meaningful long-term change. 

“We can change the course of our industries and how we live; we’ve always adapted to world-historical events in the past, and we can do it now if we put our minds to it,” he said.

Michael Hickins is a former eWEEK and Wall Street Journal editor and reporter. He is currently works at Oracle.

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