Businesses To See Tectonic Shifts As the World Embraces Phygital The digital-physical mishmash has already been established in education and entertainment. In the near future, its impact will overwhelm all aspects of our lives such as banking, medicine, trade, shopping, dining and even sports

By Bhaskar Majumdar

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Welcome to the world of "phygital'—physical day-to-day life blended with digital—as a new world order grapples to come out of an old one ravaged and humbled by the invisible coronavirus.

The digital-physical mishmash has already been established in education—schools holding online classes, for instance—and in the delivery of entertainment to home by Netflix, Amazon Prime. But, in the near future, its impact will overwhelm all aspects of our lives such as banking, medicine, trade, shopping, dining and even sports as gregarious humanity come to terms with the shadow of social distancing in a post-COVID world. While the human loss globally is a matter of grim tragedy, the venture capitalist and the startup worlds can already see big shifts in our daily existence.

The world will become more digital. The way businesses run and human beings interface will be light touch and contact-free. There will be less business travel, physical meetings and conferences. The impact of this will be felt the most on travel, tourism and hospitality industry. For the foreseeable future, travel will be only need based.

Commercial real estate to see heavy losses

Working from home will become the new normal. Already, a lot of companies have said they have seen increased productivity during the lockdowns and will carry on work-from-home for majority of their staff. This would have far reaching consequences. In India, this will lead to impact the way households employ domestic help, especially for families with growing children. There will be a glut of empty office space impacting commercial real estate.

Banking to go digital as blockchain finds itself at an inflection point

As consumers, we are already used to digital payments in India; we will soon see a lot more of banking going digital. E-signatures linked to Aadhaar will become the norm and an accepted legal tender. No more will banks need to visit homes for KYC but this would become digital with Aarogya Setu, the localization app launched recently by the government. Even in trade, documentation will become more and more digital. COVID is the inflexion point for blockchain technology and this would become the base for all trade, especially cross-border. All of this will invariably lead to plugging of loopholes, which will ensure financial transparency.

Telemedicine to become main lever of healthcare last-mile delivery

Telemedicine and telehealth will become the norm. The new white paper produced by Niti Aayog and Medical Council of India aims to use these as enablers to ensure reach of services to remote corners of the country. With e-prescriptions being legalized and with the e-pharmacy picking up in the country, health care solutions will become digital and this could on one hand end the family doctor trend and on the other, deepen the reach of super specialized medical service to remote areas.

Food delivery to be preferred over eating out

Even after the abrogation of the lockdown, till a vaccine is found people will avoid crowded spaces such as malls and restaurants. Fine dining will be rare and food delivery may replace eating out occasions. This will have a big impact on the fine dining restaurant chains. Online delivery, which has become an integral part of our lives, will become the norm rather than exception.

Tech observers have been on the double to spot these trends and sure enough, evidence was on hand in the form of the mammoth INR 40,000 crore deal signed between Facebook and Jio which is essentially about consumers connecting to the local kirana (grocery) shops and getting their wares delivered seamlessly—a last-mile tech solution in an emerging world shaped by the nano-sized destroyer, who knows no boundaries.

Direct to digital: new dimension in the entertainment world

The other area of substantial impact will be the way people entertain themselves. More and more content will be delivered at home through Netflix-like OTT services. The impact on the movie industry will be massive and films will be released directly to digital (Read Gulabo Sitabo releasing on Amazon Prime). Also, we will see sporting events not taking place for a long time and even if the events take place, it would be in empty or near empty stadiums. The youth globally will look at e-sports and e-gamings through which they can recreate the stadium feel over the Internet. Already people are recreating pubs and bars online over Zoom during the lockdown days.

Back to basics

The world will become less tactile. People will avoid handshakes and back-slapping. Temperature measure will become an integral part of check-in processes in restaurants, malls, hotels, airports like security checks became ubiquitous post 9/11. We have all seen a reduction in our credit card bills as we get used to a life on living with basic necessities. Given this experience and the fact that the economy is in turmoil globally, basic living will become the new normal—a far cry from the hedonistic days of the last two decades.

A lot of these are not what the social animal in us is used to. This seems like another world from what we have grown in. But, this pandemic is an epoch changing event in all our lives. Who would have thought an enemy we don't know about and can't see has locked down the entire world. All of us throughout the length and breadth of the world are living a life which we would have scoffed at even in a sci-fi movie.

Bhaskar Majumdar

Managing Partner, Unicorn India Ventures

Bhaskar Majumdar, Managing Partner at Unicorn India Ventures, is a seasoned media and technology executive and entrepreneur. In the past decade, Bhaskar has established himself as a well-regarded early-stage investor and adviser, especially in the UK and India. He has held senior corporate positions with Times of India, Zee Telefilms and Altavista UK.

In 2000, he started his first entrepreneurial venture, Recreate Solutions, a company within the digital media realm and backed by Insight Partners. After scaling the business, he sold the business to a US Systems Integrator. He has since been an investor in a number of technology and media early stage business through his proprietary fund, Heath Ventures, and has invested his proprietary funds in more than half a dozen start-ups in UK and India across media technologies, PaaS and social segments. He has exited businesses as an entrepreneur and as an investor and brings a strong sense of positioning businesses for exit.

An Alumni of IIT-Kharagpur and an AMP from Harvard, Bhaskar is very active in the angel community network in UK and in India. He brings an international flavor to Unicorn India Ventures and would enable early stage business in their international roll-out strategy as well as being potential targets for international business looking at strategic entry into India

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