The coronavirus pandemic has reset the “norms of life” button. The term new normal has become mainstream, as societies grapple with social adjustments and survival economies, so to speak.
While the crisis is far from over, concentrated efforts are being made to build resilience at various levels including (but not limited to) in healthcare, governance, socio-economic support, educational continuity, and togetherness management.
Naturally, the focus of these efforts is two-pronged: (1) containment of current crisis, and (2) re-building of social and economic lives once the intensity of pandemic subsides.
Given the meganess and complexity of challenge, it is imperative that multiple organs of society will have to work together to help build such resilience. Professions are no exception, as they play an important role in providing solutions to deal with the emerging circumstances and to help keep social and economic wheel moving.
Among the professions, project management (PM) with its adhoc and ‘as and when needed’ structural arrangement seems to be well placed to play a major role in the re-building phase of covid-19 aftermath. Used as a capacity building solution for planning and management of resources, controlling and reducing risks, ensuring quality, working within constraints, and synergizing coordination among multiple parties to achieve the desired objective(s); PM certainly has what it takes to contribute constructively towards containment and post-pandemic oriented development efforts.
It, then, raises the question:
What are the potential areas in which PM can contribute to combating the ongoing and post-pandemic effects of coronavirus? Answering this question is not simple as PM can be used to develop solutions for a variety of problems. However, as a starting point, below we present some of the potential areas where PM is capable of providing knowledge and skills to help in containment and development efforts.
AI driven cure
Healthcare projects are and will remain to be the focus of attention and PM knowledge will be needed to deliver such projects. Not surprisingly, a large number of projects have already been initiated globally to contain and eliminate coronavirus and such trends will continue in foreseeable future. Central to these projects is the fast-tracked development of cure and treatment protocol by using latest technologies, available knowledge, methods and resources. It means synergizing multi-disciplinary knowledge in healthcare, technology, and management, just to mention a few, is critical.
In this regard, projects involving the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data driven approach for development of diagnosis tools, vaccines, patient management and treatment methods, technologies and protocols are attracting lot of attention.
For instance, an Australian start-up has developed AI diagnostic tool for diagnosis of Covid-19 patients (Scott, 2020). Similarly, Cambridge-based Healx is using AI for finding cure for Covid-19 (Wakefield, 2020). The examples are just the tip of the iceberg of efforts that involve use of AI and big data technologies. PM will certainly help by providing a framework to bring expertise together, develop blueprints of innovative solutions, creation of cure, and streamline the use of cure at a broader community basis.
The big data driven crises identification and response is an area that is expected to thrive and will see initiation of a lot of projects to safeguard humanity from future crises similar or not so similar to coronavirus pandemic. Crises analytics can provide an understanding of the crises manifestation, triggers, its impacts (in-terms of social, economic, healthcare, future property), what worked and what not worked in containment efforts, and what needs to be done to avoid, delay or eliminate the likelihood of occurrence of future crises.
The data from multiple sources such as government agencies, relief-providing private organizations (e.g. NGOs), geo-location mapping, hand-held devices, social media, and internet sites, just to mention a few, can be used for analytics purposes (Qadir et al., 2016) to develop solutions. PM based knowledge and expertise in risk management, quality assurance, and knowledge management will be very helpful in modelling crises scenarios and building algorithms to perform analytics.
The use of robotics for patient management, containment efforts, and societal awareness during coronavirus outbreak has been widely shared on popular media. For instance, Tommy the robot helped flesh-and-blood doctors and nurses at a hospital in Italy to provide care for coronavirus patients (Lo Scalzo, 2020). Whereas, in Japan, robots are being used in hotels housing COVID-19 patients to ease the burden on nurses caring for the patients.
However, given the costs involved, limited functionalities and logistics issues, the use of robotics during pandemic seemed limited at best. The situation raises opportunities for initiating projects aimed at development of more functional low-cost robots and making them available at minimal prices so that robots can be hired for providing the needed services and aiding relief agencies during the time of crises. For example, hiring robo-drones for neighborhood environment disinfection, or hiring robo-police to man an area for security and safety of residents during the time of crises.
PM knowledge will be very helpful for delivering projects aimed at developing new low-cost functional robots, creating protocols and safety standards for robo-hiring, developing policies and laws for robo-hiring and use, and creating sales point and complementary services for robo-hiring and management.
Another area where a lot of projects are going to happen is CleanTech. The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated the development of CleanTech oriented innovations to reduce risks to human civilization from crisis such as Covid-19 outbreak.
It is not surprising that CleanTech driven products are being used during the coronavirus pandemic for full-body disinfection to kill bacteria on people’s bodies as well as clothing. For instance, full-body disinfection booth is being trialled at the Hong Kong International Airport to check its effectiveness and utility for a permanent deployment (Hardingham-Gill, 2020).
Projects involving development of CleanTech related innovative products for people’s full-body disinfection, occupancy disinfection, and environmental disinfection will be on the horizon given the lessons learned about the risks to humanity posed by crises like coronavirus pandemic. Further, projects involving sales of CleanTech products, after-sales support, components manufacturing, recycling management and other complementary services will also likely to be launched and PM will be very handy in planning, development and delivery of such projects.
‘New norms’ thought development
The evolution of societies is largely dependent on the development of human thought. The COVID-19 outbreak has duly put the spotlight on the new norms of living. It seems very likely that life after COVID-19 will never be the same. Societies and economies will have to operate differently, keeping in view hygienic living protocols. The business and daily-life routines will change too. All these changes require new norms thought development.
In this regard, we already see that a number of research projects have been initiated that aim to understand the effects of covid-19 crisis and develop thought on how to manage it. Certainly, new philosophies, concepts, ideas, and terms of living need to be developed in the aftermath of covid-19 crisis.
PM will help in planning and delivery of a variety of new norm thought development projects such as academic and industry-based research, book write-ups, seminars and conferences organizations, influencers meet-ups, thought leaders huddles, and government-academia-industry cluster meetings.
‘We all are in this together’ is no more just a buzzy line. It is the mantra, the hope, the message that has bound people and societies together to get through the difficult times during the coronavirus pandemic. The success of measures that will be put in place and new ways of living in post-COVID-19 life will significantly depend on the effectiveness of togetherness management.
It is, therefore, expected that new projects based on togetherness management philosophy will be launched in a number of industries.
- The construction industry would require a rethink on how new construction projects should be designed and planned that help reduce the impact of COVID-19 like outbreaks.
- Education projects need to rethink the delivery of education in new ways without compromising on the quality of education.
- Healthcare projects need a rethink and designed keeping in the view the agility and flexibility needed to deal with large outbreaks in society. At the same time, safety of frontline healthcare staff also needs to be part of the new design thinking.
- The retail industry needs to rethink how safe shopping culture can be instilled among people.
- Philanthropy projects need a rethink on how to activate various layers of society to support people-in-need across the globe and not just in one country or a nation.
Above are just the few examples, but togetherness management philosophy is going to influence almost every industry and sector of economy to rethink and reinvent their approach towards business and life.
Given the restriction on international travel, a new era of tourism i.e. bubble tourism is emerging. Some of the possible pockets of bubble tourism that have been reported in the press include ‘Australia – New Zealand’, ‘Thailand – China’ and ‘Thailand – Vietnam’. Resultantly, a number of new projects will need to be launched in relation to marketing and sales, healthcare management of tourists, on-arrival and at-departure procedures and protocols, and insurance management, just to mention a few.
Life after lockdown is the matter of intense discussion these days. A number of things need to be done to put the economies and social lives back on the track. We have identified various domains where new projects are either happening or going to happen. Certainly, PM is going to play a big role in making things happen and contribute to bringing back near normal way of living. As always, the identified domains are neither exhaustive nor conclusive in any way but point to some of the many potential areas where developments are needed.
- Hardingham-Gill, T. (2020). Hong Kong airport brings in cleaning robots and disinfection booth, https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/hong-kong-airport-cleaning-robots-wellness-scn/index.html
- Lo Scalzo, F. (2020). Tommy the robot nurse helps keep Italy doctors safe from coronavirus, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-robots/tommy-the-robot-nurse-helps-keep-italy-doctors-safe-from-coronavirus-idUSKBN21J67Y
- Qadir, J., Ali, A., ur Rasool, R., Zwitter, A., Sathiaseelan, A., & Crowcroft, J. (2016). Crisis analytics: big data-driven crisis response. Journal of International Humanitarian Action, 1(1), 12.
- Scot, S. (2020). Australian-designed artificial intelligence set to aid diagnosis of coronavirus, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-30/australian-ai-used-to-detect-coronavirus-covid-19/12101004
- Wakefield, J. (2020), Coronavirus: AI steps up in battle against Covid-19, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52120747
Professor Jiwat Ram
© 2020 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.