EVEN in this day and age, many businesses ignore technology and neglect to invest in it. In normal times, such ignorance can put businesses and their consumers at a disadvantage. In a 21st-century pandemic, this ignorance can end many businesses and put consumers at risk and leave them at a loss.
Most industries are faring poorly right now due to Covid-19. Technology could have helped businesses, which provide services essential to daily life to serve their customers better. But, sadly, many of our local businesses operating in the education, food and retail sectors, though having accrued crazy profits, have not previously invested in technology.
Let us talk first about education. Many fancy schools in Lahore make staggering amounts of money. Fees for such schools are huge. Some households I know spend less on food than on their children’s monthly school education. Yet, even the most expensive schools have failed to enhance the learning potential and well-being of these children through the use of technology.
As a most basic example, many schools do not put school homework online. If you miss school or class notes, you miss everything. Also, the way schools tend to teach computer programming does not inspire kids but rather confuses them. Further, though many schools portray themselves as leaders in adapting technology, I know of none that details how it is going to use technology to help its most vulnerable, struggling students. A computer lab and one computer class a week is not evidence of a deep focus on technology. This lack of dedication to technology was the reason schools were not ready to teach online, leading to a learning loss when the pandemic hit.
Many local businesses have not embraced technology.
All schools are averse to sharing knowledge online in local languages. If a number of the best schools in the world can put many courses online with readings and lecture videos, then why cannot our best schools do the same? Not only could this have helped spread education to the far corners of our country, it would have also helped reduce the educational loss during the pandemic.
As for the food industry, before Covid-19 many restaurants in Lahore flourished. But most did not use technology to serve their customers well. For them, the idea of online reservations is still foreign. Also, though fancy restaurants always elicit feedback after a meal, they will never recall your name or food preferences no matter how many times you go there. Further, restaurants that make enormous profits almost never educate customers on how they ensure they serve healthy food.
During this pandemic, I wish restaurants would provide more insights into their processes and health checks, but none have. Better use of technology could have helped restaurants save some money, and serve their customers well too. Customers are at the losing end when restaurants do not use technology to make sense of all the available data and insights.
The retail industry is a special case in that it was mostly allowed to operate during the lockdown. But to my dismay, all major retailers had a poor online presence. Those with some online presence do not have content available in local languages. In the initial days of the lockdown, I tried to place online orders at some older and bigger grocery stores, but it took them weeks to deliver. The experience of placing an order was sluggish and error-prone. Also, opaqueness in their delivery process and cash payments further increased already increased levels of anxiety. Overall, had retailers focused on technology earlier, they would have been able to not only serve customers from many social classes well but also to help maintain social distancing in these stressful times.
But why do not many local businesses embrace technology?
Well, many entrepreneurs copy existing arcane business models rather than coming up with new ones. Also, there is little technological depth in the school and college curricula. So when graduates become entrepreneurs, they do not consider technology a core business tool.
Further, influential online platforms highlight those businesses that not only prove but also share their expertise. But oddly, many local businesses are averse to such sharing. This hurts not only their visibility but also their prospects of reaching a wider audience.
However, it is not all gloom and doom. There are now individuals across the country who make a decent living by sharing knowledge and conducting their craft online. The rise of such entrepreneurs from different social classes is encouraging. Big businesses can learn from them.
Businesses in Pakistan can bounce back. They should embrace technology; it would be unwise to ignore it any more, with automation knocking down our door fast in a post-Covid-19 world. Businesses should also embrace technology otherwise they would risk failure. This much is crystal clear now.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2020