How BT is Getting a Grip on Key Coronavirus Issues

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By Nader Azarmi, Head of BT’s Global Research and Innovation Programme

As technologists, we’re committed to finding solutions for problems; the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. The outbreak has created a swathe of issues across a broad range of sectors globally, not purely related to health outcomes. It’s raised long-term questions around the future of work, transport, human wellbeing and more.

BT’s Global Research and Innovation Programme (GRIP) was created to connect BT’s global research and innovation centres with leading international universities and research institutions. It’s given us access to world-class research facilities and talented researchers across the globe while ensuring we’re engaged with the latest developments in science, technology, business strategy, policy and society.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has created a new level of responsibility for the programme. We wanted to use our unique capabilities to make a positive impact. So, in May 2020 we activated our GRIP network for good, hosting our first Global Coronavirus Workshop to unite some of the most brilliant technology research teams across the globe and tackle emerging issues from the pandemic.

Researchers and faculty from Australia, China, UAE, India, USA, and the UK participated in discussions on how we can limit the impact of the pandemic on individuals, communities and businesses. Our goal was to foster and develop collaborations between global universities to tackle emerging issues. By sharing global experiences and best practice, we aimed to identify potential research and development (R&D) collaborations with the potential to make a real difference.

One of the main issues on everyone’s mind is: what will the future of work look like? With the rapid arrival of the pandemic, many companies were quickly forced to transition their work forces to homeworking. It’s still unclear which functions in companies and the economy can be performed in a distributed fashion in the long term, and what long term distributed working will mean for the dynamics of organisations. This will be highlighted in areas such as staff training and innovation.

Additionally, companies are rapidly digitising their work processes and moving to new digital ways of working (i.e. video conferencing, agile, etc.). To tackle this issue, we can expect to see a significant increase in focus on workplace design in the next few years as organisations, including our own, try to find their most effective work styles.

Many findings from the initial Global Coronavirus Workshop related to SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and start-ups; key sources of employment and innovation in economies. For example, the food and leisure industries, which can be very location-based, have seen dramatic impacts on smaller companies that are less cash resilient. However, it has created an opportunity for significant innovation and adaptability. We’ve seen this through restaurants transitioning to carry-out, delivery or food-kitchen style models.

Similarly, in the technology sector, the new realities of the pandemic are opening up spaces for innovation. For example, the use of sensors (such as temperature sensing cameras) and organisational/behavioural analytics, which might have been seen as invasive in the past, are proving that they can be forces for good when used appropriately. As a result, there will be new opportunities for SMEs in the technology sector to provide AI, robotic and cloud-based value-added services in the post-coronavirus world.

As the world adjusts to a new normal, there are opportunities for innovation to ease that transition. Following the success of our first workshop, we’re aiming to host more collaborative sessions in the coming months and continue to play our part in identifying those opportunities, using the power of global R&D to help the world bounce back from Covid-19.


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