In a globalized world, we’ve become accustomed to doing business, buying products, and traveling across the globe at lightning speed.
But the introduction of social distancing measures this year suddenly placed major barriers on movement. This caused a rapid acceleration in the transition to digital and the adoption of emerging tech, as society quickly adapted to this new reality.
Although more and more cities and businesses are opening up again, this period of rapid transformation has left its mark. Now that everyone from family-owned businesses to employees of major organizations has gotten a taste of what the digitized and optimized way of living and working could bring, there’s no going back.
Movement of people, data, and goods will be reshaped in the post-COVID world by these new tech trends. But what does this actually mean?
Representing the best of the best in homegrown Dutch tech, I spoke with three startup CEOs from Techleap.nl’s Rise Program to find out.
Blockchain: 1. Moving goods
While social distancing stopped us from physically going out to shop, it certainly didn’t stop us from moving our shopping habits online. During the lockdown period, there was a major spike in ecommerce — COVID-19 actually accelerated ecommerce’s growth by four to six years — with people ordering everything from board games to noise-canceling headphones to make quarantine life more bearable.
But one thing we often don’t think about is how our stuff actually gets from the production site to our front door. I spoke with Avishai Trabelsi, CEO of Quicargo, to get a better picture of what the future of logistics could look like.
Having started out as the CEO of his family-owned transport company in Israel, Trabelsi could see the logistics industry was extremely traditional and, because of that, nowhere near as efficient as it needed to be to meet growing global demand for products.
As he explained, about 50% of freight trucks on the road are empty or partially empty. This is not only extremely inefficient, it’s also contributing to higher congestion and pollution rates.
It was time for some much-needed tech disruption.
In 2016 he founded Quicargo, a platform where companies looking to ship their goods can be matched with transport companies in the right geographic location and with the capacity to make those deliveries. By introducing AI, automated integration systems, dynamic pricing, and prediction models, they’re able to fill unused space with cargo, speed up shipping times, and set pricing based on data points, all while reducing the amount of trucks on the road.
This means that, instead of waiting weeks for your new sourdough kit, ukulele, or other lockdown hobby to be delivered, it can hitch a ride on any truck on the platform heading towards your city — saving time, money, and air quality.
While this may sound great for both companies and freight shipping businesses, the latter tend to be more traditional and slow to adopt new tech. However, during the lockdown period, everything changed.
“Certain industries had to completely shut down and the transport companies that focused on those industries faced a huge problem. At the same time, we saw ecommerce companies experience a boom as people began ordering things like barbecues and furniture to improve their home,” Trabelsi explained.
Quicargo saw a lot of smaller companies that started to deliver for the first time register on their platform. The great thing is, they were also able to match some of the transport companies that were out of work with those businesses. This really helped family-owned transport companies survive during this period.
“Companies are realizing now that they can’t just keep doing what they’ve always been doing. I think digital solutions across industries are becoming tech ambassadors. Because we’re data-driven and up to date on the latest technology, we have the responsibility to lead this adjustment period and help smaller and more traditional companies innovate,” Trabelsi told TNW.
Blockchain: 2. Moving data
During the lockdown, the WHO teamed up with tech giants like Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM to create a blockchain-backed platform that will help detect COVID-19 carriers and potential hotspots. Why blockchain you may ask?
While tackling the spread of the virus is essential for society, there’s been growing concern over the potential for new government-developed track and trace apps to collect and misuse personal data. The great thing about blockchain is that data can be managed and stored, without infringing on data privacy.
In more news for the blockchain industry, NYC hospitals joined IBM’s COVID relief suppliers network in order to ensure a steady flow of supplies. By using blockchain, they’re able to quickly verify the legitimacy of these lesser-known suppliers, without a lengthy vetting process, meaning they can get the supplies they so desperately need without having to wait.
But it isn’t just the healthcare industry that’s benefiting from blockchain. So many companies suddenly found they needed new ways to secure, verify, and exchange business-critical information in order to keep business going.
“Instant access to reliable and verified information has been critical during these times, which would explain why different organizations have pushed the pedal on integrating blockchain in their operations. Next to verified information supply, there has been significantly less personal contact during the pandemic. For this reason, the role of the intermediary/middleman is being re-evaluated even more than before,” explained Rick Schmitz, CEO of hybrid blockchain company LTO Network.
Because of this, blockchain technology will likely become more widely used in order to safely share data in the post-lockdown, and later post-COVID, world.
One of LTO Network’s clients, Firm24, the biggest online notary in the Netherlands, recently started facilitating legalization of shareholders at a distance through their new mobile application. Every step of the process is safeguarded on the LTO Network blockchain.
Increasing adoption could also greatly accelerate the untapped potential of blockchain tech in the future.
“There have been so many technological paradigm shifts over the last couple of months, that blockchain will certainly evolve more rapidly due to the current state of affairs, especially around (international) business and healthcare.”
“COVID has demonstrated the urgency of developing real-world use cases for the technology, like the need for decentralized acute healthcare systems in case of a (future) pandemic. How might we leverage the right combination of caregivers, resources, and time across the region for patients in order to have optimal accessibility of acute healthcare? These types of processes can only be enhanced by blockchain, since they fully rely on efficient and trustless collaboration over existing, formerly non-communicating legacy systems,” Schmitz said.
Blockchain: 3. Moving ourselves
Last but certainly not least, after months of lockdown, all most of us want to do is hit the road and go on a trip. After months of scrolling through travel photos on Instagram, people are getting the itch to get out and move. But how will travel change in the post-COVID world?
Speaking with Koen Droste, CEO of travel-logging app Polarsteps, he shared that what people will need most is: inspiration, reliable information, and flexibility.
“People have been dreaming about finally doing that once in a lifetime trip around the world. We expect to see a lot of these types of trips happen post-COVID.”
To help fuel this creative travel energy, Polarsteps recently released a new feature where users can plan their future trips and itineraries. “In the past six weeks we saw a sharp increase. People are already creating awesome future trips and playing with their itineraries so that they’re ready when it’s possible to travel intercontinentally again,” Droste explained.
At the same time, it isn’t all about dreaming. Travel inspiration is helping users treat their wanderlust with experiences closer to home.
“In the last four to six weeks we’ve seen an increase in the amount of people traveling. The cool thing to see is that, since we can’t travel across the world yet, people are sticking close to home and becoming more creative with their trips. The other day on Polarsteps we saw a user who was visiting all the places on the Dutch Monopoly board in order,” Droste told TNW.
But, even the most spontaneous travelers will need to plan their trips a bit more than usual. Especially if you’ve been traveling in Europe recently, things have gotten more confusing. While normally we’re used to open borders, now each country is introducing, dropping, and reintroducing new travel guidelines and restrictions at such a quick rate, we often don’t know what to expect when we reach the next location. And this uncertainty is likely to continue at least until 2021.
This means travel plans will also need to be as flexible as possible.
To help solve these problems for their users, Polarsteps wants to create an all-in-one travel platform where travelers can find reliable and high-quality travel information. This is done by a team of travel editors who are creating guides that are combining expert tips with real reviews.
As Droste explained, this is all about curation. If you arrive in Cali and need a place to stay, rather than having to sort through hundreds of options, what travelers really want are five recommendations so they can quickly book and head out to hit their first salsa club.
Droste has interesting predictions for the type of travel we’ll be doing in the future.
“One of the biggest challenges to travel before was over-tourism. I think that by 2030 the trend will be away from big cities and towards new destinations. Because of Corona, people are also realizing there are great places to visit near home. I would expect that, because so many people are discovering what local travel has to offer, that could also be here to stay.”
In fact, as a person who has explored the inlands of Mexico by Volkswagen Beetle and traveled Armenia by Lada, Droste shared that his next trip wa