BCG Henderson Institute

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For some companies, global shocks have historically brought moments of truth. They can rapidly alter the business landscape and the terms of competition, often in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. But companies that make bold moves during challenging times can turn adversity into advantage. The SARS outbreak of 2003 is often credited with giving rise to e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and, for example, while companies such as American Express and Starbucks pivoted during the global financial crisis of 2008−2009 to digital operating models that enabled them to thrive and dramatically increase shareholder value.

In this sense, COVID-19 is likely to be no different from other crises. It will greatly accelerate several major trends that were already well underway before the outbreak and that will continue as companies shift their focus to recovery. For instance, rather than heavily concentrating sourcing and production in a few low-cost locations, companies will build more redundancy into their value chains. Consumers will purchase more and more goods and services online. And increasing numbers of people will work remotely.

We believe that the application of artificial intelligence will be immensely valuable in helping companies adapt to these trends. Advanced robots that can recognize objects and handle tasks that previously required humans will promote the operation of factories and other facilities 24/7, in more locations and with little added cost. AI-enabled platforms will help companies better simulate live work environments and create on-demand labor forces. Through machine learning and advanced data analytics, AI will help companies detect new consumption patterns and deliver “hyperpersonalized” products to online customers. The most successful use cases will be those that seamlessly combine AI with human judgment and experience.

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