It's an ill wind

Video conference

Some technology companies, in videoconferencing for example, have much to gain from the coronavirus crisis.

With every day that passes, the risk of a crisis following the outbreak of the coronavirus is growing, and it is becoming very difficult to foresee how it will develop. The reason is that in contrast to crises caused by wars, natural disasters, or the deflation of financial bubbles, the current crisis starts with a unique concatenation of circumstances of health and economic crises, and is spreading in a world more connected than in the past.

It is therefore very possible that we will now see not only new negative phenomena, but also new and interesting ways of adapting to the changing conditions. Today, in contrast to any previous period, the speed and efficiency with which technologies capable of softening the effects of the crisis can be developed and distributed are greater than ever before.

One of the ways in which technology can help deal with the crisis is, of course, through video calls. The most prominent example is Zoom. Before the outbreak of the crisis, the share price of Zoom, developer of a video calls system that is especially popular among technology companies, was below the price in its IPO. Since the crisis began, however, Zoom's share price has soared: 65% since the beginning of the year, while the Nasdaq index was falling 6% (Zoom's share price began this week by falling sharply, thereby proving that no share is immune to the crisis).

The coronavirus crisis merely highlights the existing need for video calls in a world in which people are not only unable to fly, but are prevented from traveling to their place of work. This is not the first time that working from home has been mentioned as a solution to a crisis. The 2008 financial crisis was accompanied by a steep rise in oil prices, followed by a jump in fuel prices. The world was worried about a severe energy crisis that would detract from freedom of movement, and the press was full of reports of an expected increase in work from home. Most of these predictions, however, remained on paper. Even before oil prices plummeted, the vision of working from home vanished into thin air, and things continued as before.

The current crisis is different. Not only do we not know when and how it will end, but in contrast to a temporary constraint caused by oil prices, two things are happening this time. The first is that money cannot solve the problem, and other is that the problem is a global one affecting everyone. In the oil crisis, it was possible to decide that only half of the employees would go to work. In the current crisis, no one can travel to work.

In this situation, the success of a video calls app is just the tip of the opportunities iceberg. In addition to the video and remote work sector, home medicine, home entertainment and leisure, and virtual education are all experiencing a jump in demand, or expect to see such a jump if the crisis continues. The opportunity is also for the long term, because customers are being exposed to new services and apps, and are learning about their value. The effect on companies in remote medicine, which make it possible to conduct medical tests from home, is less clear at the moment, but is also likely to be significant because of the need to avoid infection at medical centers, and growing pressure on hospitals.

More PCs

Because of the isolation orders, the virus is particularly affecting employees obliged to stay home and work from there. If the crisis is prolonged, businesses will have to provide optimal conditions in equipment for conducting high-quality video conference calls in order to facilitate prolonged regular work at home: screens, microphones, and headphones. Regular work will also have to rely more on systems that accommodate joint work, such as the ones developed by Israeli company Monday.com (for managing projects); Slack, which provides enterprise chats; Google Docs, which makes it possible to work jointly on files; Dropbox, which provides workspace and collaboration tools; etc.

It is also possible that employees who currently manage part of their activity by mobile phone can be equipped with PCs to enable them to work conveniently from home in the long term. In this case, computer infrastructure teams will have a lot of work to do in setting up networks that rely more on work from home, and in handling the resulting information security challenges.

Employers will have a strong motivation to make these investments for quite a few reasons. First of all, the current prices of these technological upgrades are not as significant as they were a decade ago. The Internet and all of the necessary equipment are substantially better and cheaper. Secondly, no one can guarantee that this is a passing crisis. A second wave of the virus next year is possible, not to mention other risks, such as extreme climatic phenomena, air pollution, and so forth. Greater reliance on working from home is likely to attract employers, because it can help reduce fixed costs, such as real estate, and spending on business travel.

In an ecosystem adapted to working from home, there will also be room for development of virtual conference platforms, which could possibly replace some of the physical conferences to some extent. Technology is already there for a virtual 3D world that will give social networks the twist that they need, and will facilitate working remotely in a way that duplicates much of the quality of face-to-face meetings. Efforts have been made to develop virtual worlds, such as Second Life, which scored great success, considering the period and its limitations. In retrospect, however, these efforts were ahead of their time. Development in the virtual reality in the context of work can not only push the social networks to the next stage, but also generate an abundance of accompanying markets.

"The trend in recent years has been more and more video, more and more employees working remotely, short-term freelancers, etc. As a result of the coronavirus, there is even more need for video infrastructure. The video medium is very popular, mainly in affected regions," says Ron Yekutiel, CEO of Kaltura, which provides video infrastructure for television providers, enterprises, and educational institutions. He says that following the spread of the virus, demand for tools that accommodate virtual collaboration in meeting rooms or a virtual classroom is growing.

In addition to shared office tools, Kaltura already detects a rise demand for remote learning products. "We have 500 universities that are already customers of Kaltura, and all of them have increased their use of video in recent weeks. Companies in Israel, which not our main market, and educational bodies and youth movements have also contacted us. They are trying to obtain systems to provide a quick solution to the coronavirus. The youth movements say that they must enable children to come together, and especially in these times they want to enable people to meet. We are respecting the privacy of the approaches and the situation," Yekutiel adds.

A time to fulfil dreams

Hobbies cannot be ignored. Today, when people are staying home for prolonged periods, companies providing online leisure services are seeing growth. Kaltura, which provides infrastructure for online television services, is also experiencing growth in this aspect. The rise in Netflix's share price over the past month can also be attributed to the spread of the coronavirus.

"In the crazy world in which everyone works, people are suddenly staying at home, and they have more time available. Room for fulfilling achieving dreams, such as when a family learns to play musical instruments studies at home, is growing, and that is exactly what we are seeing," says JoyTunes CEO Yuval Kaminka. He explains that the growth rate for new subscriptions for the company's music education app has tripled in the past six weeks, and that the same is true for the use of the app in China, where the coronavirus crisis began and is especially severe.

"Our financial data are very good. We're a company with healthy revenue, and we regard this crisis as an opportunity. We haven't slowed the pace of our hiring, and we don't plan to do so," Kaminka adds. "We believe in this period as one in which it may be possible to accelerate growth, and that's something that we're taking aim at. But there are projects that involve high costs, and we're waiting with them at the moment to see how things pan out in the market."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 10, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

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