A combination of unpleasant experiences will ensure that 2020 is remembered as a challengingly unforgettable year

For those who navigated the turbulent times, there could be a sense of accomplishment for having made it thus far. In addition to this, there could also be a sense of hope that better times are ahead, as well as much valued experiential learning from preceding events.

When one hears the words volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (abbreviated as VUCA), the whole of 2020 would no doubt be a flagship case study. The year behind us presented constantly changing scenarios, unprecedented challenges to operating models, and a host of hurdles to activities and operations across varied spheres.

As we move into 2021, one may wonder what the year ahead will usher in. Here are some thoughts on a slew of possibilities.

VACCINES With multiple pharmaceutical companies in advanced stages of vaccine trials and seeking emergency approval at the time of writing, it’s likely that a few vaccines with sufficient efficacy to deal with COVID-19 will reach the mass market this year.

The likely scenario is that there will be simultaneous mass production of these vaccines in many countries, and phased deployment among essential workers, vulnerable groups and the population at large – in this order.

And such a deployment would most likely reduce the spread of infection and death rates substantially, thereby also curtailing the spread of COVID-19.

A gradual return to normalcy, even if curtailment measures are in place, is likely; and many countries will take further steps to ensure that this happens. The primary driver is the necessity to restore commerce and industry, as well as consumer confidence, in order to mitigate any further economic impact and avoid the loss of livelihoods in a considerable segment of the population.

The measures taken in the early phases of the pandemic such as stimulus packages and subsidisation are unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term.

ENTREPRENEURS It is likely that there will be a much needed surge in entrepreneurism. Some who are no longer employed may pursue their own ventures to meet new niche market opportunities and create employment prospects for others.

The weaker financial position in 2020 is likely to mean that the majority of these ventures would be small-scale business establishments, which  may have lean structures out of necessity.

LEISURE SECTOR The likes of airlines and hotels that have been severely impacted by the pandemic are likely to witness consolidation this year. Some of these entities may merge or be taken over by more stable companies with the aim of revival or survival.

Consolidation is likely to result in structural changes in many of these establishments, and there will be changes in ownership as well as shareholder composition.

TECHNOLOGY As seen in 2020, the role of technology is likely to remain pivotal. Many businesses that have grown accustomed to remote working and virtual interaction are likely to continue to leverage such systems through the year ahead.

Therefore, it is likely that there will be a continued demand for cloud-based storage, communication bandwidth and newer versions of software systems that facilitate virtual interaction.

If manufacturing continues to place workers at risk, or to be affected by lockdowns or quarantine measures, a higher level of automation of factories could be expected in order to minimise disruption to production activities.

FUNDING In 2020, the budgets and reserves of many nations and businesses came under undue pressure. And the sense of urgency provoked considerable expenditure, both in terms of addressing healthcare needs and mitigating the impact on livelihoods.

As a phase of regrouping sets in, the emphasis could move to ways of recovering these huge costs and bridging funding gaps. The challenge will be that many aren’t in a position to afford higher prices amid already strained financials and inflationary pressures.

DEMAND While many would have tightened their belts as regards spending habits, this year is likely to see some easing and splurging. There could be a slight increase in purchases – even if it means ploughing into savings. A little extra something spent on clothes, toys, dining out and travel than in the previous year is likely. This stretch contributes to a much needed increase in economic activity and a gradual change in restrained spending patterns.

MOBILITY While there were significant restrictions and challenges to mobility, regarding international travel and domestic movement last year, 2021 is likely to see a modest increase in mobility.

The globalised nature of the world makes it difficult to operate in isolation and as such, effective models that balance risks and rewards are likely to emerge, and expand in scope. The scenario is also likely to provide a thrust to the autonomous transportation era.

So yes, it is very possible that the new year will be one of revival for the world.

BY Rehan Fernando