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App for that: how business apps are helping during COVID-19

As COVID-19 makes businesses and consumers increasingly reliant on technology, techUK looks at how business apps are helping deal with the pandemic.

Over the last few weeks faced with the developing health situation and a possible global economic slowdown, both public and private organisations are reviewing their business continuity plans, looking for ways to remain open for business, and protect the health and safety of their staff. Amid this activity, there is a silent digital revolution, and ramping up of tech adoption, brewing on the side-lines. With increasing reliance on digital to stay operational, organisations are setting in motion a digital transformation at a scale we have not seen before. Last week Sir Martin Sorell said that he expects the outbreak of coronavirus to “accelerate the digital revolution” as businesses and consumers become increasingly reliant on technology. 

Collaboration tools 

This digital acceleration is being seen in the increased downloading and adoption of business apps that are supporting and helping organisations at this time. Over the past eight weeks alone global business app downloads have seen an unprecedented surge in growth. Currently business apps are dominating  downloads in all categories in an increasing number of markets across the globe. According to app analytics firm SensorTower, business apps attracted 1.4 million new downloads across iOS and Play Store in the first week of January which has jumped to a staggering 6.7 million downloads in the first week of March.  

There has also been a rise in the adoption and use of cloud based services (such as online video conferencing). Microsoft, alone has seen a fivefold increase in the usage of Teams in China since the end of January. Zoom’s video conferencing software has also seen tremendous growth and last week clocked-in their biggest ever day of app downloads - (According to Apptopia, Zoom registered 600,000 downloads last Sunday compared to 343,000 the week before and just 90,000 downloads two months back). Google Classroom and Hangouts was the most downloaded app in any category in Italy. Likewise, UBS is allowing their staff to use WeChat Work to advise trading clients and ServiceNow is providing its cloud platform free of charge to Washington State to develop applications that can coordinate emergency responses effectively.  

Enabling remote working 

As the home working rapidly picks up momentum, the collaborative enterprise solutions and apps being offered by tech companies, are helping and supporting governments and businesses, SME’s in particular, to remain connected to their customers and deliver value, softening the potential impact of the economic shock.  

Tech firms understand the role tech solutions can play right now and have come together to offer their enterprise collaboration tools free of charge. Under a new ‘Open for Business’ hub businesses, educational and other institutions can get access to help and solutions to help navigate the challenging environments they find themselves in.   

The technical challenge 

With tech companies also recalibrating their resources to augment data server capacity and extend their cloud based services to help meet the demand for remote working/online services around the world, this might just be the lifeline many small and medium enterprises need to survive the current situation.   

While nothing is certain at this point in time, what we can predict with relative confidence is that following our current predicament the adoption, deployment and use of digital technologies such as Apps and cloud based services will have increased by both businesses and consumers. We may find organisations, across both the public and private sector, better placed to take full advantage of digital and data driven technologies given the experience of the current situation. We must consider how such a rapid digital acceleration will impact our workforce and ensure that this technology is made accessible and inclusive for all users. This may raise ethical challenges that will need to be thought through and addressed.  

The good news is the UK has a well-established and thriving digital ethics community that will stand ready to help identify and tackle ethical issues that today’s new norm may present in the weeks and months ahead. techUK’s Digital Ethics Working Group will be looking at these issues going forward between now and techUK’s Digital Ethics Summit on the 9 December. If you would like to be involved in our work this area please contact

Written by Adnan Alam, techUK Programme Manager.


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