The pandemic is putting strains on humanity and businesses at all levels, demanding that everyone―ranging from individual workers to entire industry sectors―push themselves in new and unexpected ways. At the risk of being cliché, this crisis truly is unprecedented.

Also unprecedented, but a silver lining, is our access to real-time data and the ability to process it―should we choose to use it―to anticipate change and its associated impact, allowing us not only to react swiftly, but to take action proactively in order to lead and emerge stronger.

What if we could see into the future, not only to observe what is different, but also to understand what changes will be real and stick long past the pandemic? Hindsight will always be 20/20. What we now need is foresight―not just into the immediate future, but for the long term, to understand what changes will endure and how trends interconnect to define new realities. The winners will be those who not only understand today, but who are also able to anticipate multiple tomorrows, thinking outside of existing archetypes, and imagine new value chains to see around corners.

Consider the following: What if the scale of prolonged unemployment could have been foreseen during the Great Depression? Or, how would we have responded differently if we had real-time insights into the housing market in 2008?

Seeing around corners

Business leaders today have an expanded toolkit at their disposal underpinned by advanced technology and artificial intelligence. Instead of reacting instinctively while in ‘crisis mode’―with potentially unforeseen consequences―leaders can now anchor their decision making in predictive, dynamic data. They can anticipate impacts and react with informed speed in a fast-evolving world. As I have seen, leaders who let data be their guide as they navigate the crisis are best positioning their businesses―and the societies they serve―for sustainable success.

To help guide leaders in their decision making, Accenture Strategy analyzed a set of trends arising from the crisis through proprietary research. These six examples illustrate how a data-driven approach can be applied to a diverse set of challenges:

1. Value shifts and ripple effects
The behavioral shifts that ensued from the crisis revealed the extent of our global economic interconnectivity. In October, with global air traffic down 25% compared to 2019, entire ecosystems were impacted down and upstreamfrom airport retail and manufacturing, to commercial real estate and mining companies. What are the potential impacts of long-term changes in behaviors? How are ripple effects reshaping interconnected value chains?

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2. Making the most of stimulus
In 2020, governments worldwide announced US$18.2 trillion in support, equaling 21% of global GDP, compared with just 2% of global GDP in response to the 2008 Financial Crisis. We know more funding is coming with the aim to support the economy, environment and society. How can companies prepare to use fiscal support to rebuild for the better?

3. COVID’s impact on sustainable development goals
The pandemic is expected to increase global poverty by half a billion people, reversing 30 years of improvement. Yet, 71% of CEOs believe thatwith increased commitment and actionbusiness can play a critical role in contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and recent analysis by our partner Arabesque S-Ray shows this makes good business sense, too. How does the crisis impact the ability of industries to meet the SDGs? What unique role can each industry play in rebuilding for a decade to deliver?

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4. The growing inequality challenge in society
More than 70% of people live in a country with growing inequality. This challenge has been amplified by the pandemic. The first month of the crisis led to an 82% income decline for workers in the informal workforce (who lack security of employment and social protection). Inequality puts progress at risk and weakens a society’s resilience to shocks. What role can businesses play in addressing inequality?

5. The role of cities post-crisis
Nearly a third of Global 2000 companies are located within 10 miles of the largest and most economically developed cities. For many of these companies, workers are still working remotely and there are shifts towards more permanent hybrid working arrangements. All the while, November 2020 saw 50% less footfall in city centers, and transactions for office space down 70%. What is the role of cities in business and talent strategies post-crisis?

6. The rise of the tech-led economy
A rapid acceleration in digital transformation is evident in most, if not all, industries. Accenture Strategy estimates that the pandemic will shift up to US$2 trillion of global economic output to technology-focused sectors by 2022, with high tech (38%) and communications (22%) set to see the largest gains. How will technology acceleration impact innovation, workforces, and growth?

Recovery driven by progress: Collectively and responsibly

To help shed light on these existential questions, we are releasing a series of Macroeconomic Insights exploring how leaders can navigate a recovery that addresses the strains the pandemic has put on businesses and societies.

I hope the insights provided in these reports will help guide executive decisions as we enter a critical moment in our recovery―one that could leave a lasting mark on human progress.

Stay tuned.

See more enterprise strategy insights.

Kathleen O’Reilly

Lead – Strategy

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