Big tech adapts to service locked down economies

By Thomas Fitzgerald, manager of the Amity International fund at EdenTree Investment Management

The widespread implementation of social distancing measures is undoubtedly benefiting companies providing online services – as people turn to the internet for work, groceries, entertainment and socialising. But can these companies cope with the additional pressures placed on services? And how are they helping individuals, companies and governments respond to this unprecedented scenario?

Below, we outline how some of the world’s biggest tech companies are reacting to the current situation.

Alphabet’s real time data response

Google, a subsidiary of technology conglomerate Alphabet, is playing a leading role in disseminating information on COVID-19. Partnering with governments across the world, it has developed a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention and local resources. Google is also publishing COVID-19 Community Mobility reports, which provide data insights on individuals’ travel behaviours to help public health officials manage social distancing measures.

Google is also an enabler of remote working, education and communication. The company has created new distance learning resources, including G-Suite for Education, which provides technical support for educators to host online lectures and seminars, and a new YouTube Learning Hub, which contains learning resources for teachers and students. For companies, Google has made premium G-Suite features – video conference calls for up to 250 people, live streaming for up to 10,000 people and being able to record and save video meetings – free to all subscribers until 1 July.

Consequently, tools such as Hangouts Meet, the enterprise videoconferencing tool, have seen a surge in demand. According to the company, daily usage of the Hangouts Meet tool has increased 25-fold since January.

Cisco is the secure provider of choice

Amid the current health crisis, enterprises are utilising collaboration tools at an unprecedented rate. In recent weeks, Cisco Systems’ Webex platform, which provides tools for video conferencing, online meetings, webinars and cloud-based telephony, experienced an unprecedented increase in usage.

In the first 11 business days of March, Webex hosted 5.5 billion meeting minutes, and the number of daily and monthly active users on the platform stands at record highs. At peak hours, the volume of traffic has risen 24 times from where it would be normally. Cisco also offered free access to Webex in response to the virus outbreak, drawing 240,000 new subscriptions in the first 24-hour period.

According to CEO Chuck Robbins, Cisco is enabling more than 12 billion meeting minutes across 4.5 million meetings every day. Notably, Webex has facilitated virtual response meetings for the French, Canadian, German, Colombian and other governments around the world.

Microsoft’s major cloud demand

Microsoft is helping healthcare institutions combat the pandemic through its Healthcare Bot service powered by Microsoft Azure. The artificial intelligence tool is designed to help screen patients for potential infection and care. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has already released a COVID-19 assessment bot that uses Microsoft technology to quickly assess the symptoms and risk factors for people worried about infection, provide information and suggest a next course of action – such as contacting a medical provider or, for those who do not need in-person medical care, managing the illness safely at home.

Microsoft’s comprehensive cloud technology platform is also an enabler of remote, flexible and collaborative working. The company’s product suite includes Microsoft Office 365, Teams and Azure – the cloud computing platform – all of which are designed to help users work remotely from multiple locations. The firm reported it now has 44 million daily active users on Teams – a software platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and application integration – up from 20 million daily active users in November. The company noted it added 12 million users between March 11 and 18 alone.

Nintendo leverages online ‘switch’

With workplaces, schools and many other venues closed, in addition to restrictions on daily activity outside, the home has become the central hub of activity. As a result, many families are increasing the time and money they spend on digital entertainment services, such as video streaming, fitness services and gaming. Nintendo is an enabler of a number of these trends and, consequently, the company’s Switch console is now sold out at most major online retailers in Europe, Japan and in the US.

Over the long term, the company has one of the strongest libraries of blockbuster franchises in the industry – with 34 of the 50 top-selling games of all-time – which it will continue to leverage through console and smartphone platforms. Additionally, the e-sports opportunity, as well as entry into the Chinese consumer market, provide optionality.

This article also appeared in Investment Week.