This Pandemic Will Turbo-Charge New Technologies. Companies That Don't Adapt Risk Being Left Behind | Opinion

Throughout the last decade, while numerous industries have transformed their operations through new technologies, some have failed to do so. They held onto antiquated ways of working. They've long been warned how dangerous that is.

Accenture estimated last year that $41 trillion in enterprise value was at risk of disruption because of companies that were trying to play it safe and "rely on what's worked for them in the past."

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, those businesses are paying an especially steep price.

As virtually all businesses grapple with this challenge—including, in many cases, loss of productivity from workers who are at home and taking care of their children—machines have generally been able to work as hard as ever. That's thanks in no small part to the people who continue to ensure internet services and electric grids function.

Businesses that have worked to maximize the potential of technology now have an even bigger leg up on their competitors. And businesses that have largely ignored these new tools are taking a bigger hit than they need to.

A case in point is the real estate sector, a centerpiece of the economy, which by various estimates is worth tens of trillions of dollars. "This is a business that time forgot," the head of a lending company told The Wall Street Journal last week. "It operates literally on paper and fax." The industry also relies heavily on in-person meetings at various stages. A founding partner of a real estate company told the paper that new business has "just stopped."

To those of us who have been working to modernize the real estate industry, these struggles are sadly no surprise.

When I applied for a mortgage as a first-homebuyer, I couldn't believe how onerous the title and closing process was. The title company managing my mortgage closing had their staff literally copying the same information into different documents. I founded States Title to bring machine intelligence to the process, making it much more affordable and more efficient. Our business—ultimately enabling customers to close transactions digitally—has been able to seamlessly continue during this pandemic because it relies on technological applications that significantly reduce in-person processes.

Real estate is hardly alone in this struggle. Financial institutions in general "are historically considered as the most resistant industries to disruption by technology," The WealthTech Book warned in 2018. "However, they need to look at new technology and partnering solutions if they want to keep up with this new financial society."

And last year, Credit Suisse said "healthcare has been one of the industries most resistant to technological change."

The coronavirus crisis is a wakeup call. Businesses must finally put new tools to work. These include automation; data analytics; predictive analytics; machine learning, and more.

To get up to speed, businesses should tap into the skills of their workforce. Many companies have experts in new technologies among their ranks and just don't know it. They should also engage in upskilling programs, helping their employees develop new expertise. (At Davos earlier this year, businesses and governments launched a "Reskilling Revolution" to help make this happen across the world.)

This may also be a great time to hire experts who have implemented these technologies at other companies. Unemployment rolls are quickly expanding, and people need work. This kind of work can be done from home.

Businesses also need their leaders to overcome the fear of new technologies. It's natural to be wary of things you don't yet understand. As professors from the University of Virginia and Columbia, who work with businesses on transformation, put it, leaders and managers sometimes fear that "transformative change" will lead them to lose the power they currently have, or to worry whether "they have the abilities to do what will be necessary in order to lead in this new era."

There's no time for this fear now. The sooner businesses embrace the tools of this era, the more dynamically they'll be able to respond to the challenges they're facing. They'll be able to move more deals through pipelines, and keep more people employed. The opportunity is there. There has never been a more important time than now to embrace technology that will transform the industries that need it the most.

Max Simkoff is founder and CEO of States Title.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​