It is interesting to observe as videoconferencing (otherwise known as Zoom-ing, Skype-ing, or whatever other services you use to make video calls or hold video meetings) is going mainstream as the default method that people hold meetings around the world. It is not that videoconferencing is a new technology, it isn’t, but it appears that it took a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic for us to adopt it en masse.

During the late 1990s, when I was starting to work, videoconferencing technology solutions were already around, especially for medium to large organizations. These solutions would typically, like some organizations still do today, cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars to install in a boardroom. However, even though many large organizations had these in place, their executives would still catch a 10-hour flight to hold a 1-hour meeting.

Old habits die hard.

Videoconferencing has been around for many decades more, long before we were all Zoom-ing. One of the earliest depictions and inspirations for video conferencing comes from a fictional illustration in 1878 by Punch Magazine. It shows two people communicating with what they call "Edison's Telephonoscope (transmits light as well as sound)." The magazine's forecast was that this would be available and used in 1879. Of course this did not happen. 🎨 Artist: George Du Maurier, Published: Almanack for 1879

Even as Internet penetration rates increased, costs dropped (relatively speaking) and services like Skype and Google Hangout became a viable option for holding meetings and online events, we still took 12-hour flights to speak for 15 minutes at a conference, a technology conference for that matter. Ironic.

This makes what is happening regarding the adoption of digital technology solutions now quite interesting to observe. There’s even a joke that has been going around as a poll that asks: β€œwhat accelerated digital transformation in your organization?” The answer is often β€œCoronavirus” as opposed to the CEO, CIO, or CFO.

Videoconferencing is just one example of the accelerated digital transformation that is happening. It cuts across industries and technology solutions.

Market capitalization of ZOOM vs the 5 largest airlines as at 4 May 2020 πŸ“Š Lufthansa Innovation Hub, Yahoo Finance

On second thought and upon closer observation, I have to ask; is it a crisis that has generally accelerated digital transformation for most organizations, or is it rather necessity?

I ask this because across Africa, there have been many crises long before COVID-19 happened. Whether it is bad health infrastructure, bad governance, or high levels of unemployment, crises have been around on the continent. However, none of them have driven us to utilize digital solutions urgently in order to address them.

Also, generally speaking, necessity seems to also be the driver of most of the innovation that takes place across Africa. The need to survive. The need to solve a pain point. The need to earn a living.

Therein I think lies a big lesson for all of us, especially startups (or even if you are employed), i.e. unless your potential customer has a pressing need for your product, your process of selling it to them is going to be that much harder.

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