Going Virtual: Most Affected Industries due to 2020 Digitalization

Due to pandemic, 2020 was marked by an unprecedented speed of digitalization. We describe the most affected industries: how did they cope, the pros and challenges revealed in the process, and give prognosis for 2021 and beyond. Spoiler: major changes will continue into post-Covid times.


Prior to Covid restrictions, a shift towards digitalization was already underway. The crisis boosted it manyfold. According to a new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, the pandemic accelerated digitization of customer interactions by 3-4 years, and increased partially or fully digitized products and services by 6-10+ years depending on the region.

While core internal operations (back-office, production, R&D) are digitilized consistently across industries and regions, customer-facing changes are most evident in healthcare and pharma, education, transportation, and professional services. The same industries are most likely to continue changing at a fast pace. Let’s take a closer look at their cases to better understand, what 2021 is preparing for us.

Definition Digitization & Digitalization

Digitization is the analog-to-digital conversion of data and processes (for example, you can digitize documents or photos by scanning).

Digitalization is a level higher. It means leveraging digital tech to transform business processes (for example, through automation, accessibility, data analysis).



The sphere was moving towards digitalization prior to Covid (e.g., in America, there were 7 million undergrads studying online). But the pace was clearly too slow. When over 1.2 billion children in 186 countries were left out of classroom, the system had to change overnight. Some experts believe, that global adoption of EdTech in schools and colleges was accelerated by about five years.


Existing web platforms. Google classroom, Microsoft Education and others, especially conferencing apps like Zoom, are clearly on the rise.  

Remote learning resources promptly provided by governments (“My class at home” in France, “Ensuring learning undisrupted” in China etc.)

Social media, apps and games. One example is the boom of educational content on TikTok.

Online learning platforms had significant increases in enrollments (425% for Udemy). Many of them offered free access during lockdown, and introduced platforms for digitization of university courses (like Coursera’s CourseMatch).

Big Tech companies offered help too, like free advanced Hangouts features from Google or free Microsoft Teams platform.

Universities accelerated digitization. For example, Zhejiang University digitized 5,000+ courses just two weeks into the transition.


Digital divide. Worldwide, 465 million children and youth (47% of those targeted by national on-line learning platforms), do not have access to the Internet at home.

School connectivity. Lack of identifying the locations of schools, requirements and budget for their connectivity, fear of adoption are among the main challenges here.

Teachers’ and parents’ lack of ICT knowledge. 35% of teens study in schools where teachers lack pedagogical and technical skills to use digital technology.

Safety. With more connectivity time, the risk of cyber-bulling and inappropriate content including the worst forms of abuse has increased.

Effectiveness. Younger kids need a structured environment to study well. Teachers have to use collaboration and engagement methods like games.

Health. Young children have been spending twice the amount of screen time than recommended by pediatricians. Lectures should be shortened and balanced with non-digital activities.

Socialization. Elementary pupils prefer face-to-face contact.

Pros of EdTech digitalization

  •         The rise of EdTech tools
  •         The way of teaching changed towards personalization and independence
  •         Online learning can be more effective (students retain 25-60% more material)
  •         Potential innovations in outdated educational systems
  •         More accessible education, globally.

Future trends for EdTech

Hybrid learning environment. Education will be more flexible and inclusive.  

Changes will stay. Teachers and institutions have put a lot of effort into digitalization and are likely to use them after the crisis.  

More investments. Especially from tech giants like Microsoft and Google.

More attention. Governments now can see an influence of education and its direct link to economic recovery, so we can expect more measures to help the industry.



Before the pandemic, 2-7% of doctors were ready to offer video-consultations, and now it’s closer to 60%. After such a significant boost, there are high chances that healthcare technologies will continue to grow after crisis passes.


Telemedicine. A month before the first case was reported in the US, one telemedicine firm, PlushCare, has witnessed a 40% increase in appointments. Today, startups like ICU4Covid can assist intensive care in hospitals lacking specialists. Not to mention chatbots and virtual health assistants – their market is projected to grow almost three times by 2023.

Wearable devices & remote healthcare. The wearable medical device market is expected to reach $27 million by 2023. Some of the items include heart rate sensors, exercise trackers, oximeters etc. They could save the healthcare system close to $7 billion per year (in US). Not to mention tracking and remote monitoring of Covid patients, used in many countries.

Mental healthcare & fitness industry. Investments in mental health startups increased more than 400% in the beginning of 2020, compared to the prior quarter. Fitness apps, trackers, online sessions experienced the same boost. For example, daily sign-ups for NEOU (workout streaming platform) grew 600% in one week.


Access and administration. There was a boost of remote healthcare in a short period of time but it is limited and uneven when it comes to addressing all populations and providing the true seamless experience.

Legislation. 94% of executives in the 2019 PwC research pointed to data-protection and privacy regulations (HIPAA, HITECH) as factors limiting digitalization. They are stringent and outdated. Due to pandemic, governments have lifted some restrictions (e. g., to allow Apple, Google, and Microsoft to facilitate telemedicine through chat and video apps), but these are temporary measures.

Pros of healthcare digitalization

  •         better patient experiences
  •         the rise of prevention medicine & AI-powered diagnostics
  •         more inclusivity for the most vulnerable
  •         preparation for any new global crises
  •         significant cost reduction & time saving.

Future of healthcare

Big data and AI for personalized & preventive medicine, lower rate of errors, drug discovery, more accurate staffing, medical imaging, genomics, etc.  

On-demand healthcare and ‘gig’ economy will make healthcare more convenient (e. g., online marketplaces such as Nomad Health).

VR as a safer, more efficient alternative to drugs, means to hone doctors’ skills or plan surgeries, etc.

Blockchain for data safety.

Robotics and nanotechnologies to develop further.

5G to make it a reality. The technology can run up to 100 times faster and lead to savings of up to $650 billion in four years through powering IoT. 



Logistics, public transport, and procurement were some of the most affected by the pandemic. They were also among the most digitalized. How? Let’s take a look.


Payments. Solutions for cashless transactions are on the rise.

Data. Anonymized data from devices, automatic fare collection systems, and some private companies (Swiftly, GIRO, etc.)  allows monitoring and managing mobility patterns.

MaaS. “Mobility as a Service” is a relatively new approach which proved very helpful during the pandemic. For example, aggregator apps allow planning journeys that fit social distancing requirements. Mobility systems such as ride-hailing, including micro services like bikeshare, have responded to the crisis by providing free transport for essential workers and the most vulnerable.

Delivery services. How to set up an ecommerce site is now a popular inquiry. With such a surge in demand for e-tail, delivery services work hard to scale and adapt (provide discounts, “contactless” options, demonstrate good health).

Post offices provide digital solutions like Mobile and POS Kiosks for improved efficiency and less human contact. They also experiment with drone and robot delivery.

International trade. 76% of logistics professionals said they will invest in technology due to pandemic. It includes remote setup for workers, digitization of documents, and business process automation. It reduces costs and risks, delivers efficiencies and introduces transparency. Leading companies like P&G create their own applications. Smaller organizations leverage new SaaS solutions to create no-code business applications. Some turn to outsourcing software development and hire dedicated developers to get best value-for-money.

IoT. The logistics industry is ripe for digitalization, with many fast growing tech startups striving to improve its efficiencies with IoT (e. g., Transmetrics is a startup tackling the issue of the half of transports not carrying cargo after delivery).


A lack of funding, strategy or governance were among the major issues stated by supply chain leaders, according to Deloitte.

Pros of transportation digitization

  •       unprecedented and huge fiscal and monetary stimulus packages
  •       the forced changes will bring long-term benefits for the industry.

Future of transportation

  •       Data analysis will contribute to the emerging “intelligent mobility” market
  •       Public transport apps will include many new functions
  •       Connected vehicles, drones and other devices will expand into “smart cities”
  •       Digitalizing roads with automated traffic control systems etc. will become possible.


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Top-5 next industries to digitalize in 2021

  1.   Financial services
  2.   Manufacturing
  3.   Energy
  4.   Insurance
  5.   Fashion


The pandemic accelerated digitalization so much that the world will never be the same again. If you want to embrace opportunities, whether it’s creating a personalized app, starting an e-commerce business or fulfilling an idea of a startup, hire dedicated professionals to maximize your chances for success.