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Flexibility and Agility are Critical During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is interrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. And in many ways, it is accelerating the adoption of trends that were already on their way. Suppliers, manufacturers and retailers that are agile and flexible enough to extend into these areas of acceleration will be better positioned to survive and excel in the post-pandemic world.

There is historical precedent to back this up. “The SARS outbreak in 2003 spurred Chinese businesses to create contactless payment systems that have now become the norm in that country … and the U.S. could see a similar spike in adoption now.”[1]

We will likely see many of the changes we are experiencing in the workplace, payments, transit, public sector services and banking become permanent out of necessity and consumer desire to maintain status quo. Once people get used to a “new normal” that also brings with it convenience and security benefits, reverting to a pre-pandemic world will be difficult … and, frankly, unnecessary.

Person using a laptop

The new workplace

Over the course of the last 12 years, remote work arrangements have grown 159%.[2] The rise of high-speed home Wi-Fi and collaborative software and communication solutions has made this transition possible. But the introduction of social distancing guidelines and statewide lockdowns have made remote work the norm for vast swaths of the workforce in the U.S. and around the world. Multiuser video conferencing platforms have seen a surge in usage. Some of these solutions have experienced growing pains that risk their brand integrity around security features that had been widely dismissed … until their services became critical.

The shift of workforces to remote work arrangements has shone a light on security vulnerabilities that were at least tolerable before. Organizations are having to examine and redesign their network security protocols, shifting them from primarily protecting users on a more secure, closed, onsite network to managing the VPN traffic of dozens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of users newly dialing in from their home networks.

This example vividly portrays the trends we are noticing. Nothing entirely new is happening really, but we are seeing the virtually overnight adoption of trends that would have taken a decade before this global emergency.

Payments in the post-pandemic world: In-store and ecommerce

As countries around the world begin to lift restrictions on dine-in restaurant seating and other social activities; adjustments will need to be made. Increased distances between diners and lowered maximum capacities will certainly be a reality for the foreseeable future. But the biggest change consumers are likely to see as restaurants and bars reopen is an increase in contactless transactions, as we already saw in retail. Not only will payments be contactless and transactions cashless, but menus and other shared resources in restaurants as well as other stores will be replaced with mobile-accessible versions so that customers need only interact with their own device.

Since people are staying home, we saw an increase in ecommerce sales as consumers prefer online shopping instead of going to physical stores. More and more businesses would go online in future and setup digital shops. As volume of online payments will keep on increasing, ensuring security will be very key in order to ensure fraud levels don’t rise. Since the start of the pandemic we also saw an increase in ecommerce fraud[3]. Solutions such as EMV 3D-Secure 2.0[4] help reducing fraud while keeping a good user experience.

Transitioning transit

Transit will also change. Blocked seats and increased distance between riders will certainly be with us for sometime, as well as extra measures needed to ensure safety as cities start opening up. But also contactless ticketing will be increasingly prevalent. But a move to  contactless ticketing will necessitate a rethinking of the security protocols transit providers have in place. To reduce the opportunities for counterfeit tickets being displayed by riders, these contactless systems will need enhanced features. One such system used by a transit system in the midwestern U.S. employs an mobile-based ticket that animates when it is purchased and visibly changes background color when the rider touches their phone. A conductor can safely witness this interaction from a distance to verify both that the rider has paid the fare and that they are not using a counterfeit ticket. Leaders in this technology have the opportunity to share the learnings with others to hasten the rollout of features like this around the world.

We also see how migrating to EMV in transit solutions[5] will help towards this change by helping transit users to directly use the credit and debit cards they already have and avoid the need to enroll in a new system in every city they visit.

Digital Identity and public sector services

These accelerated trends are possible because of a confluence of technologies as well an unexpected and extraordinary external need. But of all the technologies that had to converge to make this possible, mobile technology is at the center of it all. Cashless payments, contactless ticketing and remote networking are only safe and secure because we trust the privacy controls on our own devices. But do we trust them enough to verify our identity for bank transactions and identification documentation purposes? The accelerated acceptance of the trend toward mobile driver’s licenses (mDL) might finally make more of this possible.

The main challenges for the acceptance of mDL by wider and wider segments of society include:

  • Interoperability: Ensuring that your issued mDL works across (state) borders
  • Security: Guaranteeing the trust of driver’s license verifiers such as law enforcement in the authenticity of your mDL
  • Privacy: Assuring the end user's privacy is intact and that their data is protected

The primary purposes of a driver’s license is to confirm identity and convey driving privileges. The ISO 18013-5 standard provides a mechanism to obtain and trust the data from an mDL. UL is supporting industry players and authorities towards the international standardization of mobile driving licenses[6]. The integrity and authenticity of an mDL is protected through the use of cryptographic mechanisms and digital certificates managed by a public key infrastructure under control of the department responsible for issuing the license.

Because mobile device privacy systems, such as fingerprint or facial ID, are the basis for the fundamental security underlying these increasingly contactless transactions, it is imperative that mobile devices remain secure and that identification systems are standardized and protected[7].

Standing in line at a local government office to get a paper-based ID or documentation for a home purchase, birth or death certificate, or business transaction may become a thing of the past like so many other of the segments mentioned here. It is increasingly likely that even these processes and systems will be brought online.

We’re not going back, but that’s ok

So while the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted life and the economy in unprecedented ways, it is also hastening the adoption of trends that would have happened eventually anyway. Suppliers, manufacturers and retailers who are agile and flexible enough to take advantage of the opportunities will be well-positioned to thrive during and after the crisis. UL can help. Our extensive network of industry-leading experts in safety, security and sustainability can help you reexamine, readjust and retool as needed to not only survive, but succeed.