Continued Innovation and Pivots: How to Identify and Solve ‘Black Hole’ Problems 

By Anthony Hageman

During the early days of the pandemic, there were vodka brands producing hand sanitizer and hockey equipment firms producing face shields. Retailers pivoted by introducing curbside contactless delivery. These were more responses than full pivots, in which brands shifted their focus for altruistic reasons or were simply looking for ways to survive through the pandemic’s worst effects. Beyond these stories were broader shifts in the way consumers received services, and there were innovative companies that adapted by tackling persistent problems.

In some cases, these problems were previously hidden or seemed intractable “black holes.” However, the pandemic forced digitization of services and change to how people interacted with brands and each other, which provided an opportunity to address old problems. This dynamic showed various stakeholders how innovation across various industries could help people, especially those in traditionally vulnerable populations.

The Telehealth Revolution

According to CDC data, during the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% compared to the same 2019 period, and a 154% increase in visits was noted in week 13 of 2020. This reflects the pandemic’s immediate impacts but also the swift acceptance of telehealth interactions as a viable and convenient way to receive care. It showed providing better care for rural, disabled and immunocompromised populations could largely be done through telehealth visits, in combination with remote monitoring and enhanced access to data.

Telehealth services were not invented during the pandemic, but they were brought to scale and greatly improved through innovation. Legislators and governmental agencies relaxed rules about telehealth services by allowing out-of-state practitioners and prescription restrictions, among other rules.

For example, Nines is a radiology telehealth provider that offers NinesAI™, a platform that can notify radiologists of a life-threatening finding within 15 seconds of scan completion. This tech greatly improves the speed of diagnosis and care. This is especially impactful for rural patients who previously would wait hours or longer for their X-ray results, which could put them at risk if they had an urgent medical issue. The company’s strategy reflects sound management that saw a market opportunity and combined advances in AI with a broad public acceptance of digital health services at the right moment.

Delivery Transformed

Like telehealth services, the expansion and ease of food delivery platforms helps disabled populations and the immunocompromised. With platforms like Instacart and Farmstead, elderly people and others with mobility issues could easily order groceries without leaving their homes.

The expansion of this type of delivery also benefits small businesses that include their products on the mainstream delivery apps. This provided them with access to new audiences who were previously not seeing their products because they rarely visited physical stores.

There are multiple delivery firms shaping the industry by addressing core problems. For example, multiple providers are tackling the various “last mile” problems. Amazon Flex is a service that’s crowdsourcing delivery by pairing non-professional drivers with timely deliveries. It’s a similar dynamic to Uber or Grubhub, where a person uses their own vehicle to delivery local packages, sometimes under an hour from the order time.

At Strategic Innovations, we are poised to be another disruptor in the delivery space. eLiT has potential to overcome the problem of non-visible or improperly pinned addresses. It’s a massive issue for delivery firms, retailers and the end consumers because it results in delayed deliveries, excess expenses and frustrations for all parties. eLiT features proprietary technology that greatly improves the accuracy of GPS mapping pins, so delivery drivers no longer need to search aimlessly for the right address. It also provides a solution for house numbers that are difficult to see in the dark, faded away or are simply missing from a home. The company is tackling a classic “black hole” problem, one that’s persistently detrimental to everyone involved and was lacking a quality solution.

Streamlining Travel Experiences

During the lockdown periods, many airlines recognized an opportunity to revamp their technology services. Some of these brands reset during the pandemic by developing new services. Bahrain airline Gulf Air used the shutdown to revamp its online booking platform, dynamically shift its cabin seating and move more customer functions to the online portal instead of through the call center or travel agencies.

Many airlines began building out or exploring biometrics capabilities during the pandemic. Airlines such as Delta, JetBlue and Air France were already utilizing some biometrics processes, but this will likely become the industry standard in the coming years. It improves accuracy and safety and eliminates a touchpoint that occurs within the traditional boarding process in which staff scan passenger’s documents by hand.

Additional innovations that will reduce delays and touchpoints are 3-D model bag scanning equipment that will allow security staff to look closely into passenger’s bags without the need for the removal of laptops or hand checks. Delta launched a virtual queuing app that alerts passengers when their seat/section is boarding not just the entire plane. This type of app can reduce congestion at the boarding gate, lessen tensions and give passengers more time before boarding.

Finding Your Tough Problem

From the CEO level, there are multiple lessons from these industries’ responses to the pandemic. For the airlines, the industry leaders offered tech that could enable distancing but also developed innovations for the customer experience benefits. The same dynamic occurred with food delivery and telehealth. Firms pivoted quickly to meet demand and stay relevant in the short term. Then they examined the long-term benefits of digitization and the societal shifts that will cause consumers to expect these types of services long after the pandemic fades.


Guest post courtesy of Anthony Hageman

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