How technology is helping shape the creative industry for a post-pandemic age

When COVID-19 struck, work and life for many in the creative industries was thrown into disarray. The recovery will be difficult. A report by the Creative Industries Federation projects the creative sector will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy in 2020. By Kristine Long, iX Retail Leader, IBM UK Global Business Services and Joseph Kearins, Strategy Manager for IBM Global Consumer Industries Centre of Competence.

As lockdown began, physical events were put on hold. Creators found themselves relocated from the artist’s studio to the studio apartment. As the reality of coronavirus took hold, organisations in the sector began turning to technology, to weather the storm and innovate for the world COVID-19 will eventually leave behind.

In a pre-pandemic world, organisations across the creative industries were gradually rolling out digital transformation programmes, blending strategy, technology and creativity to tackle every challenge. As technology has risen to play a more integral role than ever before across society, organisations must adapt; the creative industries are no exception. A case in point is University of the Arts London (UAL), whose summer graduate show series had been cancelled. UAL faced a huge dilemma: a physical show calendar was impossible but without them, 7000 graduating students would have no outlet to announce themselves to the world. Ranked number two in the world for art and design, and with students of art, design, fashion, media and performance across six iconic UAL Colleges, the University had to find the right solution to hold its graduate show – and fast.

Creating a Unique Platform

A team of experts from across IBM was quickly assembled to take up the challenge. Using IBM’s learning from projects - such as the recent Wimbledon 2020 “The Greatest Championships” competition, where IBM helped deliver a first ever digital recreation of The Championships in just eight weeks - the team set to work. The pressure was on, with three months to tear up the rule book and start again on a project UAL would typically spend a year preparing.

Harnessing ideas from as many perspectives as possible - from staff to students to industry - was incredibly important and central to the project. What everybody quickly understood was that this project was not about technology replicating a live show. The objective was to use technology to create a unique platform for students to showcase their work in the most compelling way for industry, the media and the general public.

IBM led with human-centred design thinking and developed a solution with UAL using Red Hat OpenShift, hosted on the IBM public cloud. The platform was built on a solid foundation of open source innovation, security leadership, and enterprise-grade infrastructure – giving UAL the flexibility to access the very latest applications and services without vendor lock-in. The end result was the UAL Graduate Showcase – a curated and richly-layered digital platform, hosting the next generation of creative talent of students from all six colleges together for the first time in history. The platform went live in July and was incredibly successful. With visitors from around 150 countries, it put the students and their work on a truly global stage like never before.

COVID-19 Changes Creative Industries Forever

Looking forward, as current world events continue to disrupt regular business operations, it is clear that the current health crisis will have a lasting impact on how we live and work.

By harnessing new technologies, the creative industries have been given an opportunity to push past what is considered the norm and embrace digital transformation to push the limits that it once saw as ground-breaking.

Organisations will now have to tackle whether a hybrid approach to live shows and events will become a necessity in the future—not just to cope with post-pandemic safety measures, but to continue to grow in the digital age. Hybrid shows, blending physical and virtual experiences more deeply than ever before, could change how creative campaigns are announced to the world, and shape how creators and audiences engage with the arts. UAL believes that this approach is critical.

Another great example of this was London Fashion Week (LFW) this year which included both digital activations on and physical events, adhering to government guidelines on social distancing. During the week there was total of 50 digital-only activations, 21 physical and digital, 7 physical-only and 3 designers who activated through a physical evening event only.

The LFW digital platform continued to serve as the official digital hub and was freely accessible to everyone, industry professionals and global fashion consumers alike. The platform hosted exclusive multimedia content from designers and brand partners, enabling collaboration and bringing together fashion, culture and technology.

IBM supported by optimising the digital London Fashion Week experience, enabling designers to showcase their stories through multimedia content and ensuring an engaging user experience for the global fashion audience.

Implementing Emerging Technologies Post-COVID

Organisations across every industry now have the opportunity to refocus their digital transformation efforts on customers, particularly when engaging customers and better serving the demands of remote customers. According to research IBM recently commissioned from Omdia, 80% of companies had not fully implemented an omnichannel customer engagement strategy prior to the pandemic, but 68% of respondents will now prioritise this area.

Organisations are being pressed to accelerate digital transformation plans and are fundamentally rethinking workflows as a result of Covid-19. For example, the pandemic has led businesses to adopt hybrid cloud strategies. 95% of respondents agree that moving applications to the cloud had benefited their organisation during the pandemic, with 94% anticipating further investment to accelerate recovery. This will be augmented by investments in edge computing and IoT to further build out their digital platforms.

COVID-19 is a turning point for digital transformation and there will be further challenges ahead. To succeed organisations need to align customer needs, digital priorities, funding, skills, capacity, and strategic objectives.

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