There has certainly not been a shortage of anecdotes on how COVID-19 should be declared the CIO of the year. I have been in many conversations that have variously blamed or credited the pandemic as being the single most significant event that has gotten organizations scrambling to rethink business models and accelerate their digital transformation – something that had previously been at the back of the mind, now pushed to the forefront of every business decision.
The old adage – necessity is the mother of invention – seems more apt than ever, as the world starts to reconfigure its approach to work, education, entertainment and, more fundamentally, well-being. Businesses have begun experimenting with previously untested methods and mechanisms – and this in turn opened the floodgates to accessing digital tools for solutions. Beyond business operations and Work-From-Home initiatives, it has expanded to on-demand food and services, telemedicine and online financial services.
As the dust settles after COVID-19, questions will arise as to how businesses and the workforce will bounce back into the new normal. In fact, the first question to arise will be what the new normal looks like.
For organizations that have boxed themselves in with operations-as-usual at the expense of digitalizing their business and long-term resilience, the current pandemic is a bolt from the future. Businesses that have shifted to digital platforms will better mitigate the effect of the outbreak and will more likely ensure smooth operations immediately after the MCO and over the long term.
A remote workforce is no longer a novelty. In May 2018, Zug, Switzerland service office provider, IWG, found that 70% of professionals worldwide are already working remotely.
While working from home is seen as advantageous by many employees, on the contrary, companies may lack the technological infrastructure to run without disrupting operations. Continued success not only rests on the ability to pivot processes but also company cultures. In China, when the government encouraged millions to remain at home, Chinese companies could immediately adapt due to technological capabilities. Even so, company cultures were simply not ready, resulting in other unexpected social and mental health issues.
In Malaysia, as the gig economy continues to gain momentum, employers will have to reassess rigid work policies that would have been crafted in times when work was centralized. In the interest of long-term effectiveness, even organizations that revert to pre-COVID-19 work practices must transform so they are prepared for a whole new environment.
Innovations in Telehealth, Telemedicine
One of the first instance of innovation I noticed during the early stages of the pandemic was the CoronaTracker app, created by a team of researchers in Malaysia.
Telehealth and telemedicine are now getting attention as well. The government’s move to quickly adopt technology and transform by developing virtual health advisories and using live chats and webinars is in line with this. Malaysia’s telemedicine blueprint, crafted in the late 90s, envisioned a time when patients could receive remote healthcare. In the wake of the pandemic, a Malaysian tech startup, DoctorOnCall, has offered a virtual health advisory platform for people to consult doctors amid the coronavirus outbreak. Innovation, being cited as one of the areas of emphasis of Malaysia’s future health care system in the blueprint, is now in full effect.
Moving forward, solutions in telehealth and telemedicine will require the promise of better data management and security. The public also expects platforms for these purposes are designed to protect the safety of all personal data. Internationally, organizations involved in contact tracing apps or devices have ensured all data collected will be stored privately and anonymized on their platforms. Their approach also includes the data being held in trust until requested by relevant local authorities who will, with their respective contact tracing protocols, choose to contact users.
90% of future jobs will require digital literacy. However, the world has fast-forwarded to the future in a matter of weeks. The call for schools, institutions and universities worldwide to instantly begin offering virtual learning options is gaining momentum. Malaysian institutions offering online courses in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, coding, artificial intelligence and other digital skills, have received very good response.
Meanwhile, many varsities have shifted to online classes to minimize the spread of infection, said Universiti Malaya’s Academic Enhancement and Leadership Development Centre (ADeC) e-learning Head, Dr Zahiruddin Fitri Abu Hassan. To ensure effective learning continues, institutions in Malaysia offering online courses include MDEC’s Premier Digital Tech Institutions (PDTIs).
Fundamental challenges prevail in e-learning, all of which need to be addressed if Malaysia wishes to accelerate the digital economy. In a recent report by a local newspaper, Professor Dr Abdul Karim Alias, Director of the Centre for Development of Academic Excellence (CDAE), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) states that there is a dire need for an efficient system to be developed. He stresses on the challenges like the experience and skill of those imparting education online, the readiness of connectivity and devices, as well as resistant mindsets towards adopting technology. This will be the next barrier to break.
Digital Banking Services and Fintech
The population of the unbanked in Malaysia stood at 8% or two million of the country’s 24 million adults, according to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM)’s Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2017. Essentially, they are unserved or underserved.
There has been a rise in fintech activity of late, rightly canvassing to be inclusive. After all, the marketplace will adjust to new realities and fintech is already adapting to these changes since the start of the pandemic. Perhaps, ultimately, the fintech companies who are able to tweak their solutions to solve today’s problems will emerge strong after the crisis, according to Dato’ Ng Wan Peng, COO of MDEC.
Concurrently, the present observation is that digital payment players that service e-commerce platforms have a strong position in this MCO scenario. This is due to the surge of online purchase brought about by millions of Malaysians who are staying at home.
As businesses and consumers turn to digital banking services, traditional financial institutions will be compelled to hasten their digital innovation efforts. Consequently, many traditional banks may seek fintech to bring more inclusive digital banking solutions to the economy. This will, possibly, make the visit to a bank an increasingly rare occurrence.
Recovery with the Digital Economy
We may be bent by COVID-19, but we will not be broken. At a dialogue session organized by Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) recently, discussions focused on engaging our local tech startups and tech funding agencies. Such efforts from the government and its agencies show strong commitment to continue to work and find ways how it can help mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on various communities.
Over the past weeks, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has collaborated with various industries and ministries to bring tech assistance to businesses and entrepreneurs whose source of income have been affected by the pandemic and MCO.
In line with the government’s announcement of the People-Centric Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) and the subsequent enhancements, MDEC launched the #DigitalVsCovid movement to support businesses and consumers by providing a list of e-services, e-learning and e-businesses for their convenience, and to obtain information and benefit from our digital ecosystem.
Malaysia may be in the thick of battle, but as a nation, we are prepared to emerge victorious as various efforts are made to accelerate the development of digital tools and solutions and thus, hasten Malaysia’s healing.
By Raymond Siva, CMO, MDEC