Concocting digital strategies fit for the new normal

May 09, 2020 | 08:00
The ongoing pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges, putting critical technology to the test in far-ranging ways to support governments, businesses, and societies towards rebuilding. Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, writes about what Vietnam can do to ensure technology can play the correct transformative role.
1490p12 concocting digital strategies fit for the new normal
Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition

The world is in a race to respond to COVID-19 efficiently, as the pandemic has and continues to disrupt societies. Global economies are faltering and life as we know it has been put on hold for many. Trade and commerce has to adapt, travel is restricted, and how we keep close to our communities and loved ones continually evolves.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that the economic impact of COVID-19 globally will be at least $1 trillion this year.

In this unprecedented moment, technology is playing a transformative role in the world’s response. Emerging technologies are being developed and deployed at an extraordinary pace.

When economies reboot, and we emerge from self-isolation or lockdown, entrepreneurial ideas born on our sofas will need the freedom, space, and support to scale up quickly. The next Asian unicorn is probably being hatched in a small town somewhere. Those ideas, big or small, will need the right digital ecosystem that supports an entrepreneurial response to flourish, not to flounder.

Heavily impacted sectors, like tourism, must be sustained through tough times to retain skills and bolster industry recovery. International co-operation, public-private partnerships, and technology-driven innovation will be essential to support the economic impact of these sectors for the good of all economies.

In Vietnam, technology has been crucial in the exceptional handling by the government and the community of this crisis to date.

Led by the heroic efforts of essential workers, public health policy is in the process of being altered forever. Technology has played a role in helping stretched public health systems manage caseloads, enabling supply chains, connecting health workers to patients, facilitating telemedicine services for rural and affected communities, and supporting digital health tools.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Health launched health declaration mobile application NCOVI to help the public report their medical conditions and follow the contact tracing. This app was launched prior to the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic. This forward-thinking action has helped manage the response, and engendered confidence from citizens.

Open source sharing of knowledge and data has made rapid and crucial partnerships between Vietnamese and global companies possible. Vingroup recently announced a tie up with Medtronic and Foxconn to produce ventilators, with 50,000 life-saving machines expected per month.

Education went from the classroom to the living room overnight. This seismic shift, enabled by the internet and digital platforms, has helped learning to continue. However, hard questions on internet access, investment in teachers and the broader role of technology should be asked and answered.

As the physical movement of goods and people becomes increasingly restricted around the world, technology such as cloud is a powerful lower-cost option for small businesses. At the same time, digital e-commerce and ride-hailing platforms are a lifeline for food, medicine, and essential services.

With social distancing increasingly practiced globally, working from home is the new norm, enabled by cloud-based video conferencing services and collaboration tools. Responding to this new paradigm of work will require business, government, and community to embrace new practices.

Paramount to ensuring that technology can contribute even more will require governments to rethink digital policies and regulations in order to remove barriers and reduce burdens.

There will be many competing priorities for government attention, investment, and regulation in the months and years ahead. Technology companies are willing to play a leadership role in the rebuilding phase. Public-private partnerships should be deepened to enable this.

Some of the necessary measures put in place by governments during the pandemic will need to be re-examined, specifically those related to personal data use, privacy, surveillance, and misinformation. Pandemic-era policies should be time-limited, proportional, transparent, and accountable.

In the rebuilding phase, it will be essential for innovation, public trust, and governance that these potentially overreaching measures are put back into the box, and only used in genuinely critical times like these.

Across Asia, there has been rapid progress in the path of transformation towards more digitised economies. Vietnam has likewise been on this journey. There is universal recognition that digital platforms and services and the internet spur GDP and job growth, create more significant social and economic inclusion, and help bridge the digital divide.

Restarting that journey will be even more important in the future.

By Jeff Paine

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