“In response to travel bans, lock-downs, as well as containment measures and quarantines, people are turning to online shopping, e-learning and social media to maintain some semblance of normality.”

Accelerate Digital Transformation: Mitigate the Business & Economic Impact of COVID-19

Reading Time: 7:38 minutes minutes

By Chee Lioy U, Industry Cluster Lead – Public Sector, Southeast Asia, SAP

A call to accelerate digital transformation

As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to unfold across the world, political, bureaucratic and business leaders are coming to a common conclusion: Digital transformation has become more urgent than ever. In the words of Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communications, “It is time for the government, enterprises and society to invest more intensively in digital technology.”

The reason behind such a call is simple. COVID-19, today, has already reoriented our relationship to the outside world and to one another.

In response to travel bans, lockdowns, as well as containment measures and quarantines, people are turning to online shopping, e-learning and social media to maintain some semblance of normality. At the same time, aggressive social distancing mandates means companies, educational institutions and other organisations are harnessing digital technology to collaborate and operate more effectively.

A study by the Institute of International Finance and Deloitte has found that key digital investments by banks and insurers over the past decade has helped them to be more resilient to the impact of COVID-19. Cloud computing has enabled greater flexibility in where employees work. The ability to link data centres across multiple sites has also allowed these financial institutions to mitigate risk more effectively – as opposed relying on a single venue that could be affected in the event it becomes a coronavirus hotspot.

Digitalise for survival, for new business breakthroughs

With the coronavirus disease epidemic reshaping mindsets and the way the world operates, there’s no knowing how different society will look at the end of the year. That’s especially so without a vaccine available yet.

Organisations that were hesitant to invest in digitalisation because things were going reasonably well must review their stance now for business continuity and to mitigate the business impact of COVID-19. Or they risk their very survival.

Two IDC CXO surveys conducted in China in February 2020 highlighted the value of IT and digital transformation in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. The CXOs polled believe that organisations should turn the crisis into an opportunity as enterprises leading in digital transformation are significantly less vulnerable to the pandemic. These businesses will also be in a better position to identify new business breakthroughs and innovations to generate sustainable corporate results during these challenging times.

According to Bain, the wait-and-see approach is a nonstarter. Customers will change some behaviours permanently. Companies need to take proactive steps to build more resilience into the business. And bold action now is a necessity for success through the downturn and beyond.

Innovative digital tools cushion COVID-19’s impact

Here are some practical and innovative digital tools facilitating business continuity. They are also and allowing organisations to run more smoothly amidst COVID-19:

  • Understanding the Pulse of the Remote Workforce. As entire companies move to working remotely, businesses need to know if their organisations are prepared for the shift, and if their employees have what they need to succeed. A now complimentary remote work pulse allows organisations to check in on their employees, help their workforce feel safe and supported, ensure they have the resources needed for work, and stay productive.
  • Extending the Reach of Your Supply Chain. 75% of companies report that the coronavirus has disrupted their supply chains. To mitigate the impact, businesses can take advantage of the world’s largest business network that’s now free to use. It allows any buyer to post their immediate sourcing need, and any supplier who can deliver to respond.
  • Automating Core Tasks for Business Continuity. With business continuity at risk in a pandemic situation, organisations can leverage on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate core tasks – such as workflows to collate travel declarations, send alerts, answer support tickets – so that these undertakings don’t distract your workforce from key business responsibilities.

Other areas where digital technologies can make a significant positive impact include Telehealth, Remote Learning, and Virtual Conferencing.

Governments have a responsibility to deepen digital transformation spend

Beyond the immediate need for individuals and businesses to function more normally, there’s an even bigger reason why digital transformation investments need to be expanded: To future-proof economies even as governments spend to keep the lights on so that COVID-19 doesn’t turn into an extended economic crisis.

COVID-19: A significant labour market and economic threat

Even though the COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health emergency, it has become a significant labour market and economic threat. The due to COVID-19. And it is calling for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and employment, and support jobs and incomes.

In 2020 alone, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will cost the global economy $1-2 trillion. Central Banks are not in a position solve this crisis singlehandedly. An appropriate macroeconomic policy response with aggressive fiscal spending and significant public investment is required.

Boosting aggregate demand: Beyond roads and bridges

When economies are operating below their macroeconomic potential, governments tend to boost spending in public infrastructure such as roads and bridges to boost aggregate demand and put idle resources and unemployed people to work. Capital investment projects are believed to have larger economic multipliers than transfers or tax cuts, so public infrastructure investment is seen as an effective tool for stimulating the economy.

In today’s rapidly unfolding COVID-19 scenario, it is clear governments also need to deepen investments in digital transformation – whether it is to help businesses, healthcare and educational institutions, and other organisations cope with COVID-19 more effectively, or to boost a country’s digital foundation to prepare for an uncertain future.

Such spend plays the dual role of fuelling the economy right now, as well as building resilience into economies by strengthening the entire ecosystem’s digital infrastructure.

How digital transformation aided Singapore’s COVID-19 response

Singapore – among the first countries to see the coronavirus enter its borders – is an example of a country now benefitting now from its extensive digital transformation work. Its COVID-19 response earned praise from the and other organisations such as World Economic Forum (WEF).

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Asia and the Pacific, Singapore’s COVID-19 digital approach concurrently addresses the four stages of an epidemic: Surveillance, prevention and containment, diagnosis, and treatment.

  • Surveillance. In Singapore, the government is harnessing digital technology for extensive contact tracing. Digital signatures – the tech-related trail we leave behind in our daily life (such as cash withdrawal from ATMs) – are used to identify individuals in contact with the infected. A new app, TraceTogether using Bluetooth, is recently launched to speed up contact tracing.
  • Prevention and Containment. To aid prevention and containment efforts, citizens and residents are kept up-to-date via a national WhatsApp channel, which has more than 630,000 subscribers today. Chatbots for citizens and businesses were also deployed. To date, they have answered over 75,000 queries relating to COVID-19. To prevent further transmission, the government is using online tools to direct citizens and residents to government-issued surgical masks (MaskGoWhere). Those with symptoms are also shown the nearest relevant healthcare facilities they can go to on FluGoWhere. These two sites received more than 1.4 million visits in several days. To better enforce containment efforts, those served with Stay-Home Notices must prove their whereabouts through photos or their phone’s GPS location service. Individuals under Quarantine Orders are also monitored by video calls at least three times a day.
  • Diagnosis. Singapore’s government trialled an AI-driven smartphone-based temperature checker in early February when the nation raised its alert level to DORSCON Orange. This allowed simultaneous temperature taking which alleviated long queues. Cutting down on manual temperature taking also saved time and manpower. The nation also directed R&D efforts in diagnosis. This resulted in a HTX COVID-19 test kit that delivers results in 3 hours with more than 99% accuracy.
  • Treatment. Singapore is taking a two-prong approach towards treatment: Near- and longer-term. Its near-term efforts include research in effective treatment options as the nation remains alert to novel drug and potential vaccine Over the longer-term, the government is looking to alleviate the consequences of COVID-19. This includes a Stabilisation and Support Package amounting to $4 billion (SGD)to stabilise the economy, such as helping workers stay employed and businesses with cash flow.

Today, the nation is ramping up efforts in response to a second wave seen across Asia Pacific as people return from abroad.

As noted by UNDP, “Technology is not a panacea in any situation. But when applied strategically it can support, amplify, and catalyse human talent, dedication, and leadership. Such an approach is important to consider as countries continue to tackle COVID-19 – and in future responses to other global challenges”.

Doing the right thing

People, businesses and governments today face unprecedented challenges with the coronavirus epidemic. But the profound humanitarian fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic does not need to translate into an equally disruptive economic fallout.

Digitalisation is a critical enabler of agility, flexibility, and innovation. These in turn build resilience into individuals, businesses and economies. So we can tackle what lies ahead, together.

As a business, SAP is opening access to our technology during these extraordinary times to help with that. How will you respond?

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