Pan-ASEAN Covid-19 recovery plan needed to thrust bloc into Internet 4.0 (The Phnom Penh Post)

On the 53rd anniversary of ASEAN’s formation, ASEAN secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi emphasised on the importance of building a concrete and thorough recovery plan to alleviate the socio-economic implications resulting from the pandemic. Key to ASEAN’s recovery will be the digitalisation of ASEAN economies.

The pandemic has expedited digital transformation in ASEAN, as consumers embraced teleconferencing, online shopping and digital financial services. Videoconferencing has allowed people situated far away to communicate with one another, while e-commerce facilitates regional and international business opportunities.

During the novel-coronavirus pandemic, there were disruptions to business operations as supply chains were disrupted and brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close. This led to a drastic drop in consumption figures, with a lack of movement of people countrywide and worldwide due to strict travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantines.

As businesses closed due to movement restrictions, they had to offer goods and services to consumers by engaging them via the digital space. Many businesses started to explore and adapt their business models and activities accordingly, in order to attain business growth or to stay afloat.

In Singapore, the “Hawkers Go Digital” programme was developed during the coronavirus pandemic to encourage hawkers to leverage on e-commerce and e-payment solutions, which will provide more business opportunities.

With a significant increase in digital banking transactions, activities and financial planning services in major ASEAN banks such as Maybank and DBS, banks had to expedite their digital transformation processes instantaneously. This is to ensure that ASEAN banks maintain a competitive advantage and do not lose out on potential business and investment opportunities available in the digital space.

In an Ernst and Young survey of 263 ASEAN retailers in May, 59 per cent of retailers seek to digitalise their firm operations within the next year. Fifty-seven per cent of them are pushing for online sales by selling via their websites, and also on business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms.

Ernst and Young consumer products and retail sector leader for Southeast Asia Olivier Gergele believes that business and operating models in the retail industry have to be elementally reconsidered and transformed post Covid-19, given that tastes and preferences, thinking and behaviour of retail customers are quickly changing.

Manufacturers such as Vietnam’s Garment 10 introduced modern technology and solutions into their manufacturing production, internet marketing and sales. Garment 10 had utilised the data collected about customers, leveraged on Industry 4.0 technologies such as automation, to improve efficiency, customer experience and satisfaction.

Prior to the pandemic, cloud technology capabilities and Internet of Things innovations such as the driverless cars, wearable smart devices, digital home appliances and smartphones have already revolutionised the way people work and live, facilitating real-time collaboration and automating processes. The computing power of computer processing chips growing by one trillion times in the last 50 years is one prime example how the Fourth Industrial Revolution has expedited change.

Digitalisation has evidently proven in the last few months to have further improved the efficiency of business operations and facilitated business opportunities.

It can also foster a greater bond between businesses and consumers, by revolutionising the consumer experience. Group managing director of Genaxis Group Nuraslina Zainal Abidin believes strongly that with digital transformation, businesses can create an immersive and engaging experience for consumers on digital platforms.

There is a huge potential in the Southeast Asian market. ASEAN has the quickest-growing digital market worldwide, with 125,000 new internet users daily. Over the next decade, this will bring an additional $1 trillion to ASEAN’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Southeast Asia is currently home to 10 major technology unicorns, including the likes of Gojek, Grab, Lazada and Razer. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, ASEAN countries had already been planning for a new digital future.

The Brunei government announced the Digital Economy Masterplan 2025 in June to provide its citizens with the right digital environment and infrastructure.

In Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative entitled “Smart Mobility 2030”, Singapore is running trials of autonomous vehicles and buses. It rolled out its electric vehicle-sharing initiative in December 2017, with sufficient electric charging stations nationwide.

Vietnam visualised four potential digital futures and will transit into a digital economy by 2030, while growing sustainably and improving business competitiveness and productivity.

With a score of 0.6667 points, Vietnam scores higher than the global, Asian and ASEAN E-Government Development Index, as the Vietnamese government seeks to leverage on the digital space for policy-making and government initiatives. The way Vietnamese citizens access public services, interact and communicate with the government has been entirely revolutionised.

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The Phnom Penh Post

30 August 2020

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