COVID-19 to accelerate digital transformation for companies, say business leaders

21 May 2020

SINGAPORE, May 21 (Xinhua) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalization process for many companies, and some will emerge as leaders in the future while others will be left behind, business leaders said in an online webinar on Thursday.

Themed "The next normal: Harnessing innovative deep technology for Post-COVID-19 businesses," the first session of a new webinar series included panelists Lien Choong Luen, general manager of ride-hailing start-up Gojek Singapore; Sandra Ng, group vice president of IDC Asia/Pacific's practice group; Wu Fei, vice president of Tencent Cloud and vice general manager of Tencent International Business Group; and Zhao Liwei, senior vice president of Chinese tech company Megvii.

The speakers said COVID-19 has disrupted every industry and going forward companies must be prepared for a fundamental shift towards digitization.

Already, COVID-19 has changed attitudes toward the adoption of technology and the future of work may see more working from home and innovative new models springing up.

For instance, Tencent has developed a QR code system on WeChat, which has been used by over 3 billion people in China, as well as smart cloud classrooms for students to continue to learn, said Wu of Tencent.

In this new future, retail may move towards more cloud computing and digitised tools so that stores can be self-operated online and offline, while smart hospitals and assistive technology to reduce the workload of healthcare professionals may be the norm, he said.

Government agencies may also focus on building data platforms to promote more open sharing and promote smart cities and villages, for instance.

Zhao of Megvii said he has observed changing attitudes in China. Its massive manufacturing sector experienced major disruptions when factories were shut during lockdown and had turn to new technology and automation.

Going forward, there is the potential to use artificial intelligence to perform quality control, rather than the traditional methods of people having to check the products manually, he said. Building security can also be done through smart surveillance.

The next six months will be critical to shape the future of work, said Ng of IDC Asia/Pacific. "If the productivity levels and effectiveness go up and the returns are there, then our predictions is that in this new normal, a higher proportion of workforce will be working from home."

But in this race to transform and digitize, you "either have super big winners or super big losers," especially when it comes to asset-heavy industries, said Gojek's Lien.

For Gojek, it has had to shift to a contactless model for its food delivery riders during COVID-19, for instance.

Digital transformation does not include just ramping up infrastructure, but having a change in culture, people and processes to become a more resilient, agile business, said Ng.

Finally, the speakers concluded that online channels cannot completely replace offline channels.

Launched by Business China, the series will see prominent business leaders, professionals, think tanks and experts share their insights about the evolving business environment, especially during this volatile COVID-19 situation.