Digital Transformation Must Gain Ground

Specialists call for inclusive tech development 

PHNOM PENH--As COVID-19 has forced digital transformation to gain momentum, digital inclusion and digital acceleration for a sustainable and diverse future are imperative for the post-pandemic period, experts say.

Digital acceleration is a business strategy that guides the company's future. It shifts the focus from digitizing a process to adopting the latest technologies.

“We can’t see everything from one perspective,” said May-Ann Lim, director of the Fair Tech Institute and the Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA).

“There are different people and perspectives that you have to take into account when it comes to digital opportunity and acceleration.”

Experts in digital technology-shared insights on Wednesday on digital acceleration during a panel discussion on the sidelines of the third Southeast Asian Development Symposium (SEADS) in 2022, organized by the Asian Development Bank.

Aditya V. Berlia, pro-chancellor of Apeejay Stya University, said digital transformation and technology were widespread globally but digital access and literacy were the major issues for the global population during the pandemic. 

Sustainable technology growth had to be inclusive, he said, adding that people were not as connected as the world had expected, even with the telecom revolution, a huge number of mobile phones and much investment by governments and private entities.

“Digital sustainable growth needs to be inclusive and the governments need to focus on access and literacy,” Berlia said. 

“We can’t be in a scenario where we are all excited with the opportunity of how a new modern AI-driven economy looks without making sure that everybody is with us.”

Equal access and the ability to access information about government services, news, digital transactions in the economy, and security and privacy were the key services that needed to be universal.

Investment should be in affordable mobiles and broadband while digital education and training for children and adults in schools and communities should be provided inclusively for the equal and sustainable future of the digital era.

“This is what I advocate highly,” he said. “Inclusivity is to move beyond government to see how we can get the private sector, particularly SMEs to get involved and prying the government and organizational services, not just for the large government at the state and center level but for banks and educational institutions.”

Alan Lim, head of the Fintech Infrastructure Office at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said the digital infrastructure for the financial center was important during the pandemic, when everything, particularly the economy, had to be digitizaled.

However, he said it was crucial to see how sustainable and improvable these solutions of digitalization may be as the number of transactions performed digitally was increasing.

“We’re moving toward a more inclusive and divided society. How do we enable a more efficient and more inclusive digital economy?” Lim said.

Adaptation of digital infrastructure for financial institutions had to be safe, inclusive, and sustainable, while ecosystems and skills were also important in the adaptation process. 

Organizations and association partners around the world must work together for safe and sustainable finance in the future, he said, adding that the impact of digitalization in the new economy on social wellbeing must also be taken into account.

Shanti Jagannathan, a principal education specialist in the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department of ADB, said that digitalization was important in the education sector and that the sustainable preparation of digital education for the future generation was as significant.

“The expansion of the technological economy in the future skills requires a fairly massive digital transformation,” she said. “Change is already upon us, so the level of preparation needs to be strengthened right now.”

She said digitalization required policymakers to think strongly about allocating budget. Multiple channels for skilling up and enhancing digital capacity should be included in the policy for digital technology. 

Hyuna Jung, a senior associate specializing in infrastructure and energy industries in the Asia-Pacific region, said digital twin for infrastructure was another technology that was helpful for development and maintenance in cities. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical system with updating data.  

“Digital twin shouldn’t be viewed as a product with data purchase but rather understand that it is the process which can be improved upon and can form an integral part of the assets,” she said.

Digital twin can be used in various sectors. Jung gave an example of flooding control in a city. 

She said that with the digital twin, city officials would be able to immerse themselves in a 3D model of underground drain networks. They would be able to monitor floods effectively and see the potential flooding sources whether it be rainfall, in a coastal area or groundwater.

“So, it would be possible to produce accurately what-if scenarios to target the city, carry out maintenance, reducing operating costs and interruption for the business,” Jung said. Digital twin could also be used in clean energy and power efficiency applications.

Berlia said the challenge for digital transformation was in its environmental impact. Shared projects should be a focus to tackle climate change issues.

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