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  • By Jay Shedd

Speedway to the future: How Covid-19 is accelerating digital transformation

If I told you this time last year that video calling and conferences would be a normal part of one’s daily life, or that school classrooms would be conducted on tablet and laptop screens at the kitchen or living room counter of your home, you may not have believed me.

But that’s the reality we are facing today.

Covid-19 is being described as a “watershed moment” for digital transformation.

Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technology, like the internet, mobile data, apps and so on, by service providers and businesses to replace manual process or even replacing older digital technology with newer technology. Digital transformation also extends into the community and society as a whole as our digital habits change.

The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have pushed us to adopt digital technologies much more quickly than we may have without this event.

According to the World Economic Forums’ Digital Transformation Power the Great Reset report released in July 2020, globally:

  • More than 25 percent of consumers use mobile devices for purchases at least once a week

  • There is a 160 percent expected increase in frequency of digital purchases, as reported by global consumers

  • 48 percent of employees will likely work remotely at least part time post-Covid versus 30 percent pre-Covid

But digital transformation was already on its way to Guam way before the pandemic. Government services were available online. Guam Power Authority and Guam Waterworks Authority were offering payment services online and through their mobile apps. The Department of Motor Vehicles offered various services, including car registration, business license renewal and scheduling appointments to renew or apply for a driver’s license on its website. The Department of Revenue and Taxation allows the filing of taxes online, as well.

Most local businesses and organizations had websites and social media, with varying levels of online services and advertising strategies, and some had their own mobile applications. Most notably, banks were offering online banking and mobile apps.

On a broader scale, people were already booking flights, hotels and other accommodations through, Agoda or Expedia. We were shopping online and tracking our packages on the USPS website.

It was more a matter of “when” not “if.”

Globally, many have been studying digital transformation and trying to predict the results for years. The World Economic Forum launched the Digital Transformation Initiative in 2015 to bring together governments and enterprises all over the world to study digital transformation and gain insight into the impact of technology on business and society over the next decade.

According to a 2018 report generated by the initiative, 8 billion devices at the time were connected to the internet around the world. This number was forecasted to grow to 1 trillion by 2030, with mobile devices being a major player. The technologies expected to usher in the transformation were artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, data analytics, cloud, custom manufacturing, 3D printing, robots, drones and social media and technology related to the internet of things.

Education, healthcare, retail, consumerism, manufacturing – all were predicted to be revolutionized by digital technologies.

The report posited that the responsibility of businesses and organizations would be to create new digital business models or digital offerings, equip our workforce with skills and tools needed for a digital world and be mindful of security and privacy.

The report noted that inhibitors to the change would be the “innovator’s dilemma” of fearing the cannibalization of existing revenue models, low technology adoption rates, conservative organizational cultures and regulatory issues.

Covid-19 appears to have put us on the fast track to digital transformation. Businesses, organizations and the community at large were forced to adopt digital habits and models they otherwise may not have.

On Guam, when the pandemic and resulting government mandates came around, the community began to rely more heavily on technology. More restaurants and retailers began accepting orders online or via their business’s apps or Whatsapp for curbside pickup. Digital menus were made available to be accessed using QR codes.

The businesses with the capabilities to allow employees to work from home, did so. Businesses and organizations began using Zoom or other video conferencing services to have meetings with staff and clients. Our schools began offering online learning. Virtual events and conferences began popping up.

As the health crisis lingers, we become used to this way of doing things. Many people are discovering it may actually be more convenient to do things online and from their mobile phones. Certainly, avoiding long lines at the DMV is something we all want.

Long-lasting impacts include wider use of contactless payments, like Apple Pay and Google pay, as people are more mindful of avoiding germs.

The use of contactless check-ins at airports and airlines could be more widely adopted. The United Airlines app already offers check-in, passport and visa scanning and mobile boarding passes. By using these services, travelers will spend less time in airports, reducing exposure to any virus or disease.

Healthcare and technology will become more intertwined. Today, our phones are tools to prevent the spread of diseases. We’re seeing it with the Guam Covid Alert app, which notifies users if they have been exposed to positive cases of Covid-19. Tomorrow, we’ll continue to see more innovations in telemedicine and mobile technologies that will give the average citizen the ability to be proactive about their health.

So how do organizations keep up with this transition to digital?

In its report, the World Economic Forum recommends that digital transformation should include changes to business models, operating models, supply chains, decision-making, finance, investments, talent and new value.

But going digital could be a challenge for small or medium-sized businesses, which make up a majority of the businesses on Guam and worldwide. Mainly, small businesses don’t have the resources to invest in new technologies or hire a director or consultant to lead digital transformation strategies.

I think for small business the key to the digital transformation is to focus on the most important areas. One such area is social media. It’s basically a free advertising platform. If used correctly, it gives small businesses the ability to engage directly with existing and potential customers. In fact, it’s an expectation now among consumers that a business has a social media account that has updated hours of operation and phone number, at the minimum.

In addition, social media provides useful data. It’s easy to see how many likes, comments and views an ad or video receives. From there, one could determine customers’ interests.

Most important is attitude. Businesses and organizations today cannot be scared of technology and the changes it brings. Yes, some caution and research are necessary, but don’t be afraid to learn new things.

This is especially important in the Covid-19 era. For many years to come we will be sorting out and examining how this global event has changed us.

The “new normal” is upon us. As a community we should welcome and prepare for this instead of waiting for things to “return to normal.”

— Jay R. Shedd is Senior Director of Sales, Marketing and Customer Service at IT&E, the largest wireless service and sales provider in Guam and the Marianas. He has more than 30 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.

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