“Can we manage this new threat without resorting to an economic shutdown?”
A new year is always a time of retrospection and hope that better times are ahead. The lower alert levels opened a few weeks of respite from the restrictive, but necessary, safety protocols that after two long years have left deep economic scars that we must heal while in a still uncertain environment in this evolving battle against the mutating pestilence of COVID 19.
Thought leaders from the academe, industry, and government see that recovering from the impact of these crisis-ridden years will be a problem for the country’s ecosystems. For us consumers, the road to recovery will not be that smooth as bureaucratic barriers to systemic transformations toward a more sustainable, inclusive, and holistic resilience will need enlightened and highly competent leaders to overcome the resistance to disruptive policy reforms and strategic thinking.
Though yet another alarming surge of new infections were recorded in the last few days that health authorities suspect is already from the most virulent Omicron variant and the National Capital Region now regressing to Alert Level 3, there is still a sense of cautious optimism that we should – being survivors of the world’s longest and most stringent lockdowns – be able to manage this new threat without resorting to another economic shutdown. We really have no choice but to live and work in pandemic conditions. With digital technologies, we can.
Economic continuity and recovery are critical to all sectors and for this, digital transformation is now indispensable. This, I believe, is the biggest game changer effected by the pandemic. In an October 2021 Stratbase-commissioned Social Weather Stations survey, almost nine in ten Filipinos (89%) agreed that “the benefits of digital technology such as strong cell phone signals, fast e-banking and social media can greatly help create jobs and businesses.” Ninety-two percent of respondents nationwide say the government should build, upgrade, and extensively expand the country’s digital infrastructure to improve speed, reliability, and access to the internet nationwide.
Cloud-based digital technologies are the default communications and productivity tools of the new digital world. Archaic bureaucracies with old linear analog processes and policies must now be replaced with the more dynamic and light speed efficiency and transparency of digital technologies – characteristics that boost productivity and even curb corrupt practices.
While the government is still developing its ICT capacity and talent, the private sector is a ready partner for technology and expertise. They are actually taking the lead in investing and developing innovative digital services to boost a growing digital marketplace and even venture into becoming major global players.
But before this exciting potential can happen, there are several digital readiness issues that must be prioritized as foundational requisites to be competitive in a digital economy. There is an apparent lack of appreciation on the side of government policy makers of the complexity and the magnitude of investments required to develop and sustain a network of digital infrastructure to support convergent digital services we access through our devices. The nominal budget allocated for the National Broadband Plan is a disappointing example.
Furthermore, the extensive destruction of power and energy, road, and telecommunications networks by super typhoon Odette highlighted the interlinked relationship of these three critical utilities. The total paralysis which delayed rescue and relief operations will definitely affect the pace of recovery in the devastated areas. This calls for more aligned action on the part of government and the private players to close the gaps in disaster protocols, quick response capability, and a strategic plan to rebuild networks that can withstand Signal #4 torrents.
Though primarily from the private telcos, heavy investments to expand and upgrade digital infrastructures must be complemented by a competent workforce that have the matching skills for the digitalized operations of industries. Here is where the educational institutions must keep their training programs at pace with fast-evolving digital technologies.
Coming out of the holidays, I hope that we will be able to avert the further spread of the Omicron variant which is a sad dampener on what should be a hopeful spirit of the New Year. Otherwise, with Odette calamity zones far from recovering, this will be a back to back disaster and a bleak start for 2022.
Being an election year, expect to be bombarded by campaign narratives from politicians competing for your vote to install them into power. There will be varying versions of solutions to the country’s problems that will be mouthed in well-rehearsed speeches.
My bias will be for leaders who understand how technology can be installed as a tool for good governance and economic recovery. A digital mindset, if you may, that will champion the country’s digital transformation and will nurture symbiotic linkages that will harness the private sector as the driver of investments, innovation, jobs, sustainable growth, and competitiveness on a global scale.