Digital transformation amid Covid-19

The Coronavirus disease has accelerated the adoption of working from home culture to a new normal. [File, Standard]

As the Covid-19 pandemic rages, business organisations and the community at large have had to readjust and operate remotely in a contactless manner as human interaction and physical transactions are restricted for an indefinite period. 

The Covid-19 crisis has upended corporate culture and workplace operations compelling businesses and other organisations to look for ways to move back towards normality, hence catalyzing digital transformation. 

Covid-19 has exposed the value of IT and digital transformation to accelerate the transition to a robust digital inclusion strategy.

Governments, banks and consumers underline the impetus for effective digitisation with the critical role played by government in enabling the transition to a digital environment.

 The primary driver of digital transformation is embracing a technological shift which demands everyone to rethink the role and impact of combatting Covid-19 in their day-to-day experience. 

The Covid-19 breakout has disrupted network connectivity and business solutions. It, therefore, calls for a digitisation trajectory which can be accelerated with a deliberate change of behaviours, norms, and policies. Such transformation should make digital society more inclusive after Covid-19. 

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and is heavily skewed toward integration of digital technology to a more adaptable fully digitally enabled solution. The collaborated technological adoption of smartphones and computers has aided access to the internet and digital public services thereby helping overcome the current Covid-19 related challenges that we never worried about before.  

The current uptake in online learning, streaming and shopping has seen a sharp surge in data usage and traffic on the mobile telephony networks. Safaricom PLC has experienced a 70 per cent surge in data usage and 40 per cent in traffic while Telkom Kenya is reporting a 50 per cent increase in data consumption on its network. Yet they had not planned for it. 

The Coronavirus disease, being an existential crisis has not only given rise to a number of unique challenges but also presented new opportunities and a sense of urgency for mobile service providers to build up their digital capabilities. 

While scaling their online presence to embrace the new norm; with Zoom, WebEx, MS Teams and others being the new conference room; adoption has been slow with privacy a key issue. Increasing online operations by shifting to digital is an initial hitch as businesses contend with remote and scattered, workforces which could affect revenues. 

The overriding challenge for mobile telephony firms will be developing new business models and services to meet the emergent opportunities through innovative solutions to new enablers of digital economy-related services. 

First, mobile service providers have to re-examine their capacity, network resilience and financial robustness as they shift their attention to providing better home-based solutions and applications as millions of employees and students became homebound.

Mobile service providers through partnerships with associations that represent specific industry segments have likely served to accelerate that change. 

Because the mobile telephony sector plays a significant role in Kenya’s economic development with 87 per cent of Kenyans connected to mobile services, this has prompted the government to collaborate with the three main mobile service providers to disseminate information on Covid-19 global health pandemic to their subscribers.

 The social contribution by mobile telephony can be felt in the regular and updated provision of information on Covid-19, and measures to mitigate the epidemic. 

E-commerce has also been enhanced by increased use of technology to improve the experience of employees, customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders. While incorporating the elements of operational agility and customer experience on digital transformation, the operators have identified innovative products and services where they could play a meaningful role in improving capabilities before Covid-19 is subdued. 

Technological transformation is evidenced in online medical services (real-time disease surveillance), online working (remote workforces), online banking (digital payments and mobile money payment), online education (remote schooling with free digital education platform), and Non-contact services (food delivery). These digitally transformed platforms promote choice and solutions while shifting their transformation priorities to ride the current health and economic crisis.

In the current crisis, business organisations and communities must be socialised and acclimated to the new operating conditions and digital systems and prepared to adapt them for business continuity and growth or risk becoming irrelevant and uncompetitive. 

The existing knowledge and digital divide may be widened further as not everyone is digitally connected. That is why digital transformation amid the Covid-19 crisis must be approached in a comprehensive and harmonised way with solutions made more affordable and attainable for the vast majority of the population. 

- Dr Njenga lectures at The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and is also a researcher with ACAL's Covid-19 Thinktank