The shift to a digital way of doing business was an inevitable global phenomena, and for most enterprises, the COVID-19 pandemic served as an accelerator for digital migration.
During the first months, when governments worldwide imposed blanket lockdowns and restrictions, businesses who were already conducting part of their operations online managed to weather the brutal economic beating. Take for example the food and beverage industry. Restaurants who were strictly operating on a dine-in basis suffered the most, because eating would involve people taking their face masks off— a sure recipe for COVID-19 infection.
For food merchants who are already available on food delivery apps, some survived the punishing months of lockdown, while many others had to close shop for good.
Readiness is everything
Even before the pandemic hit, several organisations, like Singapore’s National University Health System (NUHS) had already planned their digital transformation.
During the C-Suite Chat Show titled “Smarter Transitions: The Brave New Enterprise” sponsored by Intel, Lenovo, and cloud computing firm Nutanix, Peter Forbes, the Group Chief Digital Officer of the NUHS, shared how their digital investments proved to be a lifesaver during the pandemic.
“An example there is our OneNUHS mobile application, which we went live with in December 2020. So that was planned ahead of time, obviously, and that provides patients with the ability to book appointments, to request repeat medications, to view their lab results and make payments, and so on,” Forbes said.
“It (the pandemic) also accelerated some other initiatives such as telemedicine. So there we were, obviously doing more telemedicine and teleconsultations during the pandemic period. And we ramped that up. And we also took the opportunity to build that into the OneNUHS app. So as we started to introduce video consultations, we saw that there were a number of benefits to patients and to our doctors in terms of better interaction,” he added.
If there’s any lesson enterprises quickly learned during the pandemic, it’s that digital transformation equals business survival, Kumar Mitra, GM & MD for Central Asia Pacific of Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group, explained.
“If you are not making the investment into that ‘digital first,’ one is you lose your competitive advantage in the marketplace. Secondly, you also lose your ability to attract and retain talent,” he said.
Commenting on digital innovation in the healthcare industry, Mitra said that new technologies now allow patients to have easy access to the best medical opinion anywhere in the world.
“Just imagine what the entire digital medium has done is, you have now gotten access to doctors not limited to only to your community, or your locality, or your country. The entire knowledge pool is now shared across globally. So if there are any complex situations to be dealt with, you can access (the) advice of a specialist who could be sitting somewhere remote. So that medium has enabled you to get the best of the information, the best of the expertise from anywhere,” Mitra pointed out.
For the hospitality industry, which was also one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, adoption of new technologies means safer measures for both guests and employees, noted Gary Ooi, Corporate Director IT of Capella Hotel Group.
“I totally agree that the technology has become very crucial during the pandemic. And we have been engaging the customer digitally, and also created a contactless hotel experience as a safety measure. And we have also seen a spike in the demand for food delivery services— consumers are willing to pay for the services to have food delivered at their doorstep, even though it happened in a hotel, restaurant. And it had dramatically changed the consumer behaviour expectation towards digital platforms. And these changes are, I believe, expected to be long lasting,” Ooi remarked.
Investing where it matters most
During an online survey conducted for the C-Suite Chat Show, among the questions asked was about the single biggest roadblock towards transitioning to the post-pandemic enterprise. Top among the responses was the “lack of technology investment and refresh.”
For the panel of experts, this was not exactly the case.
“I don’t think investment will be the roadblock for digital transformation. Because during (the) pandemic, business has no choice and (has) already invested in those technology areas. And then moving forward, the company or enterprise will still continue to use those technologies it has already invested (in),” Ooi said.
Mitra also disagreed with the lack of tech investment in the enterprise sector.
“I see that as less of a challenge today. It’s probably more of a question of where are they investing in? Are they investing (in) the right priorities, the right places?,” he said.
“There is no longer a concept of a technology company anymore,” Mitra added. “Every business today is a technology business. Think about your ride sharing business. Think about an EV (electric vehicle) company. Think about a healthcare company. They’re all in (the) technology business.”
Meanwhile, Michael Magura, VP Channel Sales of Nutanix for Asia Pacific & Japan, said that investing in new technologies will reward companies a big payoff in the long run.
“I think we always have to look at what the new technologies are allowing us to do. So that if our budgets are reduced, we still have an investment that allows us to maximise our application development and ultimately, our business success,” Magura said.
For NUHS, the digital transformation more than paid off.
“When I look back to when I started on the telemedicine journey with NUHS, up until now, we’ve more than doubled the number of teleconsultations that we’re providing per month,” Forbes shared. “And so it has proved popular with a broad spectrum of patients. Many expect that teleconsultation will be most popular with the young. Equally, some of the older patients are also open to teleconsultation, and enjoy the convenience of not having to travel to the hospital in order to talk to the doctor.”
The post-pandemic enterprise
With the ongoing pandemic, businesses should grab the opportunity to reassess their operations, if they haven’t already, and focus more of their resources on exploring the possibilities of digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, the experts agreed.
“I think this is our opportunity to say, ‘Okay, let’s evaluate what happened, how we approached it, how we beat it, how we excelled in it,’ and then apply that for when the next opportunity to use that thinking comes along,” Nutanix’s Michael Magura said.
Reducing complexity, according to Magura, will also allow enterprises to adopt new technologies better.
“When I look at the headwinds today in the global economy, the supply chain disruptions that we’re all experiencing, many of you out there may have heard ‘the Great Resignation,’ where we’re losing really good people in our companies, and we need to find someone else to go and manage those infrastructures. These are all things that we have to cope with. If we reduce the complexity, we will have a better opportunity to solve our problems more quickly,” he added.
Meanwhile, Capella Hotel Group’s Gary Ooi has his faith in AI.
“So from my perspective, I would think AI will be the big thing to make a big change to the ecosystem. But before having AI, the common practice typically will have all the data on (the) cloud. So since we already have those data or systems on (the) cloud, then it will be easier for us to plug in (an) AI component into it. And then in order to study (the) behaviour of our guests, and then to provide a better service for their future state,” Ooi said.
AI is also among the technologies the NUHS is banking on, according to Peter Forbes.
“We are building an AI platform, which will be called Endeavour, which will enable us to interpret data and provide advice to some of our staff. Then we are also working on holomedicine and the use of holographic technologies to support training, for example of staff in techniques, and then to support that holomedicine. We’re also looking at 5G technology to be able to transmit that data around our campuses,” Forbes said.
“I would definitely see things moving in the direction of hybrid cloud,” he continued. “Here in public health care in Singapore, we’re at early stages when it comes to cloud adoption. Our OneNUHS app for example, makes use of hybrid infrastructure with some elements on public cloud and the more private secure elements sitting within our data centre behind the NUHS firewall.”
For the long haul, according to Mitra, businesses have to make good on their commitments to adopt sustainable practices at a set date because technologies are useless if there is no longer a planet to inhabit.
“People (who are) committing 2032, 2040, 2050 for lead zero, need to be followed through. Otherwise, there’ll not be a place to live for our future generations, and there will be multiple pandemics coming through. That’s nature’s way of equalising us,” he said.