Pundits didn’t foresee Covid-19 coming in 2020 and that it would accelerate the digitalisation trend – a tectonic shift in its own right – resulting from the fragmentation of physical processes and the emphasis on a low touch economy as part of the standard operating procedures to contain the disease.
Not all the digitalisation trends are precipitated (in the sense of having their momentum accelerated) by the unprecedented spread of Covid-19, though – some would have been in the works for years and the breakthroughs only came in 2020. Likewise, digitalisation trends for 2021 would also reflect similar developments. That is, Covid-19 would have been the impetus and catalyst – in contradistinction from “cause” – for the rise of some digitalisation trends while others would have already been pursued beforehand.
Here are some of the digital lessons we learned in 2020 and a look ahead to what's possible in 2021.
Covid-19 has encouraged and enhanced the use of cloud services for physical operations, such as “cloud kitchens”. What this means is that cooking and delivery services are built around food delivery rather than sit-down service. The underlying purpose is that dining-in (“front-of-house”) areas are removed from the overall business process thus saving costs (labour/manpower, other operational or overhead costs, ie, dining assets, and not least space).
In Malaysia in particular, and the region in general, online food delivery businesses such as GrabFood (through Grab e-Kitchen) and FoodPanda have been leveraging the cloud kitchen concept due to high demand and cost effectiveness. The trend for cloud kitchens is expected to grow in the major conurbations of the Klang Valley in tandem with the explosion of e-commerce in the country.
Moving forward, the artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) – which is the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) – is making steady, at times even rapid, headway. Forbes magazine’s Bernard Marr offers this concept: IoT devices such as sensors, universal remote controllers and biometric scanners can be likened to a digital nervous system, while AI is the brain. To quote Marr, “... [W]hen AI is added to the IoT it means that those devices can analyse data and make decisions and act on that data without involvement by humans”. With the advent of 5G technology and smart cities, AIoT is expected to emerge as part of the new norm in the near future in Malaysian cities and homes too.
As for blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, it’s fast making its mark on supply chain management with strategic collaborations between public and private sectors. In Malaysia, the use of blockchain by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department will ease and facilitate import-export transactions of private sector stakeholders (shipping/logistics, traders). Specifically, the TradeLens platform – as jointly developed by AP Moller-Maersk with IBM, and based on the collaboration Application Programming Interface concept – ensures that all logistic activities such as haulage, warehousing, shipping and freight forwarding at both domestic and international levels can now be wholly integrated.
Finally, autonomous driving will soon be an in thing in Malaysia as it is in other parts of the world, not least across the Causeway in Singapore. Established in 2016, local startup eMooVit Technology specialises in driverless agnostic vehicle software for urban environment routes. The software can be used in different applications, such as first/last-mile transportation, logistics, and utility solutions. On Dec 23, the Bernama news agency reported that eMoovit will be the first company to use Malaysia’s first self-driving vehicle testing route, which was jointly developed by Futurise Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cyberview Sdn Bhd, and the Transport Ministry. The 7km Cyberjaya Malaysia Autonomous Vehicle (MyAV) Testing Route will be used for the development of autonomous vehicles or self-driving vehicles.
All in all, Malaysia is well-positioned to leverage on all of these digitalisation trends, one way or another.
Note: The writer is head of Social, Law & Human Rights at Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations.
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