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Ideas & Debate

Adoption of tech will be critical after pandemic

Working from home
Working from home. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The entry of Covid-19 has surely brought the world to a standstill. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has already warned that if the disease continues to spread, its central growth forecast for the global economy could be slashed to as low as 1.5 percent.

The world has already experienced the outbreak of disease that brought with it, negative financial impact within this millennium. In 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, resulted in a global cost of $30 billion, while the Ebola outbreak of 2013—2016 remains associated with lost economic growth in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in the northwards of $2 billion. In fact, a 2017 article published in the bulletin of the WHO stated that the cumulative economic impact of antimicrobial resistance through to the year 2050, is anticipated to exceed $100 trillion, if no global intervention measures are put in place.

Covid-19 has now compelled many countries to put their entire populations on lockdown; others are said to follow suit, in the coming days. No one can be absolutely certain that this gigantic quarantine, arguably the greatest test to the West and the world since World War II, will actually work. However, what will ensure the continued existence of businesses and commerce is, telecommuting. In fact, should the world continue to be exposed to the outbreak of disease on the scale of Covid-19, telecommuting, may fast stop being a nice-to-have USP for a business but an essential global requirement.

Telecommuting gained popularity in the 1970s. Employees no longer had to travel to a central location (the office) to work, and were instead able to reach out to their managers and colleagues through the wireline telephony service in use, at the time. Fast forward to the 21 Century, telecommuting as we know it has evolved; the experience is now more enhanced with the advent of data-enabled devices: laptops, tablets and smart phones, all powered by mobile voice and Internet connectivity.

The mobility aspect therein has redefined telecommuting altogether — the ability to work from ‘wherever’, giving fresh impetus to the 1990s phrase “work is something you do, not a place you go to.” A Reuters poll posits that globally, one in five employees telecommute frequently. Some may look at Employee Telecommute Programmes as a measure of cost reduction; organisations playing their part to reduce their carbon footprints, and enabling their employees to balance their work responsibilities better, with their personal lives and family obligations. That may be true. However, the hard reality is that the older generations are being prepared for the inevitable — a new breed of millennials that will redefine what, how and where it means to get the job done. The location will no longer be an issue.

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With the lockdown, one other basic activity has also been impacted — education. Covid-19 has led to arguably the single largest common duration of global school closures. However, there is a silver lining here for our children and others in pursuit of higher learning. As global Internet penetration levels improve, education experts have to admit that e-learning will have to become the new normal.

E-learning considers all forms of online, Web-based and technology delivered instruction. Other than the obvious fact that the student is able to continue with their learning schedule away from their conventional brick and mortar school, it has been proven to increase accessibility to learners, who would also be in a position to refer to past teacher-student sessions posted online, thereby leading to better retention. The personalised approach that e-learning brings also ensures that the learner navigates their own path, thereby remaining vested in their studies. Governments will therefore have to take a hard look at their future investments, to see how best to adopt e-learning on a broad scale, for the long term.

Moreover, as the world’s economies continue to grapple with Covid-19, there will be reduced trade revenue, increased financial market shocks, increased all-cause morbidity and a loss of cost-wages. All these pointing to negative impact on global investment initiatives. However, business transactions are still ongoing at the micro-level; basic purchases at one’s local shop, supermarket, and pharmacy. The red flag here is the continued use of hard cash to make payments.

In Kenya, cash transactions have remained popular with business people making about 95percent of their transactions in cash, as recently as 2016. If there is to be a further reduction in the spread of communicable diseases such as Covid-19, it will be imperative for financial institutions the world over to make a concerted push for the global overhaul of the cash economy and progressively evolve into a cash-lite and eventually cashless economy. It is my prediction that the use of hard cash will fall to southwards of 80 percent in the country.

In Africa, the World Bank, in 2017, estimated that about 90percent of retail transactions in sub-Saharan Africa were cash-based. However, experts also predict that the increasing number of mobile subscribers on the continent could lead to an increase in the mobile money market, and hence a marked reduction in the use of hard cash, across the continent, too.

The writer is digital transformation specialist and MD, Enterprise Division at Telkom Kenya.

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