Digital Transformation

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The pandemic has been seriously affected Vietnam’s economy in general and the tourism industry in particular. Data at the end of last year shows that COVID-19 has had a negative US$1 trillion to tourism worldwide and a reduction of 61% to Vietnam’s tourism revenues compared to 2019.

Clearly, traditional management and business methods cannot adequately cope, globally and in Vietnam as well. The pandemic has required the tourism industry to implement digital transformation solutions and establish a smart tourism data integration and sharing system. Various cities and provinces of Vietnam plan to leverage technology to boost their tourism sectors. This is in line with the governments overall emphasis on digital transformation across the board.

Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Giang is looking to promote the local tourism industry through digital transformation and smart services in partnership with the National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) and a mobile carrier. Under the agreement, VNAT and the mobile carrier will assist Ha Giang to use the carrier’s Smart Travel system to ramp up promotion of tourism as well as to provide useful information to potential travellers.

Ha Giang authorities will provide relevant data about local destinations, scenic spots, historical sites, culture and food to be incorporated in the Smart Travel system. The provincial authorities will also facilitate connection with local organisations and businesses to develop tourism through digital transformation.

The platform features advanced technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, big data and e-commerce. The portal has been designed to meet the needs of tourists, businesses, service providers and regulators alike. The data collection and analytic tools will give tourism authorities an overview of their local tourism’s advantages and challenges, allowing them to formulate and introduce policies and provisions.

VNAT has also signed an agreement with Ha Giang to assist the province create and develop tourism products, promote the brand of Ha Giang tourism and develop the workforce for tourism. VNAT Director Nguyen Trung Khanh said the cooperation will open new opportunities to boost the tourism of Ha Giang and Vietnam at large in a more effective manner. He added that digital transformation and smart travel development are the inevitable processes, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of life. Ha Giang Vice Chairman Tran Duc Quy was confident that the agreement would significantly drive the growth of the local tourism industry and harness its full potential.

Vietnam has been eager to boost its tourism sector after it was hit by the pandemic. In November 2020, Việt Nam International Travel Mart (VITM) finally took place after being postponed three times. Thousands joined the annual Việt Nam International Travel Mart, one of the tourism industry’s most anticipated annual events.

Vũ Thế Bình, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said that while the event was smaller, the content is more profound and discusses how we overcome the consequences of the pandemic and also other kinds of crises. Bình stressed that the theme for the event was digital transformation for tourism development, “All of our economic sectors will gradually transform with digital technology. But tourism is one of the first economic sectors to have a chance to transform with digital technology.”

The platform featured over 300 stalls of tourism enterprises, airlines and tourism service providers from 47 cities and provinces throughout the country and six foreign countries and territories, namely Thailand, Peru, Japan, South Korea, Colombia and Taiwan. The exhibition had a separate zone for digital transformation exhibition, where companies could introduce new products at a hall for four days – the very first time the tourism sector got close to technology.

Recently, Vietnam’s tourism industry launched the online tourism mobile app “Du Lich Viet Nam An Toan” (Safe travel in Vietnam) that integrates electronic payment and the monitoring of public health in just one card. The app is aimed at more than 43 million smartphone users. This is a useful tool for travellers in recommending safe destinations and advertising destinations to tourists, as well as effectively serving the second domestic tourism stimulus programme. The app is also considered to be one of the practical digital transformation activities of state management agencies in the tourism industry.

As banking becomes more increasingly online, and with the data touchpoints on the rise, AI and ML have become an integral part of a bank’s DNA. It is a natural outcome that the more the data touchpoints, and the wider the data exposure, the greater the chances of things going wrong. Understanding this vulnerability, banks and financial institutions are keen on deploying AI/ML to keep a check on fraud incidents.

To get a better insight into how banks are adopting and adapting new technology and what is the future looking like for them, OpenGov Asia had a conversation with Dr David Hardoon, Senior Advisor for Data and Artificial Intelligence, Union Bank of Philippines.

David acknowledged that the rise in digital data points, as a result of increased online banking, has necessitated leveraging technologies like AI and ML to derive actionable insights. Additionally, more financial institutions see the benefits of adopting technology to keep fraud in check. The headway in security has encouraged them to scale it to other core functions like floor management, compliance, and regulation.

This is an almost-radical departure as historically there has been a reluctance in adopting technology among financial institutions due to unfamiliarity and the stern regulations around it. The pandemic has driven this paradigm shift, forcing organizations to think beyond their existing boundaries and comfort zones.

David noted that even the support office is catching up with the front office in terms of robustness, scalability, and capability to know when something is wrong. This is driven by the need to ensure a smooth and secure online experience for the customer.

On being asked about the notion that online malls and shopping sites are leading the way in customer experience and engagement over online banks and financial institutions, David agreed the banking industry is lagging but highlighted an important issue. The pandemic has driven people online but there is a fundamental lack of trust among customers engaging with such e-commerce sites.

“Trust is an equity financial institutions have, he opined. But it needs to be leveraged appropriately to build customer engagement online.”

Speaking about fraud and risk management in financial institutions in the post-COVID-19 era David shared that there has been a tremendous increase in the adoption of technology among banks. The strategy has been to use existing systems and adopt/adapt more sophisticated data techniques to achieve operational efficiency.

Banks are also focusing on taking the marketing mantra of hyper-personalization to compliance. David shared that data is the tool that equips banks with the ability and capacity of seeing and engaging individuals as individuals. Adding to this, he believes that such technologies can only be deployed in an institution when the top management believes in its power.

Elaborating on the future of AI/ML in fraud, David believes that the conversation is going to shift from digitizing the front office to bringing in the latest technology in the middle and back office in financial institutions. Apart from focusing on driving top-line growth, companies will need to get a better handle to know if anything wrong or irregular is happening.

David is confident that discussions around using AI/ML to manage fraud and risk will convert into action. The implementation might not be uniform across all institutions, but will it will move forward. Bigger institutions who have focused teams and resources will look to develop in-house fraud and risk management systems initially. A major reason behind it is the need to understand the complexities and difficulties associated with this process. Once they have familiarized themselves with it, they might partner with experts who champion the field.

All in all, David is an optimist who believes in the power of AI/ML, in risk and fraud management, and believes that conversations around it will get more operational.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has announced it will establish a Quantum Computing Applications Lab, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), to accelerate quantum computing-led research and development and enable new scientific discoveries.

The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab will provide quantum computing as a service to government ministries and departments, researchers, scientists, academia, and developers. It will enable advances in manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and aerospace engineering.

According to a press release, AWS will provide hosting with technical and programmatic support for the ab. The initiative aims to provide scientific, academic, and developer communities access to a quantum computing development environment aligned with the government’s science and technology priorities.

Quantum computing is an emerging field that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to build powerful tools to process information. It has the potential to solve computational problems that are beyond the reach of classical computers and lead to breakthroughs that can transform chemical engineering, material science, drug discovery, financial portfolio optimisation, machine learning, and much more.

The lab will identify quantum computing problem statements for experimentation from among central and state governments, research institutions, and academia. It will work with subject matter experts from the government sector to define the problem statements, and make them public, inviting applications from researchers, academia, and organisations to address them. The lab will then provide select applicants with free access to quantum computing hardware, simulators, and programming tools, on-demand. This will help scientists and developers to build algorithms, conduct advanced simulations, and run experiments.

Amazon Braket provides a development environment to enable users to explore and design quantum algorithms, test and troubleshoot them on simulated quantum computers, and run them on different quantum hardware technologies.

The Secretary of Meity, Ajay Sawhney, said that India has a rich legacy in science, technology, and innovation. The government believes that India’s path forward will be driven by achieving world-class scientific solutions. Enabling the scientific community with advanced technologies plays a key role in scientific advancements and learning.

An early and successful foundation in quantum computing is important to achieve leadership in this emerging field. The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab is the first of its kind initiative in the world and aims to enable India’s talented researchers to explore the unchartered applications of quantum computing, and pave the way for discoveries and disruptions, another government official noted.

A core mission of MeitY is to identify and deploy technologies to promote innovation and discovery to help India advance and achieve a more sustainable future. Quantum computing has the potential to help countries leapfrog technology generations, achieve scientific leadership, and deliver answers to complex economic and social challenges. This initiative will augment India’s ongoing efforts in developing quantum computing applications, the President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), Abhishek Singh, explained.

The MeitY Quantum Computing Applications Lab will help government bodies and the scientific community identify problems and opportunities rapidly and test real-world challenges through experiments and prototypes in a low-risk environment. Outcomes from these experiments will help researchers evolve problem statements, proofs-of-concept, and prototypes that will lead to the development of new applications, models, and frameworks in quantum computing.

For almost three quarters of 2020, the world was battling a pandemic of a magnitude that has never been witnessed in the history of humankind. Not only individual citizens, but large organisations and governments were caught off guard.

Apart from being surrounded by the threat of getting infected by the virus, citizens’ liberty to move freely in the community was completely lost due to national lockdowns and social distancing measures. There was a colossal drop in the volume of domestic and international air travel, starting in the first months and continuing to the present.

Picture credits: Business Insider

Distressed and perturbed by this captivity and the fast-changing – and sometimes contradictory movement restrictions – got Mohit Sagar, founder and CEO of Access Anywhere, thinking how he could address this problem. He envisioned a solution that would empower citizens to take responsibility for their wellbeing in their own hands.

Taking further steps to convert his vision into reality, Mohit Sagar partnered with industry leaders Microsoft, SAS and Confluent to create a cloud-based solution that gives people real-time risk assessment of their health: Liberty and Passage.

Liberty and Passage is a total outbreak management system application that offers users the ability to continue routine activities like going to work and socialising with friends without compromising their own or the health of those around them.

Mohit acknowledged that the application is based on a give and take relationship where the user gets the gift of liberty by willingly giving up personal health-related information to the app’s database. But significantly, in the current environment of scepticism, he highlighted something which is incredibly unique to this app and makes it more trustworthy – all information received from the user is anonymised at the source.

Mohit was firm in maintaining the privacy of the app’s users and ensuring that their information is secure is a non-negotiable for the team.

Taking about the structure of the app, Mohit shared that the app has three main pillars Liberty Open, Liberty Corporate and Liberty Passage.

Liberty Open in for individual citizens to help them monitor and manage personal risk.

Liberty Corporate offers corporate leadership an opportunity to share the government’s burden by taking the responsibility of their employees’ health. It is designed with the flexibility to be compatible with an organization’s existing infrastructure to check the COVID-19 spread.

Liberty Passage is a solution for travellers and the travel industry that can offer real-time alerts against infections, an immunity passport of sorts for travellers and assistance in immigration processing.

Elaborating on how this app stands out against the plethora of track and trace apps losing trust amongst citizens all around the world, Mohit shared that they are helping citizens retain their freedom during the pandemic by having a very transparent relationship with them. Mohit said “We are not here to police. We anonymise all information at source and make sure that our users are in control of what they want to do.”

He added, “We are not competing with governments but complementing what they are doing.”

About the app hitting the marketing and be available to the users, Mohit shared that they have successfully finished few rounds of Proof of Concept (PoC) with the Vagabond Club, Singapore at two of their locations while a third is underway. With the current success, Mohit is confident that they will be able to make the app available in the market by February 2021.

“Keeping our hotel operating during the pandemic has meant we have had to put in place measures to ensure the safety of our staff and that of our guests that stay here. Liberty Corporate has given us the added confidence and assurance, through its health logs, location software, data insights and risk notifications, that we are doing our utmost to prevent transmission in our hotel.”

Ms Harpreet Bedi, CEO and General Counsel at The Garcha Group

Mohit reiterated, in light of the still increasing number of infections, the discovery of new strains and the absence of an effective cure, the pandemic is here to stay. Their objective is to empower citizens and assist governments in making sure that an individual’s ability to move and mingle freely – the very essence of social beings – is not compromised by any this pandemic nor any future ones.

Digital technology has accelerated aggressively during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to safety restrictions and health protocols, drastic changes in the workplace, including the adoption of remote workstations, have been implemented. As consumers began to shift to e-commerce and other online platforms from traditional methods of carrying out transactions, enterprises had to be on the lookout for innovative means to cater to the public’s demand. 

The same scenario is seen in the public sector, with governments across the globe laying out various initiatives to mitigate the economic impacts of the health crisis. One of these initiatives is by ramping up the ease of doing business through the implementation of new technology. 

Early on, the Indonesian government has been at the fore of amplifying its digital initiatives. According to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of Industry is reforming its operational models by putting a premium on technology. Under this innovative framework, the Ministry undertakes to provide technical training as part of goals to improve investments and foster human resource development through tech. This comes as a support for efforts aimed at decreasing the unemployment rate and boosting the competitiveness of human resources. 

The Ministry of Agriculture is innovating along the same vein. In a statement, Agriculture Minister Dr. Syahrul Yasin Limpo encouraged the Agricultural Research and Development Agency to step up its game in developing innovative techniques to improve methods employed in agriculture. 

During a workshop with the theme “Implementing the Use of Innovation and Provision of Superior Seeds”, the Minister underscored the importance of utilising technology to streamline the agriculture sector, one which has long relied on traditional methodologies. 

He added that the Agency is an important unit under the Ministry in introducing innovation. The Minister also said that they are looking at “being able to discover new engineering and breakthroughs, those that are currently unavailable. There must be innovative engineering.” 

The Minister also expressed his enthusiasm over the strides that the Agency has made last year despite challenges recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He stressed that the Agency was able to show its resilience during that period and was able to create new programmes and to develop policies to accelerate in the new normal. He said he is hopeful that the same momentum will be sustained this year, as the country continues to anticipate economic recovery. 

He emphasised that: “in 2021 it must be better, even faster. This is the momentum that must be used to actualise our research and development. This is the time for research and development to produce work that breaks through existing engineering, technological research and applications.” 

The Ministry likewise announced that it has given a directive to the Agency to conceptualise and formulate its targets by the end of the first quarter of the year. It added that it anticipates to see commodity targets such as those for soybeans, garlic and corn, increase to achieve goals of producing 6 to 8 tonnes of these products per hectare. 

This target, the Ministry said, can be achieved through a multi-tier approach –by looking at targets from upstream to downstream. To jumpstart this initiative, researchers were urged to start developing and building on existing agricultural varieties of crops. The next step would be finding ways on how to maximise post-harvest processing to hit targets. 

By re-strategising, the Ministry hopes that the Agency will be able to streamline agricultural processes through innovative techniques. This directive is in line with commitments earlier made by the Indonesian government to meet the increasing food demands of about 273 million citizens and to make farmers more innovative in their craft.

Economies across the globe are streamlining their blueprints in a bid to foster economic recovery despite the challenges brought by the new normal. To do this, they are amplifying their digital initiatives faster than anticipated. Likewise, they are embracing a change in the cultural mindset to enhance their processes. 

Key economic sectors are getting support from the government in terms of technological advances. This is evident in the manufacturing and retail industries. Exports are likewise getting a boost from tech as governments strive to make their products more globally competitive and in the long term, be a growth pillar for the economy. 

In the Philippines, key areas of the economy are given priority following the onset of the global health crisis. From physical transactions, several government agencies are implementing online schemes to not just fast-track their correspondence with the public sector but to adhere to safety restrictions as well.  

Assistance to various sectors of the Philippine economy has been launched and made more convenient through digital tools. This is seen in the innovative measures used by the government not just in providing ease in public transactions but in key areas like social assistance. In an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that it will be releasing livelihood settlement grants of LSGs to various households in strife-torn Marawi City through a mobile app. 

To promote ease in doing business for players in the agricultural sector, state-run Landbank of the Philippines (LBP) announced in a statement that it has installed its Digital Onboarding System or DOBS in its first Agri-Hub in the province of Ilocos Sur. 

The online banking system is intended to simplify account opening applications by reducing transaction turnaround time to 10 to 15 minutes. It is likewise anticipated to adhere to safety protocols implemented by the Inter-Agency Task Force during the new normal. It does this by minimising physical contact and promoting remote transactions. 

The bank was recognised for launching the DOBS, a web-based programme it launched two years ago to streamline account enrollment processes. This feat made the LBP one of the first lenders in the Philippines to offer a fully digital account application process for individuals, institutions and government agencies. The system was also set up with goals of promoting regulatory compliance in data quality through easy gathering, storage and retrieval of digital bank records. 

Launching a new Agri-Hub 

The Landbank, through Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar, stated that the banking scheme, as well as the Sta. Maria Agri-Hub, “are expected to bring financial services closer to more bank clients in the rural area.” This is in conjunction with President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that the LBP must cater to the needs of farmers, fisherfolks, agrarian reform beneficiaries and agriculture enterprises. 

During her speech at the inauguration of the Sta. Maria hub, LBP North Luzon Branches Group Head and First Vice President Ma. Belma Turla noted that the agri-hub is set to provide both financial and technical services to clients. These include account opening, withdrawal and cash encashment. Loan applications and handling of agrarian-related concerns may likewise be facilitated through the hub. 

The LBP’s Sta. Maria Agri-Hub is the fifth of its kind established in the country. The state-run lender said it has established these facilities in sites including Calabanga, Camarines Sur; Barotac Viejo, Iloilo and Sual in Pangasinan. Meanwhile, the Echague Agri-Hub in Isabela was earlier put up in a bid to cater to more than 2,500 farmers across 64 barangays in the municipality. 

The Sta. Maria hub is expected to speed up account-related transactions for farmers and fisherfolks not only within the Sta. Maria locality but to those from neighbouring towns and municipalities. 

In less than a year, the new normal has ushered in several years’ worth of innovation. Remote workstations have replaced the physical workplace, and office meetings are now held through online video conference calls. This is the scenario in many enterprises that have embraced the changing norms brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the public sector, governments are constantly on their toes while looking for innovative tools to help revolutionise their existing work blueprints. Digitalisation has shifted from being a mere buzzword to a reality that needs to be achieved. Accelerating towards digital transformation is the top priority for most economies looking at fostering recovery from the impacts of the pandemic while still maintaining the right balance of governance and transparency in dealing with the increased demands of the public. 

In the Philippines, several key initiatives have been launched to mitigate economic challenges. According to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the government announced it is injecting more funding this year in the National Broadband Programme (NBP) spearheaded by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). The NBP is the flagship project of the department which aims to improve internet connectivity in the country, particularly in remote areas. 

In line with such government efforts, government-owned and controlled Davao City Water District (DCWD) said in a media release that it is doing away with physical transactions and is leaning towards the adoption of online services to promote ease in doing business within the locality. 

The DCWD said it has adopted virtual chat support services to respond to customers’ queries on their billings. The service is available 24 hours and seven days a week to cater to the public’s needs, particularly regarding their Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) instalment bills. 

DCWD Spokesperson JC Duhaylungsod said that instead of sharing their concerns in private groups in social media where there is no participation of DCWD employees, consumers should talk about their concerns directly in the DCWD’s Facebook account. She added: “Just go straight to our Facebook page, we can immediately give the transaction record. We can explain where the payment went and if there are ECQ instalments remaining.” 

The water utility’s spokesperson clarified that once concerns have been raised and the DCWD finds irregularities in billing amounts, it will automatically make a report to be endorsed to the appropriate departments. 

For other concerns, the DCWD mentioned that customers may contact the department’s call centre via their landline and mobile phones. 

This programme comes after the DCWD suspended its billing collections and offered a staggered payment scheme called ECQ instalments. The initiative was a form of assistance to households within the area from March to May last year when the government placed several parts of the country under community quarantine to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

During this period, meter reading operations were suspended and as a result, the DCWD began to apply average consumption percentages in water bills. The three-month ECQ billing was spread into six instalments, each one added to water bills from July to December last year. 

The DCWD spokesperson noted that: “since it is already January 2021 and the instalment term is completed, we are reminding those still with a balance in ECQ instalments to settle on or before the due date of their December billing to avoid penalties in their ECQ instalments.” 

The water utility has earlier informed the public that those who are interested in availing their services may choose to submit their applications online by downloading and filling out a form available on their website and social media account. They can also browse through a list of requirements that need to be presented once they apply. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world are standing their ground in capitalising on digital technology to provide seamless transactions during the new normal despite safety restrictions. In line with these efforts, government agencies and even state-owned firms are rethinking their operation models to be more equipped in providing services to the citizen base. 

This scenario is evident in Indonesia, where the government has early on committed to accelerating its digital transformation to boost public service and governance. In fact, according to an earlier report by OpenGov Asia, the Ministry of National Development Planning emphasised the role of information and communications technology to boost the country’s social capital index. This index is the measure of the whole population’s social stability and well-being. 

Building on this commitment, Indonesia’s state-owned electricity company PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) announced that it has formulated a new innovative strategy to provide services to households across the country. In a statement, the company said that consumers can easily apply for a COVID-19 electricity stimulus package through the PLN Mobile application.  

The electricity firm ensured that they are distributing 450 volt-ampere (VA) and 900 VA subsidised electricity packages to 32 million household consumers. It added that this number excludes the 450 VA power packages to 459,000 business customers. 

Postpaid customers under the 450 VA group are entitled to a 100% electricity discount while a 50% power subsidy is given to postpaid consumers under the 900 VA power segment. PLN’s Executive Vice President for Corporate Communication and CSR Agung Murdifi said: “postpaid customers will immediately reduce the cost of electricity bills. Then for 450 VA, prepaid tokens can be obtained through the method described. Meanwhile, for subsidised 900 VA household customers, a stimulus is received when purchasing electricity tokens.”. 

The Executive Vice President added that they “see that the distribution process is running smoothly and customers have enjoyed the electricity stimulus.” 

The state-owned firm emphasised that using the PLN app is easy and convenient during the new normal. The application can be downloaded via Playstore and App Store. Once downloaded, customers can register for the power subsidy by clicking on ‘PLN Cares for Covid-19’ under the Info and Promos tab. They will then be prompted to enter their Customer ID or their electricity meter number. A free token will appear which can be entered by customers in their meter reading to avail of discounts. 

For those who have trouble accessing or downloading the PLN app, they can log on to the PLN website or send a message through WhatsApp. The company’s Executive Vice President stated that they have launched these additional services to provide as many alternative options to citizens who are in need of discounts on their electricity bills. He added: “PLN adds Channels through the PLN Mobile Application to make it easier because customers can just open the application on their cellphones, enter the Customer ID / Meter Number, and get the token number.” 

The introduction of subsidised electricity is part of the government’s IDR 695.2 trillion (US$ 49.4 billion) stimulus package during the pandemic. This government effort aims to shore up the country’s economy which has taken a hit since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Through this initiative, the government is also optimistic that the stimulus package will help maintain employment levels.  

Since August last year, over 30 million households, businesses and industries have been seeing lower amounts in their electricity bills following the release of an IDR 15.4 trillion (US$ 1.09 billion) funding for power relief measures. This amount is on top of the IDR 54.79 trillion (US$ 3.89 billion) yearly electricity subsidies set aside by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.

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