The COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly impacted and changed the world as we know it. Social distancing has made us much more dependent on technology, and new health techniques highlight the power of 5G, cloud technology and artificial intelligence, according to the President of the Carrier Business Group of the Asia Pacific branch of a Chinese multinational technology company.
Overall, ICT has played an important role in battling COVID-19, and it will continue to factor in economic recovery in the new normal.
In some cases, proactive and cooperative initiatives have enabled governments and operators to aggressively build out telecom infrastructure before and during COVID-19, easily absorbing this increase in demand on infrastructure.
In other regions, complex decision processes have paralyzed digital infrastructure investment, leaving countries struggling to cope.
In a report by OpenVault, Broadband Insights, in the first quarter of 2020, social distancing practices led to an average broadband consumption increase of 47 percent to 402.5GB, from 273.5GB during the same time in 2019.
While most of this is attributable to an increase in online video consumption, the pandemic has given rise to new consumer behaviour that includes increased use of delivery apps, more frequent and immersive video conferencing, and greater dependence on e-Education and work-from-home solutions.
These systems have existed for years but the uptick in usage in the last few months has brought them to the forefront; it is believed that even post-pandemic, usage levels are expected to remain high.
Globally, several countries have moved forward with very aggressive policies to address critical voice and data communication during the pandemic.
For example, Ireland released a temporary extra radio spectrum to provide additional capacity, and allowed free upgrades to unlimited bandwidth, eliminated fair usage policies, and applied zero-rating to healthcare and education resource websites.
In the APAC region, the Cambodian government offered temporary 5G licenses for crucial services. Specifically, 5G healthcare enables healthcare professionals to conduct remote treatment of patients and consultation with experts around the world.
This agile policing enabled Cambodia ability to efficiently handle a major crisis while also protecting human lives and minimizing economic damage.
Thailand, which is striving to become the region’s digital technology leader, has also taken a very aggressive approach towards both mobile and fixed broadband development.
To stimulate the 5G development and alleviate some of the investment required for operators, the Thai government has introduced flexible payment terms that allow 700 MHz and 2600 MHz licenses to be paid over ten years.
In addition to long-term planning well underway, Thailand has also proactively accommodated the needs of users dealing with social distancing and financial uncertainty with additional support for users including providing upgrades of FTTH services to 100Mbps and xDSL services to maximum capacity.
Policies like this have allowed the country to easily accommodate the change in digital dynamics brought on by COVID-19 and these early investments will also better position the economy for faster recovery post-pandemic.
Zooming out, the ASEAN region is predicted to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, economic entities in Asia.
Many countries are pushing hard to secure the leading position in digital transformation, and while the title is still for the taking, 5G will help all ASEAN nations move from predominantly 2C-focused mobile broadband business models to 2B.
This will be paramount for digital transformation in many vertical industries including healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics and more.
Proactive policies that accelerate the deployment and adoption of digital services are key to moving the economy ahead and ensuring continued reliable operation even in the face of adversity.
Thailand’s digital infrastructure of the future needs to be agile enough to accommodate new applications and behaviours as well as robust enough to serve as a reliable digital platform for the economy even when unpredictable situations arise.
One thing that the pandemic has shown about payments is that speed, reliability and near-universal access have never been more important. For Singapore, the first wave of non-bank financial institutions (NFIs and Fintechs), are now connected to FAST, Singapore’s real-time payment rails.
Financial tech firms believe this move signifies the growth of the local fintech industry. By giving firms access to FAST, previously the exclusive domain of banks, regulators are enabling greater competition and innovation in the payments space. Aimed ultimately to the benefit of consumers, near-universal access has never been more important in a world powered by instantaneous digital interaction.
According to them, whether it is listening to music or taking an online class, consumers are benefitting from a better experience using tech — one that is becoming faster, cheaper, more convenient and most importantly, offers a variety of choice, no matter where you are.
In contrast, they also believe that the financial services industry has largely not kept pace; while fintechs have gradually begun to fill this void by offering a variety of services that were traditionally the domain of the incumbent banks.
For the consumer, on the other hand, the benefits of this seemingly obscure change to the payments plumbing may not seem obvious. But direct participation in FAST helps non-banks level the playing field with traditional banks, increases competition and allows fintechs to offer a better, cheaper and faster service in a digital world. Beyond this, fintechs gain better control over the entire customer experience when connected directly to the national payment system, rather than having this access through a bank.
Fintechs said that this move will also curtail delays, inefficiency and high fees. A recent report from The World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide showed that sending remittances costs an average of 6.75% of the amount sent — far higher than the United Nations’ goal to push this down to lower than 3%. More middlemen in the money movement process mean additional costs and delays resulting in a sub-optimal experience for the end consumer, especially for small businesses.
Financial tech firms are also looking forward to building more competitive products that make payments even faster and cheaper for citizens. They also added that for the fintech sector to thrive, policymakers need to manage risks while encouraging growth. Striking this balance between regulation and fintech innovation is not easy, especially with the rapid speed of technological change.
Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pushed the commencement of the Singapore Payment Services Act (PS Act). The new PS Act will enhance the regulatory framework for payment services in the country, strengthen consumer protection and promote confidence in the use of e-payments. The PS Act adopts an activity-based licencing framework in recognition of the different kinds of activities and new developments in payment services.
Just recently, as also reported by OpenGov Asia, Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the SG Digital Office (SDO) announced that 10,000 stallholders – more than half of Singapore’s stallholders – have adopted e-payments. 10,000 hawkers using e-payments, with transactions growing four times since June 2020. Transactions volume and value for January 2021 also crossed the 1.2 million and S$14 million mark respectively for the first time.
As one of the centres of innovation in the world, Singapore is well-placed to foster a more open and transparent payment ecosystem that benefits consumers. The country aims to lead the charge in encouraging constructive competition and closer collaboration in the sector.
A new International Research Laboratory (IRL) launched in the last week of February 2021 will focus on humans-autonomous agents teaming: an area of research at the interface of artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, technology, human factors and psychology.
The French Australian Laboratory for Humans-Autonomous Agents Teaming, shortened to CROSSING, is a collaboration between the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, Flinders University, French technological university IMT Atlantique, and Naval Group, the only industrial partner.
An IRL is a flagship international collaboration mechanism used by CNRS, France’s leading scientific research centre. The new IRL is called CROSSING because it represents the crossover of ideas that is at the heart of this important collaboration.
The Director of the lab stated that the CROSSING Lab will bring together leading French and Australian scientists from artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer science, engineering, psychology and human factors. They will work together to tackle important challenges in finding new ways for systems and humans to work together.
“The outcomes could provide significant advances in the way operators use control systems on ships, maintenance platforms in industry or services to assist within the home, and the way these systems are developed to assist and improve human performance to make work safer and more efficient,” he said.
The CROSSING Lab will join a network of more than 70 IRLs but will become one of only five international research laboratories with industry partners in the world. It will join the ranks of other labs in global innovation hubs, including Singapore, China, Japan and the United States of America.
Based in Adelaide, the CROSSING Lab will be a unique multidisciplinary facility in Australia that provides an opportunity for South Australia to be at the forefront of research into frontier technologies highly relevant to future industries.
“At the CROSSING lab we will develop new ways for humans to work with robots and autonomous systems,” said a professor from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, who is Co-Director of the new lab.
She noted that human operators will cooperate with high-level automata, robots or adaptive information systems able to produce knowledge and to explore the physical or informational environment on their own.
Each partner brings complementary expertise to the research partnership:
- The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) brings expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the field of interactive and virtual environments and human performance;
- The University of South Australia has expertise in sleep and fatigue analysis;
- IMT Atlantique has expertise and facilities in virtual and augmented reality and embedded and human-centric AI;
- Flinders University has expertise in autonomous systems, human factors and industry 4.0 advanced manufacturing;
- The Naval Group will share its world-class expertise from areas including embedded intelligence, optimised architectures, unmanned vehicles, the industry of the future and human performance measurement.
The new lab was launched on 22 February 2021 by the Premier of South Australia and was attended by the French Ambassador to Australia.
According to a recent article, the Australian job market will shrink by 11%, or 1.5 million workers over the next decade. But as some jobs are lost, others will be created (1.7 million by 2030), and many more will transform into the gig economy.
Workers unable or unwilling to accept the transition will depart the traditional workforce entirely. Accompanying these digital outcasts will be a wave of mission-based evacuees seeking a more values-aligned work life, taking advantage of Australia’s world-leading policy settings for social entrepreneurship.
According to forecasts by US-based a research and advisory company, the demand for technical skills will boost the ranks of digital elites by 33%. A shortage of skills to build new digital solutions will fuel massive growth in the digital elite cohort. Demand for tech specialists with skills in big data, process automation, human/machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain, and machine learning will offset the 8% of more traditional technology roles that can be fully automated by 2030.
The Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) has developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based mobile application, ePaarwai, which can help screen a large number of people for cataracts. By addressing resource constraints in cataract detection, it aims to eradicate preventive blindness in the state.
India has about 4.7 million vision-impaired people, and about 66% of them lose their eyesight due to cataracts. Undiagnosed cataracts remain a huge problem especially in rural areas and among low-income settlements in urban areas, owing to the lack of trained professionals and other resources, a news report explained. The use of AI to fight cataracts is low when compared to other major age-related eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
The app can be used for the preliminary screening of the eye by analysing a picture of the patient’s eye. It can also help identify what stage of cataract patients are in and whether or not they require surgery. ePaarwai is also designed to detect macular disintegration.
Diagnostic eye-care AI-based systems are trained with many pictures of the eye, following which the algorithms learn the difference between normal and abnormal images. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or minimise vision loss or impairment. The results of ePaarwai from field trials were encouraging. The app has the potential to prevent millions of senior citizens in rural and urban low-income settlements from losing their eyesight.
Launched with the help of the Tamil Nadu State Blind Control Society (TNSBCS), and for the state health department, the app is being tested in a few districts. Currently, TNSBCS does not have enough manpower to help detect the stages of surgery and is looking to tap AI, Santosh Mishra, the Chief Executive Officer of TNeGA, told reporters. There are only about 20,000 ophthalmologists for the 1.3 billion people in India.
AI is expected to relieve the overburdened healthcare system, augment scarce personnel and lab facilities, and help overcome accessibility barriers. It can aid early detection, diagnosis, decision-making, and treatment. The healthcare sector in India remains multi-layered and complex and is ripe for disruption from emerging technologies at multiple levels. It is probably the most intuitive and obvious use case primed for intervention by AI-driven solutions, as evidenced by the increasing activity from large corporates and start-ups in developing AI-focused healthcare solutions.
The country’s think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), in its 2018 report on AI, noted that the healthcare market globally driven by AI is expected to register an explosive CAGR of 40% through 2021 and reach US$6.6 billion this year. The advances in technology and interest from innovators provide an opportunity for India to solve some of its long-existing challenges in providing appropriate healthcare to a large section of its population. AI, robotics, and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) could potentially be the new nervous system for healthcare and present solutions to address healthcare problems.
In India’s budget for the fiscal year that begins 1 April and ends 31 March 2022, the Finance Minister proposed more than doubling India’s healthcare and wellbeing spending to IN₹2.2 trillion (US$30.1 billion). It includes a new federal scheme to develop the country’s capacity for primary, secondary, and tertiary care as well as to strengthen national institutions and create new ones to detect and cure diseases.
Since its establishment in October 2020, an interdisciplinary team led by Professor Tong Zhang, from the Environmental Microbiome Engineering and Biotechnology Laboratory of the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has collected more than 1,200 sewage samples for tests to help the government track potential virus carriers in the community.
The research project received support from the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), and is also technically backed by the Environment Bureau, with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Drainage Services Department (DSD) providing strategic planning, comprehensive analysis of the drainage network, and optimization of sample collection.
The sewage monitoring system consists of several steps: sampling, inactivation, pre-concentration by centrifugation, nucleic acid extraction, gene testing, and data analysis. In the absence of a standardized and universal method for detecting new SARS-CoV-2 virus in sewage worldwide, the monitoring system was successfully developed by the HKU engineering-led team in December 2020 after various trials.
Since the dawn of the 4th wave of COVID-19 outbreak last November, the HKU team has collaborated with the EPD and DSD in collecting and monitoring sewage samples in buildings near or in the area of housing estates with confirmed cases, so as to help the government assess and respond quickly to the outbreak (including issuing compulsory testing notices).
It was instrumental in identifying 10 Covid-19 cases from December 2020 to January 2021 at the Choi Wan (II) Estate – the first-time worldwide infection cases were confirmed in the community through a compulsory testing notice issued based on sewage test results.
Between 28 December 2020 and 9 February 2021, compulsory testing notices were issued in 26 areas where sewage test results were positive, including compulsory testing in ‘restricted areas’. More than 50 confirmed cases were found, cutting off hidden transmission chains in these communities.
The team had originally planned to process and analyse around 20 samples per week, but after increasing its manpower to 15 people, its detection capacity was increased sevenfold to about 170 samples per week to help fight the pandemic.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong had a first-hand look at the University’s sewage monitoring system that helps track COVID-19 in building blocks on 15 February, where she was briefed by the Dean of the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine at HKU, and Professor Tong Zhang on the sewage testing process.
The HKU team and the Environment Bureau are working towards doubling the sewage monitoring capability and transferring the technology to commercial laboratories. At the same time, in order to optimize the overall sewage monitoring system, the HKU team is working together with EPD, DSD, and the Food and Health Bureau to develop new sewage sampling schemes.
In the long run, sewage surveillance can provide public health-related information for the Government, institutions and the general public in their joint battle against the pandemic.
Hong Kong’s advanced technology and successful experience can also enrich the world’s experiences in protecting public health and tackling the challenges of other emerging major diseases through wastewater-based epidemiology.
Accidents happen anytime and anywhere but the road is among the most common places where they happen. The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) tags road accidents as one of the leading causes of death among children, overpowering other deadly diseases, including dengue. In fact, in Metro Manila alone, about two children die daily due to road accidents. Considering these facts, a local tech start-up has unveiled an app meant to improve the skills of drivers in the Philippines, particularly truck drivers, to help avoid future accidents.
The tech initiative is a collaboration of a logistics firm, the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The app was formally launched in the country although some of its features are still a work in progress. Developers say that the app features monitoring tools to analyse the behaviour of drivers on the road. The data can then be analysed to recommend changes or suggestions for drivers or companies.
The tech developer also said that the app uses AI technology and data analytics intended to improve driving. Recommendations are given out the data analytics to indicate if a driver is fit to drive or not. In a nutshell, the tech collates data from the behaviour of a truck driver on the road. An Internet-of-things (IoT) device is installed inside a truck to obtain the data.
Moreover, they added that learning modules provided in the app are also available for licenced drivers. A mobile version of the app is already up and running where the learning modules can be accessed. Soon, the app will have “gamification” features, allowing for the simulation of driving and road conditions. IoT devices are also being currently designed for more vehicles, as the positioning of the device will be critical.
The company and the Government said that the app is essential and will help the country’s problems on the road, noting that fatalities on road accidents are mostly caused by trucks, and the country also suffers from a shortage of professional truck drivers. Only a few percent of truck drivers in the country are professionally trained and that there is a shortage of skills among these truck drivers.
DOST undersecretary for research said the project, which is under the auspices of the department through the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCCIERD), is a good way of using science and technology to solve the country’s problems, particularly during these challenging times where COVID-19 is still present.
PCCIERD Director also said that the TIP and DOST are now in talks with other government agencies, which earlier expressed interest in the driver monitoring app. The Government also made sure that the developers are being funded and supported by the DOST and PCCIERD. Funding for the app is reportedly a little over PHP4 million.
Accordingly, the Government has committed to give local start-ups the benefits and incentives provided under the recently signed Republic Act 11337 or the Innovative Start-up Act. The law aims to help start-ups and start-up enablers by providing incentives like travel grants, access to a Start-up Venture Fund, and assistance in getting visas and business permits.
Aside from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the DOST, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are the host agencies to implement the Philippine Start-up Development Program, composed of programs, benefits, and incentives for the start-up community.
The Government added that this coronavirus pandemic has shown that with limited human interaction and cities in lockdown, many businesses ground to a halt. Without sufficient technology and automation in place, high-touch human operations became paralysed. As the world recovers, it would require a reimagination of human and business processes to future-proof against the next crisis.
Following on from its investment in workforce management (WFM), a tech provider of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Payroll Software (PS) in New Zealand and Australia, is set to launch a new solution to market design to help simplify and streamline workforce management for shift-based businesses across the region.
The company says the upcoming release of the new workforce management attachment will mark a new milestone for its Enterprise division, which will now provide mid-market businesses with the opportunity to combine their ERP, PS and WFM software under a single, seamless integrated cloud platform.
As well as being available as an attachment to the new platform, customers managing larger workforces will also be able to take advantage of the new workforce management solution which can be easily added to their existing software.
The tech firm’s Enterprise Head of Product, says that to fulfil their business’ growth potential and remain competitive, it is more important than ever for employers to ensure they are equipped with the right tools to successfully manage their ever-changing workforces. He said that they have seen from the results of the Ministry of Innovation and Employment’s National Survey of Employment Intentions that there is a clear drive amongst mid-market businesses to grow their employee numbers in 2021.
22% of businesses with 20 or more employees are also expecting to increase the number of part-time staff. While it is heartening to see such positivity around hiring ambitions, the benefits of bringing new talent into a business can only really be maximised when the whole process is managed well, he added.
Complete with features that cater to the needs of shift-based workforces, the new cloud-driven workforce management offering will be available in New Zealand from early April and Expressions of Interest are now open for mid-market businesses who want to take advantage of the new release.
Capabilities offered through the new solution will see businesses in industries like retail, hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing and construction, create and automate rosters based on employee skills, onboard new starters quickly and easily, streamline timesheet approvals, and seamlessly manage workforces across multiple locations.
In contrast, due to the increased adoption of managed infrastructure services, the emergence of new cloud watering hole attacks also continues to rise. According to research, of all violations identified, 23% correspond to poorly configured managed service offerings largely the result of default security profiles or configurations that offer excessive permissions.
According to a cloud cyber resilience specialist, attackers increasingly strive to leverage weaknesses that enable them to deliver malware to end-users, gain unauthorised access to production environments or their data, or completely compromise a target environment.
This strategy is known as a watering hole attack, and researchers have seen them emerge in cloud environments where they can cause even more damage. This is partly because development processes in the cloud that leverage managed services are not hidden inside the organisation as they are in on-premises environments, they are largely exposed to the world.
When criminals can exploit misconfigurations in development pipelines, it can spell disaster not only for the company but also its customers. To address this risk, enterprises should assume the entire development process is easily accessible and restrict access to only the users who need it. They added that the cloud infrastructure must be continuously monitored in runtime for configuration changes and assessed for risk.
Moreover, rapid cloud adoption, targeted remote working, double extortion ransomware attacks and mobile targets are amongst the key cybersecurity trends resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to researchers.
Therefore, as reported by OpenGov Asia, New Zealand Tech Alliance (NZTech) whose purpose is “to connect, promote and advance tech ecosystems and help the New Zealand economy grow to create a prosperous digital nation”, feels that the government must be more proactive in educating the population on cybersecurity.
OpenGov Asia also reported on a study done by a New Zealand cybersecurity firm that says as organisations accelerate their spending on cloud migration and digitalisation to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, many may be overestimating their ability to protect their systems and their processes. It is estimated that about 80% of cybercrimes could be prevented. Simple measures like using and updating complex passwords and installing updates go a long way in safety.
Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently said that if the country is not brave enough to invest in science and technology and innovation, Vietnam would get stuck in the low-productivity, low-added value and middle-income trap.
Investing in technology and innovation is vital for the nation to bring products to new levels and escape the rut of being the outsourcing hub for others – a reputation which the country has been associated with for decades. This is not only true, he said, for technology firms but for all enterprises in the economy. Applying and inventing new technologies can help increase productivity and heighten enterprises’ positions.
The “Make in Vietnam” initiative, promoted by the Ministry of Information and Technology (MIC) has infused fresh vitality in the startup community. Vietnam has become the fifth country in the world mastering 5G technology, producing 5G infrastructure equipment and 5G smartphones. This stems from Make in Vietnam pride. Over 13,000 digital technology firms were established just in the last year, raising the total number of digital technology firms to 58,000.
In fact, 2020 saw a rigorous start to digital transformation in all fields. The Ministry of Information and Communications built numerous programmes and plans over the course of the year to facilitate a prompt digitalisation process towards digital transformation as well as the engagement of businesses in the information technology sector. Noteworthy was that the IT sector quickly teamed up with others to develop digital products serving efforts in COVID-19 prevention and control and adapting to the “new normal”.
If Vietnam continues is to continue outsourcing, it should only be a very small part of the value chain. Domestically, there is a range of sectors and products that Vietnam has had significant success in. Electric cars, mobility and smartphones are an area that the Vietnamese versatitlity and expertise of shows.
State-owned Viettel, one of the fastest-growing telecom operators, is building a digital business culture with the focus on flexibility, creativity, customer orientation, digital thinking and openness. Other than telecommunications, the company also has expertise in hi-tech research and manufacturing, postal services, construction and commerce. It has accelerated digital transformation in internal administration, applying modern technologies with international standards. All documents at Viettel have been digitised, 50% of manual work has been liberalized, and 30-40 percent of tasks have been automated. Its ecosystem of digital products provides B2C and B2B services in a wide range of fields, from finance, digital marketing and OTT, customer care e-government and smart cities.
In order to accomplish that, the space for creativity must be expanded, while management thinking needs to be reformed, so that creativity is not hindered by rigid regulations and officials’ bureaucracy. The deputy head of the Vietnam Economics Institute stressed that Vietnam needs to reform the way of thinking and the institutional regime with the aim of encouraging participation of non-state sectors in science and technology development and innovation. He believes that information technology and digital transformation should be seen as an important push and pillar to support the recovery process, strengthen resilience, and improve growth quality.
Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung said, ” Becoming a pioneer has always been the aspiration of the Vietnamese nation and every Vietnamese citizen. It is difficult to implement this, but it is not impossible.”
While Vietnam may currently be behind many countries, missing opportunities along the development path, Vietnam has made up for that. Now it is among the top countries in the region and the world in some fields, such as telecommunications and power, maintaining high growth rates. With more power from the 4.0 industrial revolution and its digital transformation strategy, Vietnam’s growth engine will have an additional push to achieve its aspirations of becoming a high-income country by 2045 into reality.