Accelerate Digital Transformation: Mitigate the Business & Economic Impact of COVID-19


As the COVID-19 epidemic continued to unfold across the world in 2020, political, bureaucratic and business leaders came to a common conclusion: Digital transformation has become more urgent than ever.

In the words of Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communications, “It is time for the government, enterprises and society to invest more intensively in digital technology.”

The reason behind such a call is simple. COVID-19, today, has already reoriented our relationship to the outside world and to one another.

In response to travel bans, lockdowns, as well as containment measures and quarantines, people turned to online shopping, e-learning and social media to maintain some semblance of normality. At the same time, aggressive social distancing mandates means companies, educational institutions and other organisations have been harnessing digital technology to collaborate and operate more effectively.

Even as countries race now to get their citizens vaccinated and even as we hear optimism from Iata chief that personal travel will return by second half of 2021, the fact remains that COVID-19 has catalysed the move towards digital transformation for many businesses including growing companies to strengthen business resilience.

A study by the Institute of International Finance and Deloitte has found that key digital investments by banks and insurers over the past decade has helped them to be more resilient to the impact of COVID-19. Cloud computing has enabled greater flexibility in where employees work. The ability to link data centres across multiple sites has also allowed these financial institutions to mitigate risk more effectively – as opposed relying on a single venue that could be affected in the event it becomes a coronavirus hotspot.

Digitalise for survival, for new business breakthroughs

With the coronavirus disease epidemic reshaping mindsets and the way the world operates, there’s no knowing how different society will look at the end.

Organisations that were hesitant to invest in digitalisation because things were going reasonably well have had to review their stance for business continuity and to mitigate the business impact of COVID-19. Or they risk their very survival.

Two IDC CXO surveys conducted in China in February 2020 highlighted the value of IT and digital transformation in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. The CXOs polled believe that organisations should turn the crisis into an opportunity as enterprises leading in digital transformation are significantly less vulnerable to the pandemic. These businesses will also be in a better position to identify new business breakthroughs and innovations to generate sustainable corporate results during these challenging times.

According to Bain, the wait-and-see approach is a nonstarter. Customers will change some behaviours permanently. Companies need to take proactive steps to build more resilience into the business. And bold action now is a necessity for success through the downturn and beyond.

Innovative digital tools cushion COVID-19’s impact

Here are some practical and innovative digital tools facilitating business continuity. They are also allowing organisations to run more smoothly amidst COVID-19 and beyond:

  • Understanding the Pulse of the Remote Workforce. As entire companies move to working remotely, businesses need to know if their organisations are prepared for the shift, and if their employees have what they need to succeed. A complimentary remote work pulse allows organisations to check in on their employees, help their workforce feel safe and supported, ensure they have the resources needed for work, and stay productive.
  • Extending the Reach of Your Supply Chain. 75% of companies report that the coronavirus has disrupted their supply chains. To mitigate the impact, businesses can take advantage of the world’s largest business network that’s now free to use. It allows any buyer to post their immediate sourcing need, and any supplier who can deliver to respond.
  • Automating Core Tasks for Business Continuity. With business continuity at risk in a pandemic situation, organisations can leverage on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate core tasks – such as workflows to collate travel declarations, send alerts, answer support tickets – so that these undertakings don’t distract your workforce from key business responsibilities.

Other areas where digital technologies can make a significant positive impact include Telehealth, Remote Learning, and Virtual Conferencing.

Governments have a responsibility to deepen digital transformation spend

Beyond the immediate need for individuals and businesses to function more normally, there’s an even bigger reason why digital transformation investments need to be expanded: To future-proof economies.

COVID-19: A significant labour market and economic threat

Even though the COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health emergency, it has become a significant labour market and economic threat.  And it is calling for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures to protect workers in the workplace, stimulate the economy and employment, and support jobs and incomes.

In 2020 alone, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will cost the global economy $1-2 trillion. Central Banks are not in a position to solve this crisis singlehandedly. An appropriate macroeconomic policy response with aggressive fiscal spending and significant public investment is required and has been witnessed globally.

Boosting aggregate demand: Beyond roads and bridges

When economies are operating below their macroeconomic potential, governments tend to boost spending in public infrastructure such as roads and bridges to boost aggregate demand and put idle resources and unemployed people to work. Capital investment projects are believed to have larger economic multipliers than transfers or tax cuts, so public infrastructure investment is seen as an effective tool for stimulating the economy.

In today’s rapidly unfolding COVID-19 scenario, it is clear governments also need to deepen investments in digital transformation – whether it is to help businesses, healthcare and educational institutions, and other organisations cope with COVID-19 more effectively, or to boost a country’s digital foundation to prepare for an uncertain future.

Such spend plays the dual role of fueling the economy right now, as well as building resilience into economies by strengthening the entire ecosystem’s digital infrastructure.

Doing the right thing

People, businesses and governments today face unprecedented challenges with the coronavirus epidemic. But the profound humanitarian fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic does not need to translate into an equally disruptive economic fallout.

Digitalisation is a critical enabler of agility, flexibility, and innovation. These in turn build resilience into individuals, businesses and economies. So we can tackle what lies ahead, together.

As a business, SAP can help you during these extraordinary times with an on-your-terms and on-your-timeline transformation to an intelligent enterprise: RISE with SAP is an offer that brings together everything you need to fast track your business transformation journey. Watch the session replay of SAP SEA Strategy Day to learn more about the launch of RISE with SAP.

Chee Lioy U is industry cluster lead for Public Sector, Southeast Asia, SAP.