Written by

Khurram Gul Agha

Khurram is the Chief Information Officer and Head of Operations at Telenor Microfinance Bank / Easypaisa

Tech, Telecom & IT

Digitization and Re-engineering During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

The world is in the midst of its 4th Industrial Revolution and experts believe that industries across the globe are witnessing a digital transformation. The revolutionary technologies, especially now, which are being implemented in departments like education, health, financial, security, commerce and numerous others are driving these sectors towards an increased reliance on digital systems.

However, digital transformation can be an ambitious notion, the implementation of which requires elaborate steps that businesses aren’t always able to comprehend properly. Numerous reports analyzing real-life case studies have concluded that a staggering 70% of all digital transformation does not produce the desired results and can prove to be ineffective in some cases. There are a host of reasons that contribute towards these outcomes of digitization efforts but at the epicenter lies a need to re-engineer conventional business processes and consumer mindsets.

At present, the world is dealing with an unprecedented threat in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak. This has put most industrial research and digitization projects on hold for the meanwhile, but at the same time has demonstrated extensive opportunities that businesses face in completely adopting modern sophisticated processes and techniques.

During 2019, $1.3 trillion was invested in digital transformation activities, of which almost $900 billion was spent on projects that didn’t meet necessary end parameters. With the start of 2020, corporations across the world have been pinned by a crisis no one saw coming. With mass integration of work management, productivity enhancing and digital financial tools; corporations are finding out exactly what they have to do in order to make their operational cycles compatible with modern systems.

Digital transformation on a partial level was gradually finding its way into Pakistan’s ecosystem too, before the present situation arose. From fintech to health, a lot of our sectors were observing projects which were aimed at introducing the use of digital technologies and eventually bring about a complete overhaul of conventional practices. In this country’s diverse landscape though, these organizations were quick to realize that there are still some challenges which we need to overcome in order to pursue the path towards widespread use and acceptance of digital frameworks.

One of the biggest issues in this aspect is that a significant chunk of the Pakistani population lives in rural areas. They belong to agricultural backgrounds, remain devoid of basic education and awareness to implement digital processes in their lives and everyday business practices. Still on the plus side, Pakistan is one of the youngest countries in the world of which 64 per cent population is below the age of 30, and 29 per cent is between the ages of 15-29 years. Our tele-density has risen at exceptional levels and an overall positive aura regarding usage of digital platforms has been witnessed. Together, these elements demonstrate both the prospects and issues that digital transformation is facing.

With the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns which have resulted in an overall economic slowdown, it has become evident that there is need for rapid efforts to adopt digital systems on all levels across the country. It has also come to light that a general lack of efficient capitalization on available chances has put the government, organizations and individuals alike in a difficult position.

Together, the prevalent crisis and ongoing elements point out that digital transformation is an uphill task in Pakistan. It requires re-engineering of underlying conventional processes that have been followed ever since the country’s independence.

Fortunately, the Government and private organizations here are encouraging the use of digital platforms that circumnavigate old operations through modernizing and upgrading reporting systems, complain management, receipts and payments, public sector spending through an electronic dashboard that will refresh automatically if any development-related or public sector transaction takes place.

Our financial sector is one that is witnessing substantial changes. Digital banking solutions provided by retail financial institutions and mobile banking applications are making transactions of various scales much simpler, swift and reliable. Pakistan’s unbanked population stands at 100 million adults. This segment has no access to digital banking and until recently, had to go through immense inconveniences to get a certain amount from one place to another.

Re-engineering of conventional processes has been seen not just in the financial sector but a host of other areas too. Women empowerment, the achievement of sustainable development goals, health and education are some of the fields in which digital initiatives are replacing old practices. Government departments themselves including NADRA, passport control, driving license branches and income support programs are all incorporating the use of more modern and digital practices thanks to revamped practices.

Pakistan is observing an encouraging digital transformation atmosphere in the midst of a global pandemic. There is a focus on quality over quantity, changes are being implemented on smaller, more manageable levels and relatively better integration on both organizational and consumer levels. This micro to macro approach is something that is indeed benefitting Pakistan in the present circumstances.

There is still a significant amount of effort needed if we are to emerge from the current threat and maintain and stable trajectory for achieving our digitization objectives. The public and private sector needs to work together. Similarly, experts should be consulted while making policies in this regard. Whether these smaller initiatives will be able to translate towards a bigger, more successful and eventually complete digital transformation in the country is yet to be seen but the signs look extremely promising and at the same time, nature has shown to us that it is the need of the hour.