It’s time to think critically and put people first

Image: 123RF/lightwise

While the world, and subsequently our beloved SA, became embroiled in a life-and-death battle against Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, critical measures such as social distancing are illuminating the need for technological and digital solutions.

Technology and digital strategies are not mutually exclusive but should not be confused for birds of the same feather.

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa’ announcement in mid-March on the declaration of a national state of disaster and its accompanying stringent measures, several interesting developments have taken place.

Technological advances such as live-streaming, the distribution of Covid-19-related messaging and church services, among others, on social media and Zoom/Skype meetings illuminated the need for techno-literacy.

I believe our government’s strict regulations and swift action, spearheaded by Ramaphosa, are partly as a result of technological inequality — poverty extends to a lack of access to critical information and the required technology to seamlessly interact directly with medical health practitioners and other authorities.

Though the need for food and other essentials  supersedes the procurement of technological devices and software, access to credible information can help to meet needs, especially during a pandemic.

It is a difficult choice to make when your meagre resources can cover only the most basic of needs.

The need to be literate in modern technology places a burden on government, mainstream businesses, society and individuals to investigate opportunities presented by the digital era.

Why include businesses among these other role players?

To answer this question, I am reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein: “Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”

It is in the interest of business, government and society that techno-literacy be improved, and that access to information and digital solutions becomes seamless.

While governments are implementing business rescue and economic stimulus packages to avert economic meltdown, companies such as Amazon are sitting pretty.

Jeff Bezos’s company is worth about $1.2-trillion (R22.39-trillion) and its share price went up 30% this year. All this while person-to-person contact is prohibited and consumers are forced to stay at home.

Originally an online bookstore, Amazon now sells almost everything — and the impact of its platform business model is so immense smaller companies lose out if they don’t use this digital marketplace.

Healthy profit margins are at risk and the traditional companies’ business models are disrupted, sometimes leading to closure.

Large populations at home are a gold mine for Amazon and other platform businesses.

The inability to move about freely forces consumers to use e-commerce channels and digital platforms to get food, goods and seamless access to services.

One interpretation of Einstein’s statement that the concern for man and his fate must be at the centre of all technical endeavours could be illustrated by looking at the value Amazon puts on consumer information/preferences and data.

Companies such as  Amazon and Netflix place such a high premium on putting consumers first and finding solutions for them that they are almost coronavirus-proof.

Netflix’s consumers, during lockdown, are most likely watching shows based on recommendations from the platform, through information obtained by carefully harvesting behavioural data from consumers.

In the SA context, the government and businesses are using digital platforms such as Zoom to get the job done.

We should look at these examples and think beyond being consumers, to becoming providers of digital solutions.

A post-coronavirus SA should look at problems as opportunities to provide modern-day results for citizens.

Long queues should therefore not just be a public health concern to enforce social distancing. It should concern us that consumers spend long hours to get one thing done.

We should use this stressful, chaotic and life-threatening experience as a catalyst for renewed strategic thinking.

Difficult questions must be asked. If this pandemic continues for much longer, do we have digital solutions for contact tracing of those who tested positive for Covid-19?

Are we unable to trace individuals, or groups, given our overreliance on patients’ ability to recall with whom they interacted?

What digital solutions can be implemented to address long queues when social grants are paid out?

Most importantly, what digital solutions can we put in place to ensure we minimise the impact of future pandemics?

Businesses must use this period as a vital learning curve to protect clientele, staff and the bottom line.

Kupido Baron obtained a postgraduate diploma in digital business from Columbia Business School and MIT Sloan through an online study programme, facilitated by Emeritus Institute of Business Management, based in Singapore.

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