Despite being a formidable challenge, the global pandemic presents an enormous opportunity for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
The invaluable role of digital technologies in the response to the COVID-19 crisis is universally recognized, and now is the time to use that momentum to fast-track digital transformation, drive economic recovery, promote social inclusion and tackle the digital divide.
This was the finding of the three Ministerial Roundtables held at ITU Virtual Digital World 2020, bringing together ministers, regulators and private sector leaders from around the world to share their experiences and strategies in the digital sector in the COVID-19 era.
Co-organized by ITU and the government of Viet Nam, this was the first high-level ministerial meeting to be held online since the start of the pandemic.
Read on to discover the top five takeaways from the discussions – also available as videos and session summaries here.
1. Networks stood up well to the challenge of providing uninterrupted connectivity.
With traffic soaring by between 30 and 70 per cent at the height of the initial lockdown, network resilience was critical. Short-term government actions to support operators included regulatory relaxations on spectrum, infrastructure sharing and licencing, as well as recognizing telecom engineers as key workers able to move around to support and maintain critical infrastructure – all measures which could be introduced longer-term, too.
“The outbreak forced digitization at scale on society, so everything related to ICT took year-long leaps in a matter of months. We now need to make sure that pre-COVID regulations don’t hinder the potential of technology and communication in real time.”
– Konstantinos Masselos, President, Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT), Greece
2. Healthcare and education have been the big winners.
Digital has played an enormous role in healthcare, from track-and-trace to remote diagnosis, delivery of medicines by drones, and predictive tools using AI and big data. Education has turned digital at scale and at speed across the globe, with dedicated satellite channels, government subsidies to schools and end users and free access to learning platforms and websites.
The countries most successful in the fight against the pandemic are those who have already integrated digital technologies into policy and healthcare, according to Isias Barreto da Rosa, Chairman of the Board at ARME, Cape Verde. But accelerated digitization in both sectors has underscored the dramatic inequalities between the digital haves and have-nots.
3. Temporary fixes for government and businesses will continue post-pandemic.
Much of the day-to-day functioning of government and delivery of services to citizens moved online at pace – and is likely to stay there as the benefits of cost-effectiveness, efficiency and convenience have become clear.
As Isa Ali Ibrahim, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Nigeria, pointed out, digital technology has sustained government services and operations throughout the crisis with such success that “virtual engagement in federal government activities is now institutionalized.” The same leapfrog effect is true for large corporates, SMEs and growing numbers of e-commerce retailers.
4. Investing in digital skills is critical to recovery.
Human capacity development must be at the centre of policies and strategies on social inclusion and economic recovery. Digital literacy and a mindset open to digital transformation will allow people to survive and thrive; public private partnerships for skills development in the workforce now will build the foundation of sustainable economies in the future.
Ensuring the population all possess the correct skillset is a priority, explained Frédéric Genta, Country Chief Digital Officer of the Principality of Monaco: “We want every company to move to digital, and to make sure every person has the right opportunities to live in the digital world.”
5. The time for operating in silos is gone.
Governments and the private sector must collaborate to drive economic growth and close the digital divide. Administrations need to create the right enabling environment for investment, including revisiting taxation and regulatory frameworks; technology providers from satellite, mobile, fixed and emerging tech sectors must work together; and the creative innovation of tech SMEs should be supported and embraced within the industry ecosystem. Collaboration and cooperation between public and private, all industry stakeholders and across national and international boundaries is key to building back better – together.
“The most important lesson from COVID-19 is that the best resource we can retain is public private partnerships working together.”
– Rosa Nakagawa, Vice Minister of Communications, Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications
See all the highlights from ITU Virtual Digital World 2020, including photos, video sessions and session summaries, at digital-world.itu.int – and find out more about next year’s physical event, ITU Digital World 2021, taking place in October in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.
This blog was originally posted on ITU News.