Covid-19 has made firms agile, hastened digitalisation: Panel

Companies had to move to remote work and find ways to remain efficient, even those that might never have thought they could do so.
Companies had to move to remote work and find ways to remain efficient, even those that might never have thought they could do so.PHOTO: ST FILE

In the past, events like this week's Singapore Summit would have gathered participants in a large venue. But due to Covid-19, the discussions continue virtually.

Citing this yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digitalisation, and Singapore is pioneering different ways to carry on running amid disruptions. "We are not planning on waiting out for the Covid situation to pass. Our priority now is really to learn to live in a Covid world while preparing for a post-Covid world."

He was part of a panel on the topic of digital connectivity and cross-border flows in a post-Covid world on the summit's last day.

Mr Chan said while the world was already heading towards digitalisation before Covid-19, the pandemic has accelerated this process.

One result is the rapid adoption of working remotely that many companies had to instil so their employees can remain distanced and prevent the spread of the disease.

The minister noted that with telecommuting becoming a norm, people and companies will soon understand that many white-collar jobs can be done over the Internet from anywhere in the world, making them more competitive.

"White-collar jobs will no longer have the geographical insulation that they used to have, and it will become a much more competitive, and a much more connected, playing field across the entire world," he said. "This is why even white-collar workers would require lifelong learning in order for them to stay competitive and to have a job."

Also on the panel moderated by CNBC anchor and correspondent Nancy Hungerford was executive chairman and chief executive officer of commodity trading company Trafigura Group Jeremy Weir.

Covid-19 has hastened the adoption of some practices in his company that have made work more efficient, like the use of communication tools. "We had a lot of people travelling around the globe. But we are now utilising the various communication systems... which have really improved efficiencies in our organisation," said Mr Weir.

Fellow panellist Fleur Pellerin, who is the founder and chief executive officer of venture capital firm Korelya Capital, said she was very impressed with the resilience demonstrated by both big corporations and smaller businesses in dealing with Covid-19 disruptions.

Companies had to move to remote work almost completely and find ways to remain efficient, even those that might never have thought they could do so.


"When you have to, you just do it. Probably some corporations felt they were not very agile. (But) when they had to move, they just moved. And they changed the way they see themselves," she added.

In response to a question from an audience member on the United States presidential election in November, where President Donald Trump is up against former vice-president Joe Biden, Mr Chan said no matter who wins, Singapore will work with them to further ties.

Rather than focus on the personalities, people should focus on the driving forces behind the US administration's policies, he added.

"Whether it is a Trump presidency or a Biden presidency, the US has enduring interest in the peace and security and the economic prosperity of South-east Asia and Asia," said Mr Chan.

"And the US will need to work with partners in this part of the world to secure its own interests. I think that will not change."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2020, with the headline 'Covid-19 has made firms agile, hastened digitalisation: Panel'. Subscribe