Expand Internet connectivity to cover those left behind: Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Mr Sundar noted that the coronavirus outbreak has sped up the adoption of digital tools and trends by years. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Communities around the world should continue expanding digital connectivity and deepen public-private partnerships so that everyone can reap the benefits of the Internet, said Google chief executive Sundar Pichai on Monday (Dec 7).

While Covid-19 has accelerated the use of digital tools, it has also underscored the fact that many have been left behind, he added.

Mr Pichai was speaking on the first day of the Singapore FinTech Festival and Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SFF x Switch 2020). Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year's festival is largely being held online. Events will conclude on Friday.

The coronavirus outbreak has sped up the adoption of digital tools and trends by years, noted Mr Pichai. He added that South-east Asia's Internet economy is currently on the verge of a massive transformation. He cited a report Google compiled with Temasek and consultancy Bain & Company which showed that more than 40 million people in the region connected to the Internet for the first time in 2020 - four times as many as the year before.

But some people are still being left out. "While Covid has accelerated the use of digital tools, it's also exposed how many people are still left behind," said Mr Pichai.

Some 1.7 billion people around the world are still unbanked, a huge portion of African households do not have access to broadband and millions of women entrepreneurs lack the same access to opportunity as their male counterparts, he said.

An Internet connection is the "single best way" to make technology available to more people, and Mr Pichai outlined two ways to make the global digital economy more inclusive.

"The answer is twofold: First, by accelerating progress in closing the digital divide, which means expanding connectivity, financial inclusion, and digital skills.

"Second, by deepening partnerships between governments and business, which means building on the new collaborations we've seen during Covid."

Mr Sundar is among many other high-profile speakers at SFF x Switch, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella also spoke at the event on Monday.

During a dialogue with group chief executive of Standard Chartered Bill Winters, Mr Nadella reflected on the coronavirus pandemic and said that it was important for companies to plan ahead and prepare for future crises.

In August, the two firms announced a strategic partnership to accelerate the bank's digital transformation through a cloud-first strategy and migrate all core applications to the cloud by 2025 in order to serve its clients better.

Making sure that everyone in an organisation - not just customer service staff - listens to client feedback is crucial, said Mr Nadella, as firms which practise this are the ones handling Covid-19 the best since they better empathise with their customers' needs.

"Organisations that have good listening systems have been able to come out of this, or at least are working through this crisis much better," he said.

He added that companies are going to be very focused on embedding such a culture and approach to customer feedback once the pandemic is over.

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