Digitalisation during the pandemic – A force for organisational change and talent development
19 Jan 2021
By Dr. Rossilah Jamil, Associate Professor at Azman Hashim International Business School, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Her works concentrate on the areas of human resource, people development, and management education.
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan. 19 — The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core. Fortunately, technological advancement has made it possible for activities to continue despite lockdowns and social distancing measures.
Reports have shown that the pandemic has accelerated business digitalisation by 3 to 4 years. The pandemic experience has also taught leaders regarding the significance of having a digital ecosystem to prevent a collapse in the economy.
As such, countries around the globe have heightened strategies to push for digitalisation. This is also seen within the ASEAN community. Since the pandemic, several high-level discussions have been held to expedite digitalisation within the region.
Most of the ASEAN countries have already set up their own digitalisation blueprints. However, when the pandemic strike, there is an urgency to integrate and streamline their efforts into a collective digital ecosystem to promote faster recovery in the region.
Integrating the region’s digitisation will not be easy. For instance, the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2020 that measures digital capacity and readiness of 63 economies shows that only five ASEAN members have made to the list, i.e. Singapore (ranking: 2), Malaysia (26), Thailand (39), Indonesia (56) and Philippines (57).
There are also talent issues to be addressed. Narratives on digitalisation are often placed alongside the Fourth Industrialisation (4IR) and artificial intelligence (AI) discourses. Extensive narratives exist that view digitalisation either as a ‘job-creator’ or ‘job-destroyer’ phenomenon.
Reports by the World Economic Forum (WEF) foresee significant job losses. Studies that examine historical data support the case for technological unemployment and have predicted that in the long run, digitalisation will create labour market polarisation. The camp that supports digitalisation as a job creation event generally believes that AI will only augment work rather than replacing humans.
Concerted strategies are needed to skill, upskill and reskill human capital. Those who tend to benefit from the 4IR economy are mostly high-skilled, knowledge workers.
The biggest risk will be for those in low-skilled jobs. If they fail to move up, digitalisation will force them to degrade to jobs that cannot be automated – hence, resulting in the de-skilling and de-valuing of talents.
Key economic players consisting of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) need support in switching to digital business models. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education requires serious reinvigoration to provide the required digital talents. At the same time, the rights of non-traditional human capital such as gig workers and marginal groups should not be forgotten in the race towards digitalisation.
Digital transformation requires organisational change and leadership. Knowledge from organisational studies shows that an organisation’s ability to survive and sustain in the long run is due to its ability to evolve and revolve their business practices in tandem with the external environment.
In various organisations, many efforts at changing have failed due to people-related issues. Leaders often underestimate people’s emotions, resistance, and the magnitude involved in a change process. A change disrupts acquired competence, interferes with routines, and shackles established power. While financial resources are the definite constraints, people are the makers or breakers in digital transformation. The role of human resources, either at the organisational and national level, is the forefront to drive these initiatives.
A solid framework to guide policies and strategies is pertinent to address these challenges. It should outline the roles of governments, Information Technology (IT) companies, platform providers and local industries. Therefore, the development of an ASEAN Digital Master Plan is a welcoming and timely move. Being one of the world’s largest economies, ASEAN has a huge potential to deliver higher values through digitalisation. The Master Plan will complement nicely with earlier initiatives by ASEAN, such as the ICT Master Plan 2020 and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025.
Digitalisation strategies should not only cover the aspects of the digital ecosystem, governance and cybersecurity, but also organisational change and talent development. For Malaysia, its instrumental role in leading the preparation of the ASEAN Digital Master Plan is in line with its continuous efforts in making the country future-ready. The Master Plan should assist the ASEAN community to collectively leverage the digital age aligned with the new normal for inclusive development in the region.