In an era when digital transformation is as rapid as never seen before, we see digital transformation leading to improved business performance and much simpler user experiences. The freight forwarding and logistics fraternity in Sri Lanka will only do well to embrace the transformation taking place sooner than later if we are to compete with the region and cement ourselves as global players with proficiency. The pandemic forced us to see the need for creating a paperless environment in trading with a view to maintaining public health and healthcare services. This may have been bestowed upon us as a blessing in disguise enabling the fast forward approach in e-commerce activity be it in B2B, B2C, B2G or G2G.
At a time, such as this, it would be rather ironic for me to state that “The City of the Day After Tomorrow”, a prediction made far back in 1964 by our very own resident of great academia Late Professor Arthur C. Clarke, was as if of a fortune teller. It is the belief of many that he had the insight that most did not to predict the future when he did mention that “the traditional role of the city where men would meet to discuss business will be no more”. This direction whether good or bad, leaves us with no choice within the circumstances forced upon us by the current pandemic.
What is the need of digitization?
Wikipedia explains that Digitization is of crucial importance to data processing, storage, and transmission, because it “allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also intermingled”.
Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital format, in which the information is organized into bits. The result is the representation of an object, image, sound, document, or signal by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of points or samples. Digitization is also the automation of existing manual and paper-based processes, enabled by the digitization of information, from an analogue to a digital format. Digitization is indeed mainly used in a context of document capture and scanning, and in a context of digitizing business processes.
Thus, one may argue that if digitization is a conversion of data and processes, digitalization is a transformation, which embraces the ability of digital technology to collect data, establish trends and make better business decisions which is an opportunity for any business to derive efficiency, effectiveness with near zero error. Accordingly, digitalization it very well should be!
Is digitization good or bad?
It is said that digitization is neither good nor bad. The degree to which it will have a positive or negative impact on society and the world are entirely up to the creators of new technology and the consumers of that capability. Thus, responsibility and digitalization will have to go hand in glove.
So, are we geared?
In Sri Lanka, what is needed is greater political will to align and share data. Greater awareness of the mutual benefit would be a powerful incentive to share, and to build collection pipelines with interoperability in mind. In this respect, COVID-19 is a rare prompt for new collaboration across industry and the government for the public good which could permit real insights to be gained from digital data. It is said that there lie four types of digital transformation encompassing business processes, business models, domain, and cultural/organizational aspects. However, it is often seen that organizations focuses solely on processes than organizational transformation. Sri Lankan organizations will do well to embrace the gamut of criteria to reap sustainable benefits through digitization.
Impact of ill preparedness
Sri Lanka appears to be lagging digitization in comparison to our neighbours. India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh are supposedly way ahead of us in terms of digitalization and the move towards a paperless process. Our neighbours have made greater strides towards the initiatives in terms of their respective national single windows in a shorter span of time, thus positively impacting the ease of doing Business index. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the logistics arena of the neighbouring nations seems to have been circumvented due to the infrastructure that is in place as opposed to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has not made much headway in terms of achieving full status of a National Single Window pursuant to the inaugural initiative 25 years back to transmit data via EDI between the Trade and the Sri Lanka Customs. Greater Political will and allocation of funds are essential elements in setting about the platform in the recognition of creating ease in doing business in Sri Lanka.
Are we the people ready?
With over 10 million internet users in Sri Lanka by January 2020, an increase of +4.1% between 2019 and 2020 and the Internet penetration in Sri Lanka which stood at 47% in January 2020, the interest towards technological advancements certainly does not lack within the community. In fact, there were 6.40 million social media users in Sri Lanka in January 2020, an increase of +8.3% between April 2019 and January 2020. Mobile connection in Sri Lanka stood at 31.80 million in January 2020, which is more than the population of this country. The number of mobile connections in Sri Lanka is said to have increased by 2.2 million (+7.5%) between January 2019 and January 2020. In fact, the total number of mobile connections in Sri Lanka by January 2020 was equivalent to 149% of the total population. These statistics is clear evidence that the people of this nation are no strangers to technological advancements. Perhaps, it is the infrastructure and the use of technological advancements in e-Commerce i.e., B2B & B2C and more importantly the B2G & G2G that needs a boost.
The government may do well to provide suitable incentives for business to move along with IOT, AI, Blockchain, Robotics, RFID, Cloud etc., in the drive to embrace infrastructure in relation to technological advancements in this disruptive era! It is of paramount importance that Sri Lanka’s commercial and state institutions become more focused on the urgent need to empower their People with the relevant knowledge and attitudes to implement simple new technology and transform their processes to become accomplished toward digitization
It is not just the direction of the global race of survival in becoming more competitive, it has fast become a prerequisite for the very survival of any business in the context of the current pandemic and the post pandemic era.
The prudent question to ask is not “if” we ready to embrace Digitalization” but “When”.
Aitken Spence Cargo (Pvt) Ltd.