By Sherie Ng, General Manager, Public Sector, Microsoft Asia Pacific.
Since the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic last year, governments have needed to address a unique combination of challenges – social distancing and safety protocols, balanced with a responsibility to ensure business continuity and the continued delivery of critical citizen services. Beyond the immediate support rendered to the healthcare industry, economic and social disruption has created the impetus for accelerated digitization.
In the past 12 months, we’ve seen how the pandemic has been a catalyst that has challenged our existing views and spurred forth new perspectives, pushed the boundaries of technology and innovation across our cultural, social, economic, and technical worlds out of necessity.
Thankfully, 2021 kicked off on a highly positive note with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. At the early start of 2020, the global race to develop the COVID-19 vaccine commenced, and in less than a year, scientists were able to develop multiple efficacious vaccine candidates. The fastest vaccine developed, before the pandemic, was for mumps in the 1960s, and that took four years (from viral sampling to approval).
We supported organizations during the response and recovery phases of the crisis, through technology, ensuring they were able to transform to cope with the pandemic, and later, become resilient. In APAC, we continue to partner closely with the Government, Public Healthcare, and educational institutions across the region, for their digital-led COVID19 recovery. For instance:
- The Supreme Court of the Philippines shifted to virtual hearings for its 925 Courts nationwide, releasing close to 4000 people deprived of liberty within just a week of virtual operations
- Social service benefits and emergency relief measures continued despite the lockdowns, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in Thailand and BAAC helped more than 10 million farmers verify their eligibility for relief and validated their account financial status with 30 million transactions in the first 24 hours.
- With the power of Data & AI, in Malaysia, the Ministry of Health collected, organized and analyzed data of 600 patients at its Quarantine and Treatment Center, so that medical professionals could provide remote care, as well as collaborated with MoE, MoHE and Digital Classroom Admin (DCA) to conduct daily webinars using Microsoft Teams and Office 365, accessible by over 430,000 teachers across the nation, preparing over 900,000 students for public examinations.
At a recent video conference with G7 leaders, there was a call to vaccinations as a first step to battling the virus. Which leads government leaders, who have the responsibilities of their nation’s economic recovery plan, to work on two converging paths: ending the pandemic and reimagining public services, industries & societies.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR GOVERNMENTS?
As we gear up for the post-pandemic era, governments must take the lead in re-envisioning their role and reimagining society. While each local government will have unique needs to consider, here are four key common considerations for governments as they decide on what’s next for Asia Pacific:
1. Foundations for Digital First Nations
As the world accelerates the adoption of digital technologies like cloud, artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum computing, and robotics, governments helm a critical role to lay the groundwork for their country’s digital foundations. Countries like Korea, Malaysia, Thailand have digital acceleration plans that align to their digital-first ambitions, supported by budgets, investments, and policies to lead the charge of transformation.
- The Korean government announced its “New Deal” plan that focuses on a Digital New Deal and Green New Deal that includes overarching policies that strengthen employment and the social safety nets and the creation of 1,901,000 new jobs by 2025.
- The Malaysian government recently launched their Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint, MyDigital, a roadmap to achieve their vision of becoming a regional leader in the digital economy and attain an inclusive, responsible, and sustainable socioeconomic development.
- Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, established Thailand 4.0, an economic model focused on four objectives of economic prosperity, social well-being, raising human values and environmental protection. Their ambition is to become the region’s innovation and knowledge-based digital hub.
In Asia Pacific we recently announced our plans to build our first data center regions in New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia, in partnership with the digital initiatives of their respective governments.
As Noelle Walsh, a Microsoft corporate vice president who leads the team that builds and operates the company’s cloud infrastructure recently shared, datacenters are just like houses – buildings with electrical and mechanical equipment. The Microsoft Cloud is on a different scale than any house and operates at a much higher degree of reliability. And the company operates more than 200 datacenters, and that number continues to grow. To date, our operating and planned datacenter footprint spans 34 countries around the world all networked together via more than 165,000 miles of subsea, terrestrial, and metro optical fiber.
What’s more, Microsoft is slated to add datacenters in at least 10 more countries this year, and the company is on pace to build between 50 and 100 new datacenters each year for the foreseeable future, Walsh said.
Cloud technology will continue to play a pivotal role in empowering nations, enabling innovation and digital transformation, enhancing citizen experience, efficient governments, new economic opportunities, driving sustainability, and equitable access to health, education, and government services.
2. Closing the Digital Divide
The pandemic has exacerbated inequality, exclusion, poverty with rising unemployment rate, poorly functioning digital skilling programs and socio-cultural norms in some economies, depriving women equal access to digital services, increasing the digital divide. About 1.88 billion people in Asia-Pacific lack access to the internet which is nearly half of the population.
As governments continue to strive forward in their economic recovery and chart out a digital future, the notion of ‘leave no one behind’ to allow for more opportunities so that marginalized groups & those with disabilities can participate in the economy. New Zealand is leading in this area, where the government announced a Digital Inclusion Blueprint, a vision that everyone will have what we need to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the digital world.
Enabling citizens with digital skills is paramount to participate in an increasingly digital world, which is why Microsoft commitment to democratize technology by providing the tools, technology curriculum and programs globally and in Asia Pacific has helped over 30 million people in 249 countries and territories gain access to digital skills, of which close to 6 million of them are from Asia Pacific.
3. Strengthening Digital Defense
With the proliferation of data & digital connectivity, we see an increase in cybercriminals activities as we become increasingly exposed to the cyber threat landscape. Our digital realm is increasingly merging with our physical world, creating ripple effects of cyber-attacks on our security at an extrapolated pace. Cyber criminals are getting more sophisticated, exploiting the COVID-19 crisis – as more employees work remotely, increase in the use of personal devices accessing company data, attackers target basic vulnerabilities, taking advantage of reduction in manpower, high-tech, digitalized, distributed environment with low visibility.
In the accelerated scale of digital transformation, leader’s and organization must intently invest and own the core responsibility of sustaining people’s trust, safeguarding privacy and protecting security. Government and organizations need to adopt proactive risk management measures, invest in building a cyber-resilient culture and shape their cybersecurity strategy on the Zero trust model. The Zero-trust strategy carrying a Zero Trust mindset, encompassing all types of threats, both outside in and inside out. Holistically addresses security, compliance, identity, and device management as an interdependent whole and to extend protection to all data, devices, identities, platforms, and clouds. While at Microsoft we are committed to being a leader in this space, security is not a problem we can address alone and requires a concerted effort from the community to continuously strengthen our cyber defense especially in a dynamic and evolving threat landscape.
4. Actively Driving Climate Actions for Sustainability
We have a responsibility to protect our most finite resource – the planet. Without immediate and drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly. Governments need to realize how sustainability and revitalizing economies can go hand in hand and lead the charge on this arena setting the policies, regulations, and investments in driving a green economy, infrastructure, and skilling.
At Microsoft we announced our global environmental sustainability strategy, where we have pledged to be Carbon negative, Water Positive, Zero Waste by 2030 and by 2025 to restore more land than we use. However, the effort of any one institution is not sufficient, hence we aspire to empower and partner with organizations and governments to take climate action. We are building a planetary computer, an interconnected environmental network of data and tools to help scientists around the world monitor, model and manage the planet’s natural resources, where data that can be accessed and updated at any time and by anyone in the planet, investing $1 billion in (Climate Innovation Fund) for new technologies and innovative sustainability solutions. Additionally, our AI for Earth awards grants also supports projects that use AI to change the way people and organizations monitor, model, and manage Earth’s natural systems.
It is our collective strength, as nations, industries and communities that will enable and our collective power of innovation, science and technology that will shape our future. It is our role as leaders, working together as a coalition to bring in our strengths, assets, resources to collectively reimagine government. Which allows us to partner, to build a region that is more resilient, equitable, greener, and sustainable for everyone. This is purpose driven technology, where the mission is to collaborate for the greater, common good.