Digital transformation must benefit everyone
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) has reportedly commissioned the National University of Singapore to study the Philippines’ digital economy and come up with the necessary public policies. This is part of the development of an action plan covering areas such as the deployment of 5G, artificial intelligence and the cloud, among others.
“The idea is to have an indication of where we are with regards to digital transformation, and to be presented and discussed at the PCCI board,” said Antonio L. Sayo, president of the IPC Intellectual Property Committee. “(It’s) essentially a benchmarking exercise. The results of the study will be presented to government, business groups and universities.
In January, PCCI launched a Technology Education and Entrepreneurship Center in partnership with Huawei, to focus on the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, coding, big data analytics, Internet of things, satellite internet connectivity, and blockchain, among others. This is, I believe, a step in the right direction. Business groups should be ahead of all others in developing a knowledge base for digital technology and applications, and their impact.
But, in the future, I also hope that the PCCI and other policy researchers will place more emphasis on equal access and creating equal opportunities. Digital transformation in the COVID age hasn’t exactly leveled the playing field. In fact, it appears to have created distortions and wider gaps between the haves and have-nots.
For example, the Filipino star recently reported that women entrepreneurs’ in the local e-commerce space [Lazada, in particular] suffered more from the fallout from the pandemic than their male counterparts, reinforcing observations that the health crisis disproportionately harms women. ” Star study cited by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses owned by Filipino women in Lazada sold better than those owned by men in terms of gross value of goods. Women also ran and owned two-thirds of Lazada’s businesses. But this trend has since reversed in the Philippines and Indonesia.
In this line, IFC is pushing for parity. As IFC Senior Vice President Stephanie von Friedeburg said, “There is no doubt that the ability to compete online will increasingly determine whether a business succeeds or fails – a trend that has accelerated only by the pandemic. Ensuring that women are well positioned to compete online will not only strengthen businesses, but spur development. “
Digital technology can mean transformation, development and growth. But it can also lead to inequalities. In the case of education, for example, those with limited access to infrastructure and logistics are obviously disadvantaged by the disruption caused by COVID-19. To keep pace, a learner must deal with the need for a mobile device or a computer; electricity; Internet access; the ability to learn on your own; and the ability of educators to teach effectively online. It’s instead of just going to school and going to class.
In such a scenario, it becomes a rich daddy-poor daddy situation. Assuming that public education is “free”, tuition fees are not the problem. Even materials are provided to students in localities such as Makati City. But learners with the resources (rich dads) to afford mobile devices, to pay for Internet access and electricity have a significant advantage over those who do not (poor dads). This may not be the case with face-to-face teaching.
Public education is just one area where imbalances result from the digital transition. Even industries have not been spared from inequalities. Digital transformation typically affects low-income workers or those who earn minimum or daily wages and primarily do manual labor. “Automation” removes “manpower” and working hours, supposedly in search of productivity and efficiency.
Automated point-of-sale systems have also made it easier for employees to manually process and prepare orders, and those who accept and process payments. Mobile apps have benefited consumers, but in the process, they could also have cut many manual jobs that were previously available, especially for low-income workers.
The same goes for automation of production lines, robotics and AI replacing humans in manufacturing facilities. Unless displaced workers are retrained and equipped with the new skills required in the digital economy, job creation will suffer as more industries seek productivity, efficiency and lower costs. The benefits to consumers can come at the expense of workers, who are themselves consumers.
It is with this in mind that I challenge the PCCI to go further in its attempt to map the Philippine digital economy, and to push its center for technological education and entrepreneurship to call for public policies that ensure an economy. digital for everyone. Digital transformation must not lead to imbalances and inequities, and must not disadvantage any sector of society. It should promote equality of opportunity and benefit.
As Zia Qureshi of the Brookings Institution noted: “The era of intelligent machines holds the promise of a more prosperous future for all. But smarter policies are needed to fulfill this promise. To capture potential gains in productivity and economic growth, and to tackle growing inequalities, policies will need to be more responsive to change as technology reshapes markets. “
Qureshi, a visiting scholar at the Washington DC-based nonprofit public policy organization, added in his recent working paper: “As technology changes market dynamics, policies must ensure that markets remain inclusive and support broad access to new opportunities for businesses and workers. New thinking and policy adaptations are needed in areas such as competition policy, the innovation ecosystem, digital infrastructure development, worker upgrading and retraining, and social protection regimes.
Marvin Tort is a former editor-in-chief of BusinessWorld and a former chairman of the Philippine Press Council