Digitisation: Fast-Tracking The FutureSunday, October 25, 2020
One of the lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is the urgent need for the fast-tracking of digitisation in our society. Digitisation is simply the conversion of information from a physical or analog format into a digital one with the adoption of technology, profoundly changing the way businesses operate. Seven months later, we are still grappling with the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is showing no signs of retreat. The social and economic upheavals from the fallout mean new paradigms have had to be set in order for the economy not to collapse upon itself. Work-from-home protocols have accommodated this, to a certain extent, through working online, which 10 years ago, would have been unthinkable, especially in Jamaica. It's a start, but complete digitisation of offices, however, would mean the entire office could be run, entirely from a remote location and this too has pitfalls.
Digitisation does not only benefit the business, it's a plus for customers.
Let's look at the banking sector, which is taking the lead in this area. The digitisation of the industry is seeing customer services enhanced. Already, online and mobile banking have afforded customers 24-hour access to ATMs, and, in the eventuality that it's large cash transactions, the facilitation of safer, cashless transactions any time, any place, reducing costs not only to the banks but also to the customers.
Naturally there has been, and continues to be, resistance in certain quarters. People are often resistant to things they don't understand, and for older customers who aren't quite as au fait with computers, it can be challenging when the system they've known for so much of their lives is on the brink of changing and leaving them out in the cold.
But this is really quite far from the truth, which is that the rest of the world is changing, adopting technology and forging ahead in the digital space. Not adapting is what will leave us as a small-island state out in the cold and doomed to being forever labelled “developing”, rather than “developed”.
The financial sector, because of the pivotal role it plays in people's lives in this day and age, cannot afford to lag behind. In the same way that our forebears had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century and made to understand that hiding their savings under the mattress was no longer tenable because it was unsafe and it grew no interest, people will see the innate rightness of digital technology working to their benefit.
In addition to providing amplified safety, digitisation is also a time-saver. The days of waiting in long lines at banks are fast coming to an end. Think of the time saved by banking this way, rather than having to leave home to visit a physical facility to complete a transaction. And with social and physical distancing now top of mind, Internet banking is increasingly a practical response to the digital strategies of banks, and business in general, going forward, even as we are still unsure what life post-COVID will look like.
Digitisation is of course not without its disadvantages; progress rarely ever is. Already branches in Jamaica are closing down, persons have lost their jobs, and there can be privacy issues and the risk of cyber crime events, but generally, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Which is also to say it also helps in better governance and increased efficiency of society. In other words, the banking sector isn't the only one that's prioritising digitisation: The Government is too. In order to achieve Vision 2030, which is the country's national development plan to reach first world status by that year and Jamaicans empowered to achieve their fullest potential, one of the vehicles to get there is the digitisation of business activity. This will see a formalisation of what has been a largely informal society, and this is geared at ensuring that all are equal partners in the development of the country.
The institution of the national identification system (NIDS) will likely happen. Citizens' information must be collected and stored digitally for a more efficient running of the country, with banks leading the way forward. Because, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently observed, “Real wealth cannot be created in an environment where there is a high level of informality. Every Jamaican, irrespective of age, class, ought to have a bank account. The Government must provide a national identification solution to simplify the Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering(AML) requirements.
“Many Jamaicans are locked out of the formal financial system, and now is the time to be formalised and begin building wealth seamlessly, safely, and securely.”
This is what's called the inevitability of digital transformation.
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