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Innovation 2020: The Unravel review

A recollection of all things innovation on Unravel in the past year
A person going to press on a 'Start 2021' button on a virtual environment

The world is rapidly developing and adopting emerging technologies that are transforming lives, industries, our cities, and entire economies. Equally, through this pandemic, innovation has come to the fore in helping mitigate its impacts.

In particular, cloud computing has become one of the cornerstones of remote working amid the pandemic. We’re seeing software being uploaded onto the cloud, with end use cases being in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). AI usage has also had positive implications for the food, healthcare and supply chain sectors.

This tech marvel will continue to drive seismic shifts in narrowing the digital divide, only if governments take extensive steps in keeping public data safe while developing policies that encourage the adoption of these emerging technologies.  

The use of technology in financial services has also been on the rise. For long, we’ve heard how fintech can transform societies; perhaps its time is now. Digital finance received a fillip due to the pandemic, and fintechs, big tech and central banks are taking the lead. Southeast Asia, in particular, is poised to be a key player in digital banking and this development will drive greater financial inclusion. Singapore issued four digital banking licenses in December 2020 with a few other Southeast Asian countries expected to follow suit.

SMEs, too, are benefitting greatly from digital lending. Even prior to the pandemic, SMEs in Southeast Asia were already faced with funding inadequacies. In an added blow, the pandemic-led economic slowdown exacerbated the SME funding gap further. Digital lending platforms are filling this void and are greatly increasing access to finance for SMEs. But much as technology is embraced, successful digital banks will have to prioritise on culture and mindset to be successful.

Much as fintech has made positive inroads, so too has blockchain technology. It is being extensively used in furthering the efficiency of insurance, combatting insurance fraud, achieving operational efficiency and reducing overall cost for insurers. Digital solutions have also lent themselves well to agriculture. If used correctly, digital solutions have the capability to greatly improve agricultural supply chains.

Digital currencies—or more popularly cryptocurrencies—are also gaining ground and hold strong promise. Several governments and central banks are working towards launching their own central bank digital currencies. The onus lies with policymakers to develop regulations providing legitimacy to its use while safeguarding users’ interests. As of 2 January 2021, popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin registered its highest level ever – trading at $33,000, and demonstrating the seemingly insatiable appetite for this new emerging asset class.

Another area in which technology has spurred ground breaking innovations is personal mobility. Autonomous vehicles are making steady inroads and they stand to change the way we commute in the future. It is becoming increasingly clear that driverless cars are well on track to dominate city streets and highways in the years to come. As they have the potential to be safer, they will also deliver huge cost savings in saved health costs. And this is before factoring in the technology’s environmental advantages.

While the pandemic has had several adverse impacts on the economy, it has accelerated the uptake of technology in every aspect of our lives, and is resulting in modified and new business models as companies seek to get around the constraints placed on business activity by the lockdowns.

As COVID-19 rages on, opportunities to pick up on behavioural changes through small data have never been more abundant, and they have the potential to benefit businesses. In fact, several companies were quick to spot small data to identify new consumer needs and find success.

Similarly, the pandemic has laid bare the inefficiencies associated with several businesses. More and more such businesses are acknowledging the need to shift to digital ways to remain relevant in a post-COVID world. Southeast Asia has transformed into a bastion for collaboration in technology.

Singapore, for example, is poised to benefit from a robotics-led productivity boost, due to the structure of its manufacturing industry, presence of a highly-skilled workforce and favourable government policies. Similar technology-related developments can be seen in other Asian economies.

The pandemic may have sucked revenues out of most industries, but for the entertainment industry, it proved a shot in the arm. Forced lifestyle changes resulted in changing consumer behaviour – in this case in terms of how content was being consumed. As hundreds of millions of people globally were forced to stay home, the world witnessed a surge in OTT media subscriptions and mobile game downloads.

As with the entertainment industry, the healthcare industry is being transformed through the adoption of technology. The widespread adoption of digital solutions is boosting medical infrastructure in Asia and enhancing access to healthcare. Innovations in online learning have also been forced, but they are now fundamentally transforming education, upending existing models and resulting in several new problems.

As the world awaits the administering of the COVID-19 vaccine for all, policymakers will need to continue banking upon digitalisation to facilitate economic turnarounds. Concerted efforts in this direction will bring tremendous socio-economic benefits and will be instrumental to a post-pandemic recovery.

The pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns were stifling for most. But thanks to technology, millions were able to work and learn remotely. Some changes may not stick once the pandemic passes but many tech-led innovations will likely become part of the ‘new normal’. Innovation has proven a great enabler, and 2020 has shown us in no uncertain terms the massive potential technology holds if used smartly.

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