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NOW that humanity is slowly fighting back to rebound and recover, everyone is looking at how digitalization can help turn things around and how they can use a digital environment work to their advantage.

At this day and age, digitalization has become a crucial element to economic growth and recovery. Around the world, digitalizing their processes of doing things has helped governments, schools, and businesses shift to the new normal.

For a developing country like the Philippines, digital technology is seen to be a vital cog that will help ensure better governance, improves quality and reach of e-learning, and creates and/or retains jobs and industries. It could also aid pandemic response by facilitating safety protocols, vaccine rollouts, and accessible health and non-health services to curb COVID-19 cases.

However, a lot of factors go into building an effective digital economy. These important factors were discussed by industry experts in “Digitalizing the Philippines,” a White Paper launch and discussion forum recently held by public affairs and strategy firm W&R, together with the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (NUS-LKY) School of Public Policy.

As mobility restriction and social distancing measure[s] have been limiting our face-to-face interaction, the availability of digital technology emerges as a key determinant for resilience and for continuous growth,” said NUS Vice Dean and Associate Professor Francesco Mancini in his talk to the media.

In his talk, Mancini presented LKY School’s latest study entitled “Overview of the Development of the Digital Economy in the Philippines.”

To promote the digital economy, he recommended investing in both infrastructure and people. This, he said, entails government policies and projects that can complement commercial initiatives to secure access to technology and training for all Filipinos.

Digital transformation requires change from multiple fronts. It is an adaptive challenge and not just a technical one,” he said.

The “digital divide”

In her keynote speech, Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares explained that “Fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity makes a huge difference…in e-commerce, online learning, entertainment, telemedicine, and of course, the simple but vital act of staying in touch with our loved ones.”

For his part, Ricky Banaag, COO of IT company DFNN, Inc., said “Digital transformation is ongoing as we speak. In fact, the Philippines is number one in the world for internet usage…in terms of social media,”

However, Poe-Llamanzares said these are all challenged by what she called the “digital divide.” “While there are people with access to the internet, there are people who are grossly underserved or unserved,” she said.

NUS-LKY School’s findings showed how high costs, tight regulations, and logistical problems have held back local digitalization and adoption among Filipinos.

The multisector push for tech

Despite gaps and slow adoption, digitalization in the Philippines still reflects what experts call the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

To address these issues, policies like the Better Internet Act and Bayanihan to Recover as One Act that push for faster and wider-reaching service must be enacted. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)’s Common Tower Policy, which allows for multiple telcos to share one tower may be equally beneficial as well.

Immediate digitalization of not just our government but of all our systems in society is a need right now. Today, digital connectivity, online applications, and solutions are our lifeline as a nation,” Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Assistant Secretary Atty. Randy Echaus emphasized.

Private enterprises have also been taking initiatives to bridge current digital gaps. Aside from working on advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet-of-Things (IoT), and cloud computing, tech innovation company Huawei is looking to collaborate with more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to drive new technologies and digital literacy.

Businesses are where the greatest opportunities are. The Philippines is really currently driven by SMEs, and they’re also the major employer,” said Huawei Vice President and Economic Adviser of Government Affairs Andrew Williamson.

Through its Spark Program, Huawei aims to build a sustainable startup ecosystem for the Asia-Pacific region over the next three years. It is currently helping incubate and upscale SMEs in countries like the Philippines.

Honing digital talent 

With regard to cultivating digital talent, University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) professor and economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas emphasized that students should always come first.

Millions of pupils in public schools are not really learning very much because they don’t have the resources to participate in e-learning, so it is a clear indication that the digital divide may worsen unless we [take] proactive measures,” he said.

We have to re-skill and upskill people,” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Assistant Secretary Atty. Allan Gepty. He referred to this necessary job and education training as “capacity building or human capital development.”

Ultimately, the ideal is a network where all stakeholders from the private and public sectors can proactively work together to identify and address any current or incoming gaps. The working goal should be a robust digital ecosystem that seamlessly integrates industries to ensure resilience and inclusive growth for the entire country.

The “Digitalizing the Philippines” white paper launch was presented in partnership with Embiggen Consulting, Philippine Strategic Forum, FEU Tech Innovation Center (FTIC), the UA&P School of Law and Governance (UA&P-SLG), and the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s School of Diplomacy and Governance (CSB-SDG).

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