Embracing digital disruption, together
Galvanised by Covid-19, digital transformation is occurring at the fastest pace on the planet in the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to 2.8 billion people and some of the world’s most innovative technology firms.
At APEC 2021 LIVE with Business: Digital future of the Asia-Pacific, hosted by Microsoft, speakers and panellists outlined the opportunities, challenges and trends shaping our regional digital landscape, which has experienced several years of digital adoption in the last 18 months alone. The government and business technology leaders spoke of the need to work together across the public and private sectors to increase digital trade interoperability, implement responsive digital policies, and ensure no one is left behind in this unique period in history.
Setting the scene, the Hon David Clark, New Zealand Minister for Digital Economy and Communications, pointed to a “silver lining,” of the pandemic, as lockdowns forced us to find new ways to learn, do business and socialise from home.
Highlighting the growing digital opportunity for New Zealand, Minister Clark reinforced the importance of sharing best practice and learning from one another across APEC economies. “We want make sure that we see inclusive growth, that we include all of our people, and we build trust in being online so that we can include as many people as possible in these gains.”
Pursuing innovation and a digitally-enabled recovery is one of New Zealand’s priorities for APEC in 2021, and panellists emphasised that collaboration would be vital to ensuring a thriving digital economy and mitigating the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 throughout the region.
Microsoft Asia Vice President – Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, Mike Yeh, highlighted the importance of working together, citing examples of industrial revolution across human history where businesses and governments came together to adapt to the incredible rate of change.
Digital policy said Mr Yeh, should focus on helping individuals develop the skills to work and thrive in the digital economy. It should also be informed by technology providers together with government, and should focus on the ability to create cross-border data flows.
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Xero Chief Product Officer Anna Curzon said that for businesses across even the most traditional sectors, “being digitally capable and engaged has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have".
However, a fragmented digital landscape which adds cost and complexity, and challenges around mindset and capability, create barriers for operators, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises which form 97% of the APEC business community.
Curzon highlighted the need for responsive digital trade policy and overcoming a “patchwork approach” across the region, pointing to digital border policies put in place during the pandemic as examples of responsive frameworks which should remain as we navigate our recovery.
Minister Clark echoed the importance of collaboration, citing exemplary examples of business developing future workforces, and calling on businesses to focus on the fundamental building blocks of cybersecurity, which will have a flow on effect in creating trust in the online world.
Forums like APEC remain the place to progress these discussions, says HE Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thailand’s Minister of Digital Economy and Society. “The period since early 2020 has been a testing time for APEC, with Covid-19 having a devastating impact across the region and beyond … but APEC member economies, particularly New Zealand as APEC 2021 hosts, have remained resolute to achieve a common goal of join, work and grow together.”
As Chair and Host for APEC 2022, Thailand will take forward several digital priorities identified throughout New Zealand’s host year.