By Jacob Kudzai Mutisi
The coronavirus outbreak is affecting broad swaths of the Zimbabwean society, including all levels of Government and organisations. Firstly let us congratulate Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) led by Trevor Ncube for embracing digital technology in these times of Social Distancing and national lockdown. They were the first to introduce the e-paper that has a targeted circulation of 1,000,000 e-papers per day. Zimbabwe Information and Communication Technologies (ZICT), the ICT division of the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers (ZIE) is used to developing and implementing digital technology solutions in Zimbabwe’s economy. We have taken the time to exchange ideas on how to swiftly help with the consequences of COVID-19 crisis.
For some organizations, near-term survival is the only agenda item. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty, pondering about how to position themselves once the crisis has passed and things return to normal. ‘What will normal look like?’ While no one can predict with certainty how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.
The outbreak and rapid spread of COVID-19, for many public sector organisations, is an unprecedented challenge. Local governments, administrations and, in particular health services are at the forefront of the crisis that will take time, effort and some good old fashioned luck to solve. As well as public services, businesses are suffering trying to find ways to survive and adopt smoothly. What can help in tipping the scale of success are digital tools and collaboration.
A dedicated community of digital transformers are discussed among other topics, the immediate and longer-term needs of public sector organisations and businesses due to COVID-19 and where digital tools could help them in becoming more resilient.
The community’s ideas dealt with how to ensure business continuity with tools for collaborations, video conferencing, delivery and payment solutions, paperless environments and protecting digital business increased cyber security. On the other hand, there is a lot of space for business innovations, such as new direct marketing and reaching customers in isolation and new solutions (virtual events, robotic solutions, virtual classrooms, neighbourhood help etc).
Institutions that should immediately have digital transformation
Parliament of Zimbabwe
This is the place where politicians meet and return to their constituencies. There is now a need for our parliamentarians to have virtual meeting directly from their local offices. This is a great opportunity to cut down on the cost of transportation, accommodation and allowance by our members of parliament having unlimited internet 24/7.
Registrar General’s Office
There is no need for our citizens to queue for national identity documents, stopping the spread of this dreadful disease, this can be replaced by online application services. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, this process is being done by the British Embassy and the American Embassy when doing your visa application. One has to provide their particulars and only attend an interview to verify their identity and documents produced.Each person is given a time slot to attend thereby limiting the number of people present at a given time.
The contradiction of the government advise warning against gatherings, but expecting jurors, judges, clerks, counsels, solicitors, clients, security personnel, police, lay clients, and administrative staff to turn up, often in cramped, unsuitable court rooms. There is now a need to fully equip our offices and courtrooms with ICT products and digital cameras, this will allow the justice process to continue in the absence of physical appearance. Around the world, governments have shut down their court systems altogether. The European Court of Human Rights cancelled all hearings in March and April, apart from those where a suspension would cause “irreparable damage.”
A lot of countries are going to face new challenges in their jails and prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Zimbabwe there is a need to setup home imprisonment structures and use tagging as a means of protecting prisoners against the spread of COVID-19.
The general public needs to get access to ZINARA, ZIMRA and CVR . These three institutions should be working to provide answers for you through our Coronavirus I-Team Help Desk. Which should be directly linked through ICT services. There is no better time to computerise our vehicle licensing platforms with Zimbabwean renewing the vehicles licensing in the comfort of their homes.
Zimbabwe has one of the best internet connections and there is now a need to use these services for government or business meetings. As ZICT, we are calling for local solutions to be used for meetings, conferences than to use international solutions which we feel are not 100% secure.
Distribution Centre and Hyper Local Places
There is now a need to turn our supermarkets into distribution centres and turn our industrial shells into distribution centrex. During these trying times there is no need for the general public to queue to buy household products and services. This is the best time for suppliers to be innovative and provide their products and services directly to their customer reducing the movement of people during lockdown. We now need local delivery companies to partner with retailers.
The supply chain
In several supermarkets, the adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures has been limited. As such, this is an opportune time for entrepreneurs and supermarket chains to implement an aggressive digital transformation experience. Special mention to Fresh In A Box and Gains Cash and Carry. Fresh-In-A Box is a company that delivers fresh produce directly to households. The business has been successful due to the ease of ordering and payment for produce online and their excellent customer service. Their sales have jumped significantly during the lockdown period as customers seek to stay indoors and willing to pay a premium for delivery to their doorstep. This is likely to be a sustainable business model post lockdown and for the foreseeable future.
The above is a tip of the iceberg. The way we do business will be fundamentally changed post the lockdown and eventual eradication of the pandemic. The quest for digital transformation is now a critical component in the post pandemic success of business. For executives and managers of businesses, the time for leadership is now. The CEO and the board must now more than ever provide direction to the business steering the business towards a digitally enabled future.
Go online to look good
Hair salons and barbershops around the world are closed amid lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus, and stay-at-home clients have been taking matters into their own hands.We now have more and more people being able to cut their own hair and style it without the hair dresser. Most have taken the time to visit Youtube to follow instructions from there.
There is no better time to develop and implement the agriculture commodity exchange(ACE) platforms where the buyers and sellers can meet, discuss and transact. The world over this is how agricultural commodities are traded. Zimbabwe now needs to adopt and localise through the use of ICT encourages the development of websites and the emails. The national social media presence should be broadened.
The health sector needs to have a central database now. This will help the tracking of infected people and their contacts. There is now a need to have an e-health system that prevents the contact between doctor, nurse and patient. To achieve this there is need for the use of ICTs.
Zimbabwe’s organisations should be able to capitalise on the rapid and essential shift in working conditions and communications requirements brought about by COVID-19. This is a great opportunity for internet service providers and other ICT companies to offer a massively reduced or free rate to compliment the significant adopted global working-from-home customer base and benefit from the current situation in our country.
Zimbabwe is a country that moves from one crisis to the other. As in any time of crisis, Zimbabwe’s businesses that bury their heads in the sand are likely to come unstuck, while those that roll up their sleeves and respond to the changing business environment, innovate and make the best of this bad situation will come out on top.
Engineer Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi is the Chairman of Z imbabwe Information and Communication Technologies(ZICT).He writes in his personal capacity.