and a game changer for many—COVID-19 has opened our eyes to how
ill-equipped we all are to face a pandemic that is unprecedented in its global reach and
pandemic first struck, people in a modern society were brought down to a level
where we were purely focussed on basic necessities and survival. Around the
world, there was a mad rush at grocery stores and supermarkets, and shelves
were wiped clean of eggs, instant noodles, and even toilet paper. Governments
had to step in to put limits on food and paper product purchases, and to close
borders to travellers to contain the spread of the virus but yet work quickly
improve supply chain efficiencies to allow trade to continue.
saving grace was that technology has advanced since the days of SARS, and in
the last two decades, businesses and governments have been evolving to embrace
digital technology. This made it faster for governments to roll out mobile
phone updates to their citizens via Whatsapp and Telegram, and to implement
measures for contact tracing.
commercial end, the adoption of digital technology has been especially high in
the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) segment, where prior to the pandemic, shopping and buying online had
already become a norm for Millennials and the Gen-Z individuals. In this case,
COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of E-Commerce compelling the Gen-Xers
and baby boomers to start shopping online, interacting on social media, and
even ordering food delivery to their homes as people were forced to stay home
to avoid contracting the virus.
started circulating online, that it is not the CTO, CIO, or CEO but COVID-19
that has driven the adoption of digital technology in their companies. In
countries like Singapore, the government encourages and provides both technical
and financial assistance to Small-and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in retail
and F&B to help them transform.
we also realised that the Business-to-Business (B2B) sector wasn’t digitally
ready for the pandemic. Trading companies importing seafood and meat, logistics
companies that handle freight, and even manufacturing businesses invested most
of their IT budgets into productivity tools such as Enterprise Resource
Planning (ERP) systems and did little to re-invent their businesses to market
businesses, deals are usually made over a glass of wine or at a golf course,
after which, hundreds of manhours are put in by various staff members to follow
up on the paperwork, operations, and actual logistics.
E-Commerce for the B2C sector has advanced quickly with easily traceable
shipments and fast last mile deliveries, digitalisation of the B2B sector is
lagging behind due to the complexities of legalities (customs documents and
permits) as well as arrangements with various logistics, supply chain,
insurance, and financing partners that help ensure fast, safe, and
B2B transaction involves about 20 to 30 different stakeholders in the supply
chain, and ironically, all these interactions still involve the heavy use of
paper documents. Getting these stakeholders on board a single digital platform
brings concerns such as data privacy and data sovereignty, harmonisation of
processes, and lack of data standards and the lack of the supporting legal
frameworks for documents such as electronic Bills of Lading (eBL) are still not
widely adopted or legally accepted in many jurisdictions.
on the brighter side, the B2B technology development and adoption has also
accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the implementation of
Blockchain technology in supply chain industry applications to ensure secure
data exchange, transfer of titles, digital certificates, and fraud prevention.
Apart from Blockchain, sensors, and Internet of Things (IoT) are readily
available technologies that will improve efficiencies and traceability across
the supply chain.
businesses are starting to invest in some of these technologies, that will make
them more resilient to future pandemics. Hopefully, we will soon see a
seafood trader able to negotiate and order containers of cod fish, arrange
delivery from the port in Busan to his warehouse in Singapore, having his cargo
insured, and also acquire financing from a bank for his shipment, all with just
the click of a button.
Desmond Tay is the CEO of GUUD, a business
that aspires to use technology to make global trade accessible for anyone and
everyone. He starts all his days with an insatiable curiosity, a drive to
learn, and a vision to make the world a better place to live in.