Pakistan Goes Digital

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Coronavirus pandemic has forced Pakistan to go digital


Ed Yong, a British science journalist, in his widely-circulated article for The Atlantic, titled “How the pandemic will end”, wrote: “There are now only two groups of Americans. Group A includes everyone involved in the medical response, whether that’s treating patients, running tests, or manufacturing supplies. Group B includes everyone else, and their job is to buy Group A more time. Group B must now ‘flatten the curve’ by physically isolating themselves from other people to cut off chains of transmission.” Now, let’s replace the word ‘Americans’ with anyone, belonging to any nationality, around the world. I would like to add another group to this which is possibly a subset of Group B - Group C, which needs to think of life during and beyond the virus. This is the Group which will not just shape the future of the world, but will also plan for the economy and businesses. For this Group, it will be a tough balancing act, and no easy answers will be available. We live in a new normal today, or an ‘impaired normal’. In this doom and gloom, it is also fascinating to witness things changing, within weeks, days and minutes. Social pratices are adapting. Suddenly people are sanitizing their hands, refusing handshakes, maintaining social distances and cancelling social gatherings.

There is less traffic on the road, the skies are clearer and more businesses are enforcing a completely new way of working - from home. The insatiable desire to touch, feel, see is suddenly replaced by the urge to perform, to innovate and to think differently. The way it all unfolded reminded me of a typical team sports game. Where in the beginning the entire team comes to a huddle, everyone is together and once the motivation speech is over, they all – yes each and every one of them run and spread across the field. Something similar, but of a completely different magnitude, is happening today. At this stage it is difficult to predict how long this ‘impaired normal’ will last. It definitely does not seem to be a matter of weeks, but of months. The base line is changing each day. What was normal yesterday, is replaced by a new normal today and tomorrow promises to be different again.

In countries like Pakistan, where brick and mortar mentality are deeply entrenched, the change is even more profound. The nauseating mantra, so prevalent about Pakistan not being able to adapt to a virtual workspace, has been thrown out of the window in a matter of days. No one in the corporate, business and bureaucracy is now talking about why it cannot work. The whole mode has changed to “how to make it work”. There are few other choices. Today, there are federal and provincial cabinet meetings in a virtual environment. Press briefings, national coordination committee meetings, opposition meet ups and conferences are all happening online. Even concerts are now being live streamed on the Internet. Last night I attended the first digital mushaira. In just one month, Pakistan too has a new normal. A new normal, which was so abnormal, so farfetched, so unthinkable only a week ago. Here is where Group C comes, to help plan for a future in these circumstances. I don’t think we are going to get such a time in our lifetime again. Countries, companies, individuals so far ahead can be replaced with those who will take advantage of the time at hand to reimagine, create, define, develop, produce, and brand in changing times.

What should the government do?

One of the silver lining surely during this monumental crisis will be a rethink of our healthcare system, and about cutting the layers of inefficiency, incompetence, mediocrity and corruption to move towards using technology for service delivery and achieving productivity gains. There is no better time for the country’s leadership to move towards ‘smart government’. This is the time for Pakistan to ensure that the economy gets documented, when the resistance to change is minimum.

Where do businesses fit in?

For them, the current times are about leapfrogging to catch up with the rest of the world. Why can’t we move away from the world of paper to the world of doing things online, documenting our businesses, make life simpler for our customers and our people? It is also time to think of how the entire world will change as an outcome of this pandemic, and while some changes have been forced upon us already, some others will be knocking at our door and providing opportunities to shift business and economic models.

And you, what do you do?

For an individual, this is not the time to be merely sitting at home and waiting for work to come to you. It is a time to learn, anticipate, evolve and create. It is the time to learn new tools, new methods, new technologies and new developments. I am convinced that this crisis will give rise to a new world. This new normal is evolving and evolving faster than anything we have seen thus far. Eventually, it will settle for a base line. In my view three categories of countries, businesses and individuals will emerge out of this:

1. Those who will be leading and shaping the new normal. These could be any of the leading countries, businesses, and individuals of today, but many new players will emerge and would be the front runners to lead.

2. Then there will be those who will simply follow the trend. But they will be up for change, up for adapting to the new normal.

3. Lastly, those who would want things to return to pre-March 2020. They are the disbelievers and will believe “like all else this too shall pass”. It won’t. For this category, I would already start writing obituaries.

Stay safe, stay healthy, practice social distancing.

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