By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Assistant Editor

Never in recent memory has the established paradigms of society changed as quickly as with the COVID-19 pandemic. The reality of the crisis has virtually shunted the world into a new era, one championed by digital technologies and innovation.

In the world of business, what exactly has changed, and what, if anything, was left the same? The second leg of the BUSINESSWORLD INSIGHTS Online Forum Series on Connectivity tackled this issue with the theme, “The Connected Path: A Guide to Digital Transformation of Government and Businesses”.

“In the last seven months, we have all experienced what this pandemic has brought us. It has decimated businesses, destroyed jobs, wiped away years of economic gain,” AMTI EVP for Technology, Sales and Marketing Digital Transformation Executive Sponsor Bong Paloma began in his opening remarks.

Mr. Paloma said that the pandemic brought to mind the villain Thanos in the blockbuster movie, Avengers: Infinity War, bringing individuals, communities, countries and organizations to their knees with a snap of a finger.

“We do live in unprecedented times. Thankfully, we are here today living in the ‘new normal’, albeit virtually and digitally,” he said, adding that it is thanks to digital transformation that things still seem to have some semblance of normalcy.

Digital transformation, he explained, is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how the business operates and delivers value to its customers. It is also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure. Changes which organizations have been forced to face to survive in the current climate.

“Digital transformation was already underway in a significant way before COVID started. It was underway on a global level and a local level, for large companies as well as small companies, in developed markets as well as we know more than anyone, in emerging markets,” PayMaya Philippines Chief Operating Officer Paolo Azzola said.

“COVID-19 was the single largest catalyst for digital transformation that we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Azzola said.

Both Mr. Azzola and GCash Chief Commercial Officer Frederic Levy recognized the massive surge in adoption of their digital payment platforms as Filipinos adapt to a new ‘stay at home lifestyle.’

Mr. Levy pointed out that GCash has seen up to 1000% year-on-year growth in transactions, more than a trillion pesos in cashless transactions.

“This is actually two times higher than our past three years combined. We talk a lot about the ‘diskarte‘ of Filipinos during this time. This figure shows that Filipinos are jumping at digital adoption and embracing it,” he said.

Local governments are also accelerating adoption, Mr. Azzola said, even enforcing and encouraging the use of cashless payment platforms over ones done with cash.

“If there is a silver lining anywhere for tech-oriented companies in this very challenging moment, it is that digital transformation has happened at an unprecedented pace. In the Philippines, we’ve seen companies that were previously keen on embracing digital payments, suddenly, these guys were in the drivers’ seat, and they were able to effect change at a faster pace than ever before,” he said.

Shiju Varghese, country head for Tata Consultancy Services, Inc., noted that many companies all over the world — from the US, Europe, to Asia — are retaining and even increasing their budget for new technologies despite the budget and revenue crunch brought about by the pandemic.

The most common form of digital adoption is in support of remote working models and collaborative technologies such as Zoom. More than half of executives that they had surveyed are also looking into improving their cybersecurity and making their clouds more resilient.

“Organizations thus recognize these technologies as critical for resilience in the face of this pandemic and that digital capabilities will continue to be essential in the post-pandemic world,” Mr. Varghese said. “But the accelerating transformation that is underway is not only about performing better during the pandemic. The changes will endure over the long term.”

Facing all these changes, Mr. Paloma had this to say, “Let us look ahead, move forward, and carry on. Let us drive change instead of being driven by it.”

#BUSINESSWORLDINSIGHTS Connectivity Series is made possible by Tata Consultancy Services, Globe, AMTI, Dell Technologies, PLDT, Smart, The Philippine STAR, and Olern; with the support of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators, Management Association of the Philippines, Bank Marketing Association of the Philippines, British Chamber of Commerce Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Philippine Association of National Advertisers, and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.