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How COVID-19 is accelerating digital transformation in Rwanda

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NEW TIMES 20 APR 2020

The coronavirus is changing how we live our daily lives. With schools, religious institutions and companies temporarily closing, many have been forced to rethink their approaches.

And as a way of retaining normalcy, people as well as companies have turned to digital tools to be able to operate effectively.

Virtual connections have hence been imperative. Events have gone virtual, schools have embraced digital learning, churches are holding masses online and businesses too are integrating digitalisation.  

For a long time teleworking technologies have existed and certain sectors have used them mostly in the consulting and in the BPO (Business process outsourcing) industry, however the global lockdown aimed to contain the spread of COVID19 has accelerated the adoption in other industries.

Alex Ntale, Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda ICT Chamber, said that in Rwanda, there has been accelerated adoption mostly in education tech enabling e-learning, e-commerce especially small and media enterprises as manufacturers are signing up to online trading. As a result this is also putting an increased need for connectivity.

He said, when the Government decided to invest in internet infrastructure more than 10 years ago, it was not necessarily hoping that the investment would come to its rescue in a crisis but it was doing the right thing.

Same thing when investments were made in laptops for education – one laptop per child and similar initiatives. 

“So the evolution of the digital world is nudging all of us to adopt technologies that have for a long time been around but we’ve for one reason or the other been slow in adopting them. We all use mobile money but few of us use the full potential of digital financial services including; online banking for SMEs in preference of cheques however with limits on cash transactions, we’ve seen more interest in adoption.”

Ntale observed that: “although though we still have a long way to go to be fully digital considering our population’s economic capacities, we have prepared infrastructure and policies to get us started.”

Leveraging the crisis for further tech advancement

There have been partnerships between Government and the private sector in enabling zero-rated mobile money transfers as well as zero-rating of education websites.

These are efforts that are playing a big role to reduce cost of adoption and as such leverage the situation.

Ntale however noted that there is need for more partnerships with other players especially development partners working with those less able to afford some of these technologies so as to meet the technology providers in the middle.

“The biggest need however is the need for a mind-shift, for us all to understand that we have entered a new world and the old world will never return. The new world requires us to adopt technologies, it’s not a matter of virtual meetings but an entire overhaul of business processes and employee or people re-skilling,” he added.

Yvonne Nyinawumuntu, a tech entrepreneur, observed a growth in the use of digital platforms that will continue growing even after the COVID-19 era due to internet adoption and exposure.

She hence recommended businesses to leverage digital platforms by embracing new strategies that can help them keep up with the changes.

“Those strategies may include going digital for those who were not, diversifying service providers, as well as availing affordable and quality services.”

IT expert Clement Uwajeneza is of the view that before, businesses did not necessarily see the importance of adopting internet era technologies such as video conferencing, online collaboration tools or ability to conduct business transactions digitally.

And now, all of a sudden it has become a necessity obliging them to adopt those technologies.

This will forever change the perception and understanding of how the business of tomorrow will need to adapt to the internet era.

“We should learn from this situation.

I often say that the biggest barrier to adopting technology use in an organisation is the perception that it’s complex and expensive. This has taught us that we can very quickly deploy technology if we focus on the outcome we need to achieve.”

“In my opinion, there will not be any after COVID-19 soon. The post lockdown will continue to further the need for digital,” he said.

For example, he added, banks may still want to limit use of their branches to protect employees in which case it will continue to even push people to transact using digital channels.

“Large conferences will continue to happen using digital channels to limit travels and crowd gatherings,” he added.

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