Digital Technology in Asia and the Pacific: Your Questions Answered
Thomas Abell, Chief of ADB’s Digital Technology for Development Unit, discusses digital and information and communications technology (ICT) challenges in developing Asia and how ADB is helping through financing and knowledge sharing.
What are the three most important ways that digital technology is contributing to economic growth in South Asia?
First of all, digital technology creates new job opportunities. Digital technology also improves and expands existing economic activity as a result of increased speed and reduced transaction costs. It’s also important to point out that digital technology is a key enabler of the transition to a greener, sustainable digital economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels.
What about digital and ICT’s role in boosting social, educational and health services in developing countries?
Clearly, digital technologies play a major role in increasing access to and the efficiency of social, educational, and health services. Adoption of digital social protection services with digital identification technology enables more rapid and inclusive support, compared to older paper-based system. Medical services that are digitally based have been accelerated and mainstreamed in many places due to the COVID-19 pandemic, overcoming barriers that have previously limited adoption.
Please show, using examples from the Philippines, if possible, where ADB’s support for digital technology has made a significant difference to people’s lives.
ADB supports digital social protection services in the Philippines. The bank is also assisting in the creation and rollout of a new digital ID system in the Philippines and other DMCs. In addition, ADB has supported digital financial services, from the modernization of central banking and treasury systems, to improved banking systems in remote areas via cloud computing.
What role did digital technology play during the COVID-19 pandemic and what important e-innovations emerged from that period?
The pandemic accelerated the transition to the digital economy, including working from home, eCommerce, digital health, remote learning and digital finance. In particular, the move to remote work has permanently shifted the workforce to a more inclusive employment model and has reduced the time and expense of long commutes, especially for low-income workers.
Digital technology boosts growth, expands opportunities, and improves government services but also brings new challenges, including effective regulation.
More targeted investment and new partnerships are needed in infrastructure, capacity, and skills to realize the benefits of digital technology.
In developing Asia, what’s the most effective way of bridging the huge digital divide between the poorest and the emerging middle class?
To address the digital divide across the region, governments need to invest in digital infrastructure, especially in expanding connectivity access and by reducing the cost of connectivity to low-income communities.
How has digital connectivity fostered growth in remote regions, like the islands of the Pacific?
Digital connectivity enables remote working, as well as education, health access and ecommerce, all of which are instrumental in economic and social development in highly dispersed regions like the Pacific.
How is big data enhancing development and the region’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?
Big data, meaning larger, more complex data sets from many sources, improve the ability of governments and other development stakeholders to plan and manage investment in infrastructure and climate solutions. An example is the use of satellite imagery to better understand land use changes and more effectively identify climate vulnerabilities.
Technology always moves rapidly forward, what digital trends do you see becoming commonplace in the region over the next decade and are those trends good for development?
Access to digital connectivity will increase sharply in the Asia Pacific region, from the current rate of around half the population to near universal access. This will be good for development, but the digital divide could still expand for vulnerable populations. Secondly, there will be an increased focus on cybersecurity and data privacy. This will also impact positively on development, but adequate regulation is needed to ensure digital development continues, in tandem with digital protection.