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Calling All Educators to Lead the Digitalization Charge!

A word used to death, digitalization. Yet it is still severely lacking in a world of turmoil, with COVID-19 leaving us with an uncertain future. As the masses have learned to adapt with video conferences and remote work, massive chunks of the economy are still trying to find their clipboards, pens and stone tablets to see what’s happening in their small business, their factory shop floors, their warehouses, etc. Paperwork still flies from the printer at accounting firms, legal firms, and corporate secretaries. Retail shops still handle cash, write down stock takes on slips of recycled paper, and ship/receive goods with blue, green, pink copies with nonstop signing and "chop". What will it take to break the hold of the traditional ways of work on a handicapped economy?

Physical paper is a very flexible tool that allows for near infinite ways to record and transfer data. It is understandable why traditional organizations may want to keep it around. However, the most devastating impact of keeping with paper/hard copies is that it prevents any advancement. It is literally a stagnant object, just a few clicks better than a cave drawing/stone tablet. It cannot be viewed unless it is literally in your hands, it cannot be aggregated to do rapid analysis, it cannot be easily shared without physically passing it along. It can’t be used for collaboration unless you’re all in the same room and using it to drive complex decision making is just a recipe for a migraine. If there is one key issue that’s holding back digitalization’s global progress, it is the cheap piece of paper. Just like plastic bags and plastic straws, we know it’s bad and we know it hurts us in the long run, but the habit is so hard to break .

So, what can be done? The power lies with educators. Full stop.

Train, upskill, and break the habit. Paperwork addiction requires training, willpower, and consistency to break. One or two courses on digitalization for a business isn’t going to help, and neither does one or two Nicotine patches have much success in getting someone to quit smoking. Educators need to look at repeated exposure methods and follow up courses for organizations to sustain the transformation. Solutions providers can only do so much, they provide the solution. However, the repeated use, the constant push and drive to adopt, use and maintain cannot be done by a vendor alone. It is impossible for vendors to create the perfect fitting solution to the trillions of use cases that paper-based processes can have. So educators must help ease organizations into a solution that might not be an exact carbon copy of their paper based operations, but instead to change their processes to adapt to a “best practice” digital solution that is best for them now and for their future potential.

Educators need to look into a concentrated effort to have continuous exposure and push for traditional business to break the bond of paperwork and not fall back to it when times get tough. Jumping back to paperwork whenever things get tough is always the quick and dirty method of any process, but then the whole weaning process will have to start again from anew.

Bring up the next generation of digital MacGyvers.

For those old enough to remember, MacGyver was a popular American TV series in the mid 80’s that showed an innovative hero saving the day by using ordinary items to tackle impossible odds. Educators need to train the next generation of talent to think in this manner. The key is to not just learn how to use digital tools, but also to push students to find solutions on their own and drive them to blend, build, merge, deconstruct and come up with the ideal solution for each problem they come across. The marketplace for digital solutions is massive. Whatever digitalization problems organizations face right now can most likely be solved by a solution or a collection of solutions out in the world already. This tinkering, building and prototyping is perfect for budding young talent that needs the push from educators in schools, polytechnics and institutions. Educators need to look into incorporating software development, some data analytics and project management into the curriculum to give students the toolsets to become that digital MacGyver. Giving students the freedom to experiment, integrate and trial solutions is what brings about innovation and unique solutions for organizations to break their paper habits.

Moving away from a rigid educational structure and incorporating aspects of experimentation, failure, re-programming and tackling issues from multiple angles will be the key to driving the Singapore economy forward. We’ve seen with COVID-19 that certain industries simply won’t survive, and many are in desperate need to innovate or risk standing on the sidelines saluting a sinking ship while the sun goes down. Let’s make sure to take this opportunity to transform and adapt and not simply return to what the economy was pre-COVID. Let’s work with educators to lead the charge to truly transform the way we work and live as a whole, and pick up digital tools, no matter how hard it is, to use and maintain, so that Singapore may remain strong in an ever growing competitive global environment.


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