Opinion: How 2020 has shaped the digital economy

Opinion: How 2020 has shaped the digital economy

Steve Briggs, chief commercial officer at SEACOM, considers how Covid-19 has impacted the digital economy across Africa

It’s clear that 2020 has been a transformative moment for many businesses and the digital economy – which has proven instrumental in the battle against the pandemic.

The crisis pushed digital adoption forward in leaps and bounds in a short space of time, and with it, the digital services that people relied on so heavily this year. The ability to leverage digital tools has become non-negotiable for any company looking to flourish in a digitally connected world.

Innovative companies and entrepreneurs have adapted their products, services, business plans, budgets and strategies to meet the new market. These businesses are shaping their industries with imaginative thinking and problem-solving solutions.

The impact of Covid-19

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that Africa’s overall GDP is expected to drop by 1.4% due to Covid-19, while smaller African countries face a more severe decline of up to 7.8%. While government stimulus packages can lessen the impact on the GDP, successful economic turnarounds rely on the resilience and innovation of the private sector.

Now is the perfect time for businesses to restructure their business models based on new demands and changing market conditions.

New ways of doing business

Resilience and agility are essential for business survival in this pandemic. Remote working has forced businesses to find new ways of collaborating, and many companies have committed to allowing employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. Fewer people commuting is good for the environment, our congested streets and commuters alike. This shift has been enabled by cloud platforms, which have allowed businesses to collaborate safely and effectively while also migrating their activities online in a scalable way.

According to Gartner Inc, the global market for cloud services is expected to grow by 6.3% to $257.9bn in 2020, while the cloud services market is expected to grow by 41% within the next two years. This means that leveraging the power of cloud computing is more important than ever and finding a trusted partner, such as SEACOM, will help make the process a lot easier.

As many businesses have closed their doors, more customers have started making their purchases online, with estimates showing that South Africa’s online retail sales may have increased by about 40% during lockdown.

Public health concerns have also emphasised contactless delivery, which is often a challenge for businesses when supply chains and delivery services are disrupted, but this has also created an opportunity for businesses that can respond to these changing demands.

Reaping the rewards of a digital world

A report by McKinsey & Co indicates that businesses that are resilient and adaptable were able to achieve much higher returns on investment during the last economic downturn, proving that organisations need to nurture these qualities if they want to turn challenging circumstances into successes. Leep Africa, for example, has developed the world’s first mobile hotspot network for minibus taxis, which will also be launched in select Bolt vehicles to deliver free internet to passengers and drivers.

In another success story, access to the internet allowed Davy Tsopo to become an online business owner after losing his job as a cleaner in a restaurant. He now bakes cakes and sells them online.

This year has shown us that bold innovations in digital capabilities will yield sustainable, exponential growth in an increasingly digital world. Going into next year, business leaders should build on the lessons we’ve all learned during 2020 to ensure that they can take advantage of digital opportunities in 2021.

Contributed by Steve Briggs, chief commercial officer at SEACOM

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