Chen Lei’s thoughts …Tech for humanity: Preparing for the next phase

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“ICT has been critical to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and transforming society over the long term. But the key to progress is laying the foundation for constant evolution”.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of this year, organisations across the planet began to shift into action. But as critical as it was to react appropriately, it has also been important to proactively prepare for the next phase.

At Huawei, we are aware of the massive effect of the pandemic, as well as how seriously communities would be affected. However, we are also conscious that as well as protecting lives, we need to help lay the foundation for the next stage of society’s technological advancement – the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I’ve been inspired by a recent YouTube video of young South African dancer Hlumelo, who has been under lockdown in his home township of Gugulethu. A member of the Zama Dance School, Hlumelo has not let the lockdown hold him back, and has continued practising his steps for the moment when he and his friends can perform together again.

Similarly, during the Chinese lockdown, members of the Shanghai ballet continued to practise – wearing facemasks – for their upcoming performance of Swan Lake. They took precautions, but remained focused on the next phase of their development.

During the pandemic, once Huawei had secured our people and our operations, we looked at how we could support our business partners on the African continent through our core competences in the ICT sector. We were fortunate to be able to assist with social distancing by African organisations through our technologies.

The video conferencing systems we provided in some African countries enabled information sharing domestically and experience exchange internationally between epidemic prevention experts in China and Africa.

Our remote videoconferencing systems have helped medical institutions communicate more efficiently. We have also implemented an AI-based diagnosis solution in several medical institutions. CT scan reviews can now be completed in two minutes, 80% faster, in a race with time, critical for saving lives.

Huawei will continue using our core information and communication capabilities to support Africa’s epidemic control efforts.

When the dust settles, and we begin to arrive at the much-heralded “new normal”, we will have seen the immense potential for ICT to build social cohesion.

A new business model is taking shape across sectors, one characterised by remote work, distance education, remote healthcare, online shopping and mobile money. These business models span transportation, security, finance, medicine, education and entertainment.

This new paradigm is driven by vastly greater data consumption, facilitated by the mass connectivity of 4G/5G technology.

Governments are coming to understand the need to prioritise ICT as a basic necessity. As a recent white paper noted, the Covid-19 pandemic is seeing 5G transform healthcare response mechanisms to become digital, accurate and smart.

The epidemic has brought home to policymakers the importance of ICT in national development. This is likely to accelerate the establishment of a national data centres, optical fibre networks and communication base stations.

This kind of “big network” deployment also presents a historic opportunity for Africa to use ICT to catch up with, and overtake other nations in terms of human development and quality of life for all its citizens.

We are seeing the first signs of digital transformation not just in healthcare systems, but across entire economies, and society itself.

ICT platforms are likely to provide the foundation of Africa’s future economy. The key is to continue honing and perfecting them, expanding their use even now, so that once the lockdown ends, we can recover more quickly.

As the old poem notes, good honing does indeed give a sharp edge to a sword. Like Hlumelo and the dancers of the Shanghai ballet, we should spend this time honing our abilities. When the new dawn arrives – as it surely will – let it find us well prepared to seize the day!

The writer is the President, Huawei Southern Africa Region

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