Asia: IT infrastructure problems may get fixed post-pandemic

We discuss our Asian and African coronavirus research findings.

Not surprisingly, recent IDG Connect research showed that IT leaders in Asia and Africa were more likely to highlight IT infrastructure as their biggest lockdown challenge, than other parts of the world. We look at why this may change in Asia post-pandemic but could be slower to move in Africa.

There is a stark divide across Africa and Asia between the developed and undeveloped areas. This mirrors the gap between rich and poor, which is especially apparent in these regions, and like every other division, is thrown into sharper relief by the fallout from the pandemic.

The big question that emerges though is, are things likely to change afterwards? This has been the subject of intense debate in numerous spheres over the last few months, but here are some thoughts on why the pandemic may have a positive impact on IT infrastructure in Asia.

Lessons from SARS

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) between 2002 to 2003 had a profound impact on East Asia, particularly China, which bore the brunt. And via necessity had a positive effect on the country's e-commerce sector. This was particularly useful for Alibaba, which gave the world its highest IPO of $25M in 2014 and has been likened to Amazon, eBay, PayPal, and Google all rolled into one.

Online is more important than ever before. Any post-pandemic changes which result in solid financial gain or regional competitive advantage will clearly be worth the investment. This may not be directed at the poor and underserved but might help them indirectly.

Crisis decreases APEJC infrastructure spend

IDC has shown that APEJC IT spending will decrease by 4.1% to (to 1.2%) partly because less will go on infrastructure than previously anticipated.

"Some of the biggest impact we have seen as a result of Covid-19 are the changing demands on technologies, processes and mindset as they relate to work-from-home [WFH] mandates and supply chain disruptions," Sandra Ng, group vice-president at IDC Asia-Pacific told Computer Weekly.

All this suggests that although spending will be down through this year, infrastructure is a priority for the region, and may well return with a vengeance once the current crisis is over.

Innovative emergency measures have been implemented

In a recent blog, The World Bank's Digital Development Global Practice identified more than "300 government and private sector initiatives around the world in which COVID-19 response encompasses actions on digital ICT infrastructure and digital services for health, education and payments".

These have included government collaboration in helping to ensure connectivity in remote and rural areas using technologies such as high-altitude balloons in Kenya and TV whitespaces in South Africa. They have also included the implementation of responsive emergency policies, along with money saving measures for network deployment and spectrum usage, in places like the Philippines.

These emergency actions may not be the same as widespread, permanent infrastructure changes but they do highlight the potential for various unique measures to service communities around the world in crisis. Once things have been put in place, albeit in the short term, they have far more potential to be used more widely post-pandemic. In essence, these open the door for more innovative future solutions in less developed parts of Asia and Africa.

Tangible problems are easier to fix than social ones

Most IT problems fall broadly into people, processes, or the technology itself. And in a lot of ways, the first two are the hardest to solve as these require some kind of revolution, if only within a company, and then the systematic weeding out of any stubborn remainders of the old guard. Technology on the other hand isn't as difficult, if the money is there, and the technology is available.

At present, infrastructure challenges that hold back development, especially across Asia, may well get addressed in future. Sadly, this is less true in Africa where economic incentives may be less clear.