By Li Xiangyu (SpaceLee), Vice President of Huawei Middle East

COVID-19 has decimated national economies and revealed the fragility of global supply chains. A natural reaction to the pandemic has been for nations to cut spending. And most have, with investment in digital infrastructure remaining flat in 2020 after years of growth. However, that's the exact opposite of what needs to happen — ICT is the key to kickstarting recovery and even surpassing pre-pandemic productivity levels.

While we have seen some acceleration in digital transformation, such cases have tended to leverage existing ICT infrastructure. As a result, not all economies have been able to transform at the same pace. Those with more developed digital infrastructure can better respond to the pandemic, set out on the road to economic recovery, and build resilience for the future.

Since 2015, Huawei's Global Connectivity Index (GCI) has tracked the progress of 79 economies, including the Middle East, in deploying digital infrastructure and capabilities. This year, a survey of organizations across the three GCI clusters — Starter, Adopter, and Frontrunner — revealed that organizations in nations with high GCI scores are 2.5 to 3.5 times less likely to reduce their ICT budgets.

Economies with higher GCI scores have greater digital readiness, thanks to mature infrastructure, which has lessened the impact of the pandemic. People and businesses in these Frontrunner economies have transitioned faster to remote work, school, business, and services due to their robust digital infrastructure like high-speed broadband and cloud. Even before COVID-19, economies that were investing in digital infrastructure enjoyed faster GDP growth during their transition to digital economies.

Full recovery from the pandemic requires two things to happen. Firstly, it requires recovery from lockdowns and border shutdowns, so that school, work, and global trade can resume via communication and collaboration tools. Secondly, it requires a return to the same level of economic activity before the pandemic hit.

Achieving these goals requires a range of digital capabilities. These include making remote learning as effective or more effective than classroom learning by using 5G-powered AR and VR. Leveraging AI and IoT can help boost workers' productivity, and applying AI and robotics can enhance healthcare services. Additionally, deploying 5G networks and edge computing can provide a more immersive experience for community interaction and entertainment.

Future-looking policymakers and industry leaders should focus on building digital capabilities in vital economic sectors, with the digital agenda placed at the heart of socioeconomic recovery plans. Our GCI report has identified five orders of productivity across five key economic sectors that are central to the global economy – task efficiency, functional efficiency, system efficiency, organizational efficiency, and ecosystem efficiency and resilience.

Policymakers and industry leaders need to consider the order of productivity that their key economic sectors operate in. We compared productivity in manufacturing and agriculture across different economies and saw that nations with higher digitalization maturity are often more productive per worker or hour worked than other economies. To accelerate the recovery of the economy to pre-pandemic levels, policymakers and leaders need to consider bringing their economic sectors up to a higher order of productivity.

They need to review the status of their digital infrastructure readiness to develop ICT strategies and plans that facilitate the digital transformation of these sectors, power economic recovery, and build future resilience.

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