Digitalisation 2020 & 2021: Catalysts, breakthroughs, future developments

By Jason Loh


ANALYSTS and pundits didn’t foresee COVID-19 coming in 2020 and that the virus will accelerate the digitalisation trend resulting from the fragmentation of the physical processes and the emphases on a low touch economy as part of compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOP) to break and contain the transmission.

Not all of the digitalisation trends are precipitated by the unprecedented spread of COVID-19 though. Some would have been in the works for years and the breakthroughs only came this year.

Likewise, digitalisation trends for 2021 would also reflect similar developments. That is, COVID-19 would have been the impetus and catalyst for the rise of some digitalisation trends whilst others would have already been pursued beforehand.

Let’s take a look at some of the digital lessons from 2020 as well as looking ahead to 2021.

COVID-19 has encouraged and enhance the use of cloud services for physical operations such as cloud kitchen. What this means is that cooking and delivery services could be centralised rather than from disparate collection points such as various restaurants.

The underlying purpose is that dining-in areas are removed from the overall business process thus saving costs (labour/manpower and other operational or overhead costs).

Regionally, online food delivery businesses such as GrabFood (through Grab e-Kitchen) and FoodPanda have been leveraging on the cloud kitchen concept due to high demand and cost effectiveness.

The trend for cloud kitchen which came into the fore in 2020 is expected to grow and expand in the major conurbations of the Klang Valley in tandem with the growth and explosion of e-commerce in the country.

Moving forward, the artificial intelligence of things (AIoT) which is basically the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making steady and even rapid headway.

With the advent of 5G technology and smart cities, AIoT is expected to emerge as part of the new norm in the near future in our cities and homes too.

While not exactly part of the digitalisation trends per se, the Nature online journal on Nov 30 reported that after years of pain-staking efforts, finally an AI called AlphaFold developed by Google offshoot DeepMind achieved a gargantuan leap in computational biology, namely determining a protein’s 3D shape from its amino-acid sequence or what is popularly known as “protein folding” where “structure is function” (an axiom of molecular biology).

As proteins are the building-blocks of life, unravelling its molecular structure would yield insights into the mysteries of life so that finding treatments and cure for such intractable diseases as Parkinson’s, producing viral drugs for COVID-19 or identifying suitable enzymes that biodegrade industrial wastes are basically tied to protein structures.

According to the Deep Mind website, AlphaFold was taught (deep learning) by reproducing to it the sequences and structures of around 100,000 known proteins.

Come 2021, we could expect to herald the beginning of a new chapter related to many scientific and industrial applications which hopefully extends to agriculture and food production, air pollution control (carbon capture and storage) and water treatment, among others.

Connected to that AI breakthrough in predicting protein folding is, of course, quantum computing that represents the leap from bits (binary – 0 or 1) to qubits (0 & 1 at the same time) – based on quantum physics and mechanics (of the simultaneity-duality of supposition and entanglement).

For now, quantum computing can be deployed for complex tasks such as predicting the 3D shape of protein folding and structure.

As for blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT), it’s fast making its mark in supply chain management (SCM) – with the strategic collaboration between public and private sectors.

In Malaysia, the use of blockchain by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMCD) will ease and facilitate import-export transactions of the private sector stakeholders (shipping/logistics, traders).

Notwithstanding, will quantum supremacy which Google had claimed to achieve finally constrain the full potential of blockchain technology?

According to Deloitte, someone with an operational quantum computer who has access to the public key (public address) could then falsify the transaction signature known as “hashing” which is an encryption mechanism serving as “proof of work” that is linkable to another block of transaction data (hence forming a blockchain) and therefore hack to gain entry to the private key.

Be that as it may, quantum computing could easily be deployed in blockchain technology to fend off would-be hackers or rogue miners.

Finally, autonomous driving will soon be an in-thing in Malaysia as it is in other parts of the world, not least across the Causeway (in Singapore).

eMooVit Technology Sdn Bhd is a local start-up started in 2016 specialising in driverless agnostic vehicle software for urban environment routes.

The software can be used in different applications such as first/last-mile transportation, logistics and utility solutions.

On Dec 23, eMoovit was reported to be the first company to use Malaysia’s first self-driving vehicle testing route as announced by Futurise Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cyberview Sdn Bhd.

As reported in The Edge Markets, the 7km Cyberjaya Malaysia Autonomous Vehicle (MyAV) Testing Route was jointly developed by Futurise and the Ministry of Transport (MoT) under the National Regulatory Sandbox (NRS) initiative for the development of autonomous vehicles or self-driving vehicles.

All in all, Malaysia is well-positioned to leverage on all of the highlighted digitalisation trends, one way or another. – Dec 28, 2020


Jason Loh Seong Wei is Head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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