The 4th Industrial Revolution is evolving fast and reshaping economies, businesses, industries, and the global manufacturing landscape of the world. Countries like the USA, China, Japan, South Korea, and other developed ones are employing AI, robotics, and other advanced technologies to offset the rising labour cost in their countries. Technology has touched every sphere of our lives. The world, once connected through wires, now does not even need touching devices to make things work. Gestures and Voices are also taking over manual interactions with machines. Mind reading is also not a far-fetched idea anymore. Innovation has ranged to such a level that researchers are now testing artificial limbs which will move at the will of a disabled person. This technology is claimed to be a clairvoyant or a mind reader.
Internet of Things (IoT) applications, such as-- smart homes or, houses with smart technology, autonomous vehicles, wearables etc., are making lives easier than ever. The evolution of the "META" (Metaverse: A combination of the words 'Meta' and 'Universe', indicating beyond the universe) world has created an altered reality where we will be able to do anything and everything we want in a world or a collection of worlds of our choices. The metaverse platform will not remain tied to any one app or any single place. Digital goods and identities will move from one world to the other. Today's Metaverse is a shared virtual space where people are represented by digital avatars.
This world does not remain static, it grows and evolves as the consequences of the decisions of the society within it. Eventually, people will be able to even interact with parts of it in their physical space through augmented and mixed reality. To visualise how this world might be, let us take an example. Let say, your kid wanted chocolate but forgot the brand and type. His brain-computer interface (BCI) will send a text to your mobile phone, and through that to your digital wearable glasses. It will also show the preferences to the shops and locations and will guide you to the destination using signs and arrows and even showing alternative routes to reach there, which only you will be able to see.
This example can be extended to the decision-makers and managers of different businesses, too. Assume, for example, an integrated mobile app is linked to the systems of a business's owner. A buyer places an order which requires the firm to get the owner's approval for fulfilling the order due to the nature and size of the order itself. A message containing an option of approval will directly go to the boss's phone and through that his wearables. The boss says "OK" and the voice commands start the process of preparing the order instantly. The boss and his employees do not even need to go to and log into their systems for the approval and time as well as money gets saved.
Now assume that similar situations for countless jobs of countless people, such as-- approving a loan, opening an account, inaugurating an event, giving a speech, initiating an investigation, ordering materials, tracking cargo, getting certificates of origin and so on. Metaverse has the potential to make the process smoother everywhere. Think about how global trade can be initiated in these worlds. A business from across the border can enter into an agreement, access their financiers, receive and deliver orders virtually through the metaverse. The potential is just endless.
Bangladesh, despite its commendable technological advancements in the last decade, is miles and ages away from today's 4IR world. Forget about metaverse, our trade ecosystem is not yet fully digitalised while in another part of the world, Dubai has already turned into the world's first government to turn 100 per cent paperless, the Emirate's Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced a few weeks back-- pointing at savings of Dirham 1.3 billion (US$ 350 million) and 14-million-man hours. In Bangladesh, the government along with the chambers of commerce and trade associations, are relentlessly trying to ensure that the paperless trade system is implemented for cross-border trade. However, we are still almost nowhere in this regard. Moreover, a common digital platform is also essential for paperless cross-border world trade to become a reality. It takes an integrated approach and global consensus to ensure success in this regard.
Despite all its challenges, we had progressed a lot as far as digital transformation at the micro-level of international trade. Blockchain-based supply chain finance has also started in the country recently. 20,000MT of fuel oil was imported by United Mymensingh Power Limited, from Singapore for their power plant using this process. The transaction was completed using the Contour platform. LC processing time could be reduced from 5-10 days to only under 24 hours due to the technological marvel that the blockchain has brought about.
On December 5, 2019, IPDC launched Orjon, the first-ever blockchain-based digital supply chain finance platform in Southeast Asia, with supports from DFID and technology partner IBM. This platform is aimed at extending digital financial services replacing the manual system making supply chain finance more efficient for the MSMEs. Under this system, small enterprises across the country are getting loans easily at a lower cost, which is achieved through a significant reduction in operational and monitoring expenses for IPDC. We are, however, yet to utilize the full potential of Blockchain technology and Big data analytics in our daily business operations.
Big data analytics can be used to incorporate data, order, and market management of the financial markets. Efforts and researches are ongoing in this regard. As the "Analytics: The real-world use of big data in financial services (2013)" report of IBM in collaboration with the University of Oxford shows, banking and financial markets companies are taking a pragmatic approach to adopt big data, and also the fact that there is tremendous untapped value still locked away in these internal systems. Big Data Analytics is also used in different areas of marketing activities of this firm. Using marketing algorithms, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) targets customers based on their activity, yielding double and triple-digit percentage increases in key customer performance metrics.
An article published at the MIT Sloan School of Management showed, companies are using external data to forecast demand and consumer behaviour during the ongoing COVI-19 pandemic as internal past data are not usable anymore. This article further mentioned that companies are also looking for several alternative economic indicators, like movement through ports and consumer confidence levels during the pandemic. Car companies looked at the smog levels in certain cities as an indicator of how much driving is taking place, with more smog meaning more driving, and a hint that activity is returning to normal and people might be buying cars again. Customer churn analysis, another important application of big data analytics, is not yet applied in Bangladesh to determine why customers are leaving a particular organisation. It is, therefore, imperative that we adopt these technologies and tools as quickly as possible to ensure improvement in the effectiveness and efficiency of our business operations.
Despite the aforementioned issues, Bangladesh's progress in telecommunication and internet connectivity is really promising. Mobile Financial Services (MFS) is another key area of success for the country. The Teledensity (Voice + Internet Subscription) of Bangladesh is now 105.65 per cent (BTRC). Internet Penetration (total) and mobile internet penetration are now 74.77 per cent and 68.92 per cent respectively (BTRC). As of April 2021, 15 banks are providing mobile financial services (MFS), with 36.75 million active MFS accounts. GSMA reports that the potential B2P revenue opportunity in Bangladesh is US$ 56.70 million. ICT exports of the country are also projected to reach US$ 5 billion by 2025. These projections and potentials, however, will remain unattainable if the current scenario prevails.
To prepare ourselves for mass-level adoption of advanced technologies, the education system needs to be overhauled with an extensive focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) Education. Moreover, practical ICT education should be introduced from the primary level. To ensure that new technology is invented, tested, and transferred to the industry, an effective infrastructure in academia must be built. Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the iDEA project of Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) under the ICT Division signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on working jointly for creating innovation hubs in universities across the country. It is essential and a step forward for enhancing and encouraging tech transfer.
However, it is important to remember that to develop a culture of innovation in the ICT sector, it is essential that an integrated package solution containing stimulatory, supportive, and sustainability services are offered to the entrepreneurs and researchers. The government can ensure achieving all these three through drafting relevant laws, collaborating with trade bodies and associations, interacting with academia, and finally by mandating the establishment of full-fledged "Knowledge Transfer Office" or, KTOs at every university of the country with a primary focus of commercialising research. Once we are ready to adopt these technologies and develop newer ones, lives will be better than ever.
Md. Kamrul Bari MIPA AFA is a qualified accountant and also a doctoral researcher at the IBA, University of Dhaka and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at the International Journal of Management and Accounting (IJMA). [email protected].
Enamul Hafiz Latifee is a Policy & Trade Economist, Joint Secretary (Research Fellow), Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).