Our Age of Digital Enablement
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is straining healthcare systems to its limits, while national economies reel from forcible shutdowns of businesses and schools. As cities undergo lockdown and nations continue to limit overseas travel, it is also profoundly reshaping how businesses operate, students learn, and people communicate and entertain across large swathes of the world.
The workplace at home
Prepared or not, businesses are forced into a situation where the majority or even the entire workforce can only work from home. In most workplaces, in-person meetings are now eschewed by default, if not mandated by law. Practically overnight, workers are switching en masse to conferencing and collaboration tools to replace face-to-face meetings. Unsurprisingly, this abrupt transition is putting a severe strain on internet bandwidth.
While some of the congestion can be attributed to the abrupt transfer of network traffic from office networks to less reliable home networks, there is also a sharp spike in absolute network volume to contend with. Without the ability to turn over to a colleague in the next cubicle or walk over to their desk for a quick discussion, colleagues are turning to sophisticated video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom to communicate.
And it all adds up, as data-hungry conferencing apps are fired up in the tens of millions and workers connect back to corporate networks from remote locations using VPN. Then there are also the bandwidth-hogging streams of video entertainment and frenetic bouts of online gaming – as bored students or retrenched workers seek an outlet for being stuck at home. Indeed, Internet service providers in Singapore say Internet data traffic in the country has surged by as much as 60 per cent.
Reacting to this unprecedented situation, some of the most popular online services have made proactive changes to avoid overwhelming the Internet. For instance, Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon have announced a reduction in the quality of their video streams in Europe to ensure that networks can handle the surge in traffic.
A digital paradigm
That remote working is even possible is a silver lining on an incredibly tumultuous situation. While there are still many who find themselves unable to work as cities go into lockdown or widespread quarantine orders are effected, a significant proportion of the population can still perform most of their day-to-day work remotely. This is unique from any other point in history.
Indeed, the digital economy continues to chug along, with industry verticals such as online media, e-commerce, and digital financial services continuing to serve users. The delivery of digital services such as social networking, messaging, and online communities are also unimpeded, with a plethora of digital communication platforms to help keep in touch with loved ones and alleviate boredom. In Thailand, top mobile applications such as Facebook and LINE saw a surge of more than 80 per cent from January, alongside a surge in local online shopping.
In Singapore, online commerce allows home-bound users to order their groceries and food, and make online purchases. It is also bridging the gap between traditional businesses to a new generation of internet-savvy users, such as when Malaysian farmers took to Lazada to sell their vegetables during the country’s movement control order (MCO).
To be clear, businesses understood the value of digital, and have long sought to position themselves more advantageously through expansive digital transformation (DX) initiatives. For organisations that are slower on the uptake, however, COVID-19 is now forcing their hands as it moves DX from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have”.
The digital paradigm that enables remote work and empowers the digital economy would not be possible without a vast array of computing infrastructure at the backend. This infrastructure powering our digital tools and capabilities has never been more important, enabled by data centres and a diverse network of globe-spanning connectivity.
There are many benefits to a vibrant digital economy that enables workers to work from home. For a start, commutes, particularly extensive ones, can be inconvenient and draining but workers now get to free up more time for their personal and family pursuits, and even carbon emission has been drastically reduced with less traffic. Meetings have become more focused and to the point, allowing employees to be more productive and efficient too.
Ultimately, the heightened digital demand is not going away soon, and will arguably increase as millions acquire greater familiarity and grow reliant on a wide array of digital tools. The onus hence falls on cloud platforms, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers and data centre operators to keep their systems and facilities running smoothly and reliably despite soaring workloads.
And as global mega-trends shape both consumer behaviour and industrial adoption of new digital technologies, we are also working hard to establish new facilities in the region. In Thailand, we have STT Bangkok 1 under construction, the city’s first hyperscale data centre campus with a total capacity of 40 MW, with the first phase ready by early 2021.
As we grapple with the worst public health crisis in a generation, it is heartening that communication at work and communication between loved ones can continue unimpeded. On that front, we are committed to ensuring the reliable operations of our facilities globally, so that daily digital activities can continue uninterrupted.