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Harnessing technology to create an impact beyond COVID-19

Due to the pandemic, many countries have imposed strict stay at home regulations which led to the numerous work-from-home protocols. In this panel discussion organized by Plug and Play as part of the COVID-19 Webinar series, we will be discussing the changes that have impacted these companies. Coupled with the likelihood that this is going to be a new norm, the panelists will also be discussing the technologies that can optimize business model, sustain businesses while increasing margins and maintaining overheads at the same time.

In this panel discussion, 4 distinguished speakers have been invited to share their thoughts and perspectives on the issues discussed. The speakers are:

  • Naoki Yoshida, President & CEO, Pan Pacific Holdings Corporation, Japan

  • Paulus Bambang WS, Director of PT. Astra International Tbk

  • Axel Winter, CTO, Central Group, Thailand

  • James Park, CEO, Munich RE SE Asia and Singapore

  • This panel is moderated by Shawn Dehpanah, EVP, Head of Corporate Innovation, Plug and Play

In this post, we will summarise the key takeaways from the virtual event.

What are some of the challenges that businesses will face in the post-COVID environment?

These are very interesting times for us. Many countries have already been in lockdown for quite some time and the impact would be tremendous across many of the corporations and industries around the world. Consumer behavior is changing. They are more price-sensitive and more selective given the abundance of choices available online. “Even if there is a cure or vaccine of sorts, I believe a lot of these changes are here to stay,” said Axel. There is no crystal ball per se, for us to predict what is going to happen in the future, but it is very obvious that things will not go back to the way they were before and it is highly likely that this will be the new norm.

From a retailer’s point of view, Yoshida shared that consumers will have a certain fear about traveling and the brick-and-mortar stores will continue to face reduced foot traffic as people would choose to stay at home in fear of community outbreak. Consumers have changed every aspect of their buying habits and it will continue to change even after the pandemic has subsided. This will inevitably lead to a reduction in sales revenue and companies will have no choice but to dismiss some of the employees, resulting in an increased unemployment rate.

This does not mean that companies will suffer as many have chosen to pursue digitalization. Most of the speaker’s offices are tight and narrow which are generally against safe-distancing measures implemented by many of their countries. Hence, within a short period of 2-3 weeks, many of their companies have upgraded their digital infrastructure and trained their staff to work from home using software such as Zoom, Webex, Facebook Live, etc, to facilitate the new format of work. As shared by Paulus: “it is the first time for us to see, during COVID, there is a couple who wants to buy a property without seeing it.” Before COVID, no one wants to close a deal without viewing the property. But now, people have no choice but to do so through a virtual platform. Due to the unprecedented situation we are in, regardless of visiting places like showrooms or engaging in one-to-one customer interaction, activities will have to be conducted virtually to abide by the rules and regulations set by the government, and to protect their employees.

“The hope and the wish are that there is a jumpstart back into the norm,” said James. A survey of the employees in the insurance industry has revealed that they are not doing so well and are distressed. This is highly understandable as they are a people business that requires face-to-face engagement to sell insurance. The wellbeing and health of the employees are important in jumpstarting back to the norm. Companies have to ensure that employee morale remains high in a post-COVID era. They need to ensure that the people’s optimism and their mindset is still pre-COVID to post-COVID stable and strong.

How are you thinking ahead in terms of the new norms and what are some of the technologies that can optimize your business model (i.e. increasing margins and/or maintaining overheads?

“Technology will certainly play an important role because the consumers have changed,” said Yoshida. As a very typical brick-and-mortar business, Yoshida has 80,000 people working for him and they are all on-site. However,as consumers change their purchasing habits, businesses will have to adapt to the changes. Companies are obliged to have a digital presence in these tough times or they simply don’t exist.

Paulus shared that Astra’s digital presence was not the key focus before COVID as they operate in industries that primarily rely on face-to-face engagement to close deals. Selling through an online platform was just one of the Omni channels which less focus was placed on. They did not focus on their digital presence as they assumed when a customer needed to buy a property or a car, they would go to physical show units or showrooms. To adapt to the changes, Astra is now involved in digital engagement, reprioritizing their IT efforts in the development of their backend infrastructure. They have provided training for their staff to be tech-savvy in order to operate on a virtual platform.

“It’s not only mobile websites, but it’s also a new form of communication,” said Axel. Many innovative solutions such as “call-and-shop”, “chat-and-shop” and Facebook Live help consumers feel like they are shopping at the stores physically. It ensures that there is social momentum to keep the consumers coming back. In addition, companies would have to reassess what would the customer want tomorrow? If a trend is there, do I have a team ready to pick it up and start doing it immediately?

As mentioned, many of the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are massively affected by the COVID-19 situation. This is because the supply chain side of the business is also shifting rapidly which forces many companies to implement new innovations and technology. This includes technology for last mile delivery which ensures that customers’ packages arrive at the destination efficiently.

In terms of the insurance industry, James shared that technology would help prevent a loss instead of just minimizing. It is clear that in many sectors, the cost would be reduced when proactively managed as the client would be satisfied since they will be getting their funds faster or get back on their work faster. “We have to honor what we were meant to cover,” said James. Technology would help them with early detection and forecasting the estimated amount needed to cover those costs and reduce the loss of revenues.


COVID-19 has reduced the amount of time for companies to launch new technology. Instead of a few months, companies are forced to launch new technology features in a week or two just to ensure that they have the required digital presence. As a company, you need to be proactive rather than reactive in such situations to reduce the risk of going out of business.


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