With the undoubted economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic – an estimated RM63 billion so far – the only way to get back on our feet is embracing new norms and the hard truths in our short-term future.
As the nation gears up to restart the economy while grasping with the disrupted way of life and business dealings, the main question is how we can bounce back with the new norms mentioned above.
The basics of supply and demand apply as always – revitalise consumption to maintain the economy. While vehicle sales and production are impacted from a two-month halt to the economy, business and consumer confidence must be restored, at the very least to meet survival needs. It may not be a good year, but at least we avoid a year of misery.
Maintaining consumer spending
Consumer spending leads to businesses running, jobs being kept, and consumers spending – the cycle continues. This also means that the ecosystem to encourage spending must be protected at all costs.
Let me offer some suggestions in this regard.
What sort of changes can we roll out to maintain spending? Let’s look at the automotive sector and take the safest assumption - that in a time of difficulty, people don’t spend on luxuries, but spend on needs.
It is true that perhaps many consumers will hold off their vehicle purchase, after all the movement restrictions warrant less travel except to buy basic needs and to go to work. However, it does not rule out a particular market – those who buy vehicles will still calculate their purchases based on the same needs mentioned above.
A paradigm shift
The key point here is the new norms we are facing shouldn’t be seen as a loss of business, but rather a rapid paradigm shift in the way the market operates – meaning that a shift in product planning and marketing is needed to keep businesses relevant.
During the lockdown, we saw an increase in the demand for home deliveries – which means that your buyer is no longer the family that wants to buy a new car for the raya season, but rather the delivery person who needs to increase his service capacity. Other angles include consumers who have an ailing vehicle who are now looking for cars that are compliant to the new norms, or even those wanting to avoid using other means of transport such as public transit.
The point is – the market is there but businesses have to meet their new needs. To achieve this, the purchasing ecosystem must also play its role. For example, strict hire purchase rules by banks not only stop consumers from purchasing, but affect their profitability of financial institutions in the long run. They will now need to develop new policies and financing mechanisms that do not affect their non-performance (NPL) figures, but at the same time do not force lower sales of vehicles due to a high loan rejection rate.
In a recent media statement, Senior Minister (Economy) and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali spoke of the need for digitalisation to ensure the long-term viability of businesses. Solutions have to be introduced beyond digital meetings and webinars to directly facilitate business processes.
If we take the financing example above, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data management can be used to automate a significant portion of the approval process, by having a smart backend system that enhances the loan approval processes and assists in human intervention and judgement.
AI can be utilised above the quantitative aspects of the approval process, into the realm of the qualitative process – allowing loan-processing teams to focus only on borderline cases while automating clear-cut applications.
The same digitalisation can be applied in manufacturing, product planning and marketing to meet the needs of the new norm consumer as mentioned above. Automation, virtual reality, remote sales and repairs, 3D simulations and many more technologies are now available off the shelf for consumers and businesses, and Malaysia has a flourishing connectivity infrastructure to support the needs of industry and consumer alike to operate in line with the new norms we face ahead.
Shift in supply chain patterns
Another key angle is the shift in supply as different countries are operating differently due to ranging lockdown measures introduced based on different localised situations of the COVID-19 outbreak.
While China seems to have contained the outbreak and has begun to resume its economic activities, Europe is still in lockdown and struggling with the pandemic. Cities in Japan are going in and out of lockdown as the COVID-19 situation there has been rather volatile.
This creates a possible shift in the supply chain patterns for the import and export of goods, especially in highly chained sectors such as the automotive and aerospace industries - this continuous stop-go phenomenon will result in shifts and shocks in the procurement of supplies.
In order to meet local demand, top-tier companies that utilise the domestic supply chain have a significant advantage – they benefit from a less volatile supply chain, and also command stronger market position with competitive prices through better tax structures and lower production costs.
As a technology agency, a significant role of MARii, the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute, is to frontline the transition of Malaysia’s economy in the adoption of automation and IoT technologies towards digitalisation of the industry.
Should the industry – from any sector – like to speak to us on possibilities of enhancing their business by applying digital technologies, please contact us through our website (www.marii.my) or our social media channels (MARiiMalaysia).
Dato’ Madani Sahari is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).