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Asian Development Bank: Using Emerging Digital Technologies for the Common Good

By Shirin Hamid, CIO, & CTO, Asian Development Bank

Shirin Hamid, CIO, & CTO, Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is not a commercial bank. Rather, we are a development bank that makes loans, gives grants and makes investments in countries and entities in the Asia and Pacific region. In 2018, our commitments reached $21.6 billion. I am proud of ADB’s vision to achieve a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.

Digital Agenda Drives Digital Technology Adoption

From a digital technology perspective, we support and enable the organization to deliver its seven operational priorities: financial inclusion, addressing remaining poverty and reducing inequalities, accelerating gender equality, making cities more livable, strengthening governance and institutional capacity, and fostering regional cooperation and integration. These digital technologies come in many forms: from enabling digital identities in remote, impoverished areas to enhancing organizational resiliency, to having access to knowledge services, and to real-time data in our operations.

We recently launched our Digital Agenda 2030 roadmap that focuses on reforming, modernizing and driving digital transformation to address business challenges. Priorities of this first stage of the Agenda are to optimize our business systems, create digital knowledge-sharing platforms, support modern financial services, and foster a culture of innovation.

Focus on the Future of Work and Knowledge Services

We are using digital technology to deepen our knowledge services with the aim of developing intelligent workers in an intelligent organization to be able to serve the needs of our member countries better.

We are holding future scenario workshops to foster in-depth discussions about the evolution of corporate support services. This is in terms of function and their possible transformation in the face of rapid changes in emerging technology for accounting, budgeting and planning, corporate learning, corporate technology support, facilities management, human resources, and procurement.

Examples of foundational work that we aim to deliver include harvesting tacit knowledge through AI driven video and meeting transcriptions, augmented reality and internet of things to create digital twins for project design and monitoring, and big data for econometrics. We are also working on digital knowledge solutions to better serve our clients with a robo advisor using conversational AI based robot for accessing knowledge.

Our Digital Workplace Program will make ADB’s critical structured and unstructured information accessible and reliable in real time. Examples of outcomes from this effort include modern dashboards with data analytics supported by a single source of truth, timely matching of content and experts to the needs of the project life cycle, and AI driven cognitive search of content/personalization of knowledge.

Strengthening Cyber Security

Cyber security is another important area of focus. Externally, recent ADB efforts to address cyber safety and security in country support include addressing cyber safety and security in pilot projects that integrate digital financial services in Mongolia, Georgia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Internally, ADB itself is significantly investing in the ability to protect its assets and data, continuously educating staff, and detecting and preventing cyber threats, including with the use of greater automation. We are focusing on not only providing a more secure experience, but also a more human-friendly one. ADB is also focused on enhancing its organizational resiliency, including conducting crisis and cyber security drills and using cloud technologies. In doing so, we foster cooperation and engagement with key partners, both in private and public sectors, together with international and multilateral organizations.

A Uniquely Positioned Digital Innovation Sandbox

Today, the sandbox approach is widely accepted and being used for innovation. For example, artificial intelligence can have a major impact on current business processes. Experimentation in a safe environment provides visibility into the risks before embarking on an enterprise-wide program.

The Digital Innovation Sandbox Program is a new initiative that supports the adoption of innovation by leveraging emerging technologies in a systematic, safe, neutral and collaborative environment. We have established a methodology to provide safe experimentation: identifying problems and challenges through design thinking and hackathons undertaking proofs of value and proofs of concept; creating minimum viable products (MVPs), and piloting the solution.

The lessons learned can then be applied, whether it is to further the cause to build a full-scale solution or a regulatory framework or use the findings to build capacity and conduct further experimentation.

An example is where ADB successfully recently engaged in a hackathon to support financial inclusion, health, and eKYC. Today, we have taken the digital identity for financial inclusion into the pilot stage with the central bank in Papua New Guinea, a private sector bank and a start-up.

People at the Heart of the Transformation

In closing, we realize that our people must embrace the changes. So we are simultaneously equipping our employees with new ways to work and new skills that will enable us to create a culture to support ADB becoming a digital, intelligent organization. Change management has been prioritized to ensure successful projects, support the shift to digital culture, and speed up innovation. Our digital readiness work entails putting in place a robust modern learning platform for internal and external users and offering lifelong learning programs to our employees.

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