Part 2: Using ICT and AI Technologies during the Pandemic

March 8th, 2023 [No. 107 – 2022]

Fujikazu Suzuki
 Research Center for Solidarity-based Society, Japan


The Impact of DX and Work Style Changes in the Era of Living with COVID in Japan
Part 2: Using ICT and AI Technologies during the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan’s government asked us to do our best to stay away from other people as much as possible. This included staying at home if possible and following the three C’s (avoiding closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact situations). The aim was to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That caused the use of ICT and AI technologies spread through many different industries in Japan, including industries where digitization was still at a basic level. As a result, digitization accelerated right across Japan. The reason is that digital technologies, which make contactless or non-face-to-face activities possible, enable us to keep living and working similarly to how we worked before the pandemic. At the same time, we could prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Using ICT and AI technologies during the pandemic led to various changes. First, in the case of consumer behavior, online shopping through the Internet rose. In addition, limits on the flow of people caused many people to stay home longer than before. This increased the views of various kinds of online video, such as online programs and events. Online sightseeing and other new services also appeared, and changes in the things we buy and use due to digitization are causing us to create new ways of living. In turn, these changes are speeding up the ongoing shifts in economic and industrial systems.

Next, great changes have also happened in public service sectors such as government, education, and medical care. In the government sector, a wide range of procedures, such as procedures for many kinds of application forms, were digitized and entered use earlier than planned. In addition, on September 1, 2021, the Digital Agency was created.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people in the education and medical care sectors had tried to develop systems to increase the use of online remote education or medical treatment in a planned way. Progress had been slow, but the pandemic accelerated development of those systems. Meanwhile, in the education sector, online classes and instruction spread quickly after the temporary nationwide closure of all the elementary, junior high, and high schools in March 2020. Although not all universities, technical colleges, etc. in Japan closed temporarily, many switched to a combination of face-to-face classes and remote classes. As a result, online remote classes became common, and the education sector continues to search for ways to hold give lectures and guide students.

In the medical care sector, the rules for phone and online medical treatment were relaxed in April 2020. After this happened, there was a slow but steady increase in the number of medical institutions that were allowed to offer online medical treatment. In most cases, this kind of remote medical treatment took place by phone. However, many people say that further challenges are necessary for offering detailed online medical treatment.

Among all these changes in the general economy during the pandemic, major shifts are also taking place inside companies. One common example has been the introduction and spread of teleworking, because the government is asking people to avoid taking the train or bus to work. Teleworking via digital technologies can improve a company’s competitiveness and create new businesses or new ways of working, so companies have been trying to encourage the introduction and spread of teleworking. However, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, only about 20% of companies had introduced teleworking. Then, after the first state of emergency was declared due to the pandemic, the rate of introduction quickly rose to more than 50%. At the moment, around 25% of regular employees are allowed to telework. This means teleworking is now normal to a certain level.

However, it is mainly in large companies that teleworking has been introduced, and it is much less common in smaller companies. In addition, the rates of introduction in some industries such as medical care, nursing care, welfare services, food and drink services, transportation, and telecommunications, are very low at around 10% (the actual rate varies greatly among different fields). An important reason is because there are some work environments where teleworking is difficult to do, so changing those environments is a major issue in the future. Many systematic and operational problems need to be solved before companies and workers can take advantage of teleworking to increase productivity or to improve work/life balance. These include the problem of poor communication and how to improve work processes.