Future Economy Conference: Transform or be left behind

Going digital means being prepared for change on many levels

While digital transformation is often pitched as a technological leap forward, the change needed to meet new demands in the evolving economy goes far beyond that. Having the right attitude, adopting a new culture and changing the way a company develops its products and services are just as important, according to industry experts who spoke at the Future Economy Conference and Exhibition on 16 October.

Increasingly, the gap between those that adopt transformative change and those that don’t will grow, quickly redefining the winners and losers in each market, said experts. Dr Michael Grebe, a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consultant Group, said that “digital champions” will keep pulling further away from “laggards” that struggle to make use of new tools and adapt their businesses.

Those that fall behind often fail to manage the data they have on their hands, because they may be working in silos and lack a unified data strategy, he noted. Pointing to the telecom and insurance sectors, Dr Grebe noted that companies that have embraced tools such as data analysis have fared much better than their rivals that did not.

Addressing a packed room of business professionals at the conference, he offered examples of how transformation has reaped returns to companies. Real-time analytics at points-of-sale now allow for better customer experience because staff know what people like. New ways of collaboration have brought shorter sales cycles and faster outcomes as well.

Dr Grebe also brought up the importance of measuring how mature an organisation is when it comes to digital transformation. To this end, a Digital Acceleration Index self-diagnostic tool to help companies understand where they are in their digital transformation journey, was launched at the event. It attracted more than 800 business owners and leaders to deep dive into the factors driving the successful digital transformation of companies.

Training to be digital-resilient

To provide local companies with the skills needed for digital transformation, Singapore Business Federation and the Institute of Systems Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS-ISS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to deliver a series of digital competency training courses to SBF members. The signing was witnessed by Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State in the Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Manpower, at the conference.

Indeed, readiness was a theme that resonated during the conference. In a separate panel discussion, industry leaders discussed the ways companies can overcome the challenges of disruption by adopting a fresh approach to problems.

Ryan Tay, chief business officer of Lazada, said the e-commerce firm has an open human resource policy where staff can transfer from one department to another to find their niche in the rapidly growing company.

At the same discussion, StarHub’s head of enterprise business, Arthur Tang, brought up the challenges and rewards of delivering a fully digital experience for mobile phone users in Singapore, who demand a seamless end-to-end service, from signing up a new service online to having a SIM card delivered.

“At the end of the day, it’s the people who buy the service (that matters),” he said. “Everything we do needs to originate from the customer.”

Another panellist, Philip Lim, the chief executive of A*ccelerate, pointed to the importance of having a startup culture and hunger for success. This “humility-driven confidence”, as he called it, is needed not just in startups but all companies to encourage true innovation and spearhead good ideas.

Reflecting on the disruptions facing various industries today, Kevyn Yong, the chief learning officer of the Singapore Institute of Management, said that change has always brought opportunities despite fears of machines taking away jobs. He recalled the arrival of automated teller machines (ATMs) decades ago that once threatened to take away jobs from bank officers. In the end, he pointed out, they were freed from the more manual tasks and learned new skills to better engage customers.

Repetitive tasks can be automated, he explained, but it is much harder to replicate the mastery of certain skills or trade, such as the way a trained sushi chef produces his dishes. Opening up new opportunties and allowing creativity to flourish —  that is the promise of today’s groundbreaking technological transformation.

For more information about the NUS-ISS and SBF Digital Transformation Programmes, please visit https://nus.edu/2NBwv7R