Digital Transformation and the Customer in Asia-Pacific

The new digital industrial revolution is impacting every industry on a global scale.  Enterprises must transform their business, IT, security posture and workforce to survive. When it comes to Asia-Pacific, how are today’s companies measuring up in these efforts for digital transformation?

Harvard Business Review Analytic Service’s All About the Customers: Digital Transformation Trends In Asia-Pacific report, sponsored by Dell EMC, indicates that although enterprises recognise the value that digital initiatives bring to the customer experience, they often lack insight on how they rank against their competitors when it comes to digital transformation. That’s a sobering thought when digital transformation investments, including those in technologies such as the Internet of Things, Big Data and Virtual Reality, are often initiated to leapfrog competitors and seek the holy grail – engaged and loyal customers.

In its report, Harvard Business Review Analytical Services delves into the challenges these organisations face and the opportunities that result from overcoming them. For those looking to enhance their competitive position, drive innovation, and significantly enhance their interactions with customers, it provides invaluable insights.

Customer Habits with Digital Technologies

As Anup Purohit, the chief information officer for India’s YES Bank puts it in the report: “The digital era touches every aspect of the consumer’s life—social interaction, entertainment, lifestyle, and payments and commerce, including banking.” For successful transformation, organisations first need to understand that giving customers what they want means delivering it through digital platforms. According to We Are Social and GWI’s global annual statistics, the Asia-Pacific is at the forefront in digital processes compared to the rest of the world. It showed a 25 per cent increase in social media users and a 35 per cent increase for mobile social users in the region compared to the previous year, higher than the global average. Despite this, with geographical barriers taking a back seat, companies all over the region still face the threat of competitors from anywhere offering a more seamless experience. Customers transformed long ago, so enterprises must do the same or risk being left behind.

The Need to Transform

David Williams, the founder and lead digital strategist for Digital Mojo in Hong Kong says that, “Consumer demand drives the need for digital transformation. In fact, Asian consumers’ quick uptake of digital services has been to such an extent that companies have been put off guard.” It’s unsurprising then that businesses are reprioritising the importance of their customers. According to the Harvard Business Review Analytical Services report, customer satisfaction is used by 71 per cent of Asia-Pacific businesses as a measure of success; with an overall shift away revenue growth and profitability measures. What’s more, customer satisfaction means understanding the customer’s purchase journey and the role of person-to-person interaction; it’s not one-size-fits-all. Across South East Asia for example, 60 per cent of customers browse for products online, with only 25 per cent going through with purchasing through a digital medium.

Lead or Get Left Behind

It is clear that the Asia-Pacific region is highly fragmented with no clearly dominant players, so it’s still anyone’s game. An organisation’s leaders must understand the importance of technology; YES Bank doesn’t define itself as a bank but “a tech company in the business of banking.” This mindset demonstrates that adopting digital transformation is not merely about fitting tech wherever it’s convenient. It must be integrated throughout the organisation, reshaping the entire culture in the process. David Williams of Digital Mojo, says that this process may not be easy for family owned businesses due to misconceptions about high costs, as well as the need for experimentation to find the right method. But this attitude will only hinder an enterprise’s longevity as customers seek out their more digitally savvy competitors.

Digital Teams and Positions

Appointing specialised digital teams and creating new digital positions may be common within US organisations for example, but is only just spreading to Asia-Pacific. Florian Hoppe of Singapore’s Bain & Company describes the region as “initially slow to move but are now fast-moving in setting up digital teams to react and work in the new ecosystem… revisiting their customer engagement…transforming their operations and how they engage with employees.”  These teams or employees ease an organization through the digital transformation process because they react to customer engagement and internal operations with a digital perspective. Diane Jurgens, the chief technology officer in Singapore for BHP, whose company implemented a chief technology officer position for this purpose, says it creates “a complete view across the supply chain (that) provides a uniquely holistic perspective on technology, enabling the company to move toward a common technology vision, strategy, and road map.”

Innovation Trends and Digital

Everyone wants to be innovative, but many in the Asia Pacific region have some way to go before they can claim success. Japan, Korea, Singapore and China are making strides, but still face roadblocks due to traditional education systems and social and political norms. Companies need digital partners to assist them in this process. By using technology as the foundation for innovation, corporate culture can develop the skills necessary for transformation. The Internet of Things is making particular strides in digital innovation opportunities, according to Harvard Business Review Analytical Services. Many enterprises in the region see its potential to help them reach customers through more mobile means.

Getting the Right Talent

Innovation needs a strong team with the right vision behind it, so while agile digital teams and leadership buy-in are essential, it needs to permeate all areas of the business. Finding the right people however remains a challenge. Florian Hoppe from Bain & Company in Singapore, says that “scarcity of talent is a constraining factor, more so in Asia than elsewhere.”  Organisations need to be extra diligent in finding and training new or existing talent that fits the bill for a “T-shaped” employee, someone with broad know-how of current trends and a wide range of experience with specialised expertise in select areas. More senior members to help with the transformation process means businesses can effectively establish their goals and spread them internally. As we speak job descriptions are being rewritten, looking to attract people who display skills in digital enterprise.

The possibilities are endless for enterprises and their customers in Asia-Pacific. While this digital transformation journey won’t be easy for some, with a laser focus on investment in the right technologies and talent, a cultural shift by business leaders across the whole organisation and that all important competitor insight, the holy grail is within reach.

About the Author: David Webster