, Singapore

‘Digitalisation builds more resilient businesses’: Wai Keat of EY

Amidst COVID-19, technology has upskilled the workforce and built a long-term competitive advantage for businesses.

Wai Keat Cheang is a Senior Consulting Partner at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP in Singapore. 

He has vast experience in providing business and technology consulting services to numerous local and multinational corporations from the private and public sectors across the Asia Pacific region. He works extensively with clients in various industry sectors - life sciences, healthcare, consumer goods, agribusiness, transportation, real estate and government & public services.

Wai Keat covers agile business transformation, large-scale digital and technology implementation, post-merger integration, end-to-end managed services consultation for IT and business processes, and various management consulting domains like Finance, Supply Chain and Procurement Transformation.

With more than 25 years of consulting experience, Wai Keat helps clients to strategise, develop and implement their business transformation agenda. More often than not, technology is a key enabler in business transformation initiatives. Therefore, he actively keeps abreast of rapidly evolving technological innovations and advancements, and embraces an agile mindset toward innovation, to effectively advise organisations on how to use technology as a business enabler. 

As part of the judges’ panel for the Singapore Business Review’s Management Excellence Awards, Wai Keat sat down with Singapore Business Review to share his views on how digital transformation is reshaping business processes, enhancing consumer engagement, redesigning jobs and improving competitiveness for the future. 

The past two years have seen many economies realise that a digital transformation is vital for business survival. For those who are just starting to embark on their digital transformation journey, where is a good place to start?

Having a clear digital transformation vision is absolutely critical before pouring in investments in digital initiatives. The core idea of transformation goes beyond simply moving an existing product, service, or solution online. Rather, organisations need to reinvent their business models in ways that can leverage technological advancements to deliver superior customer engagements and generate new sources of income.

As organisations embark on their transformation journey, they will face key capability and execution gaps. Closing these gaps and achieving their growth ambitions requires CEOs to holistically accelerate transformation through three interconnected value drivers.

First, organisations need to go beyond leveraging these technologies, but will need to deploy these technologies faster in order to serve the ever-evolving needs of customers, employees, and ecosystem partners. Second, companies need to carefully plan how they will upskill and reskill employees to support their accelerated technology transformation plans, as well as consider the human impact of every technology. Third, companies must also cultivate an agile innovation competency and collaborate with an ever-evolving ecosystem, commercialise, and move quickly into new markets.

Digital transformations can be costly. How can small and medium-size businesses stay competitive? What do you think is the minimum digital requirement for SMEs to have in order to navigate an increasingly digital world?

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are under constant cost pressures and may struggle to get internal buy-in on piloting technologies when there are many competing business priorities. The Singapore government recognises these challenges and has set aside S$1b in Singapore Budget 2021 to support enterprises in their adoption of digital solutions and technologies, including SMEs. Singapore SMEs can look to obtain co-funding through these schemes such as the Emerging Technology Programme or the enhanced Enterprise Development Grant that will also fund up to 80% of project costs for digital transformation.

As SMEs may not be familiar with the end-to-end deployment of these new technologies and the risks, they should consider tapping into technology professionals through the Chief-Technology-Officer-as-a-Service initiative. External expertise can help SMEs understand how they can blend strategy and execution with the soft skills for inspiring leadership, and train teams to transform businesses, seize opportunities, and mitigate digital transformation risks.

As more people are vaccinated and businesses do more face-to-face transactions again, do you think people will use less technology?

One clear impact of the crisis has been the rapid transition to online shopping. Amongst the most pressing questions that business leaders want to answer are where and how this continuing online surge will make itself felt, and what will stick?

According to our global tracker EY Future Consumer Index, 37% of consumers believe the way they shop will change over the long term and 39% say they will shop more online for things they used to buy in stores.

Companies can not forecast with certainty what consumers will be doing 18 months or more from now, but the index suggests that the digital habits that have taken root during the pandemic have long-term implications for consumer-facing businesses.

How can businesses that heavily rely on face-to-face transactions (such as restaurants, tourism, travel, hospitality, healthcare, fashion) maximise technology to stay competitive in the future?

As consumers become increasingly digital in their behaviours and habits, consumer-facing sectors like technology, media and telecommunications, financial services, and health care are leading in digital adoption. Technologies that witness significant adoption across sectors include cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things.

As enterprises seek to accelerate their digital transformation journey and grow their customer base, more enterprises are exploring partnerships and digital collaborations with various businesses. These efforts have led to the creation of digital ecosystems (DEs) across sectors in Southeast Asia, as reported in an EY-Parthenon study, Building successful digital ecosystems in Southeast Asia. A DE is a broad, interconnected set of products and services collectively offered by many businesses across different sectors to fulfil consumer needs in one integrated experience. For companies, the DE might also offer opportunities for new revenue streams or building a future-proof business model to drive sustainable growth.

How is technology enabling or enhancing the redesign of job roles, as well as employment and development opportunities for the workforce?

New technologies offer digitalisation opportunities that enable more resilient processes, improve how work is done or drive better customer and employee experiences.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt operations and accelerate digital adoption, preparing the workforce for the new normal calls for more than changes to existing processes, including the redesign of job roles or the creation of new ones.

From a people perspective, businesses need to consider and address challenges in finding the right talent to perform newly configured jobs. Upskilling or reskilling to handle a different combination of tasks resulting from job redesign is critical to close any skill gaps and enhance the business value of job roles. Where appropriate, jobs should also be redesigned to better harness the capabilities and potential of existing employees, such as making jobs more age-friendly.

On your profile page, you say that technology goes hand-in-hand with building trust. Can you explain this?

The way data and intelligent technologies such as AI are being used is creating significant trust gaps. Trust gaps have reframed the question of “Can tech do this?” into “Should tech do this?” It is no longer about capabilities. It is about trust in the intelligence that a business uses, and that customers, markets, regulators and ecosystems rely on. Can companies and government organisations ensure the outcomes of their technologies? Do they have reliable methods for identifying, tracing and correcting unintended outcomes?

Without trust, the ability of an organisation to operate and innovate is reduced and slowed down.

Trust in data and technologies results from action. Organisations need to be intentional in adopting methods and techniques that embed trust into data, trust into systems, trust into business models to create sustained value and empower transformation.

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