PwC's Charles Loh underlines transformation-first change management approach as a key building block for any successful digital transformation

This calls for stakeholders, from senior leaders to employees, to embrace this approach and enable meaningful transformation.

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, Southeast Asia stands at the crossroads of innovation, where digital transformations are redefining the way businesses operate.

Charles Loh, the Singapore Consulting Leader at PwC South East Asia Consulting, has amassed a wealth of diversified consulting experience, with a career spanning over two decades. He has delved into the realms of strategy, business management, risk management, and technology. His leadership has been instrumental in steering large-scale digital transformation projects for major organisations across diverse industries in the region.

In this interview with Loh, we delve into the profound insights he holds regarding the technological trends and innovations that are poised to reshape Southeast Asia's business landscape.

From the integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), and cloud computing to the transformative power of fintech innovations, Loh provides a comprehensive outlook on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

What do you think are some of the most noteworthy technological trends and innovations that you believe will significantly impact the business landscape in Southeast Asia in the coming years?

In Southeast Asia, key technological trends like generative AI, IoT, cloud computing, and fintech innovations are set to reshape the business landscape. Generative AI enables content generation, whilst IoT drives connectivity and automation. Cloud computing offers scalability and collaboration, and fintech innovations can help bridge financial service gaps in emerging areas such as green financing. These trends present growth opportunities and improved customer experiences for businesses in Southeast Asia, which is one of the world's fastest-growing and dynamic economies, with a massive digital economy to boot. These are truly exciting times for the region.

Digital transformation often requires a strong alignment between technology and business strategy. How do you approach helping organisations strike this balance?

At PwC, we are always asking what problems our clients want to solve. Our deep industry experience, business knowledge, and data-driven approach help us understand what works best and the pitfalls to navigate. We do this by aligning technology initiatives with business objectives. 
By assessing needs, analysing the technology landscape, and designing tailored transformation roadmaps, we ensure a balanced and sustainable approach that is outcome-focused. Through effective change management, communication, and continuous evaluation, we facilitate alignment between technology and strategy for successful digital transformation.

In your experience, what are the key considerations and best practices for ensuring data security and privacy in the context of digital transformation? How can organisations maintain the trust of their stakeholders whilst harnessing the power of data-driven insights?

Robust security measures, security-by-design principles, and compliance with regulations are key considerations. Meanwhile, obtaining explicit consent, anonymising data, responsible storage and disposal of data, and transparent communication - to name a few - are some of the best practices that can help build trust.

Tellingly, research from PwC’s flagship 2024 Digital Trust Insights Global Survey - which canvassed the sentiments of 3,876 business, technology, and security executives at the largest global companies - showed that only 52% of respondents are satisfied with their organisation’s technology capabilities in data security and privacy. Our 2023 Southeast Asian edition of the report also shows that businesses that have strong data privacy practices tend to benefit from better customer trust. There is undoubtedly a clear correlation between data security and privacy and building stronger trust with customers, which ultimately extends to the larger society. Organisations must prioritise data utilisation alongside privacy to secure stakeholder trust and be able to leverage data-driven insights effectively.

In addition, employee training and incident response plans are just as crucial. Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is vital for businesses to take into account these aspects whilst they embark on their digital transformation efforts.

What do you see as the most significant challenges for organisations looking to embark on digital transformation journeys in this diverse and dynamic geographic area? How can they navigate the unique cultural, regulatory, and market conditions effectively?

Talent acquisition, mindset change, technology adoption, building trust with stakeholders and more—each of these aspects poses significant challenges. To navigate them effectively, organisations can consider investing in developing local talent, conducting market research, and strengthening collaboration with local ecosystem players. Simultaneously, they also need to ensure regulatory compliance across different jurisdictions and tailor their strategies to accommodate cultural nuances. An agile approach, coupled with strong stakeholder relationships and staying on top of emerging trends, are critical success factors for any digital transformation in this region.

Nonetheless, all of the above can only be executed if organisations embrace a transformation-first change management approach. This is an absolutely critical tenet that we embed in all of our digital transformation engagements with clients. All stakeholders - from senior leadership to employees - need to be on board this journey, and change management is a vital cog in every transformational roadmap. 

Please share your insights on the qualities and leadership attributes that are crucial for leading successful digital transformation in today's rapidly evolving business environment.

From my conversations with C-Suites, boards, and senior leaders, there is a clear urgency for decisive and strong leadership as a cornerstone of their digital transformation initiatives. This is especially true when their intent is set on staying competitive and fit for purpose in today’s complex and uncertain global environment. It is imperative for leaders to possess a diverse combination of soft and hard skills to lead from the front. Beyond technical expertise, leaders today have to be adept in managing people and leading with empathy.

In addition, I cannot stress enough about the importance of leaders staying abreast of key global and regional developments. Often, these complex issues have wider ramifications for the business world, across a plethora of areas such as supply chain security, sustainability, and inflation, just to name a few. 

As a judge at the SBR Technology Excellence Awards, what criteria do you consider when assessing the excellence of technology projects?

There are a number of areas I am particularly passionate about when it comes to digital transformation. Whilst having a complete roadmap outlining the entire digital transformation journey is a critical pillar of any aspiring business, it must tie back to addressing organisational objectives and serve as a conduit to unearth future opportunities.

That being said, digital transformation is not solely about implementing technology; it’s about dovetailing it with human capital and capabilities. Both should go hand in hand. Otherwise, digital transformation efforts will flounder if staff are left behind. I’m also interested in the sustainability component of digital transformation, and I’m keen to understand how efforts will continue post-transformation and how they can be regularly fine-tuned thereafter to address future needs.

I also believe that new innovations should have a direct impact on improving people’s lives and business outcomes. We live in a rather complex world with diverging geopolitics and ideologies. For innovators and problem solvers, this presents new challenges never faced before but concurrently, these are exciting times as there are just so many new issues to solve and uncharted territories for businesses to explore.

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