, Malaysia

KPMG's head of technology shares the value of customer experience in digital transformation

In this age of technology disruptions, Alvin Gan still believes that "people factors" are highly significant in driving organisational growth and sustainability.

Alvin Gan directs KPMG's Technology Consulting practice in Malaysia, and is the firm's Country Lead Partner for its Microsoft and IBM alliance services.

He has more than 24 years of experience providing strategy and technology consulting services to clients across multiple sectors and industries. Aside from leading large-scale projects in the fields of technology/digital transformation and innovation, client strategy and Governance, and Risk and Compliance services, he has also assisted many organisations in the areas of data governance and business intelligence. That has enabled organisations to move their decision making from mere “educated guesses” to informed and fact-based planning—resulting in better usage of data throughout their teams.

As someone who has worked closely with many CIOs and technology leaders to harness technology disruption, resource management, and business performance, the Malaysia Technology Excellence Awards 2021 judge shared his insights on collaboration between stakeholders, data privacy, IT strategies, and current talent shortages in Malaysia.

Can you share with us your work experience and backstory that contributed to your professional career? Which particular industries are your main focus?

I started my career 25 years ago. Back then, the focus used to be about a particular technology at one given time, and the conversations would centre on just that. For example, cloud technology was just about having services beyond your local computer and being accessible over the Internet. Today, everyone is talking about going digital - more so since the world began battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

In any case, the premise has remained largely the same. But the difference is you have a wide variety of digital technologies or disruptors intertwining with each other,including Cloud, data and analytics, and automation.

Today, I am a Partner at KPMG in Malaysia, heading the Technology Consulting practice. I also spearhead the implementation of Digital Strategy across the firm. In my years of experience in the tech space, I have had the opportunity to work with many CIOs and CEOs, providing strategy and technology-advisory services across multiple sectors and industries. This includes leading large-scale projects in the fields of digital transformation and innovation, client strategy, and Governance, Risk and Compliance services.

Specifically, this has been about working hand-in-hand with technology leaders to harness technology disruption and more effectively manage resources that then drive agility and improved business performance.

Nowadays, I am seeing more technology conversations pivoting to customer experience.
This is to be expected as technology and digital transformations that have been taking place in recent years have always been targeted to enhancing customer experiences. In my view, consumer behaviours have fundamentally changed over the last few months across all countries and demographics.

Expectations have heightened as priorities shifted to health and safety first, which have in turn realigned core human values and beliefs. As a result, what was previously considered to be a great customer experience is no longer good enough, and almost all businesses have had to rethink their customer approach.

Some of the payment apps we're seeing were driven by partnerships between financial institutions and tech players like Grab and Alibaba. Aside from growing concern regarding data privacy, what types of risks can arise from digital ecosystem collaboration or "coopetition"?

Malaysia is seeing more collaboration between stakeholders in this space - policymakers and regulators, players, investors and so on more all coming together and working in tandem. Take the banking sector, for example. One of the reasons this sector has seen tremendous progress is because the banks stopped looking at start-ups as competitors and shifted their mindset to form new collaborations.

Regarding data privacy, the need for data governance and protection is inevitable. As mobile devices, e-commerce and cloud technologies gain ground, more emphasis is being placed on the protection of personal information. At KPMG, we believe a holistic data protection framework will provide the required fundamentals in the design, evaluation and maintenance of the data. In no particular order, this said framework includes points of action related to:
1) Assessment of data management and data privacy requirements;
2) Privacy-focused risk assessment;
3) Preparation for changes in legal requirements;
4) Data protection maturity assessment;
5) Data protection improvement strategy; and
6) Monitoring, maintenance, improvement.

Aside from doubling down on tech and digital innovations, what do firms need to consider to become more profitable and sustainable in the future?

People, people, people!

I've said this many times before, and my belief has not changed. You have to get the people factor right from the get-go. Talent requirements of yesteryears are vastly different from today. In 2020/2021 almost every organisation is focused on recruiting scarce skills-sets of cybersecurity, organisation change management, advanced analytics, enterprise architecture and technical architecture (Harvey Nash, KPMG CIO Survey, 2020).

Like most countries, Malaysia is also facing a talent shortage and we as a nation must prepare the current and next generations to "fill in the gaps". We see technology-related programmes being rolled out in the academic syllabus as early as primary education, the Human Resource Development Fund giving out incentives to reskill the current workforce, and many more.

The key challenge for organisations is how to conduct this retraining, while also determining which workers are best suited for this investment. But what's also required is for business and executive management to work with their HR departments to define their workforce of the future and direct retraining and re-skilling efforts toward that vision.

Whilst business leaders are still trying to figure out how to digitally keep up with all these transformations, the people factor should not be overlooked. We might not have all the answers now, but we'll surely get there by putting our heads together and thinking forward!

What are the challenges of incorporating IT strategies on government-initiated projects? Which areas do you need improvement?

Implementation and follow-through. These are the two main considerations that, in my opinion, have always held back great plans and visions. Other common factors include cost, knowledge, as well as time and resources. Over the years, the Government has gotten the planning right. Nonetheless, executing the plan will be the litmus test between successful rollouts, or otherwise.

For government-initiated projects, most programmes and plans typically involve not just the public and private sectors, but also every facet of Malaysian society. If executed well, there is no doubt any tech or digital transformation journey the Government has envisioned will reap benefits to the country.

Another key consideration in my view is allocating the necessary IT investment. Based on our CIO survey, we see an additional spend of 5% of the IT budget to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Entering 2021, investment in technology has remained at an all-time high; 55% of technology leaders will receive a budget increase, driven by the need for operational efficiencies, customer engagement and developing new products and services.

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