INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
Vivek Kumar

When technology could stifle transformation


I met the CEO of a SME business in Singapore recently and he lamented that new technology pilot projects don't always seem to result in enhanced productivity or business returns. At the same time, a number of mature professionals I meet at U Future Leaders Series have expressed lack of hope for their own careers in the current phase of transformation since they feel it is all about cutting-edge technology, a space beyond many of their comfort zone.

Don Peppers, the author and customer relationship guru, shared a story at the SAP Commerce Master Class recently. The President and Chief Marketing Officer of a global hotel group wanted to get his guest relations officers to wish the guests 'welcome back' if they had stayed at the hotel earlier. As he discussed it with his IT team, cost of the solutions suggested ranged in millions of dollars. Uncertain, he headed to his next business travel. As he arrived at a hotel from the same group in another major city, the young receptionist said, "Welcome back, sir!"

He was surprised. The last time he had stayed there was 5-6 years ago and the young lady couldn't possibly have remembered him! He paused to ask her how she managed to identify him. Well, the solution was simple. The concierge upon picking his luggage had asked him whether he has stayed at the hotel before, and upon getting the affirmative nod, he just made a meaningful eye contact with the young lady at the door.

Project Management Institute, Singapore Chapter (SPMI), a U Associate -- one of the 30 professional bodies associated with the Singapore Labour Movement now -- recently invited me to their regional convention with the theme of "transformation". It emerged from some of the impressive sessions that technology shouldn't be the starting point of 'transformation' discussions for any business. Why? As Rashid Mohiuddin, an executive council member of SPMI, explained, IT is no longer about automating processes and supporting the so-called 'core business'.

So, how should we look at transformation for our businesses? Perhaps we should start with an objective -- to create a sustainable spot between customer centricity and business value.

A. Product/service delivery value chain: A successful F&B entrepreneur once explained his productivity push to me. Normally when a customer walks into any restaurant, the service staff makes 6-7 trips to the table -- to give the menu, to take the order, to deliver the food/drink, to bring the bill and get the guest's credit card, to get his/her signature on the credit card receipt. If the staff could save even two of these trips, he reckoned, the productivity gain could be substantial, allowing him greater flexibility in a tight labour market. Once the challenge was clear, the solution involved technology, such as getting iPads at every table with grant from the Singapore government. Such focus on business transformation before technology solution has worked very well for him, he continues to expand his business.

B. Customer service friction points: In a vast number of businesses today, majority of customer calls are preceded by a search session on the website of the business. We all know customer calls are expensive. More importantly, today's time-poor customers don't like mono-action activities such as making calls. Yet, most of us don't do a great job integrating online customer experience (CX) with contact center CX or retail CX. For example, how many of us have click-to-call options, click-for-us-to-call-you buttons, proactive chat windows, or temporal numbers (temporary phone numbers unique to each web session, so response is personalised to the web session when a customer calls the contact center), on our websites? Most of the technology is available easily, but we lack a good omnichannel view of our customer.

Moving to this sustainable sweet spot to manage each customer's experience requires:

A. Alignment of organisation -- such as structure, incentives, and accountabilities
B. Changing the mindset of employees and corporate culture -- such as executive coaching, social collaboration tools
C. Investing to develop capabilities of appropriate technology and analytics

Transformation requires more than just technology. It demands a sharp focus on the customer, and an ability to evolve with the customer based on his new decision-making journey. Else, deploying technology could be just a fad, albeit an expensive one.

As executives, it is important technology doesn't paralyse us. But that it excites us to learn and experiment with it, for the vast possibilities it opens up for ourselves and the organisations we work for. Let's gear up to be excited about the 'discomfort' of new technology and accelerate our own adoption of new technologies such as IOT, analytics, cloud and mobility, etc.

For companies, I hope one imperative becomes clearer. In the past, one could just buy the skills off-the-shelf as skills needed by the marketplace were static for quite long, if not for a lifetime.

Now, as the marketplace evolves so fast around us, we need talent who is able to develop both the skill as well as an intricate knowledge of the business and its unique DNA. Then, they are able to build a unique competitive advantage for their organisations. And help them take transformative leap for the business, together with technology.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Vivek Kumar

Vivek Kumar

Vivek is Director of U Associate & U Future Leaders programmes, National Trades Union Congress. He is the Honorary Chairman of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council in Asia-Pacific and keynote speaker at industry conferences around the region.

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