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Digital transformation: Organising for speed

Daniel Tan
Daniel TanExecutive Director, Global Accounts
Daniel leads Global 500 clientele data centre group business for Asia Pacific Japan and China. His responsibility includes customer satisfaction, development, deployment of end to end and efficient go-to-market model. Daniel is a technology industry veteran who has served two stints each at enterprise IT giants Lenovo and IBM over 20 years, Daniel brings with him vast sales and operations expertise and extensive networks across Asia. He has managed successful relationships with customers and channel partners in diverse industry verticals such as Manufacturing, Retail, Financial Services, Government, Research, Media and Telecommunications. Prior to his current role, Daniel led strategic alliances for Lenovo’s enterprise business in Asia Pacific, and used to manage relationship with key alliance partners like SAP, Nutanix, Red Hat and VMware to maximise joint opportunities with these fellow IT giants. Daniel served as the ASEAN leader for Lenovo’s enterprise business where he was responsible for the overall management of Lenovo’s x86 business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. He joined Lenovo in October 2014 upon Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s x86 business.

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Traditionally, successful companies have done their best to make safe decisions. They do research. They analyse the results. They send the information up the chain. However, operating like this is not going to work anymore. The digitisation of every industry will simply not allow it. If it takes too long to adapt, a company will drown. This is why many companies are identifying ways that they can be more agile and respond instantaneously to new technological challenges and opportunities.

By changing to this new mode of operation, companies can avoid a total technology reorganisation every couple of years, which completely disrupts business and still leaves them lagging behind. The idea behind this comes from the world of information technology. When digitisation first became a big hit, IT teams needed to be more agile. But now, digital transformation is not just about the IT department, it is about companies as a whole and each and every division within a company. Therefore, agile must now become a company-wide process.

1. Prioritising speed and strategising for new developments

The first step towards preparing any organisation for sustained digital success in the future is making it as fast-acting as possible. Urgency should be at the centre of all decisions. Speed should be embraced in all company communications, choices, and actions.

When it comes to decision-making and strategising, sometimes leadership cannot wait for all of the information—a choice needs to be made about certain technologies and action needs to be taken. It is the waiting for more data and analysis that slows companies down. In the end, if a company is agile enough, a decision that is wrong can be course-corrected. Worshipping speed allows a company to take bigger risks because they can recover quickly from mistakes.

The key to remember when prioritising speed is that being just fast does not work. You also need a strategy—an emergent strategy. Business leaders need to understand that there is no endpoint when it comes to technological success. Just because you have achieved success does not mean you will remain there. Just look at Enron or Lehman Brothers or Worldcom—these giants of industries did not permanently maintain success. Leaders need to look at the journey to success as having no defined endpoint. They should always be asking how the company can use technology to improve and add more value.

2. Spreading out decision making and restructuring the organisation

These two aspects, of acting quickly and relying on an emergent strategy need to then be combined. And unfortunately their combination does not mesh well with the status quo of how change happens in organisations—tech decisions are made at the top, then they are disseminated to the rest of the organisation, then feedback is sent back up, and then changes are made. Instead, speed and strategising for new developments should go hand in hand with the idea that multiple strategies should be implemented simultaneously. Change is improvised rather than composed.

To encourage this real-time decision making, it is best to categorise decisions into four areas. This way, leadership does not get bogged down with low-stakes decisions. The first category is where the CEO comes in. These decisions are about the larger picture, whether that be how the business operates or its core value proposition. The second category is high-risk decisions that shape the future of the organisation. A single executive should be responsible for these decisions so that they can be made quickly. The third category is cross-cutting decisions. These decisions require collaboration because they involve end-to-end processes. The senior managers that are directly involved with the specified processes need to come together on these decisions. Finally, the fourth category are low-risk decisions. Frontline employees and managers can take responsibility for these.

And just as decisions being made from the top-down are time-wasters, having a tall, hierarchical organisation slows processes and systems down. Some hierarchy and centralisation is necessary, especially in divisions like legal, risk management, and other specialised fields. But, for the most part, a flatter organisation will be more technologically agile.

3. Encouraging talent and recognising leadership

A fast-moving and transforming organisation needs talent, and it needs talent that is continuously pursuing self-improvement. Traditionally, many organisations have embraced employee training and continuing education. But it has been in a very generalised way. In a world where automation is replacing less complex work and AI is being integrated into every facet of a business, this will no longer be sufficient. Additionally, organisations can no longer promote just because an employee has been in a role long enough or they are the next in line. Leadership is key and it can not be based on who someone knows or how long they have managed to hold onto their job.

To continue educating organisational talent, it needs to be specialised. And it can be. There are a number of agencies and programs that use the most advanced analytics and technology to precision-train. This type of advanced training will eventually empower employees to reach new levels and improve the company’s agility.

The same concept applies to how organisations identify leaders. Leaders who are chosen simply because they have slowly moved up the chain tend to be leaders who lead by force. They end up making results expensive and reduce organisational agility. Instead, leaders who inspire others to be self-managing and have a goal of creating an organisational culture where problems are solved before they appear are the ones that should be promoted.


Digital transformation


4. Sticking to a strategy and fulfilling employees

The biggest risk with an agile and urgency-minded organisation is that it can get out of control. It is for this reason that the organisation needs to have a strong identity. This identity comes from two places. The first is having a strong strategy. The second is having common principles across the organisation.

When it comes to having a strong strategy, the fact that ‘strategy’ is singular and not plural is essential. Many organisations have silos that each operate with different strategies. This creates stagnation rather than agility. An organisation needs to find a single plan and stick to it.

And finally, an organisation, if it wants to be successful, must be more than just a product, employees, and their processes. It needs to have a higher purpose and goals. It must inspire employees and fulfill them, whether that be with monetary incentives or social impact.

Unfortunately, when it comes to success in the modern world, there is no single fix for a business. Companies are slowly realising that they must overhaul what used to work. They have to adjust every angle in a business. But once this is done, when these ingredients are successfully mixed together, an organisation can sustain agility over the long-term.

Organisational agility in Asia

The pioneers of this agile concept can be found across Asia. Leaders in every industry, as well as in government, are encouraging the restructuring of organisations, from tall and thin to flat and less hierarchical. The Hewlett Packard Enterprise General Manager for Asia-Pacific Solution Sales, Chan Kong Hoe, is one individual who is leading the charge.

Chan has expressed that one country that is likely to lead the way in the region is Singapore. Because of the technological infrastructure that the country already has in place, businesses in the country have a significant advantage. But there is one possible barrier: Lack of agility.

Many companies in the country understand this challenge are they are willing to make major changes. Singapore Airlines is one such organisation. The company is teaming up with the National University of Singapore, as well as several government organisations, in order to create a strong, agile blueprint for their future. Their goal with this blueprint is to be the leading digital airline in the world.

Businesses around the country are feeling this push to be more agile, and most of the strength behind this push is coming from the Singaporean government. In January 2018, the government revealed an industry transformation map. They want to create thousands of new jobs in a variety of sectors. The backbone of this idea is to drive innovation throughout the economy by partnering with some of the most innovative companies that exist, including Google, Adobe, and Dentsu Aegis Network.

To this end, Dentsu has opened its Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. The headquarters were designed to encourage an agile mindset, with an emphasis on creating a work-life balance and prompting collaboration across the organisation. In regards to this opening, the CEO of Dentsu, Nick Waters, stated that:

We are pioneering agile working in our Asia Pacific business to foster a culture of empowered innovation to meet the demands of the fast evolving digital economy.

Digital transformation in any company, big or small, is a big task. However, with one strong push that fosters an agile culture, this type of transformation can become commonplace, allowing organisations to better serve consumers and more effectively compete around the globe.

For more information, tips, and guidance on digital transformation make sure you download our guide for Asia-Pacific:

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