M.studio - Fotolia

Digital transformation is real, say ASEAN CIOs

ASEAN CIOs are embracing digital transformation but face barriers in getting employees to adopt an agile mindset

Digital transformation may seem like an overhyped term in enterprise technology circles today, but not to a group of ASEAN-based CIOs who have embarked on journeys to transform their organisations.

During a CIO panel discussion organised by Computer Weekly, Eugene Yeo, group CIO of regional broadband and mobile service provider MyRepublic, said digital transformation is real, adding that every organisation needs to evolve to keep pace with changes in the marketplace.

“Digital transformation is just transformation that leverages new technologies, whether it is moving from traditional infrastructures to cloud, implementing more DevOps processes, or creating new business lines and new ways of interacting with customers,” said Yeo.

However, he emphasised that more than just rolling out technology projects, digital transformation is about changing the processes and culture within an organisation.

Kwong Yuk Wah, CIO of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), noted that digital transformation has been going on for decades in Singapore – even before the term was popularised by IT suppliers in recent years.

“Digital transformation is not something that happened yesterday,” said Kwong. “In Singapore, we started the Civil Service Computerisation Programme in the 1980s. And if you look at the country’s economic plan, there is always a chapter on ICT [information and communications technology].”

The only difference now, she said, is that the enabling technologies have become mainstream and accessible to more companies, referring to Singapore’s recent economic plans to develop industry transformation maps to suit the needs of different industries.

“Digital transformation has become an important competitive advantage for Singapore, given that we only have manpower and no natural resources,” said Kwong. “At NTUC, we have to help our workers realise the urgency of digital transformation and improve their skills.”

An example of this is the use of chatbots and virtual assistants, not only to improve the productivity of NTUC’s call centre, but also to educate union members on the realities of digital transformation, she added.

Read more about digital transformation in ASEAN

To Nigel Lim, a regional IT manager at a multinational Japanese firm, digital transformation begins with digitising processes, such as implementing end-point management tools to monitor device activity – a process that was done manually.

“We brought down our regional CEO to sponsor the initiative, and it was only then thatn things started moving,” he said.

At SAP, which its APAC CIO, Manik Narayan Saha, said is now moving into the next era of digital transformation, technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud and data analytics are being used to improve business outcomes.

“Everything that we do is more or less digitised,” said Saha. “Companies that are not doing any form of digital transformation will become obsolete in five years – or even two years.”

But things are not always rosy. Speaking from her experience in driving agile development, Camelia Cirjoi, director of SAP’s global IT application services, said that getting employees to adopt an agile mindset is often the hardest part of any digital transformation effort.

After years of delivering software using the traditional waterfall model, Cirjoi said it is not easy for consultants in a large organisation such as SAP to embrace agile thinking and get closer to end-users.

“But to get quicker and a faster turnaround, and deliver a personalised experience, we need to understand end-users better as an IT organisation,” she said.

Read more on IT strategy

Data Center
Data Management