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APAC firms in early stages of digital transformation

More than three-quarters of APAC firms struggle to revise their financial plans amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with many still lacking agile systems and processes, a new study finds

Investing in technology and processes over the past five years has enabled global professional services firm Aon to be better equipped to weather the business impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a Workday webinar, Rishi Mehra, Aon’s chief financial officer for Asia, said that although the company is doing fine, it has had to stay close to the business and listen closely to what its customers are saying.

It also had to undertake financial scenario planning to stay on top of a changing business environment amid the pandemic – and execute its plans.

But organisations like Aon are the exception in Asia, where 76% of chief financial officers struggled to revise their financial plans, budgets and forecasts in response to Covid-19, according to a new Workday study.

Also, 75% of organisations in the study, which polled 261 senior business leaders in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, found that their processes were not fully adaptive and agile.

Mehra said having agile systems will speed up processing time, which is crucial as organisations grapple with multiple financial scenarios in the current economic climate.

“If you are still processing in the way that you did in the early 2000s or 2010s, then you it would take longer to process any particular scenario,” he said.

In the survey, 60% of respondents noted that their organisations lacked an agile enterprise-wide culture, while 68% of chief financial officers were still making decisions based on ad-hoc reports with a dependence on IT to generate them.

The findings suggest that many APAC firms are still in the early stages of digital transformation, although these efforts have accelerated for 31% of respondents to the survey. A further 24% are in the process of prioritising digital transformation efforts.

“Recent events have brought into focus the importance for businesses to be digitally agile,” said Rob Wells, president for Workday Asia. “Without the right technological backbone, organisations can no longer move quickly to adapt to rapid change.

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“Most companies this year have had to make significant changes to their financial and human resourcing plans, at quick notice, and our research shows offline processes have hampered this.”

He added: “I hope this study will encourage more leaders to think seriously about how they approach digital transformation and invest for the sake of the long-term health of their organisations and workforces.”

With tighter cashflows and limited budgets, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region have been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A separate study by HP, which polled 1,600 respondents in eight Asia-Pacific markets, showed that just 16% of organisations expect their businesses to grow post-pandemic, down from 46% before the outbreak.

“The global uncertainty post-pandemic is the key barrier to achieving business success for Asian SMEs, so it looks like the battleground will be won by SMEs that can bounce back most quickly,” said Ng Tian Chong, HP’s managing director for the greater Asia region.

Indeed, 60% of SMEs in the region are confident that they will survive the pandemic, with more than half seeing the current climate as an opportunity to reformulate their business strategy.

“SME owners also understand that bouncing back requires them to lean on innovation, workstyles and digital tools to quickly turn their ideas into reality,” said Ng.

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