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Coronavirus: APAC organisations speed up innovation

Innovation has become easier than before, with the most innovative organisations expecting to recover from the impact of the pandemic in less than six months, new Microsoft-commissioned study finds

Nearly half of the most innovative enterprises in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region believe their organisations will recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in less than six months, an IDC study has found.

Their optimism stems from their confidence in building a culture of innovation, defined by IDC as the synergy between technology, processes, data and people, that enables organisations to drive sustained innovation.

The Microsoft-commissioned study also found that a third of innovation leaders, which comprised 8% of the 3,312 business decision-makers and 3,495 workers surveyed across 15 APAC markets, expected to increase their market share despite the pandemic.

“It continues to dawn on us that innovation has actually accelerated through the course of the pandemic,” Ahmed Mazhari, president of Microsoft Asia, told Computer Weekly, noting that 74% of the survey respondents had agreed that innovation was a ‘must’ for them to respond quickly to market challenges and opportunities.

But innovation is more than just developing a new product – or a drug, as was the case during the Second World War, which spurred the discovery of penicillin. Mazhari said it is also the small steps that businesses take to become more resilient and productive.

Citing examples of businesses with physical storefronts that started to offer grocery delivery and a London restaurant that started selling DIY meals amid the pandemic, Mazhari said innovation is a new work stream that presents new opportunities for Microsoft.

For example, in Sri Lanka, Microsoft enabled the legendary Colombo Tea Auction to move online and create virtual auctions, Mazhari said, adding: “That was an innovation accelerated by pandemic, but enabled by technology.”

Indeed, the pandemic has led APAC organisations to believe innovation is now easier than before. Among innovation leaders, 68% of respondents thought that innovation was hard before the pandemic, while just 36% thought so since the onset of the pandemic.

For organisations to sustain their innovation momentum, Mazhari said they should focus on the core fundamentals in IDC’s culture of innovation model.

That means leveraging data to create new business models, investing in disruptive technologies, aligning internal processes with customer needs, and building an organisational culture that promotes disruptive ideas, among other areas.

Asked about where Microsoft stands in the model, Mazhari said while the technology giant has made strides in its transformation journey, it still has much to do.

“As an organisation, our reliance on data is high…and the amount of time we’re now spending on insights is the highest,” he said, adding that he gets a weekly report on his effectiveness as an executive in terms of the amount of time he spends interacting with different stakeholders and other tasks.

On the people side, Mazhari said Microsoft continues to hire talent who think with agility, focus deeply on customers and drive innovation. “This is a journey of infinite learning, and you can never cease and say you’re there,” he said.

Mazhari also offered some observations on the APAC market, particularly around the strive for technological and operational resilience.

“The point isn’t just about having apps or servers on the cloud, which creates resilience,” Mazhari said. “It’s also about your operating model being designed for resilience and that’s one big signal in the market.”

Other signals that Microsoft is reading from the market are sovereignty concerns and the “redrawing of boundaries”, along with the need to use data to gather insights on customers who are increasingly interacting with businesses online.

“Those kinds of signals lead to a disrupted market with millions of people out of jobs, and yet there’s a shortage of certain key roles,” Mazhari said.

In his interactions with government officials and business leaders, Mazhari said there is growing realisation that the world has pivoted into doing things differently. This has shaped the priorities of Microsoft in the region. 

“Our mission is to enable every organisation and every person to achieve more,” Mazhari said. “In that pursuit, we think about industries that can help to create impact that need help, whether it’s enabling bricks-and-mortar retail to go digital or creating capacity in the healthcare system.”

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