Are Asian businesses ready for digital transformation?

The following is a LinkedIn story written by Ralph Haupter, President, Microsoft Asia

Last month, I had the good fortune to address both the American and British Chambers of Commerce in Singapore at two separate business gatherings and share with them my thoughts on the 4th Industrial Revolution, Digital Transformation and what it means to Asian organizations and society.

During these sessions, I spoke about how the 4th Industrial Revolution will bring profound change to Asian economies and in a much more compressed time-frame, when compared with previous periods of accelerated growth and innovation. Across Asia, we can already observe the confluence of data, cloud technologies and powerful analytics providing us with unlimited possibilities in disrupting and transforming industries, including even some of the most traditional, such as agriculture and financial services.

Discussing Digital Transformation with Bicky Banghu, President of BritCham, Singapore and Scott Wightman, British High Commissioner.

One of the latest Microsoft digital transformation customers is the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), a Singapore Government agency in-charge of developing world-class residential, commercial and industrial building standards and regulations of the construction industry.

BCA has turned to the use of smart technologies and data in a key area of their work on sustainable building management – optimizing chiller plant performance. This is especially important in tropical Singapore where air-conditioners typically account for nearly half of a building’s energy consumption.

BCA partnered with Microsoft to create a Chiller Efficiency Smart Portal that provides building owners with a productivity tool to evaluate performance trends, compare energy use, and have quick overviews of overall building performance. With real-time data insights into areas such as power, water-flow rate and temperature, the portal helps building managers reduce energy wastage, increase productivity and enhance operational performance. In fact, the BCA is already looking into leveraging advanced analytics and machine learning through the Chiller Efficiency Smart Portal for preventive maintenance, to help Singapore build next-generation green buildings.

I feel humble and grateful to be able to help shape the digital transformation journeys of our enterprise and government customers in such a dynamic and diverse region. It is especially exciting to see digital transformation happening at scale with organizations like BCA, where it takes leadership at the board-level and a data-driven culture to effect organization-wide disruption.

However, the digital transformation race has really only just started in this region. We recently released the results of our Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study, where we spoke to  close to 1,500 business leaders in 13 Asian markets to understand where they were in their own digital transformation journey. Some 80% of Asian business leaders agree that the key to future growth is to both think and act like a digital business. Almost the same percentage agree that new data insights can lead to new revenue streams. However, the transformation journey for most organizations in Asia is still at its infancy as only 29% of business leaders have a full digital transformation strategy in place today.

A question I was asked by many guests at both the AmCham and BritCham keynote sessions in Singapore was whether they should embark on digital transformation journeys now when social and economic volatility is high. My answer is always the same: this is the very reason why organizations need to embark on digital transformation with greater urgency. Organizations need to be increasingly nimble in responding to new digital opportunities whilst combating volatility.

In closing, I would like to share the three ‘take-away’ thoughts that I gave to the audiences at the AmCham and BritCham keynotes in accelerating their digital transformation journeys:

1. Do you have a board-level digital transformation agenda?

Digital transformation is not about outsourcing IT — it requires a board-level directive to re-envision existing business models and embrace entirely latest ways of bringing together people, data, and processes. This includes the board creating new governance on data, security, outsourcing, skills and capability-building.

2. How are you creating a data-driven organizational culture?

Data is the fuel for digital transformation. The recent Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study showed that 79% of business leaders agree that new data insights can lead to new revenue streams. For businesses to succeed, they need to be able to harness data in a manner that is best for their specific organization. However, often, the data deluge is creating more complexity and isn’t managed optimally for organizations to drive timely, actionable insights from them. We believe that with the right tools, insights can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. When that happens, organizations develop what we describe as a “data culture”.

3. How are you empowering millennials to change your organization?

This last take-away is something that is close to hearts of many CEOs in Asia Pacific, particularly when we have a huge youth population coming into their own today. Youths hold a special key to unlocking new thinking in digital transformation as many of them were born in this connected age. Organizations are only as successful in digital transformation as their ability to integrate Gen-Y individuals more seamlessly in the workplace, where they are empowered to effect change and take risks.

The connecting thread when we look at the above digital transformation accelerators is organizational leadership. Hence, it is not surprising that leadership is cited as the top driver in steering digital transformation in our recent Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study. I personally see the CEO as the ideal leader in driving digital transformation at scale, whilst specialist roles like a Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer provide technical advice and on-the-ground execution.

Below is a video summary of my recent presentation at the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore on Digital Transformation. I hope you find it of interest.

I leave you with a quote from Henry A. Kissinger, which strikes me as particularly relevant as I reflect on leaders driving digital transformation: “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”

I would love to hear what you think who should be the C-suite executive driving digital transformation in Asia Pacific.

Ralph Haupter

PS: Click here to read about how Microsoft is helping its customers in Asia embrace digital transformation.


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