Image: Mandai Wildlife Group
How does one go about digitizing an entire organization, especially a company that’s the steward of wildlife parks where most of its workforce is typically found in the field and on the ground most of the day, busy catering to or handling visitors, attending to animals, plants, logistics and facilities?
Khairulnizam Zulkifle, Senior Manager of the Transformation Office, Transformation and Growth at Mandai Wildlife Group (MWG) relished the challenge when he was tasked with the mandate to improve the organization’s operations with technology, across three main areas:
- People – in reference to productivity and staff welfare,
- Performance – the economic impact ; and lastly,
- Planet – the environmental impact.
Listen on to this interview, in which Khai shares more about his efforts in pursuit of focus area 1, People. He faced what appeared to be a daunting task, convincing his colleagues, most of whom were newbies to the world of technology, to build their own solutions to alleviate some of the toll from their day-to-day workstreams.
Digitizing operations with Microsoft Power Apps
When he first started in this role, Khai began looking at the problems that can potentially be solved or processes that can be streamlined with technology, by gathering feedback from the ground. Khai and his team busied themselves having extended conversations with different teams, mapping out processes end to end and having in-depth discussions about what can be automated, and what can be helped along with technology.
This led Khai to hit upon the use of Microsoft Power Apps as an easy-to-deploy solution that had spot-on potential in addressing the issues and situations that his colleagues were facing. Having been trained in Power BI before, Power Apps was not completely unfamiliar territory to him, and it didn’t take him long to figure out the ins and outs of the platform.
Microsoft Power Apps turned out to be the perfect remedy for accelerating digital transformation at MWG – even for those with no coding experience, the learning curve was gentle, and applications could be built and rolled out quickly on the platform.
Empowering the teams and teaching them how to fish
There was no conceivable way that Khai and his digital transformation team could deliver full blown applications on a silver platter to address each issue that was brought to them. Once word about what they were doing got around, the team started receiving at least five different requests for a technology solution per week. Khai determined that the practical way forward was for the different business units to take ownership and build their own solution tailored to their needs.
Khai and his team eventually got into the groove of empowering the various teams to build applications on their own. This entails mapping out the scenario the application is needed for, before crafting out tailored training sessions to help the team become familiar with the different functions and charting a road map to developing an application that can solve the problem. He would then create a basic framework prototype and see if it checks the boxes for what they had in mind, before handing it over to them, giving them the requisite tools and training to continue adding functions to the application and building it on their own. All applications then undergo rigorous testing and trialing, followed by a presentation of the benefits to the wider team to gain buy in and adoption, before being rolled out fully.
During the process, Khai follows up to check in with them weekly and helps them solve any problems that they encounter. He insists that “we have to ensure gears are constantly moving and we don’t stop” or they might lose interest, and the initiative risks falling by the wayside.
In addition to the technical training, he constantly doles out encouragement to the teams who might initially feel intimidated at the task of creating an application on their own. His advice to them? “Don’t be scared – part of the process includes making mistakes, trying new things, and improving from there”.
Spreading the spirit of innovation and boldness
Since taking on this role 3 years ago, the Transformation Office department, supported by a forward-looking leadership team, has helped foster a culture of innovation at MWG. It’s a testament to his assiduousness in evangelizing about technology that now, most of MWG’s employees are aware of the resources they can leverage like Power Apps and are open to using technology to solve pressing issues, or boost productivity.
More than 10 successful applications have since been deployed, built through the hands-on efforts of over 20 employees at MWG from various departments, such as Technical Services, Facilities Management, Park Operations, Retail and more. Highlights include a facilities management application that tracks the statuses of over 200 vehicles deployed across four parks, and a macaque tracking application that keeps tabs on the free-roaming primate species to safeguard their and visitors’ safety.
During innovation festivals, staff are given a chance to showcase the solutions that they’ve built, giving them a sense of pride and inspiring confidence in their peers to do the same.
As MWG’s resident digital transformation champion, Khai feels an immense sense of satisfaction whenever he successfully helps a team solve a unique problem with technology.
In a nod to MWG’s digital future, Khai is currently working on a few Generative Artificial Intelligence-powered solutions to help improve and automate working processes within Mandai as well as to elevate the guest experiences. Khai is looking forward to pushing the boundaries further and playing his part in the Group’s digital transformation towards a smart, integrated wildlife destination at the Mandai Wildlife Reserve.