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Ernst & Young's Wai Keat Cheang is one of this year's judges at the SBR TEA Awards

According to Wai Keat, businesses that emerge as digital leaders of tomorrow may not have the most resources but can recognise the value of collaboration.

Wai Keat Cheang is a Consulting Partner with Ernst & Young (EY) Advisory Pte. Ltd. He covers agile business transformation, large-scale digital and technology implementation, post-merger integration, and end-to-end managed services consultation for IT and business processes.

As one of this year's judges at SBR Technology Excellence Awards, Wai Keat shares his thoughts about why businesses that seize the transformative opportunities that the pandemic brings will emerge not just as "survivors'' but as "thrivers". He also shares his insight about the government's role in supporting a company's digital transformation; how “cobots” can help in increasing productivity, and what a truly digital culture means at the workplace in this day and age.

Can you share with us your previous work experience or backstory that contributed to your current expertise in the industry?

In my 25 years of consulting experience, I have helped clients strategise, develop and implement their business transformation agenda. More often than not, technology is a key enabler in business transformation initiatives. Therefore, I actively keep abreast of rapidly evolving technological innovations and advancements and embrace an agile mindset toward innovation, to effectively advise organisations on how to use technology as a business enabler.

I have worked with both local and multinational corporations from the private and public sectors across the Asia-Pacific region. Through these projects, I have gained in-depth industry knowledge in life sciences, health care, consumer goods, agribusiness, transportation, and real estate, which enable me to understand challenges and opportunities specific to their industry.

Crisis presents opportunities for businesses, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think are these opportunities, and how will they shape technology and/or digitisation in the future?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation agenda as businesses rapidly adopted technological solutions to offer e-commerce, contactless payments and other digital services to their customers. Employers have also turned to virtual collaboration tools to enable remote working for their workforce.

These digital experiences are changing customer expectations, employees' needs and new business value drivers in fundamental ways. These shifts create opportunities for businesses to improve in areas such as their digital strategy, workplace, customer experience, operations, and risk management. Businesses that seize these transformative opportunities will be able to leap ahead of the rest of the "survivors" and emerge as "thrivers".

Therefore, even as the COVID-19 situation stabilises in some countries, business leaders should recognise the need to accelerate rather than wind down transformation efforts. Corporate leaders of leading businesses are already looking to leverage this opportunity to pivot from stabilisation to new investments in growth and transformation - as seen in the 61% of CEOs who indicated plans to undertake a major new transformation initiative, according to the EY CEO Imperative Series.

As these transformative efforts will be underpinned by digital innovation trends, the same survey revealed that 68% are planning major investments in data and technology. In particular, cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and blockchain will be technologies that companies will be looking to scale up in ethically and sustainably in the long run.

Transitioning to a digitised company is challenging, especially during this time. What would your advice be to companies that are just starting their digital transformation journey?

Digital transformation goes beyond simply moving an existing product, service or solution online. Rather, companies need to be prepared to reinvent their business strategies for a digital world.

When embarking on a digital transformation journey, companies may face significant structural and process changes that can be challenging, particularly given the current economic uncertainties and limited resources. Companies will find it worthwhile to look externally to leverage available government schemes.

For example, in Singapore, S$1 billion has been set aside to support enterprises' adoption of digital solutions and new technologies, as announced in Singapore Budget 2021. In addition to funding concerns, organisations will need help in understanding how to accurately identify digital opportunities and mitigate their digital risks as they roll out digital projects. As companies may not be familiar with the end-to-end deployment of these new technologies and the risks, working with technology professionals through the new Chief-Technology-Officer-as-a-Service initiative announced at Budget 2021 would be a strategic move.

Organisations should look to tap on external expertise not just for their technical knowledge but also for their abilities to help their organisation blend strategy and execution with the soft skills for inspiring leadership, and train teams to transform businesses, seize opportunities, and mitigate digital transformation risks.

With these in mind, those that emerge as the digital leaders of tomorrow may not necessarily have the most resources but will be those that recognise the value of collaboration.

Which do you think is more important when it comes to introducing new technology in a company? The hardware and software? Or human beings who can easily adapt--and have the necessary skills or talents--to go with these changes?

To successfully evolve from doing digital to being digital, putting humans at the centre will be key.

As technologies mature, the price per unit of the performance of technologies will drop. Organisations looking to leverage the potential of digital technologies will need a skilled workforce that can operate and work with these digital solutions. Organisations that can reskill their workers to work with "cobots", i.e., smart machines that can work in tandem with humans and improve collaborations across the organisation, will be able to unlock significant productivity gains.

However, implementing new technologies will disrupt existing organisational structures, culture and ways of working. A key roadblock that organisations could face in these digital initiatives is the lack of digital culture. To transform the workforce into one that can embrace behaviour changes and mindset shifts, organisations will need to ask themselves how they can be more inclusive and people-centric to make technologies more accessible to employees.

A truly digital culture is one where the workforce is not only adaptive but also innovative. To create a culture of innovation, organisations need to build small and small autonomous teams that are empowered to explore new ideas and collaborations.

Organisations will also need to adopt a customer-centric approach to support ideas that focus on delivering exceptional customer expectations, even if it means challenging existing processes. Traditional companies start with the need to sell products and work outward, while digital companies start with a customer's pain point and mobilise resources to solve it.

What are your thoughts about this year's competitive entries in the SBR Technology Excellence Awards?

The COVID-19 pandemic did not dampen the quality of entries this year. In fact, many companies have taken the opportunities to develop various unique and innovative solutions to accelerate the digitalisation and digital transformation of their businesses.

Majority of the winning nominations tapped on various digital and emerging technologies like AI, cloud, big data, robotics, blockchain and IoT to address a wide range of issues from improving the customer experience to enhancing business productivity to raising operational effectiveness.

Congratulations to all the winners and keep innovating!

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