Successful digital transformation starts with top-level buy-in: panelists

Digital transformation panel
From left: Sri Safitri, Senior Advisor to Chief of Digital & Strategic Portfolio, Telkom Indonesia; Kashif Haq, Head of Digital Services Technology & Innovation, Axiata Digital Services; Rod Strother, VP Digital Transformation, StarHub; Seda Dolen, Head of Digital Business Systems, South East Asia and Oceania, Ericsson; Abel Tong, Senior Director, Solutions Marketing, Blue Planet Division, Ciena; and Geert Warlop, COO, TrueMoney International, True, and Deputy Director, Ascend Group

Put a bunch of operators and vendors together on a panel about digital transformation (or just about any topic, really) and you’re going to get some diverse comments. But at a panel on “coming to terms with the digital reality” at TM Forum Live! Asia on Wednesday, one point of agreement was that successful digital transformation starts at the top.

Put simply, there must be support from top-level management for any digital transformation strategy to work, or even to get off the ground.

“There has to be realization by senior management that digital transformation is necessary,” said Sri Safitri, Senior Advisor to Chief of Digital & Strategic Portfolio at Telkom Indonesia. “That’s the starting point.”

Once you’ve done that, she added, “you need a team to plan it out, because it takes a lot of resources, cost and time. More importantly, the team has to be able to think differently about things. If they can’t do that, they’ll try to use technologies in the same way as before.”

Rod Strother, VP of digital transformation at StarHub, agreed that top-level endorsement is important, citing his previous employer Lenovo where he helped company build up a social media marketing strategy, despite resistance from C-level management who didn’t understand why social media was important. It wasn’t until CEO Yang Yuanqin got a LinkedIn account – and a week later a Twitter handle – that “everything started cascading down, because once he was on LinkedIn, the C-level executives wanted a LinkedIn account. So yes, definitely, top-level buy-in is crucial.”

Another key point of agreement was that the customer should be at the center of any digital transformation strategy.

“You need to do digital transformation in every department, come up with a plan with the customer perspective in the center of it, then you work everything out one thing at a time,” said Kashif Haq, head of digital services technology and innovation for Axiata Digital Services.

“It’s important to understand that digital customer has changed things in terms of expectations,” StarHub’s Strother said. “As an example, when many of you leave this hotel today, you’re not going to queue up at a taxi stand and wait around. You’re going to use Grab or Uber. The mentality is now, ‘I want something and I want it on my time because it’s all about me – who wants my business?’”

Strother added that customer experience will be an important differentiator in the digital ecosystem because it’s the one differentiator that’s hard to replicate. “You can only differentiate on price up to a point, and the marketing ends up being similar too – customer experience is the metric that matters to customers and it’s where you can really set yourself apart.”

Geert Warlop, COO of TrueMoney International at Thai CSP True, and Deputy Director of Ascend Group, noted that in developing markets like Thailand, customer education is also a major issue.

“We like to say that Thailand is two countries – Bangkok and outside of Bangkok,” he said. “When you go outside the big cities, customers don’t always understand the benefits of digital services. That’s why we built an agent network to educate consumers, explain digital services to them and motivate them to use them.”

Motivation is key, he added, “because many people will stick to the old way of doing things unless you can show them this new service is beneficial to them.”

Big data ≠ crystal ball

Another aspect of customer-centricity is leveraging big data analytics to understand their needs more and how to fulfill them.

The traditional marketing metrics of customer segmentation have changed dramatically, said Telkom’s Sri Safitri. “From a marketing point of view, we used to look at our customers and segment them in terms of demographics – age, income, and so on. Now we are looking at how to segment them in ways that are more relevant to what we want to offer them. We think of them as communities where the customer is tagged based on their behavior – what services they use, how often they use it, what device or operating system are they using? So then we can decide which customers would be suitable for a new music service, for example.”

Abel Tong, senior director of solutions marketing for the Blue Planet division of Ciena, advised that while big data is useful, it isn’t the answer to everything.

“Look at something like Pokemon Go, which was a massive success – big data couldn’t have told you whether or not it would be as successful as it was,” he said. “Big data can’t predict everything. In a world of immersive change, things are going to happen that we can’t predict. So you need to have the flexibility and agility to deal with whatever does succeed.”

Seda Dolen, head of digital business systems South East Asia and Oceania for Ericsson added that there’s more to customer data than just the data. “When you’re looking at the customer data, don’t forget that customers are humans. You need to look at the emotional and subjective aspects of how they use services.”

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