TM ONE CEO interview: the pandemic stress test for leaders

TM ONE EVP CEO, Ahmad Taufek Omar - in action.

A recent exclusive interview with Ahmad Taufek Omar, Executive Vice President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TM ONE, the enterprise and public sector business solutions arm of Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM), spells out some of today’s challenges and opportunities facing leaders, many of which have been sharply exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite signs of fatigue when facing the pandemic crisis, leadership across all sectors has been forced to formulate survival strategies to face off similar crises that may lie ahead.

In recent months, business journalists have seen seeing adjectives not usually seen in sober business prose such – as ‘dire, unprecedented’, and so forth. Even an Ernst & Young (EY) report “Economic impact of Covid-19: A Malaysian context, which aims to give a sober Malaysian-centric focus on the current crisis, had to work hard to resist an overly dramatic tone at times.

Indeed, digital disruption – coupled with creative strategies – suddenly finds itself in a vast landscape with greatly enhanced potential thanks to the disruptive force of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond the economics, analyst firm McKinsey probed the dilemma facing leaders currently. It linked major crises to ‘mass-scale trauma responses, as collective fears and existential threats disrupt equilibrium, and social isolation weakens bonds that normally provide emotional support.’

The people factor needs to find a digital accord to carve a new future as collective panic can prompt a “flight and affiliation” response in which people seek familiar behaviours from the old normal.

As a forward-looking nation, Malaysia’s digital economy eye is reportedly closing in on the next digitalisation marker – that of “Society 5.0”, which describes the changing in thinking and behaviour of communities, and achieving a fruitful alignment with the digitalisation of our world.

“Forging resilience within people through optimisation and technology-driven strategies is now crucial in leadership agenda across multiple sectors,” said Ahmad Taufek during a recent interview.

Digital Transformation remains crucial

Even before the announcement of Movement Control Order (MCO) measure in Malaysia, Ahmad Taufek had prepared for TM ONE’s course in 2020, a course charged with a sense of urgency, he said.

“We are among the leading trendsetters in the country, especially on the technology front,” he pointed out. “Being a Government Linked Company (GLC) carries with it the responsibility of nation-building, to elevate the country to become an advanced country.”

The CEO remains positive. “Malaysia is still on course to become an advanced nation, and in a digital-driven world, Digital Malaysia perfectly encapsulates what we are as a developed nation.”

Seeking a working balance, the three elements of Digital Malaysia are – Digital Society, Digital Economy and Digital Government, he outlined, adding that as the enterprise and public sector business solutions arm of TM Group, TM ONE covers a significant part of Digital Malaysia.

“Digitalisation, which was already progressing at speed prior to the pandemic, has taken a revolutionary leap forward. Because of this, some organisations are seeing themselves becoming irrelevant very quickly. Previously, digitalisation was largely seen as an IT-driven and required high investment. Technology moves so fast, but not all companies are able to keep up in terms of the financial capability.”

“Then there is culture. Digital transformation requires agility and speed. There is a saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and if the culture of the organisation does not embrace agility, business leaders will find that their digital transformation strategy will falter.”

Stepping back a little, he explained that: “Countering a scattered approach with a coherent transformation comprises three (3) key elements. First, and this holds true for any strategy, is that it must always be customer-centric. Anything that we do must be about our customers – creating the best experience for them. This applies to digitalisation as well.”

“Secondly, culture. Leaders must ensure that people strategy is evolved to support their digital transformation objectives. When everyone in the organisation is willing to move fast to enable digitalisation and to create the best customer experience, the path will run much smoother, and things will fall into the right places.”

“The third, and most important facet is to work with the right, trusted partner,” stressed Ahmad Taufek. “As an example, I have to give my own organisation as I know it best: as the enabler of Digital Malaysia, TM ONE is a trusted partner with end-to-end digital solutions, and we have multiple strong collaborative partnerships already in place with players in the technology ecosystem who can help our customers achieve their digital transformation aspirations.”

Thriving in a crisis

As the world is very far from being out of the woods as far as the Covid-19 crisis is concerned, how is TM ONE prepared to weather and thrive this significant challenge?

Ahmad Taufek answered this by retracing the transformations that the world passed through in previous revolutions: from the hunting society – or Society 1.0 – through to Society 2.0, the agricultural society, followed by the industrial society or Society 3.0, and nearer home to our information society, Society 4.0, which is now already transitioning in places into Society 5.0 – the digital age is the convergence of the virtual world with the physical world pivoting on the people aspect.

To some extent, commenters have observed that pandemic-related lockdowns are accelerating the transition, or boosting digitalisation in business and society, and evolving into a new normal. Speaking of TM ONE’s increasingly urgent role in this transition in crucial sectors, he stressed: “We are the enabler for a secured Hyperconnected Ecosystem, empowering the enterprise and the public sectors to realise the full potential of their digital opportunities, including in times of crisis.”

“Indeed, telecommunication is one of the critical sectors during any crisis, and during this pandemic, we take pride in our role to ensure business continuity for our customers and helping them stay in operation and stay in business,” Ahmad Taufek continued.

“As a result of our strong business continuity practice, which we have activated during the Covid-19 pandemic, we ensured that our operations are running as usual,” he added.

“We showed our readiness and commitment to serve our customers in these trying times,” Ahmad Taufek revealed. “Our fast and flexible workforce in reacting towards the demand of our customers and our scalable offerings have helped a lot of enterprises and public sectors to stay connected, stay in business and stay served, and address many of the challenges posed by the crisis.”

He explained that TM ONE’s role as the digital enabler of the nation was complemented by putting in place arrangements such as flexible work arrangements even before the initial announcement of MCO by the Malaysian Government. “We are one step ahead in making full use of digital tools and technologies in our daily operations.”

Throughout the MCO, TM ONE’s contact centres and employees in the critical functions continued to fulfil their roles via special working arrangements while observing the precautions advised by the authorities and TM’s special task force. Meanwhile, employees in the non-critical functions work from home.

“We provided crucial services for the Government during the pandemic,” Ahmad Taufek said. “This includes setting up Ministry of Health’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), enabling the government to coordinate crisis response effectively including ensuring that the rakyat [the people] received timely information about the pandemic; as well as ensuring communications and digital services at all hospitals and clinics remain uninterrupted.”

“In crisis conditions, it is important to keep teams informed and in high spirits,” he said, adding “by maintaining continuous internal communications, the management encourages employees to stay safe, stay productive, and stay connected. We also recognised the contribution of everyone, especially our frontliners who are serving our customers in times of crisis.”

Steering TM ONE: The Human Factor

As humans drive transformation, information of the right kind is gold, he said.

“As a learning organisation, TM ONE is especially encouraging the values that help us as the enterprise and public sector business solutions arm of TM to champion the Digital Malaysia agenda,” stressed Ahmad Taufek. “Our role in supporting TM Group as the enabler of Malaysia’s Digital Nation aspirations means that we have to be always on top of the latest technology trends. We have always been and always will continue to be a learning organisation. As technology evolves really fast – we must continuously ensure that the whole of TM ONE team is also keeping up. This is crucial to maintain our leadership in the market, to always be the trendsetter in the technology and digital space.”

“This awareness is key – of what is happening technologically, keeping abreast of industry trends, and most importantly being a customer-centric organisation, taking a B2B2X standpoint, which includes tuning into our customers’ pain points and needs, as well their customers’ pain-points and needs.”

He added, “We also put great importance of working together as a strong team, and tapping our collective and individual talents and experience. Indeed, we have always operated with a strong collaborative mode over the past years, but we want to go even stronger.”

Ahmad Taufek summarised that TM ONE’s active role is to enable a hyperconnected ecosystem, one which will empower Malaysia’s enterprise and public sectors to realise the full potential of their digital opportunities through its end-to-end digital solutions and industry experts.

“We are focused on taking transformation forward for each and every one of our customers, buoyed by our digital solutions,” he concluded. “Despite any frailties in the global and domestic environment, enabling Digital Malaysia will remain our focus for this year. “

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