GKK event pic

Digital transformation during challenging times

An online panel discussion organised by GKK Consultants, about digital transformation , was quickly put into the context of the current global pandemic, when the first of many questions posed was by a panellist, Mr. Madhu Marimuthu from Beam Advisory & Consultancy Services.

He asked, “How much digitalisation have companies done in anticipation of (a situation like this), and how do we proceed post-COVID-19?”

He shared an experience that a big audit advisory firm is currently undergoing – it isn’t able to do audit work, because a lot of their documents are not digitised. “There are not enough digital documents there for them to provide assurance services.

“It is a good opportunity for SMEs to plan – when the MCO is lifted, what are they going to do?”

He also opined that there are no two ways about it, and businesses need to invest and digitalise their documents. The government may have kickstarted initiatives to go digital, but there has to be push from the private sectors as well.

Tola Vong from Sword & Shield Consulting, Cambodia chipped in with his observation  that digital transformation (DX) involves a culture change as well, and due to the pandemic, businesses are more open to discussing and accepting DX.

Dr. Sekar Jaganathan from Kenanga Investment Bank, zoomed into the topic of acceptance or certification of documents in digital format, by highlighting a piece of legislation passed in 2009, for digital signatures. Digital signature is a process that verifies the authenticity of digital documents, and establishes trust in the contents of the document.

He pointed out, “It is already being used in certain industries.” For example, the online trading platform that he architected as its CIO, onboards new clients without any human interaction involved. A digital signature is used in place of a wet signature, and it is accepted in the court of law.

Mr. Tola then added the Cambodian perspective, by sharing that many organisations do start digital initiatives without waiting for an official framework or guideline from the government. That said, the government does take the lead in some matters – tax declarations can be submitted via the Cambodian tax department’s web portal, reducing time and paperwork that is usually involved.

Burning issues front and centre

When it comes to critical issues that businesses must address, before they embark upon a digital transformation journey, there was general consensus all around that businesses need to know their current status in terms of digital adoption, and even the level of awareness among employees – for example, are employees onboard with a business’ digital transformation initiatives? Do they need training? Do they require re-skilling?

Dr. Sekar cautioned businesses against automating manual processes and deeming it as being digital, because, “Digital is about optimal delivery with minimal turnaround time to your consumer.”

Digital transformation and IR4.0 – can we keep chugging on?

The panel discussion also quickly segued to IR4.0 because of the digital technologies that IR4.0 leverages.

In essence, IR.40 is a trend that proposes use of concepts like smart manufacturing, automation, industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and more.

In Malaysia, businesses may interchangeably use the phrases ‘digital transformation’ and ‘IR4.0’, because of the digital technologies that both concepts use.

Mr. Madhu pointed out that IR4.0 becomes more relevant now because of the automation technologies that the concept proposes. Due to the pandemic, populations the world over, not just Malaysia, have to practice safe social distancing, and remain at home.

The automation element of IR4.0 suggests that factories would not need humans to be able to operate as usual.

At one point, Mr. Madhu theorised, “Had we have large scale automated systems with the adoption of IR4.0, a lot of things could have been done right from home.”

The pandemic has exposed how vulnerable international supply chains are, due to disruption by quarantines, lockdowns, reduced air travel and even, closed country borders.

With automation, no human would have to be at risk of the virus, or risk would be minimal, and supply chains would not have halted or slowed down to the extent that it has today.

Later, Mr. Madhu who is also Chairman of Malaysian Indian Entrepreneur Cooperative, added that for automated factories to work, the whole ecosystem and its elements like raw materials preparedness, needs to be reviewed.

He brought to attention business continuity plans (BCP) and that the current pandemic is a good time for BCPs to be assessed as to whether they work, or assessed for weaknesses,

“SMEs who never had one, it’s time they think about coming up with a BCP,” he also advised.

Digital transformation during a health pandemic – still very possible

BCPs and supply chain preparedness aren’t the only factors that should be reviewed during a global pandemic.

Dr. Sekar, who is also an advisor with Information Services Group (ISG), opined that this time is a good time for businesses to start digital transformation, if they haven’t yet.

Because of pandemic-related restrictions, businesses have to ask the hard questions, like the following – Am I able to deliver to my customer? Is my customer able to communicate with me? Do I have more stock than I can sell, is it expiring, or do I have enough? Are my people able to come to work and can they actually work to deliver things?

These are actually problem statements that can be articulated due to the pandemic, which otherwise would not have surfaced at all.

“Now with the pandemic, you actually can see where you are failing, in a digital world,” he explained.

The next steps then would be to classify the problems, write a solutioning of how you want to deliver and serve your customer better, and at same time consider the audiences you could not sell to before, but now can.

The hour-long online discussion, moderated by GKK Group’s Group CEO Gajen Balasingam, began with many questions brewing in the minds of nearly 100 participants, about how to move forward with digital transformation during the pandemic.

Thanks to the panellists’ collective wisdom, they have an idea where to begin.