Tackling "Digital Transformation"

Case Studies | December, 2016

On November 3 and 10, respectively, DHR International hosted dialogs with C-suite executives in Singapore and Hong Kong to explore challenges and opportunities they faced in deploying digital transformation projects within their organizations. The following article captures some of the key themes that emerged from these discussions. 

"Digital Transformation": Making Sense of the Buzz Words

Executives in Asia are facing a monumental opportunity to improve their organizations’ competitive edge through vital boosts in digital agility and efficiency. Consequently, the transition between identifying useful technology and implementing digital strategies that are actually revenue driving is proving far more complex than anticipated.

The initial solution was to shift budgets from traditional to digital channels under the assumption that this would naturally improve efficiency. Unsurprisingly, simply pumping funds into new technology without specific reason isn’t generating the tangible return-on-investment that leaders were expecting. The main challenge is identifying who should be accountable for driving initiatives and their results. Does this responsibility fall on the shoulders of one individual, the CDO, or does it need to be divided across teams? A deeper sense of direction and sophisticated approach are required to remain competitive in this rapidly evolving landscape, and make this transition worthwhile.

A Collaborative Response 

In reaction to the digital disruption rippling across Asia, DHR International, IDC and Ogilvy are working together across digital talent, customer experience, and digital technology platform delivery to fully understand the wider journey needed to tackle these industry challenges. As a collective, we will examine a much broader sense of the integrated issues that businesses face when trying to weave new technologies into existing silos. Identifying the new skills required to implement the right digital strategy is pivotal for success, and a cross-pollination of solutions will enable us to guide our clients through the blurring lines of our physical and digital worlds with precision.

Ownership: Talent

The direction of change must be led by the C-suite, this is indisputable. What this leadership needs is continuous curiosity in order to keep strategies in check. “A shift is taking place across Asia. Never before have executives been under more pressure to identify and deploy digital solutions to enhance customer experience or reduce costs. For too long, CTOs and CIOs have “owned” the digital agenda. The time has come for the C-Suite to come together and jointly drive initiatives that combine commercial, technical and talent objectives,” said Steve Stine, DHR’s Regional Managing Director. As one senior IT executive from Hong Kong put it, “We’re all at different stages in the journey but must be driven by company leaders to define strategic plans for how to get from A to B to C.” Added Eva Au, Managing Director at IDC Asia Pacific: “We must also be prepared for deviations and know who is best equipped for leading those deviations when they arise.”

One of the greatest deviations to the modern business model is the Millennial, playing arguably one of the most important educational roles for the C-Suite. However it’s the combination of the digitally native paired with crucial C-suite experience that is vital for solving modern business challenges. Take a recent example from the Facebook boardroom; where a seemingly complex problem puzzling multiple senior staff was solved almost instantly by a savvy intern and a whiteboard pen.

Is a flat company structure now a must for future-proofing your organization? How do we ensure the vital insights from entry level staff are heard and captured by the C-suite? There needs to be a process for this, should this be part of the CDO’s role or the CIO? And how can we use analytics to retain our most valued staff in a world where work-life balance has become the focal point.

Questions Worth Asking

  • What are the existing strengths of your C-suite and where do the gaps lie?
  • Which type of data will actually be useful and actionable? Is there a skillset missing from your leadership team that could incorporate new technology to determine revenue driving results?
  • Who should be made accountable for the results of this transition? Do you need a Chief Data Officer or should the responsibility (and technology) be shared across teams?

Organizational Challenges: Big Data

Through all the noise around “digital”, it’s easy to forget that an organization’s operational model should reflect the needs of its staff and customers in equal measures. We also need to bridge the gap between what the client wants and what the customer wants. In doing this, Asia-based executives are struggling with four additional challenges: budget ownership, misinformation, lack of resources and a misaligned leadership team.

Often, division leaders are not always given full ownership of their own budgets or the independence to deploy programs in ways that can be localized or tailored to really suit customer conditions.

Many executives also lack the clarity to make bold investment decisions with informed confidence, which can wreak havoc on the allocation of digital investment and the business as a whole. As a senior banker pointed out during the event, “On big data and data management, you have to be very specific to harness required information for a specific goal, versus trying to compute masses of data to seek general results, which either doesn’t tend to work or takes too much time.”

One of the greatest challenges is also the actual budget set aside for investment. Often technology and big data are trumped by staff investment and sectors deemed more critical, leaving little resources to hire the digital power needed to transform modern business in Asia.

The right level of collaboration between the CEO, CMO and CTO does not exist in most markets in Asia today in order to align business needs with technology deployments. Still, too often, CTOs control the digital agenda and this is not yielding the desired business-focused results.

Questions Worth Asking

  • Is your organization’s C-suite being limited by its current structure? Could you work more collaboratively to drive growth in unlocked areas of the business?
  • Is your business prepared for protection around data regulations?

Technology and Trends

Many sectors including health and IT are undergoing rapid development in response to the move from physical to digital. In the health sector, we’re seeing a transfer in roles between patients and GPs, where patients are now self-diagnosing before appointments, causing an unfair strain on trust that doctors must tackle by ensuring the correct information is being made available online, but also, that patients aren’t falsely misinterpreting information which is often the case.

The IT sector is also experiencing a change in roles, with a shift in focus from technical support to supporting business needs. An example highlighted by a Deputy Director for Group Technology & Architecture at a major Asian power and utility company was that “in the past, most large companies would build their in-house capability in the data storage area. With the development of the Cloud technologies, the data storage is now outsourced to external vendors to manage. The IT staff will simply manage the vendors. More time will be spent on the understanding of the business needs and be a good business partner to the line managers. From a digital perspective, it is critical to set the business strategy and identify goals first, before you can successfully capture any new, digitally enabled opportunities.”

Questions Worth Asking 

  • Does your organization need digital methods, tools, and structures to either;
  1. Enhance the customer experience and garner loyalty
  2. Reduce operation or administrative costs
  3. Unearth and leverage data in order to extract better customer and/or operational insights that might then be addressed with digital solutions


Digital Futures 

Organizations are now privy to sophisticated data with continually evolving benefits that demand attention from leadership teams. However to date, we’re seeing some resources being wasted on stunts to tick the boxes, and a lacking sense of duty from a senior level in driving concrete results.

Many questions were raised throughout the discussion, highlighting the real need to better understand the journey that we’re on. Current business models are being turned on their heads to let new technology flow through them, blending silos and skillsets to generate brand new areas of growth. The first challenge is to define the right digital solutions to tackle issues specific to your organization, and ensuring specific skillsets are in place to strategies for simplified deployment. Remaining curious is the simple key to success in this exciting time of rapid change.


In 2017, DHR International will be working closely with IDC and Ogilvy to deliver quarterly reports and accompanying roundtable events in order to inform and direct our collective clients on their digital journey.

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on the burning issues around big data in Asia, please feel free to get in touch if there is a particular topic you’re keen for us to explore, or if you would like to hear more details on our analysis program.