Digitalisation: Behind the semantics

As organisations undergo massive transformations, the emphasis is now on digitalisation, something distinct from digitisation.

At a gathering of HR and business leaders in Singapore last November, one of the salient points made by a panel of speakers was the idea that technology is an enabler of digital transformation, and not a means to an end.

“A lot of what drives transformation is culture,” Miguel Bernas, MediaCorp’s Vice-President of Digital Marketing told the gathering. “It is the culture that will give people a sense of purpose and this is what really drives innovation and change.”

Central to digital transformation are the distinct concepts of “digitisation” and “digitalisation”. These two words have often been used interchangeably, but HR consultancies now warn that blending the ideas can lead to organisations doing neither particularly well.

According to both Gartner and SAP, digitisation refers to the changing of systems from “analogue to digital form”, while digitalisation is the use of technology to change an organisation’s entire business model, leading it to be a “digital” business that meets the needs of the present-day customer.

While digital transformation cannot happen without digitisation, experts tell HRM Magazine Asia that in these times of constant disruption, the emphasis should now be on the cultural elements of transformation. Or, in another word, digitalisation

As David Hope, Workday Asia-Pacific’s President, said at that same conference, the key is to get all the chips internally aligned first.

“Technology is not the answer, it is a great enabler. Cloud is a great enabler. But transformation is an ongoing journey,” he said.

Addressing cultural barriers

A new Dell Technologies survey released early this year also supports this growing consensus.

More than 60% of the over 3,800 Asia-Pacific-based business leaders believed that the main barriers to their organisations becoming fully digital by 2030 would be less about technology constraints, and more about a lack of digital vision and strategy, and workforce readiness.

With nearly 90% of leaders aiming to complete their organisations’ transition into a software-defined business within the next five years, Jeremy Burton, Chief Marketing Officer at Dell Technologies, says a reshuffle is now in order.

“We’re entering an era of monumental change. Although business leaders harbour contrasting views of the future, they share common ground on the need to transform,” he says.

“Based on the many conversations I have with customers, I believe we’re reaching a pivotal moment in time. Businesses can either grasp the mantle, transform their IT, workforce and security, and play a defining role in the future or be left behind.”

David Webster, President, Asia-Pacific of Enterprise, Dell EMC, agrees that leaders have to start addressing cultural barriers, though his views are based on a separate study, Realising 2030: The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships.

That study, conducted by the US-based Institute for the Future in partnership with Dell, forecast that by 2030, emerging technologies will forge partnerships between humans and machines that are richer and more immersive than ever before. Business leaders across this region agree: 80% expect humans and machines will work as integrated teams within their organisation in the next five years.

“Realising the future opportunity that human-machine partnerships will bring is as much about people as it is about technology. Whilst many organisations across Asia-Pacific are transforming their IT in order to enable future innovation and the best possible customer experience, business leaders will need to address cultural barriers too,” says Webster.

“Organisations will have to build the right culture to collaborate, embrace change, and align on how best to prepare and succeed.”

There are already companies putting this into practice. As revealed below, United Overseas Bank (UOB), Mediacorp,  and Otis – three very different Singapore-based businesses – all understand this importance of having to build a firm foundation first.


"Whilst many organisations across Asia-Pacific are transforming their IT in order to enable future innovation, business leaders will need to address cultural barriers too" - David Webster, President, Asia-Pacific, Enterprise, Dell EMC


Reality-based hackathons

To support its goal of promoting a more enterprising and innovative working environment, Singapore’s UOB formed the UOB Innovation Workgroup in 2015. One of its initial priorities was to roll out an employee hackathon to inspire new ideas for real-life banking challenges.

The inaugural event took place late in 2015, and has since expanded to also include employees from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In fact, last year’s hackathon, which started in June and ended in November, was won by a team from China.

Jenny Wong, Head of Group HR, says the UOB Regional Hackathon is designed to help prepare people for the new digital direction that the business is moving into.

“Along with our other training and development programmes, it helps us to harness the entrepreneurial thinking of our people, while nurturing a culture of innovation,” says Wong, adding that UOB invested S$20 million into staff training and development last year.

Throughout the programme, hackathon participants received guidance on how to design and pitch their ideas, as well as mentorship from the bank’s senior leaders on how to test ideas against business realities.

In the fast-changing finance industry, Wong says being able to attract the right talent and providing opportunities for them to grow is an important part of staying competitive. The hackathon gives employees the space to flex their creativity and showcase other skillsets that might not come up in their day-to-day work.

“As technology continues to shape the lives and preferences of our customers, we must ensure our employees are equipped with the relevant skillsets and agile mindsets for the future,” she says. “With broader minds and more informed thinking, they will also find their roles more fulfilling through the value they see themselves create.”

The hackathon has proven very popular among employees with a problem-solving streak.

“There is also another benefit to the programme in that it helps to equip our people with the business development and digital skills they will need for the jobs of the future,” she says.

Digital champions

Elevator manufacturer Otis, perhaps an unlikely example of a digital change-maker, is another company celebrating its current digitalisation strategy.

As part of its global service transformation programme, Otis is implementing a new digital ecosystem across multiple markets in Southeast Asia over the next two years.

This new ecosystem will feature mobile applications that will provide field employees and mechanics with mobility-enabled tools to allow them to stay connected and communicate. They will be able to access vital technical information anytime, anywhere.

The apps will also help mechanics assess an elevator’s ride quality, provide instant access to diagnostic information and a library of codes for self-directed upgrading, and even order in spare parts from distant locations.

More than 31,000 employees globally will benefit from this initiative when completed – including over 160 service employees at Otis’ Singapore Service Department.

But like UOB, the digital transformation did not happen overnight. Greg Nagle, Managing Director, Otis Elevator Company, Singapore, tells HRM Magazine Asia that the design process was painstaking.

“We listened to our customers and our employees to identify the right tools and processes to address their needs,” says Nagle. “When it comes to digital, we always start with our people and our customers, and lead from the bottom up.”

As a first step, the company established a Champions Network: an internal network made up of a select group of Otis service engineers and leaders. Their role has been to act as ambassadors of the Service Transformation effort, and provide a stream of continuous feedback around the new tools and apps.

These champions also serve as go-to sources for their peers who may have questions about the new tools. Nagle says this peer-to-peer learning approach has enabled the company to prepare its people within a short space of time.

At present, there are over 1,000 staff members involved in the programme.

Rooted in conversation

Since July 2017, Singapore broadcaster MediaCorp has given full control of its official Twitter handle to a different employee each week. They are allowed to post anything they want with no mandated content or schedule, and no form of management screening.

Marco Sparmberg, Assistant Lead, Social Media at MediaCorp, says this hands-off approach is possible only because of the digital training and capability-building that has been taking place for more than a year previously. During that stage, employees were educated on what content is deemed appropriate.

The Twitter initiative falls under the social media literacy pillar that is part of the company’s wider effort to drive a deeper digital culture.

Sparmberg says the digital team, alongside HR and learning and development, started the Embedded Trainee Programme in 2016.

This programme sees staff from other divisions join Sparmberg’s team for a period of time, during which they are gradually trained to become certified digital champions. They then return to their respective business units to build their own digital teams.

“We also started to change how we hire. We started hiring specific community managers, specific social media managers – job titles which didn’t exist before,” Sparmberg adds.

The result of those efforts is that today, there are dedicated teams focused on digital marketing. Team managers have also become more engaged with driving innovation.

But Sparmberg says it wasn’t always a smooth journey. He explains that the process of changing mindsets requires a lot of persistence.

“It’s more challenging to get someone who has already been trained before to undergo further training. The key is: How do you create an environment that encourages participation?” he says.

“Everything is rooted in conversation, whether it’s internal or external. If you don’t have an avenue for dialogue, then even the best processes will not be sufficient.”  

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