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Outward looking, data-driven organisations to lead the way in the “new normal”

The ongoing pandemic caused much chaos and upheaval across the world – in personal lives, businesses and governments. Many organisations, especially those proving necessary goods and services, needed to rapidly transform and adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19. In times like these, vision and agility of top leadership are what is needed the most.

To get a deeper insight into the challenges and opportunities of rapid digital transformation in an organisation attending to the everyday needs of an average Singaporean, OpenGov Asia spoke with Ramesh Munamarty, CIO Advisor at TBM Partners and former Group CIO (Digital and Technology) at NTUC Enterprises Singapore and International SOS.

Right off the bat, Ramesh credited the agility of the business, innovation culture and business processes enabled by the right technology for ensuring the survival and success of organisations in these unprecedented times. Beyond doubt, survival has been to a large extent because of an agile business mindset coupled with cutting-edge technology and the highly innovative solutions created from them.

On his organisation’s journey of transforming as necessitated by the pandemic and the tools and technology that came to rescue, Ramesh shared, like numerous other organisations, his prior organisation, too, had begun its digital transformation journey to an extent before the pandemic.

In any organisation working together in an obvious must. The pandemic could have put an end to this, and, indeed, it was the case for several organisations. In their favour, one powerful tool that had been in place, which significantly helped employees work together efficiently, in his opinion, was an effective collaboration suite. Facilitating simultaneous editing and doing away with the need for sharing multiple copies of the same document as attachments, these platforms immensely assisted employees to work collaboratively on documents and presentations from remote locations.

Another major factor to manage for efficient remote work was ensuring a safe and secure working environment for all employees. Without a plethora of tech-driven tools and solutions, it would have been nigh impossible for organisations to facilitate remote work or even to survive for long. Various digital strategies, platforms and applications allowed for safe remote access, data sharing and confidential communication between staff working from geographically diverse locations, on various devices, using different ISPs.

The third practice that significantly helped them better serve their customers was the adoption of cloud. Without doubt, it was their comprehensive cloud adoption that helped them manage the tremendous online traffic spikes. With people being forced to transition life almost entirely online – work, education, business, shopping, banking and entertainment – the load on the internet, and consequently businesses, shot up astronomically almost overnight.

Speaking from experience, Ramesh feels that the intelligent use of technology can help organisations and enterprises, not only survive, but thrive. With a range of agile, scalable and abundantly available technology at hand, organisations must decide what works best for them. They must determine which tools can help them work effectively and securely and invest in them wisely.

Expanding on some of the learnings from his experience that can help leaders and organisations be better prepared for the next critical event, Ramesh was of the view that leaders need to be more agile and prepare outside the box.

A good example to understand this better would be the concept of business continuity plans (BCPs). While most organisations, pre-COVID, had business continuity plans in place, a number of them necessitated employees to be physically present in the office. The pandemic made short work of these contingencies, forcing organisations to scramble and come up with reactive, stop-gap arrangements.

The pandemic has taught us, as much a cliché as it may be, to expect the unexpected. Organisations must consider all different scenarios and look to make their BCP’s as comprehensive as can be. They need to have a growth mindset and learn from their mistakes. Enterprises need to constantly test their systems and processes to ensure that it is comprehensive and a number of different (including currently unexpected) scenarios are incorporated.

Ramesh observed that organisations that could not transition quickly, resorted to short cuts, throw away solutions or put together a patchwork of ad-hoc solutions which they later had to revisit and reinvest in, leading to wastage of time and resources.

With work, business and life moving online, data has become one of the most important assets of a company. But this resource is only as valuable as the actionable insights that can be derived from it. Data analytics can empower enterprises to be better informed about their customers, their markets and the environment at large – enabling better decision-making and creating customer-centric products and services. . Data can also be monetized to create an additional source of revenue. As technology becomes more accessible and cheaper, there really is no excuse for organisations to digitally lag.

In addition to having the agile mindset, innovation culture and the right technology, Ramesh felt that the boards of the organisations should enhance their role from being focused on fiduciary and compliance to broader technology oversight and assessing the risk associated with the digital transformation. This will necessitate the directors to be more digitally savvy and potentially have a technology committee where they can dive deeper into the transformation initiatives and provide oversight to reduce risks and align them to the broader strategic objectives.

As organisations become more flexible and cloud-based, the need to operate in a safe and secure network becomes even more important.  Data breaches are becoming more frequent and have become disproportionately more expensive. As digitalisation comes to the fore and takes centre stage from organisations, security becomes extremely critical. Enterprises must improve their information security maturity and make sure that not only are they protected, but the products and services they offer are secure and scalable. Organisations need to rethink their cybersecurity and more from a reactive to a proactive stance. This will allow them to quickly to roll out solutions for a diverse, remote workforce while simultaneously protecting data, client information and trade secrets.

With almost a full year behind, organisations now seem to be gradually adapting to the “new normal”.  Ramesh is optimistic that businesses will look to convert this crisis into an opportunity, tapping into the massive online market that the pandemic had created. One such opportunity is the ability of enterprises to harness and utilize global talent and the gig economy more easily. Remote working has enabled organisations willing and capable to source the best skillset at the most optimal price from across the globe.

As enterprises accelerate their digital transformations, it is also vital that organisations take a more outside-in approach to augment their current teams. This would mean getting a perspective from experts from in and out of one’s industry to provide an unbiased view and to help maximise the success of the initiatives. This will help the organisation become more disruptive and better equipped to take on challenges.

Finally, Ramesh emphasised the need to be more data-driven, a culture shift that needs to come from top leadership to and percolate across the organisation to all employees. In the past, decisions would be made by the leaders based on their instinct as they were not necessarily equipped with the right data. Significant advances have been made in the data analytics space now that enable organisations to get actionable insights in a proactive manner and also elevate to predictive analytics. This will not only enable organisations to make better decisions but will also prepare them for any unexpected eventuality.

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