Since digital transformation is a journey, it requires a strategic plan filled with incremental changes that can help organisations achieve their business goals. There is no definite or standard way of digitally transforming, but here are the commendable ways that Asia Pacific (Apac) organisations are leveraging technology to become more resilient and innovative this year and in the future.
Soaring higher with the cloud
By now, the cloud is a must-have for organisations looking to enhance their operations. “We have seen more businesses moving their critical businesses to the cloud to handle their workloads and leverage performance optimisation efficiently. In today’s post-pandemic economy, the cloud will be even more crucial to driving core technologies, operations and communications for the world. This is especially so considering that the cloud is a necessity to drive a lot of transformative and frontier technologies around artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality, the metaverse and gaming, and not to mention sustainable business operations and systems,” says Derek Wang, general manager for Singapore at Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
Apac organisations are also adopting the cloud to become more data-driven. “The cloud has been an enabler [for that], but the real measure of success has been when organisations tap into machine learning and AI to provide accurate, self-updating models to deliver meaningful business outcomes. This has made workflows much more efficient,” says Chris Chelliah, Oracle’s senior vice president of technology and customer strategy for JAPAC.
Royal Brunei Airlines, for example, uses a host of Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications to help streamline and optimise operational efficiencies like human resource (HR) and finance workflows. This reduced time spent on business processes by almost 80%. With automated business processes, the airline increased productivity, reduced cost, improved controls, personalised employee experiences and expanded employee insights.
Ruma Balasubramanian, managing director for Southeast Asia at Google Cloud, shares the same sentiment. She says: “2022 has seen more enterprises turn to Google Cloud to implement an open data cloud approach effectively. This is where we help them to build a unified repository — called a cloud data lake or data ocean, if you will — that is underpinned by open storage formats, open application programming interfaces (APIs), and end-to-end encryption that individuals with a security key can only unlock.”
“It allows data teams to ingest and organise data (and metadata) easily, create automated pipelines and enable streaming analytics that delivers real-time, holistic and actionable insights to their business intelligence tools and dashboards of choice, such as Looker, Power BI or Tableau. [In short,] an open data cloud approach can provide enterprises with the other brains and solid backbone to achieve business differentiation and expansion.”
Balasubramanian adds that with insight into customer sentiment and emerging trends, companies that have adopted an open data cloud approach — like Gojek and airasia Super App — have expanded into adjacent product areas and are now serving hyper-personalised recommendations to users on behalf of the merchants on their platforms.
The cloud is also being utilised to help address social issues like financial inclusion, a pressing issue as over six in 10 Southeast Asians lack access to credit, financial services, or investment products. “[This is why Amazon Web Services (AWS) is] working with the region’s growing number of digital banks — like TNEX digital-only bank in Vietnam and Bank Islam in Malaysia — to build new financial products and services for their market,” says Conor McNamara, managing director for Asean at AWS.
He continues: “Additionally, established heritage banks like PT Bank Commonwealth in Indonesia are [leveraging AWS cloud] to unlock new markets and audiences and improve the customer experience. We are also excited to work with Mynt, the Philippines’ first unicorn start-up and operator of the GCash e-wallet, to turn their ‘finance for all’ vision with end-to-end digital customer services to reality.”
Becoming insights-driven with analytics and AI
Analytics and AI are other areas that Apac organisations are banking on to digitalise their business further. “A recent IBM study found that 43% of companies in Singapore have accelerated their AI rollout due to the pandemic. This growth was due to companies recognising the value of AI as they emerged from the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and invested in their digital transformation while dealing with talent and skills shortages,” says Kalyan Madala, CTO of the technology business unit for Asean, ANZ and Korea at IBM.
Exemplifying this is Goodpack IBC Singapore, a steel Intermediate Bulk Containers company. By leveraging IBM Planning Analytics to enhance its management financial reporting system, it has saved 24 staff hours per month and reduced budget collation by 108 hours per quarter.
Gavin Barfield, vice president of Asean solution engineering at Salesforce, adds: “We [are seeing] more Apac businesses incorporating analytics and AI throughout their business operations to reduce cost and provide faster customer service against an uncertain economic backdrop. Many quickly adopted a data-led approach, leveraging chatbots and other automated service tools.
“Analytics and AI are now more embedded into work processes to improve productivity and deliver greater value. Leaders have recognised that AI and data tools do not rest with the IT and data science teams. Access needs to be democratised so that everyone — from executives to frontline workers — can become more confident decision makers and efficient workers.”
Besides boosting productivity, analytics is increasingly being leveraged to address real-world problems. “[For instance, organisations are] proactively identifying money laundering rings leveraging technologies like network link analysis and encouraging data sharing. They are also investing in real-time transaction blocking and machine learning technologies with the rise of online scams in Covid-19 to detect and stop fraud at lightning speed, apart from transforming customer experience and improving customer intimacy with the rise of challenger and digital banks,” says Manisha Khanna, Head of AI and Analytics for Asia Pacific at SAS, a business analytics software company.
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She adds that regulators and government bodies in Apac are also looking to develop leadership in AI governance, build local capabilities and foster partnerships across relevant parties and public and private sectors. These efforts will help create new jobs through increased AI innovation activities, as well as increase societal acceptance and trust of AI and analytics within the financial community through sound AI governance.
Scaling up network capacity
The focus for Apac network operators this year is ensuring their network capacity can effectively support the increasing use of bandwidth-consuming services like video streaming and cloud-based and AI applications. Indonesian digital infrastructure company Biznet worked with Ciena — a telecommunications networking solutions supplier — to expand its fibre network to accommodate the country’s fast-growing connectivity needs.
“Apac network operators and telcos are also considering upgrading their networks with analytics-driven automation and software control. MSA Resources, a telecommunications provider in Malaysia, is leveraging Ciena’s manage, control and plan domain controller to provide it with analytical insights to optimise network performance. This automatically enhances the digital experience for users of its network at any time, even during peak periods,” says Madhusudan Pandya, Ciena’s senior advisor of international market development.
Similarly, Apac organisations have scaled up their network capacity this year to deliver better customer and employee experience.
Chris Rezentes, director of product management (network practice) for Asia Pacific at Lumen Technologies, says: “Larger businesses with multiple locations have been investing more into SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) to manage their enterprise network better as they grow their business footprint. Many are now considering the adoption of SASE (secure access service edge) architecture to secure their network and access to the cloud. We see this interest across all enterprise verticals, including healthcare, manufacturing, and finance.”
Amit Dhingra, executive vice president of Network Services at IT infrastructure and services company NTT Ltd, adds that Apac businesses also prefer outsourcing to ensure their networks’ robustness and agility. “Among top-performing organisations, more than seven in 10 outsource most of their network management, with over half believing that their future network information technology needs will be fully outsourced and managed.
“A managed service provider can help to address some of the challenges that companies are facing, including the skill set required to operate a modern network, having access to leading innovation and the full-solution suite of services, keeping costs down and ensuring the security of the network.”
Enhancing app development with open-source
Recognising the rise of the app economy, Apac organisations proactively optimise app development with open source. “Over 2022, we are seeing organisations actively take steps to optimise app development for speed through adopting [open-source] cloud software like Kubernetes. This enables the automation of app deployment, scaling, and management — increasing agility and reliability, as organisations can scale existing apps and quickly deploy new ones without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. By automating such deployment processes, they can also reduce the time they spend and enjoy lower operational costs,” explains Guna Chellappan, general manager for Singapore at enterprise open-source solutions firm Red Hat.
Olivier van Grembergen, regional vice president for Apac at open-source data technology provider Aiven, agrees. He says open-source technology can enable businesses to develop, secure, maintain, monitor and scale applications more efficiently. “They also benefit from the flexibility, freedom of choice and agility to cater to evolving needs that open source enables.”
He adds that Apac developers are now seeing the need to embed security into every aspect of application development. “They have begun to adopt newer approaches to application security such as DevSecOps and shifting security left to realise considerable improvements to both traditional and end-to-end security. These approaches see security embedded throughout the development process — from the first line of code to final production. Developers are empowered to address issues early by monitoring for vulnerabilities and rectifying them as they happen. This enhances product development’s efficiency and improves the final output’s security.”
Making cybersecurity a priority investment
In response to the increasing volume and complexity of cyber threats, Apac organisations have embraced a digital-first mindset with cybersecurity as a high-priority investment this year, says John McClurg, chief information security officer (CISO) at BlackBerry.
He adds: “Forward-looking organisations are investing in recruitment, training, and equipping their security analysts to staff ‘fusion’ operation centres. These centres handle critical events related to cybersecurity, IT and non-technical issues. Their fused responsibilities extend to critical events traditionally managed by an emergency operations centre, such as civil unrest, natural disasters, and safety incidents.
“They are also using prevention-first technology, migrating to an extended detection and response (XDR) platform, or engaging a managed XDR team. Using AI and Machine Learning, XDR gathers enriched threat intelligence across the entire attack surface and contextualises it to improve human and automated response actions. A cybersecurity analyst will lose valuable time sifting through hundreds or thousands of alerts, a feat that’s not sustainable. Managed XDR provides automated 24/7 threat monitoring and a team of experienced technical experts to provide oversight.”
He cited Indonesia’s Bluebird Group as an example. The taxi operator can now focus on the business by using BlackBerry for endpoint protection and response, knowing they have a dedicated external cybersecurity team and automated, “prevention-first” AI and machine learning-based solutions to defend against malware infection and potential data breaches 24/7.
Besides that, Apac organisations have made the timely decision to modernise their data protection strategies. “As data becomes mission-critical to business success and the challenges of protecting it become more complex, 88% of IT leaders surveyed for Veeam’s 2022 Data Protection Trends report expect data protection budgets to rise at a higher rate than overall IT spending. [Modernising their data protection strategies is a] crucial move that enabled organisations to remain resilient as cyberattacks become more sophisticated in the past year,” states Raymond Goh, senior director of Systems Engineering for Asia Pacific and Japan at Veeam Software, a backup and modern data protection provider.
Meanwhile, Yihao Lim, Intelligence Strategy lead for APJ at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, highlights the need for Apac organisations to continue enhancing their understanding of the threat landscape. Lim says: “Threats evolve, attackers constantly change their tactics, techniques and procedures, and defenders must adapt and stay relentless if they want to keep up. Given the rapid developments and change of tactics by threat actors, businesses need to understand what is happening in the threat landscape.
“Apac organisations must partner with leading threat intelligence vendors to keep themselves abreast of developments in the changing cyber landscape. The boards also need to manage a whole array of risks — be it operational risks, business risks, financial risks, strategic risks and more — so there is no reason why today’s modern businesses shouldn’t have a plethora of not just cyber experts, but also digital business and technology experts on the board to provide the insights needed to make informed security investments and decisions.”