Asia Pacific (Apac) is expected to see a 4.3% GDP growth in 2022, according to financial intelligence firm Moody’s Analytics. But realising that growth will require organisations across industries to reconfigure themselves by strategically using digital technologies to drive business outcomes.

Here are the 10 key areas Apac organisations should prioritise next year to succeed in a digital-first and customer-obsessed era, which will in turn drive economic recovery for the region.

1. Continue reinventing themselves at an accelerated pace

Most, if not all, organisations had to fast-track their digital transformation efforts to address changing business and customer demands during the pandemic. As the pace of change is unlikely to slow down, organisations will need to continue transforming their processes or business as a whole quickly instead of sitting on those plans.

“We’re beginning to see three-year roadmaps being condensed into three-month sprints to maintain business continuity and support the distributed workforce. As we head into 2022, the continued adoption of digital solutions will continue to see an upward trend and organisations will look to enhance the three key pillars supporting their digitalisation journey: cloud infrastructures, data management, and emergent technologies,” says Keith Budge, executive vice president for Asia Pacific and Japan at Teradata.

See also: Effective steps to defend against ransomware

Reinventing traditional industries that are critical to Asia’s economy — like construction, manufacturing and agriculture — will also unlock the region’s potential for growth.

Phil Davis, managing director for Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at Amazon Web Services (AWS), foresees this to happen faster as “past barriers to transformation, such as budgets or perceived complications in changing processes, are starting to break down due to changes in mindsets [and given] the technology innovation widely available now”.

He adds: “By building up capabilities — such as cloud-based data lakes — to fully utilise the vast amounts of data that organisations generate, more insights can be gleaned not just to further streamline processes but also uncover new ways to transform legacy processes in their industries.”

2. Place a greater emphasis on human-centred digital transformation

See also: Will 5G and edge computing take off in 2022?

Instead of simply digitising processes, organisations must focus more on human-centred digital transformation next year. By doing so, they can avoid ongoing digital sameness and demonstrate the business value of their transformation efforts.

According to US-based market research firm Forrester, this shift will establish “a new era of transformation comprising human-centred technology initiatives that form a tight link between customer experience and employee experience, drive competitive advantage, and deliver a 3% to 5% net gain in productivity”.

In 2022, 10% of technology executives will prioritise investments in strategic partnerships and innovation practices at three times the rate of their competitors to radically expand their organisation’s creative and innovative capacity, it adds.

Guru Venkatachalam, vice president and chief technology officer for Asia Pacific and Japan at VMware, also believes organisations will place a heavier emphasis on improving the customer experience in the coming year.

“[They are likely to] accelerate the delivery of virtual, high-quality customer service and experience. As applications become smart- er, people won’t have to seek customer service, it will come to you. This will be a big change in situations where trust is vital, such as medical appointments or major transactions at the bank,” he says.

3. Organise for hybrid work

With hybrid work seemingly set to be the future of work, organisations will need to equip employees with the right tools to be productive anywhere.

“This means having the proper tools and systems — from effective collaboration software to a holistic yet flexible cybersecurity infrastructure — that power a smart, secure and seamless employee experience fit for a changing world,” says Andy Lee, Cisco’s managing director for Singapore and Brunei.

 He continues: “As users expect to have access to corporate applications from anywhere, anytime, and on any device, visibility and segmentation are key for businesses to ensure all user access is in accordance with their access rights regardless of where, when and how they are accessing the application.”

There will also be the rise of digital headquarters, a single platform that makes workflows seamless to support the way people naturally work together, regardless of where they choose to work.

“By integrating workflows and apps into a single platform, digital headquarters help drive seamless communication and productivity with teams, customers and partners. Employers can also tap into the global talent pool, allowing businesses to achieve success from anywhere,” says Sujith Abraham, senior vice president and general manager for Asean at Salesforce.

He also notes that investments in cloud, collaboration and cybersecurity solutions will be necessary to support the workloads of digital headquarters.

Additionally, organisations should consider venturing into the metaverse, which refers to the shared virtual world environments which people can access online.

“From enabling employees to feel as if they are working in the same space in a work setting to providing an immersive and interoperable digital experience to consumers, the metaverse can bring the Internet to life from the comfort of our homes,” says Alibaba Cloud Intelligence’s Singapore general manager Dr Derek Wang.

He adds: “Cloud will be a core technology powering the metaverse, from the raw power the digital reality requires, to the artificial intelligence (AI) making sense of the inputs, to the virtual reality and edge computing services to really bring this concept to life.”

4. Move to the next stage of their cloud journey

Instead of simply moving to the cloud, organisations must focus more on cloud optimisation next year.

“Organisations will become more sophisticated in the kinds of benefits they expect from their cloud-first journeys, moving from just cost savings to incorporating agility and resiliency to their businesses. They will want to explore hybrid and multi-cloud approaches, being a lot more deliberate in deciding which applications should transit to the cloud and how to do so,” says Wynthia Goh, senior partner, NEXT Digital at NCS Singapore.

Amit Midha, president for Asia Pacific and Japan and Global Digital Cities at Dell Technologies, adds: “[Hybrid] cloud will be used as the modern IT foundation to deliver consistent experiences and economics across the many places that workloads and people reside. As-a-service (aaS) models will create opportunities for organisations to tap into technology as their needs change, and investments in cloud operating models that span public, private and edge environments will continue to grow, enabling rapid scale and management of IT everywhere.”

5. Bet on 5G, IoT and edge computing as the fabric of the digital era

Connectivity and intelligence will be increasingly crucial in our lives. As such, more organisations and cities will embrace 5G, Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and edge computing to become more connected and efficient, decentralise decision-making and deliver better user experiences.

NCS’s Goh gave the example of 5G networks enabling doctors to offer remote healthcare, making emergency health- care more accessible to people living in rural areas. “Gridlock and supply-chain disruptions could also be mitigated by 5G’s multi-access edge computing (MEC), resulting in truly autonomous vehicle networks that can transform logistics and public transport systems,” she says.

To fully benefit from those technologies, Red Hat’s vice president and general manager for Apac Marjet Andriesse says companies should “take a holistic and community approach to transformation to ensure that transformation is not a top-down mandate but embraced throughout the organisation.”

6. Build an intelligent organisation together with their employees

As organisations shift to a hybrid work model, they will have to embed business intelligence (BI) within workstreams and productivity apps like Slack and Zoom to achieve greater business agility.

This will give rise to “collaboration mining”, wherein everyone can mine data collaboratively. “Collaboration mining will enable companies to track decisions accurately and boost trust with multiple stakeholders,” says Qlik’s senior director of solutions and value engineering Tan Chin Kuan.

He recommends having a robust BI platform that leverages AI and augmented analytics to provide swift insight generation, acceleration, and accessibility to all users, depending on their data skills. “For casual business users, this might mean having a conversational experience with BI tools so they can ask questions via their mobile phones,” he adds.

However, transforming organisations with data is as much about people as technology. Building a data culture must therefore become a business imperative in 2022.

“Embedding a culture of data into the fabric of the business will have to start with the commitment from the leadership team. Not only should leaders prioritise data skills as part of the hiring process, they will also need to support current employees with the relevant training to ensure that everyone within the organisation is speaking the same language of data,” asserts JY Pook, Tableau’s senior vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific and Japan.

As data becomes an increasingly valuable asset, Teradata’s Budge encourages organisations to view data governance as a necessary investment as opposed to an expense, and be willing to effectively build it into their business strategies from the get-go.

“After all, data governance ensures business objectives are supported by high-quality data and plays a critical role in every strategic organisational initiative. From moving onto cloud infrastructures to integrating emerging technologies and business intelligence into everyday workflows, data governance keeps these processes accessible, usable, and secure, while ensuring organisations are on their way to digital transformation success,” he explains.

7. Focus on building trust

Organisations and governments will increasingly use trust to demonstrate their commitment to customer relationships. According to Forrester, companies that ignore the trust imperative stand to lose up to 40% of their customers, starting with those unwilling to forgive firms for breaching their trust.

“Building trust starts with putting the interests of customers and stakeholders at the heart of the business. Technology that is developed with inclusivity as a priority will help drive greater adoption, and ultimately be more successful in helping to serve the people who use it. On the flip side, no matter how good a tool is, people will not use it if they can’t trust it,” says Salesforce’s Abraham.

Trust will also be important as digital, smart cities become a reality. Verifiable credentials (VCs), which are tamper-proof credentials that are issued by a competent authority and can be verified cryptographically, is one technology that can help.

Kishore Bhatia, chief technology officer and founding member of Affinidi, explains: “VCs enable organisations to digitally verify credentials, such as passports and university degrees, instead of relying on physical documentations. For instance, the manual, paper-based verification process that supply chain companies are utilising now are cumbersome and easily forgeable, [which could] negatively impact operations. With VCs, businesses can establish a trustworthy trade connection with an entity in the marketplace to buy and sell goods.”

8. Strengthen their cyber defence with zero trust

Enhancing cyber defence capabilities will also be crucial in building customer trust, especially as cyber threats become more pervasive and sophisticated.

Karan Bajwa, vice president for Google Cloud in Apac, therefore advises organisations to partner with a trusted provider that can effectively protect mission-critical processes and information assets from the risk of cyber attacks.

“This is why Google Cloud continues to offer businesses increased safeguards using our modern technology stack to provide a more defensible environment that we can protect at scale, including regular security updates, encryption storages and our zero trust security environment,” he says.

Organisations should also adopt zero trust security internally. “Implementing a zero trust framework that incorporates unified endpoint management with on-device threat detection and anti-phishing capabilities can help stop breaches and improve the overall security of data, devices and employees. [But doing so is] not something that can be done overnight. It requires planning across all facets of the organisation, including teams outside of IT and security,” claims Srinivas Mukkamala, senior vice president for Security Products at Ivanti.

David Sajoto, ExtraHop’s vice president for Asia Pacific and Japan, adds: “Having clear governance through steering committees, coordination and planning forums allows businesses to leverage the upcoming trends in cybersecurity. It is crucial to have a proactive governance body or committee to guide digital transformation initiatives that include cybersecurity measures of zero trust, network visibility and hiring cyber talent.”

9. Make sustainability an integral part of the overall business strategy

As we move towards a low-carbon future, more organisations are realising the intrinsic value of sustainability-linked initiatives in building greater resilience and ensuring long-term growth.

“They should look to incorporate sustainability-linked solutions, such as higher-efficiency energy systems and green technology investments, in their business recovery plans for the year ahead,” says Cisco’s Lee.

However, sustainability is a multi-faceted issue requiring a concerted effort from all stakeholders involved and needs to be an ongoing initiative.

“Enterprises must factor in ongoing innovation when drawing their sustainability roadmaps. Businesses should also explore greater government-private sector collaborations to build sustainable capabilities, and continue to invest in technologies like cloud and the talent required to innovate effectively with it, to stay ahead of the curve,” adds AWS’s Davis.

10. Invest in their people

Since the success of a business depends on its people, organisations will have to continue investing in their employees to ensure they can keep pace with technology advancements and digital transformation.

Red Hat’s Andriesse predicts businesses will double down on building an open culture by investing in training and processes that create adaptability, inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration within the organisation.

She adds: “By doing so, they can nurture collaboration and empower employees to bring their best ideas and selves to work, which can help accelerate innovation and address changing customer and business requirements in an agile manner.”

Salesforce’s Abraham adds that organisations can also help employees develop core digital skills by provisioning online learning resources “Sustaining investment in digital skills will drive business resilience in the digital economy and [aid] the region’s economic recovery.”

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