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Empower the workforce to drive innovation

Lula Mohanty
Lula Mohanty3/26/2021 07:00 AM GMT+08  • 5 min read
Empower the workforce to drive innovation
The global embrace of remote work has reset expectations, choices and cultures.
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The late management guru Peter Drucker defined innovation as the task of endowing human and material resources with new and greater wealth-producing capacity.

Banking, once touted to be among the more conservative industries, has in recent times challenged the status quo and has been trailblazing several firsts in innovation — through investments in technology to deliver superior channel experience and activate the ecosystem to bring convenience to customers.

Early this year, DBS Bank rolled out the banking industry’s first digital audit confirmation solution on its online corporate banking platform, DBS Ideal. Called DBS Audit Confirmation, the solution allows the bank’s customers, especially SMEs, to verify their financial positions and balances, with automated confirmations sent to their auditors. What is so innovative about this? It cuts processing time for audit confirmations to under 24 hours compared to the industry’s norm of at least seven days.

“The goal should be to delight customers at every interaction by treating them better than they expect, acknowledging that a customer’s impression of the organisation is only as good as their last experience,” Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Group, was quoted in a study conducted early this year by Oxford Economics and the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) that polled 3,000 CEOs from 50 countries (including Singapore). “The bar has been raised higher. The big change is hyper-digitalisation.”

The pandemic has forced digital transformation on all organisations. Covid-19 has pushed companies to get out of their comfort zones and become agile — or perish. “If you can embrace agile set-ups, experiments, and constantly nurture a learning culture, then you become adaptive and nimble,” Gupta said. “You can respond a lot more quickly to opportunity and changes in the environment. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Standing still has never been an option for executives, and the pandemic has amplified that. “The challenge will be to continue with a focus on fewer projects, with a clear mindset to implement those more quickly,” Daimler Mobility CEO Franz Reiner told IBV. “We have to be careful not to fall back into old habits. Crucial questions to ask would be: What does your company stand for? What do you want to achieve?”

The top five technologies that Singaporebased CEOs expect will deliver results are: IoT (Internet of Things), cloud computing, RPA (robotic process automation), AI (artificial intelligence) and NLP (natural language processing), including chatbots — in that order. At the heart of any technology roll-out or innovation should be an empowered workforce.

Budget boost

Singapore’s Feb 16 budget recognises just that and has set out six schemes to boost tech innovation:

  • A new emerging technology programme to co-fund the costs of trials for companies to adopt 5G and AI.
  • SMEs to get access to professional IT consultancy via a new CTO-as-a-Service scheme. (CTO refers to chief technology officer.)
  • Promising firms can hire a core team for digital transformation roll-out under a digital leaders’ scheme.
  • Continued government support for enterprises to innovate, transform and scale-up.
  • Enhanced support (up to 80%) for Scaleup SG, Productivity Solutions Grant, Market Readiness Assistance and Enterprise Development Grant schemes.
  • Tools to equip businesses to commercialise their intellectual property and train professionals.

More than 60% of CEOs stated in the IBV survey that empowering a remote workforce is their most critical challenge, higher than all other challenges, including virtually engaging customers, cost reduction and supply chain continuity. The concerns are compounded due to cybersecurity risks. For example, CEOs at the top-performing organisations put higher strategic importance on protecting against cyber-risks and data exposures resulting from a distributed and remote workforce.

So how can companies drive innovation with a remote workforce? Here are 10 factors to consider:

  • What changes should we make to our ways of working and organisational model, including our geographical footprint?
  • How do we need to change our organisational culture to embrace a hybrid workforce as a new business reality?
  • What additional support mechanisms does my workforce need to be productive and engaged? • Are we leveraging technology to its full potential?
  • How will we identify new technologies and capabilities?
  • What steps will we take to prioritise and integrate our technological investments?
  • Where are the most significant opportunities to strengthen our competitive advantage using technology?
  • What actions should we take now to prepare for changes to the regulatory environment? • How will we redefine or establish new partnerships to manage regulatory changes?
  • What new opportunities could emerge as a result of new regulations?

The global embrace of remote work has reset expectations, choices and cultures. “What might have taken 10 years all happened within six months,” observes Ross McEwan, CEO of National Australia Bank. The final piece of advice, from DBS’ Gupta, is apt: “With remote working, you need to keep the soul of the company alive.” That, in essence, sums up the raison d’être of business itself.

Lula Mohanty is general manager of IBM Global Business Services for the Asia-Pacific

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