DX and the C-Suite: A public conversation

Decisions around digital transformation are usually taken at the highest levels – in large boardrooms, overlong, private meetings, with only the C-suite in attendance. This panel made the conversation public: a CFO, Head of Risk and an IT industry leader unpacked and demystified the decision-making process, and asserted according to their own responsibilities and job scopes the need for (or against) transformative technology investments.

The second-panel discussion of Jicara Media’s Frontiers of Work 2021 centred around, “DX and C-Suite: A Public Conversation”. The session was moderated by Rahul Joshi, Head of Content at Jicara Media. 

Who Initiates Transformation?

Joshi kickstarted the session by talking about the key decision-making processes in an organisation that normally take place. 

“When you really drill down into the transformation process, someone is making the decisions up there, whether it’s the CEO or someone else from the Management. When it comes to digital transformation, in your organisation, who really takes the leap? Is it the CIO, CTO or the CFO? How does that work?” asked Joshi.

Sushil Israni, Executive Director, Head of Risk Transformation, Bank of Singapore said, “It’s a two-pronged approach. We have a top-down structure for digital transformation, as well as a bottom-up structure. The top-down structure starts with the CEO. He set the tone a couple of years ago, with the Bank 4.0 strategy mandate that we adopted. Then there was another process that basically filtered down from the C-suite to the minus-1 levels, and further down from there.”

“We also have a SpringBoard Forum that allows us to bottom-up innovation and transformation and pick up ideas from the ground. People in the bank can participate in incubation forums twice or thrice a year, where they submit ideas and improvements and we can look at seeing which ones could be implemented. There is a good mix of digital transformation strategy which is driven by the CEO, the Chief Digital Officer, the CIO and the Chief Data Officer.”

Piya Oranriksuphak, CFA – CFO, MC Group PLC, Thailand said, “We need to do a lot of data analytics, we have the platform for doing online sales, as well as O2O (Online to offline). So, every department needs to cooperate. The CIO will make a decision on the system and act as per the requirement of the organisation. The management makes sure that all decisions align with the vision and mission of the company.”

When asked if the CFOs job has become more technical over the years, Oranriksuphak said that as a CFO, he needs to go more in-depth to see what platforms work best for the company. “Some platforms might be quite good, but may not be suitable for our needs. So, we have to choose accordingly.” 

Regarding the decision-making process, Elson Chia, Vice President & Head of Delivery, Fujitsu Asia Pte Ltd said, “As a technology company, we had a digital transformation initiative about two years ago. We had taken a multi-directional approach to digital transformation. In any company, cultural change is very important.”

“As a Japanese company, you would normally see us wearing suits and ties, but now we have  been wearing Polo shirts — that’s a cultural change. We have been working from home since July last year. It’s quite a transformation for a Japanese company.”

Fujitsu has been looking at employee engagement and focusing heavily on internal digital transformation. It has also focused on how to better provide its services to customers who are also looking to transform.

The Importance of Budget

“We run around 40 different projects to create new ideas and be as innovative as possible, using AI and automation,” said Chia.

Joshi asked the panellists about some of the key considerations for digital transformation. “Is it a certain immediate business need or the need to seize competitive advantage? Also, how much of a role does the budget have to play?”

Oranriksuphak held the view that the budget is critical: “We’ve needed to put in additional budget too. Last year with the COVID-19 situation, it was essential to get everything online —we’ve had to revamp our operations to support everything online.” MC Group also had to hire more people to enable digital transformation.

Israni held the view that digital transformation is a function of the overall business environment and the company’s maturity level. “Given that we were a little behind the international banks in terms of being digitally savvy, I think we [now] have a better capital pool available for us to invest in terms of digital transformation. We are a pretty young bank; the last three years have been pretty good from an investment perspective. There is a more focused approach to investment going forward, and we want to be more judicious in how and where we allocate capital”, said Israni.

Chia mentioned that agility is the key. “Agility of the business model and the budget is the key. We frequently reconfigure and reimagine what we want to do. We are also motivating employees to come back to the office, as they might not want to come back after a long work from home.”

“We are trying to be more flexible, giving our employees $1000 each for work from home benefits — while reconsidering the rental situation. We are also reconsidering our relationships with customers, who are also working from home — we want to help and co-create with them.”

The Mechanics of Innovation

Israni revealed that the bank allocates anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 for a particular incubation exercise of three or four promising ideas.

“The innovation program is fairly new, so we haven’t taken anything to be scaled up to the hundreds of thousands yet, but I have seen quite a few programs that have gone from the initial $10,000 to the $50,000 bracket. There was one idea that got scaled to $50,000 starting off from $5,000. We are looking for more.”

How does the incubation program work? “We have an innovation team that works diligently, and drives the flow and momentum of the program”, said Israni. 

Oranriksuphak said, “In retail, innovation is an integral part of the business. The key thing is to tap on the younger generation and millennials. We try to collaborate with regards to innovation with a lot of customer-centric activities. There is a team dedicated to all our innovative practices where the CIO plays an active role.” 

Chia commented, “With regards to innovative practices, we look at startup programs — in fact we have a dedicated team that works with startups. In the last two quarters, we have seen more than 50 startups. We have a dedicated M&A team to co-create a lot of new ideas.”

Taking Everyone Along

Addressing the panellists, Joshi asked, “Let’s say there is a certain decision being made from the C-suite — how do you make sure that everyone is taken along?” 

Oranriksuphak stated, “Once a system is introduced on paper, employees need to be educated properly. We try to make sure as the C-level that we communicate enough, and try to check that the employees are using the system appropriately, also checking if they are doing fine — we have a lot of informal communication with employees.”

Oranriksuphak revealed that because not all employees open up to formal communication with management, the company has several Line groups in place, where employees are able to share their frank thoughts as well as images or video clips. 

Chia opined, “We have various programs designed to help employees out; we conduct multiple feedback surveys to find out what’s working and what’s not working, whether they’d like to work from home or the office. 

After a prolonged discussion on digital transformation, the moderator asked if there was any possibility of the C-suite undergoing changes. Oranriksuphak said, “I think it will change, but I can’t predict exactly how. But we might see a lot of collaboration.”

“Transformation depends on how mature the company is. For us, it’s not just about our transformation, but the customer and employee transformation as well”, concluded Chia.