Rapid digitalisation forcing organisations to fundamentally rethink their business models

Author: Justin Harper | Date: 01 Jun 2016

“The digital revolution is upon us and if we do nothing we will get eaten alive,” says DBS Bank’s Tan Shu Shan

Digital globalisation is forcing organisations in Asia to rethink their business models or “get eaten alive.”

The theme of growing digitalisation was one of the big talking points at the Singapore Business Leaders Programme, designed by the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI). Here are five things we learned from the event.

1. Think beyond your own industry
Vinod Kumar, managing director and CEO of Tata Communications, told delegates that his organisation is “fundamentally re-thinking its business models and taking our abilities to spill over into adjacent industries where our services will be of use.” One example he gave was the healthcare sector, where Tata can provide IT systems for hospitals.

Tata Communications carries about 10 per cent of the world’s internet traffic. As it innovates, Kumar said the organisation has been careful not to massively increase its capital expenditure. “We are creating services that ride on partner networks, and borrowing lessons from the likes of Uber and Airbnb,” he added.

2. “If we do nothing we will get eaten alive”

DBS Bank has also been making great strides in increasing its digital capabilities as communities become more global. “The digital revolution is upon us and if we do nothing we will get eaten alive. If we do something we could get it right or we could get it wrong – but we have got to try,” said Tan Su Shan, managing director and group head, consumer banking & wealth management at DBS. “The key thing is opening up our minds to do business in a way that we would never have thought to do business.”

3. You don’t have to disregard the old ways of doing things

The banking sector faces pressure on its traditional business model, particularly from non-banks that are launching their own payments platforms such as Apple Pay and Alipay. Shan’s strategy is to take the best of traditional organisations like banks and mix them with the energy and innovation of start-ups to create a new corporate hybrid, while at the same time prioritising excellent customer service.

But to achieve this hybrid an organisation needs to attract young talent to join, which can be a challenge for traditional employers like banks. “You have to position yourself as an ‘Uber’ in your sector to attract talent,” she added.

4. Employees must be open to learning new skills regularly

The organisation of the future will also need to re-skill its employees every five years, according to global management consultant McKinsey. “In an agile world, basically every five years you will need different skills. We think the future organisation will be flatter, with constant re-skilling of the workforce and giving much more empowerment to future generations,” said Dr Michael Gryseels, senior partner at McKinsey and leader of the McKinsey Digital Campus.

He echoed Ms Shan’s comments about organisations, large and small, needing to think like a start-up. “Very soft things can make you a successful company. We will need to embrace some of the concepts seen in start-ups that thrive and understand why we see millennials being attracted to work there.”

5. Asia can become an innovation hub

“In Asia, we have a unique opportunity with our skills, resources and labour pools to become an innovation hub. Because of this digital capability we can become not just a service centre but an idea and innovation creator,” added Diane Jurgens, chief technology officer at mining firm BHP Billiton.