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Five lessons for leaders of the future

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Panel in discussion about the fervour surrounding high-tech sectors' innovations.

IS digital transformation something new or something old? After all, many high-tech sectors have been innovating digitally for decades. Why all the fervour now? It is because these high-tech sectors' innovations have now proliferated to all sectors of the economy and society. They are now grist for the mill for everyone.

Thus, any company or city embarking on a transformation can borrow from the experiences of others. Here are five lessons - drawn from the Roundtable conclusions - that corporate and government leaders can adopt and adapt:

  • From "What Tools" to "So What? Who Cares?" Technology is no longer just a tool, department or support function. Smart companies and cities must now also ask what organisations can do - sector and city-wide - and who cares about what it can do. For example, it is not what artificial intelligence or data is that matters. It is what it does - how we use it to create new value for how people live, love, learn and earn.
  • From Concept to Context. Creating new value that people care about means designing solutions that are context-specific. We must add context to concept. To understand context and develop empathy, reports and surveys no longer suffice. We can dig deeper, for example, through simulations, virtual reality, sensors, data analytics, and design thinking. We can also spend time on the frontline, and must translate for citizens/customers/employees, what transformation means for them.
  • From Secure+Stabilise to Explore+ Experiment. Transformation creates a dilemma: how to keep key services and infrastructure secure and stable, but yet explore and exploit new opportunities? We can create two tiers of organisation structure and infrastructure. One tier takes charge of and anchors the business-as-usual; the second experiments - and allows for experiments - with new possibilities (for example, a Digital Business Unit; an API layer for collaborators' access).
  • From Experts to Expert Novices. We used to strive to be experts; we must now strive to be expert novices too. Transformation never ends as digital advances always accelerate. Experts easily become novices with the next technological wave.

Experts constantly have to pick up new understanding, empathy, mindsets, and skills. Experts will have to learn to learn from anyone who knows the context best, regardless of age, hierarchy, and qualification.

  • From Role of Technology to Role of Humans. Digital transformation discussions tend to focus on the role of technology. But for anyone involved in and affected by these transformations, the people matters quickly loom large. We should shift the discussions to centre on the role of humans. We must account for human capacities, experiences, aspirations and fears. We have to be clear on the human values that will guide us as we make choices that involve and affect people. Because ultimately, digital transformation is a very human endeavour.
  • The writer is director of LKY Centre for Innovative Cities and moderator for this event

Do's and Don'ts about Digital Transformation

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Market voices on:

Don't assume there's an endpoint - Ms Greulich-Smith of Smart Health Leadership Centre

People love to talk about transformation but they hate to change. Adopting the "Do's" takes time - Dr Leong of SingPost

Patience - Mr Agarwal of AIA Edge

Persevere and lead by example - Dr Leong

Respect people's preferences if they choose not to pursue digital transformation - Mr Chang of SP Group

Let go of your own stereotypes because digital transformation can mean different things to different people - Mr Agarwal

Do challenge assumptions - Ms Greulich-Smith

Be customer-centric. But this does not mean acceding to the customer all the time - Dr Leong

Try to understand what the experience is like from the customer's perspective - Ms Greulich-Smith

Don't think of technology first, do think of getting everyone involved - Mr Heah of IMDA

Be open and willing to listen to the younger generation - the digital natives. If I'm prepared to hire millennials, I must be prepared to listen to them, in terms of digital transformation - Ms Neo of NCS

Don't assume expertise lies at a certain tier in the organisation. All your stakeholders bring a different expertise to the project - Ms Greulich-Smith

Everyone should feel they have a role to play, rather than feeling that they have to work their way up to a position before they can do so - Ms Greulich-Smith

Sometimes we can ask ourselves "why not?" - Mr Tan of ARUP

With digital transformation, what we are looking at is a reboot of the business model, instead of making incremental enhancements to a business operation - Mr Lai of NCS

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