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Enterprise transformation journey: changes, challenges, battles

Mao Sheng Quanji Construction, FotoHub Holdings and Mr Bean International have all embarked on their own enterprise transformation journeys successfully. The Business Times speaks to them to find out how they did it, what challenges they faced along the way, how crucial the change has been and how others can follow in their footsteps.

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"The company takes the leadership role in terms of charting the strategy and providing the necessary resources for people to achieve the objectives. Individual employees have to take personal responsibility to learn new skills and even unlearn some knowledge in order to advance in their jobs. That's painful! As an employer, we empathise with that; we understand different employees are at various paces of learning and we have to be patient and help them in their learning challenges. " - Jeverss Choo Executive Director, Mao Sheng Quanji Construction.

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"A company must have a very clear vision of its desired future before embarking on its transformation journey. A clear vision will help immensely in keeping the company firmly anchored and laser focused on achieving its transformation goals and objectives. In the absence of a clear vision, a company can easily become frustrated and, eventually, become lost in the wilderness of endless wandering." - Vincent Tan Director, FotoHub Holdings.

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"In a world of unprecedented disruption and market turbulence, the ability to adapt is important. Transformation creates value, unlocks new opportunities and drives growth. We need to better understand the needs and demands of the ever changing landscape and continuously make the effort to refine and improve. Adapt and stay relevant or be obsolete. " - Loh Jwee Poh, Founder & CEO, Mr Bean International.

ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS

  • Jeverss Choo
    Executive Director, Mao Sheng Quanji Construction
  • Vincent Tan
    Director, FotoHub Holdings
  • Loh Jwee Poh
    Founder & CEO, Mr Bean International

Moderated by Dylan Tan

Question: In your opinion, how important is enterprise transformation for a company?

Mr Choo: Clients' needs and requirements are ever increasing and this adds to our operation challenges such as shortage of manpower and lack of talent. Factors that have been successful before may no longer be sustainable in the near future. A company's products and services would also be at risk of being replaced by advancements in technology that make its usual offerings less attractive or no longer competitive. Such external and internal factors inevitably cause a company to rethink its processes and business model or face the risk of being irrelevant and put out of business.

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Market voices on:

Mr Loh: In a world of unprecedented disruption and market turbulence, the ability to adapt is important. Transformation creates value, unlocks new opportunities and drives growth. We need to better understand the needs and demands of the ever changing landscape and continuously make the effort to refine and improve. To Mr Bean, it is adapt and stay relevant or be obsolete.

Mr Tan: In today's highly interconnected global village where digitisation is commonplace and automation in all its embracing forms is often progressing at breakneck speed, enterprise transformation is a fundamental necessity for all companies to stay relevant and thrive. We firmly believe that companies that resist change and transformation face a high risk of fading into the darkness of irrelevancy over time.

At FotoHub, we understand and accept that change and transformation is the only constant and, accordingly, we are always on the lookout for when and where the next sunrise will be. As such, we are always innovating and transforming to stay in tune with the times. We suppose herein lies FotoHub's critical success factor.

Q: What made your company embark on its own transformation journey?

Mr Choo: I wouldn't qualify our journey as transformational as the landscape industry is still very much a traditional business, but I see it as a series of improvements over current processes. It is quite different from those digital disruptions that we see in other industries. We have to strive to do more with less. We are having fewer resources to meet increasing client's demands and regulatory compliance.

Hence, we need to use technology to help us to be more productive and deliver better value to our customers. It is also an avenue to unlock new opportunities and drive business growth in a different way. Another aspect is that the business environment has also evolved very quickly in the last five years. Business models have to be reviewed in order to stay relevant and to look for new opportunities to grow the business.

Mr Loh: We have always made the conscious choice to grow and adapt. Mr Bean is in a constant search to find new ways to improve.

Mr Tan: FotoHub is in a technologically intensive and fast moving industry. An apt illustration on the speed and nature of change in our imaging industry will be the progress and development of the camera and film technology. In the 1990s, when Kodak persisted in keeping its faith in analogue film rolls, FotoHub made a conscious and strategic decision to transform itself and ride on the fast emerging trend of digital photography. It was a destiny changing decision that has paid off handsomely for FotoHub. As a result, FotoHub's appetite for transformation has not waned but, in fact, strengthened through time.

Hence FotoHub understands the importance and need for constant innovation and transformation from the early days of our inception more than three decades ago. For FotoHub, continuously re-inventing and transforming ourselves has already been well ingrained into our DNA; this has been our time proven working strategy to stay future-ready and future-proof. If we fail to do so, FotoHub, being a much smaller entity compared to an icon and giant like Kodak, our company could have collapsed even faster many years ago.

Q: Tell us some of the changes that have taken place during the course of the transformation journey

Mr Choo: Our journey takes place mainly at two levels - organisation and individual.

The company takes the leadership role in terms of charting the strategy and providing the necessary resources for people to achieve the objectives. Individual employees have to take personal responsibility to learn new skills and even unlearn some knowledge in order to advance in their jobs. That's painful! As an employer, we empathise with that; we understand different employees are at various paces of learning and we have to be patient and help them in their learning challenges.

Mr Loh: We have expanded the range at Mr Bean retail stores - from snacks to healthier meal options, in light of the shift in consumer focus towards healthier diets and lifestyles, together with the addition of bigger stores with seating, similar to cafés. We've also embarked on providing FMCG products.

Mr Tan: FotoHub started as a humble photo print shop at Coronation Plaza along Bukit Timah Road in 1987. Our customer base then was purely retail and it comprised mainly the neighbourhood community where customers came from all walks of life: from students to housewives and from working professionals to the occasional tourists. Today, we have successfully transformed ourselves into a full-fledged imaging solutions provider where FotoHub's customers comprise all business levels:

  • B2G (Business to Government)
  • B2B (Business to Business)
  • B2C (Business to Consumers)

FotoHub's expanded customer base is a direct result of our enlarged service offerings. Today, our company's scope of services has expanded to span from storage, management, development and printing of digital and imaging content to consultancy, scanning and digitisation of heritage materials and classified documents.

Additionally, FotoHub also offers the best in state-of-the-art technology in both its Corporate and Consumer/Retail SBUs respectively - Scan Studio (8,000 dpi scanning system) and Dream Labo (2,400 dpi HD colour printing system). Collectively, FotoHub's combined technological assets can produce an array of innovative products and services of the highest quality that no other player in the Singapore market can provide today.

Moving forward, constant innovation and transformation will always remain a fundamental cornerstone in FotoHub's strategic thrust to keep itself as a future-ready and future-proof business entity that is increasingly more AI-driven in all facets of its operations.

Q: How has your company benefited from the changes?

Mr Choo: It takes a while to see the results; yet I think over a period of time, employees do appreciate that, with new skills and knowledge gained, they can be more efficient in their daily tasks. This, in turn, helps the company get more satisfied and happy customers.

Mr Loh: In the long term, embarking on these changes and improvements allows us to stay competitive and relevant. Through our improvements, we have managed to expand our consumer base and reach out to different industry partners such as airlines, hotels and hospitals.

Mr Tan: By embracing innovations and transformations, FotoHub has emerged a much more robust and stronger company. In the process, our company is able to face the challenges of an increasingly competitive and uncertain operating and business environment with much greater confidence. It is also FotoHub's firm belief that during periods of economic and business slowdown, such as the current one, it is actually the most ideal time to lay the foundations for future growth and development by embracing innovations and transformations.

Q: What were some of the challenges your company encountered during the transformation process and how did your organisation overcome them?

Mr Choo: The common challenges on the ground would be complacency, resistance to change and fear of the unknown. These are often the initial reactions:

  • "It has worked well for us for so many years, why do we need to . . ."
  • "Why do you want to rock the boat?"
  • "Why do we have to spend so much money and time on new and unproven technologies?" etc . . .

To a certain extent, we agree with some of these statements. However, for our current processes, no matter how good they are, they have their own limitations. Hence, it is important to share with team members the quantum jump in the benefits of a new technology and the bigger picture that new opportunities may come about. Our experience: the convincing part was hard, the actual implementation was even tougher.

So, we prioritise which are the easy battles or so-called low-hanging fruits that can be achieved with significant impact but with minimum effort or resources. We apply this twin-concept of 'Win Small, Fail Fast'. We try to gain success with small effort and, even when we don't do well, the lessons learnt can be quickly applied to the next project. This is really about building confidence and engagement with the people involved but it is a tedious step-by-step method towards the greater goal.

Mr Loh: We needed our employee base to possess the right skill sets and knowledge; and we re-looked at our staff training processes by setting up the new "Bean Academy" to streamline training of staff and improve staff skill sets. We also embarked on strategic partnership with Udders ice cream, which has enabled us to combine both companies' strengths to save costs and increase production speeds.

Mr Tan: FotoHub is thankful to the Government for creating a very business friendly environment; the Government's various programmes and financial grants have greatly facilitated a much smoother transformation journey for our company. Thereafter the greatest challenge that remains for the company is the mindset change of its rank and file, that is our company staff.

In this regard, FotoHub endeavours to minimise the disruptions and discomfort of changes that come with transformation through close and constant communication with all our staff as much as possible. Through constant communication and the ensuing understanding on the need for change as well as the easing of fears and concerns of the people, the management and staff can, thereafter, work together closely as a team to address the challenges that arise along the way.

Q: What are the areas that a company should look into if they too want to embark on its own enterprise transformation journey?

Mr Choo: Have conversations with the various stakeholders. Listen to their concerns and those analyses of "why it wouldn't work" and get them to suggest what have to be done differently in order for it to work. You may be pleasantly surprised at how good some of these suggestions are.

Look at other industries. You may observe similar situations in others and how they try to transform their business. Be inspired by success stories and pay attention to less successful attempts.

Be prepared to allocate resources, time and energy into this journey because it is going to be long and eventful. Hopefully, at the end of it, it will be worthwhile.

Mr Loh: Before embarking on a transformation journey, you must be able to define both internal and external factors that affect your business. Firstly, understand the ability to expand from the current core business, how can you do what you are good at in a better and more efficient way. Secondly, what is the market potential and the projected value that you could potentially see.

Mr Tan: In our own humble opinion, a company must have a very clear vision of its desired future before embarking on its transformation journey. A clear vision will help immensely in keeping the company firmly anchored and laser focused on achieving its transformation goals and objectives. In the absence of a clear vision, a company can easily become frustrated and, eventually, become lost in the wilderness of endless wandering.

  • Compiled by Koh Jia Rong