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A strategy to deal with disruption

Maha Chemicals (Asia) has leveraged the Business Excellence framework to foster innovation in its business.

In foreground at left: Chew Chin Seong, deputy MD, Maha Chemicals. In foreground at right: Tan Seow Hoon, MD, Maha Chemicals.

SEVERAL years ago Maha Chemicals (Asia) decided to embark on a digital transformation journey as a way of better engaging its customers and growing its business. This involved digitising many of its customer engagement processes. Among other initiatives, the company developed mobile apps for quoting, inspecting available inventory and querying past purchase history.

Maha distributes specialty chemicals to a range of companies in the construction, engineering and living sciences industries, among others.

Having identified disruptive technology as a factor that could impact its business, it decided to use innovation as a key strategy to enhance its competitive advantage and venture into new business segments. To help with its digital transformation, Maha's management turned to the Business Excellence (BE) framework to guide its management processes and systems.

The company has been certified to Singapore Quality Class (SQC) since 2015, and renewed its certification earlier this year to SQC with Innovation.

"The framework is robust and assessment is impartial. Our first experience three years ago actually gave us learning opportunities to run our organisation better and encouraged us to go for the niche of Innovation Class this time around. It had also given us a platform to articulate our brand promise of market innovation, to both our external and internal stakeholders," said Chew Chin Seong, deputy managing director at Maha Chemicals.

"If we do not reinvent, staying still will only guarantee an eroding margin. By applying the knowledge of Business Excellence framework, we took careful steps in looking at each and every moving part of our organisation to make the business work better," he added.

Maha's urgency to transform was also prompted by a landscape that was rapidly changing as a result of emerging technologies and new disruptive competitors. Against this backdrop, the company sought to innovate across all aspects of its operations, whether it was developing new chemistry solutions for customers or using mobile apps to enhance the productivity of its sales teams.

"We leveraged digital technology to simplify our work and increase our responsiveness to our partners. We also set measurable goals and 'ROTI' (return on time invested) in every project we undertake. After measuring our progress, we constantly review our progress and refine our approach," explained Mr Chew. "This is like checking the speedometer and rear-view mirror while driving. If we didn't do so, we would get a speeding ticket or end up on the wrong route!"


Maha's SQC certification has also helped to open doors to new business opportunities at home and in the region. "(Our SQC) is now one important slide in our corporate profile, and it has certainly raised our reputation as a reliable company to work with when dealing with new potential suppliers and customers. This trust is endorsed by the government of a country with a great reputation: Singapore," said Mr Chew.

With almost 100 employees in Asean - of which 24 are based in Singapore - the company has a presence in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, China and Cambodia.

While the SQC has been particularly useful in instilling confidence in customers and stakeholders in Singapore, and is gaining recognition in overseas markets as well, Mr Chew is hoping that the certification can gain a higher profile in the global arena over time.

"SQC is a familiar trust mark to companies based in Singapore. It has helped to boost the confidence of customers and stakeholders' here to deal with Maha. However, outside of Singapore, we still need to explain what SQC is, in order for people to recognise its value. If, one day, SQC can become a regional standard and gain a higher profile reputation, it will help certified companies to gain immediate recognition on the international stage," he pointed out.

Looking ahead, Mr Chew said that Maha would continue on its journey of innovation and excellence as it seeks to make life easier for its customers. "We are already brainstorming new concepts. On the productivity front, this could mean cloud, data analytics or perhaps AI (artificial intelligence) solutions," he revealed. "As for our BE journey, next up for us is the challenge of attaining Singapore Quality Class Star!"

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