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Finding the tools to succeed
WHETHER it is accountants and lawyers trying to create more value for their clients or manufacturers and retailers looking to boost efficiency, businesses across the corporate landscape are leveraging powerful digital tools to achieve their organisational goals.
Indeed, investing in the right technology solutions is critical for any business that wishes to thrive in an uncertain and volatile world.
"With rising mega trends like mass personalisation, digital labour and smart cities, businesses are operating in a so-called VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment. Speed to market and being agile in adopting new technologies is key to staying competitive," says Lyon Poh, head of digital + innovation, KPMG in Singapore. "In a high-cost labour market like Singapore, companies, especially SMEs, should leverage digital solutions to uplift operational efficiency or scale their businesses."
But the rush to adopt digital technology comes with its own set of challenges. At the top of the list are cybersecurity and the speed at which technology is changing. These two factors were two of the top five risks voted by over 1,400 CEOs, according to PwC's latest Global CEO survey.
"From a cyber-security perspective, organisations must continue to grapple with the challenges of safe-guarding their data (their own as well as customers' data) while maintaining an acceptable level of security measures so as not to impede the efficient use of these data," says Tan Shong Ye, partner, IT Risk Assurance Leader at PwC Singapore.
Organisations now face higher expectations of not just their own security, but also that of their suppliers and vendors. They are also expected to build in appropriate levels of redundancy in their IT systems. If a system outage does occur, companies must be able to seamlessly recover their systems and restore their ability to provide services to their customers.
And as technology-fuelled disruptions happen more frequently, organisations will be under pressure to make sure that their business strategies and operations are future-ready. This requires them to make the right investments in technology skills and assets, while improving the return on investment of existing technology assets.
"Organisations need to think about designing the appropriate structure to promote innovation, and to test-bed, evaluate and scale new ideas quickly when they are successful. Promoting an innovative culture is also a key challenge faced by many organisations," says Mr Tan.
Yet, knowing which solutions to invest in is a challenge in itself, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that lack the resources of larger companies. For lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, the technological challenge for his firm is to find cost-effective, easy-to-use solutions that can integrate seamlessly with its existing network and system setup.
The solutions chosen must also evolve "with the increasing trend of mobile working, while maintaining security and confidentiality in line with legal ethics rules and client requirements," says Mr Sreenivasan, who is head, technology, media & telecommunications, Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP.
Instead of outsourcing, the firm has implemented targeted solutions from external service providers, some of which are cloud-based. These include solutions for remote access, collaboration and file transfers.
"We are also exploring options for private cloud computing solutions, which can easily leverage on our existing data without any reconfiguration, while providing maximum functionality and security," reveals Mr Sreenivasan.
Looking ahead, Rajah & Tann is also keeping an eye on emerging technologies that can be applied to the legal profession, including artificial intelligence or machine learning contract review and research tools, as well as other solutions that enhance collaboration and mobile working. These aim to streamline time consuming tasks and boost efficiency, thus allowing firms to deliver greater value to their clients.
Already, large global law firms have begun adopting some of these technologies.
Meanwhile, Fitlion, an online distributor of sports nutrition products in Singapore, has leveraged technology to transform and streamline back-office functions such as logistics, HR and finance.
For instance, the company had previously outsourced HR processes such as staff leave and claims to a manual service provider. To make the process more efficient, it worked with KPMG to adopt an app-based solution to help Fitlion employees manage their leave, claims and payroll management on a self-service basis.
"The curated app-based solution for payroll that I have procured from KPMG has already lifted my team's reliance on paper and provided significant freedom and flexibility to execute HR processes without even needing to step into the office," says Tan Tse Yong, group CEO, Fitlion group of companies.
"This has had the effect of improving staff productivity and also placed more ownership in the hands of my staff when it comes to self-management of their leave, claims and payroll."
As an SME, the company has also sought more affordable solutions such as subscription-as-a-service (SaaS) software. KPMG's Mr Poh notes that such subscription-based plug-and-play solutions cut out the need to build enterprise systems that are costly to implement and maintain.
"This is especially relevant for SMEs which don't have large war chests to invest in building in-house technologies. By doing so, SMEs can streamline and simplify their processes to save time and money, and improve productivity without having to reinvent the wheel," he says.
To further save on the cost of investing in new technologies, he advises SMEs to take a collaborative approach towards innovation. "Rather than building new technologies from scratch, SMEs can tap startups and innovators who are already developing purposeful technology enablers and new solutions as an alternative, and focus on adopting it or orchestrating how they can come together to form new solutions to address specific business challenges."
Going forward, Fitlion's Mr Tan is exploring solutions that can integrate app-based solutions into the company's cloud-based accounting system to achieve true straight-through processing without the need for expensive ERP systems.
"Another technology option would be in logistics management monitoring, which would help in the delivery operations of my business since order fulfilment is a big part of my business."