Asia and digital – the twin revolutions

What is digital? Is it data, platforms, an app? A website? Social? Content? The list goes on. And that's just beginning with the customer side of digital. There's a whole other list of questions when it comes to what is often called digitisation - transforming the underlying processes that support your business.

"Think of companies that are successful doing business in the often-bewildering market of Asia. Making the journey to digital is no different."
Pam Rebecca, General manager digital, ANZ

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It is the difference between a vinyl LP (remember them?) and Pandora (an App with the world’s music at its digital fingertips). They are both about music but everything else has changed.

And we haven't even touched on how digital might relate to product and service design or the biggest challenge of all - how do you transform your organisation’s culture to survive in a digital world?

Think of companies that are successful doing business in the often bewildering market of Asia. They take the time to understand the complexity of the environment, the business practices, the legal structure, the culture and many, many more attributes. They engage expert assistance along the journey and ensure they are informed along the way. Making the journey to digital is no different.

Six steps to digital

What is 'digital'?

Is it an app? Absolutely. And probably more than one.

Is it a mobile website? Yep. Absolutely.

Is it digital marketing? Most certainly is.

Is it eCommerce? I certainly hope so, as it's a key way to get payback on that investment.

Is it content? Ah yes. Content is key to much of this. Quality content is everything.

Is it social media? Yes. That's where your customers are. Like you even have a choice?

Is it test and learn and sometimes fail? This part is essential as nothing is certain.

Does it have anything to do with physical channels? Yes. It needs to be central to them - in both connecting customers to the physical while transforming and enabling the physical.

Does it have anything to do with data? It has everything to do with data.

Is it building a new technology platform? Probably. But that is but one step on the journey.

  1. Like doing business in Asia, successful digital transformation also has to start with building understanding - and in my view, the only place to start is with your customers, and at the beginning of the customer journey. Google calls it ZMOT: Zero Moment of Truth

    Traditionally, the moment of truth was when you first met the prospective customer. Now - ZMOT is when your target customer first thinks of an idea. That may involve you. Or your competitor if they are there and you are not.

    So when you are next asked "do you have an app?" reflect on whether your business really understands your customers and how they engage and want to engage with you in a digital world.

  2. The path to world domination is not linear. Because I'm not as young as I'd like to be, I remember the tech bubble of years ago, when having a website was considered to be all that was required for businesses to succeed. Build it and they would come, customers and investors. 

    As the bubble built, the markets pretended the valuation formula for businesses had been rewritten. But of course it hadn't and gravity, business style, reasserted itself with the tech crash.

    Business moved on, the internet went into the background and dipped into what Gartner calls the trough of disillusionment.

    Then in 2007 the step change arrived. The world shifted to mobility with the arrival of the smart phone - bringing with it the power to supercharge the digital transformation and, in the process, change so much about how we live our lives in ways we could not possibly have foreseen. 

    So too the growth of Asia faltered with the Asian Financial Crisis. But these crises only temporarily halted the relentless twin forces of both Asian growth and technology transformation.

  3. Both digital and Asia are at the forefront of historic changes to society. Asia is now the engine of growth for much of the world's economies. Digital is disrupting the changes in customer behaviour and business models throughout industries and geographies.  

    And now these two forces are converging. The legacy infrastructure of the west is not a barrier to change in Asia. The fastest growth in smart phone ownership in the world is in the Asia Pacific region and businesses are starting mobile. 

    Just as start-ups are disrupting traditional industry incumbents - and upending their industries - Asia and digital together are moving to disrupt the western dominance of business and politics over the last century.
  4. Alibaba - Alibaba is symbolic of the convergence of Asia (and China in particular) and digital.  Alibaba is not yet quite a household name. Well, not in the west in our cloistered world where the top four digital leaders everyone mostly talks about are Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

    This great article from The Wall St Journal is one of the best and easily digestible sources of information about Alibaba. 

    So what is Alibaba? According to the WSJ article, "Alibaba is a marketplace, a search engine and a bank. All in one." It is "China’s — and by some measures, the world’s — biggest online commerce company." Transactions on its online sites last year were more than Amazon and eBay combined.  It was the largest IPO in the world when it floated last month.

    Alibaba is a digital force and a potent symbol of digital and China converging and taking on the world. 
  5. Cultural transformation. The cultural differences between societies and business in the west and throughout Asia are significant. As significant as transforming an analog business into a digital business, as LP to Pandora.  This excellent paper lays it out well: Strategy and building a digital culture.

    Just as we shouldn't expect to be successful in business in Asia by importing our western business practices, we should not expect to be successful in a digital world with our linear business practices and operating models.

    In transforming our culture we need to also be questioning and transforming our fundamental operating models - from how we communicate to how we make decisions to who makes decisions. We need to think about how we build software, traditional command and control organisation structures, the list goes on. Very few companies have yet embarked on this scale of change. But it's coming.  One of my favourite articles that articulates this brilliantly is "The Operating Model that is Eating the World". Consider it essential reading for any business leader but be prepared to be confronted. 
  6. It's human. We might think that digital is all about technology. And on one level it is.  But where magic really happens is where technology solves human problems and creates a truly frictionless experience. It's only possible to create a frictionless experience through understanding human behaviour.

    I've travelled throughout a number of countries in Asia, and most recently visited Vietnam. As I walked through the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An, I was struck by the words of our guide talking about Vietnamese traditions throughout history and the importance to generations of communities of happiness, health, family and prosperity.

    As humans, the more we take the time to understand each other, the more we understand how much unites us. And how many of our aspirations are shared amongst us all.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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