Digital transformation – hype or really happening?

Does digital transformation really exist? Apparently, more than 70% of companies in Asia are still finding their feet when it comes to digital transformation. From my own experience, most companies and countries find it very easy to talk about cutting costs and innovating with digital, but relatively few have managed to embark on the long journey towards digital transformation.

There’s no doubt that things are changing. IDC predicts that the Asia Pacific market for SaaS will grow by 23% per annum until 2020, by which time it’ll be worth three times as much as it was in 2015. Even just a few years ago, many businesses couldn’t get past the fact that Concur was a SaaS platform; now, the first question they ask has shifted from “are you in the cloud?” to “how are you managing your cloud?” Security and privacy remain major concerns, but most organisations we talk to have accepted that their IT solutions will reside in the cloud.

When will the same happen with digital transformation? Some industries and parts of the region have begun moving forward – like Thailand, where government policy has translated into widespread investments in digital by both public-sector agencies and businesses. Singapore has started to act after years of “Smart Nation” discussion, especially in oil and gas where businesses will do anything to take the pressure off their costs, but nearby Malaysia has struggled to turn the digital rhetoric into practical change.

One of the main roadblocks to digital transformation has been a lack of skills and understanding of what tangible benefits it can bring to businesses. There is, I believe, a solution to this – give vendors the freedom to advocate for it on the CIO’s behalf.

Why vendors make the best change agents:  CIOs are typically tasked with driving digital transformation within their business, but their C-suite counterparts want more than just new technology. Typically, they want clear, definable benefits to their people or bottom line. Vendors understand how to frame a CIO’s technology choices in terms of those benefits – after all, it’s their job to do so. That makes them the most persuasive evangelists for the CIO’s (or, indeed, any C-suite member’s) vision for digital transformation.

At Concur, for example, we know that our platform delivers not just major cost savings but also improves performance in a variety of areas – everything from tax reclamation to personal safety of employees. As a result, we’re trained to illustrate the benefits of a dedicated Travel & Expense platform in the different languages of HR, IT, finance, and various other business functions. The C-suite members who entrust us with those conversations tend to find it easier to forge the cross-business policies, processes, and platforms that digital transformation requires.

For digital transformation to go from hype to happening, I believe vendors need to also recognise their role as change agents for their customers. Our work isn’t just to sell in a product or service – it’s to lay the foundations for broader change in how employees use digital technology to manage operations and interact with customers more effectively. Ultimately, this is also what our customers need – not piecemeal products but overarching solutions to the threats posed by a digital world that’s evolving incredibly quickly. Digital transformation can only exist if we (help CIOs to) make it our business.

Laura Houldsworth is Head Enterprise Sales, SE Asia at SAP Concur based in Singapore.