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23 July 2018 | Ricky Chau, Vice President, Enterprise, Asia Pacific
As employees play a critical role in a customer’s experience, the digital skills gap could potentially hinder organizations – from both the public and private sectors – to provide good customer service. As the rapid pace of change is expected to worsen talent shortage, here is how Asia Pacific organizations can ensure that their customer experience is not adversely affected by it.
Customer experience has undoubtedly become a crucial element of competitive advantage, driving organizations to increase investments in new IT solutions to improve their operations and innovate. However, the value of those investments can only be fully realized when they are complemented with the right skills. This is where most organizations struggle as technology is evolving faster than we can train the workforce. With Asia Pacific forecasted to face a shortage of 47 million workers by 2030, organizations in the region will find it more challenging to stay agile, innovate and deliver unique customer experiences, which could lead to an unrealized output of US$4.24 trillion.
In a bid to reduce the extent of opportunity loss, Asia Pacific enterprises are turning to contingent workers to fill the skills gap. According to a study by outsourcing and consulting provider KellyOCG, 88 percent of senior executives in the region plan to maintain or increase the percentage of independent contractors over the next two years. However, this may not be a viable solution for all businesses. Companies that require niche skills (such as IT security firms) may find it challenging to find qualified freelancers, given the limited talent pool locally and even globally.
Asia Pacific enterprises are also investing in talent development to combat the skills deficiency. The financial services industry in Singapore is leading the upskill charge. OCBC Bank, for instance, is providing its employees with an additional S$500 SkillsFuture Credit and a specially-curated SkillsFuture catalog to encourage them to upgrade their skill set.
Since solving the talent crunch is a huge undertaking, governments need to play their part too. This was emphasized by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the recent May Day rally, where he cited the need for collaboration between the public and private sectors to effectively address the IT manpower crunch.
Some Asia Pacific governments are doing so by incentivizing its citizens to proactively upgrade their skill sets. The Hong Kong government, for instance, announced during its 2018-2019 Budget that it will allocate an additional HK$8.5 billion to the Continuing Education Fund (CEF), which provides subsidies to adults who continue to pursue education and training courses. Moreover, the CEF subsidy ceiling will be raised from HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 per applicant, while the upper age limit CEF applicants has been extended to 70. About 610,000 adults in Hong Kong are expected to benefit from all these enhancements.
Similarly, the Singapore government is pumping in an additional S$145 million into its national upskilling and reskilling initiative, known as the Tech Skills Accelerator (TeSA) program, this year. Since its launch in 2016, TeSA has helped more than 27,000 workers acquire digital skills through place-and-train programs. The new fund is expected to take the program further and help Singapore make greater progress to plug its IT manpower shortages.
Since it will take time to upskill and grow the talent pool, Asia Pacific governments are also providing some short-term measures to alleviate the talent shortage. For example, the Singapore government recently launched the Open Innovation Platform (OIP), which matches businesses with the right solution providers to address their digital requirements. With OIP, enterprises can therefore gain the digital capabilities to accelerate innovation and improvements to customer experience without increasing headcount. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has relaxed the eligibility criteria for the Technology Voucher Program to encourage more businesses to adopt digital tools to improve productivity and innovate.
Businesses in Asia Pacific are also turning to partnerships as a way of alleviating the dearth of digital skills. According to 451 Research, enterprises in the region are willing to use third-party vendors for specific IT services (23 percent), network infrastructure services (22 percent), service capability for multi-cloud infrastructure (21 percent), and end-to-end IT services support (21 percent).
By outsourcing some operations to a third-party partner, Asia Pacific firms will be able to improve their customer experience in the following ways:
As third-party vendors are usually responsible for the performance and security of their systems, outsourcing can provide an additional layer of security and reduce the risks of business interruption.
Since partners can reduce the burden of maintaining existing infrastructure, IT teams will be able to better focus on higher value tasks such as developing innovations that can enhance customer experience. This is why companies are increasingly looking for third-party vendors that can help them improve efficiency and generate revenues instead of simply providing cost savings.
Organizations can also gain agility by leveraging tech partners. In the case of Procter & Gamble (P&G), it leveraged a third-party vendor’s cloud solutions to enable its employees to select any IT solution offered by the vendor and deploy them whenever needed. With this self-service provisioning capability, users such as developers can quickly set up or launch a service or application without IT’s involvement. By shortening the testing cycle, organizations can push out new apps or updates faster to deliver enhanced services that delight customers.
Besides that, P&G used big data services from the same vendor to analyze customer sentiment in social media for all its brands in real time. These timely, actionable insights can be used to improve existing products or services, or influence upcoming innovations.
Besides agility, scalability is crucial for business growth in the digital age. Given the volatility of the business environment today, it is more cost-effective to tap on the outsourcing partner’s solutions to scale IT resources up and down accordingly instead of investing in hardware. Case in point: moving big data projects from the pilot phase to production stage requires the supporting infrastructure to scale up quickly, which can be costly and challenging if organizations were to build and manage their own hardware infrastructure just for that use case.
Outsourcing can therefore help organizations to continuously meet the ever-changing needs of customers, as well as reduce their IT spend and channel the cost savings to fund the development of new products or services.
One organization that leveraged outsourcing to improve its customer experience is Wall Street Systems. By relying on a third-party vendor to host its systems, databases, network, and security, Wall Street Systems was able to provide customers with software-as-a-service (SaaS) versions of its solutions that power financial operations. The move also enabled the company to ensure that its SaaS solutions can be quickly deployed, easily updated, and faced no disruptions – all of which resulted in a reduction of as much as 55 percent on their total cost of operations.
Moving forward, third-party vendors will deliver more advanced value-added IT services to help organizations boost customer experience. For instance, outsourcing partners may bundle analytics with their IT solutions to provide holistic solutions. Partners will thus not only collect data from its solutions but also connect data to offer insights that could further improve operations.
Tech partners could also offer AI-powered services such as AI-powered bots that monitor the network traffic and police access to mission-critical resources. Since the bots will automatically detect and shut down intrusions before they propagate, they prevent cyberattacks and data breaches, which are detrimental to the customer experience and an organization’s reputation.
Even though the shortage of IT manpower is one of the top pressing business challenges today, organizations in Asia Pacific should not use it as an excuse to delay progress in their digital transformation journey. To get the first-mover advantage, organizations should help their existing staff gain new skills, as well as look to partnering third-party vendors to improve their operations and deliver enhanced customer experiences.
This article was first published on Enterprise Innovation on 20 July 2018.
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