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KPMG's Brad Styles on capturing digital opportunities amid pandemic challenges

Thriving in an increasingly digitised world will involve a rethink of business strategy, tech infrastructure, skills and mindsets

Bradley Styles is a Partner at KPMG in Singapore’s Advisory practice, where he leads the firm’s Digital Trust practice. His work focuses on helping organisations navigate challenges in IT audit and assurance as well as in emerging technologies, such as cloud, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation services.

Brad brings with him over 25 years of experience in information technology, assurance and risk management. Today, he leads KPMG’s alliances with leading global tech companies in developing solutions for clients across industries, such as global and local banking, technology, shipping and logistics.

Brad sat down with the Asian Business Review to share his thoughts on the opportunities brought on by the pandemic, what digital transformation means for businesses, and this year’s entries for the Asian Technology Excellence Awards.

Can you share with us your previous work experience or backstory that contributed to your current expertise in the technology industry?

As the head of KPMG in Singapore’s Digital Trust practice, I work closely with businesses across industries and geographies to develop IT strategies and implement various IT solutions. This includes working with organisations, such as global banks and shipping companies, to leverage technology to improve their business operations, whilst managing emerging risks and key threats. I joined KPMG in Singapore’s team in 2008 after several years at KPMG in Australia.

IT transformation has always factored strongly in my career and I’ve never stopped enjoying the pace of change and the possibilities that technology can bring to business and society. My 25 years of experience across the fields of information technology, assurance and risk management across continents involved leading a number of IT improvement and digital transformation implementations to develop joint solutions across the fields of finance, human resources, sales and customer service. 

Crisis presents opportunities for businesses, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think are these opportunities, and how will they shape technology and/or digitisation in the future?

The pandemic has nudged many organisations to rethink their digital transformation journeys, identify new business opportunities and seize the benefits of technology to improve customer experiences. Those that were able to adapt and thrive amid the pandemic were able to ride the wave of disruption by resetting customer perceptions, repositioning their brands and launching new products. 

From a technology perspective, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on data – even more so than before. This comes as a realisation particularly for brands that have traditionally had a heavy focus on physical retail stores. The digital disruption brought on by the pandemic gave rise to new ways of connecting directly with their customers for the first time over online platforms. Data insights collected through transactions and other forms of online engagement have been found to benefit the creation of personalised experiences for customers online, whilst informing the strategic directions of physical retail. 

Specifically, what has changed since pre-Covid is the greater emphasis on an omnichannel approach to engaging customers – and it is not just how much data any one company collects today that can help revolutionise the customer experience, but the synchronising of experiences seamlessly. It starts with looking at what customers want, versus what is available across the value chain both online and offline, and considering technology innovations that can further lift the customer experience. 

Such a shift has become important as consumers now expect to be able to interact with businesses in real-time, online and at their own convenience. Organisations will be increasingly pressed to meet these demands whilst ensuring that they continue to have a trustworthy approach towards data security and governance. 

Another opportunity that has emerged from the pandemic would be the rise of remote work, as borders between countries are blurred. The way we work has changed and companies can now source talent from anywhere, as seen from the findings of KPMG’s 2021 CEO Outlook survey. 48% of CEOs in Singapore say they will be looking to hire talents that work predominantly remotely in the next three years – a sentiment reflected globally (42%) and also in the Asia Pacific region (38%). 

The past 18 months has shown that this is possible. Many services that were once thought to require physical interactions have also pivoted to online modes of operations. While we have now proven that the hybrid work model can work, the challenge will lie in keeping the much-needed human connection alive even in an increasingly digitalised world.

Transitioning to a digitised company is challenging, especially during this time. What would your advice be to companies that are just starting their digital transformation journey?

As companies adopt more digital processes, they will have to continuously think of how to remain customer-centric and relevant, key of which is to ensure that the customer experience remains seamless across online and offline channels. Businesses will have to consider their approaches holistically, from their company strategy to the technology infrastructure, and also shifting skills and mindsets.

For enterprises just starting on their digital transformation journey, they should clarify their objectives in pursuing various digital strategies and projects. “Going digital” should not be seen simply as a fashionable way to go forward. Instead, businesses should look to carve pathways that create value and help them operate with agility, leveraging technology for that boost of fire power. Besides arming employees with the digital tools and skillsets, organisations will also have to look at how to get all employees from the front, middle and back offices not just on board, but actively geared for change.

Which do you think is more important when it comes to introducing new technology in a company? Is it the hardware or software? Or human beings who can easily adapt--and have the necessary skills or talents--to go with these changes?

When we think of technology, we tend to consider the need to change people’s mindsets and how to get them to adapt to new implementations. Whilst this continues to be important, technology products should first and foremost be useful and valuable for people’s lives if they are to attract attention and be embraced by users on a larger scale in enterprises and industries. 

Hence, constructing the right product that delivers targeted solutions that is also user-friendly will be crucial. This is especially since hardware has become less critical now, with the use of cloud technologies becoming the standard across organisations.

This is why going forward software will become far more important for a company looking to recover well from the pandemic. 

What are your thoughts about this year's entries in the Asian Technology Excellence Awards?

Customer experience factored strongly in this year’s entries – and many focused on how the use of technology helps to solve real-life problems, whilst creating new opportunities for growth.

Specifically, we’re seeing a shift in emphasis from back office technologies towards innovative technology initiatives that improve the customer journey. This certainly also signals the greater optimism of businesses towards stepping up and out from the pandemic, as they build in technologies that can help them open new customer channels and grow.

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