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Op-Eds

Embracing the digital revolution

Released at: 15:08, 19/03/2019

Embracing the digital revolution

Mr. Tan Jee Toon, Country General Manager of IBM Vietnam

Cloud, AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity are becoming more widely accepted trends in Vietnam, according to Mr. Tan Jee Toon, Country General Manager of IBM Vietnam.

by Linh San

The trend towards digitization is seen in almost every industry in Vietnam, giving way to non-traditional business models, from business registration and electronic invoicing to online retail, property, and banking. How has and will this affect Vietnam’s economic development?

Individuals and businesses in Vietnam are eagerly embracing the digital revolution. Social networks and digital devices are being used to engage government, businesses, and civil society, as well as friends and family. People are using mobile, interactive tools to determine who to trust, where to go, and what to buy. 

The key thing about digital is meeting customer expectations for online, or even real-time, services, and competing and making money in the market for digital products and services while reducing costs. That’s why the government and businesses are undertaking their own digital roadmap, rethinking what customers value the most and creating operating models that take advantage of what’s recently-possible for competitive differentiation. The difference is how fast and how far they are going on the path from digitization through digital transformation to digital reinvention. 

On the digital journey, banking, telecoms, and retail are taking the lead, moving far beyond the basic elements of digitization such as automation, accessibility, and integration. For example, many banks, especially large private banks, are transforming their strategies towards digital banking, including mobile banking, internet banking, and digital banking services. Banks in Vietnam are also exploring the implementation of blockchain, which is already coming into life in other ASEAN countries. In telecoms, operators are competing with free voice and chat services to migrate to digital transformation to leverage their existing large customer database and bring about high-quality value-added services. E-government adoption is also deepening, with increasing digital opportunities in government administration, alongside sector-specific markets such as healthcare. 

As we can see, all of these changes center around data. The data economy is evolving rapidly, and new technologies are changing the way we live and work. Cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cybersecurity are becoming more widely accepted trends in Vietnam, and will be shaping the way the country moves towards digital transformation and digital reinvention.

What are the most important matters in successfully building a digital economy in Vietnam?

As said, regardless of industry, every sector must embrace technology to adapt to the rapidly changing market dynamics. The digital journey not only refers to the digitalization of hardware or software, operations automation, or process reengineering, but the change in the organization’s heart, that is, the change in the customer experience. 

Digital reinvention is always about the customer experience. The highest level of customer experience can be more directly expressed as “the customer is feeling right”. Making the customer feel right at a reasonable operational cost is the ultimate goal of any organization. Therefore, businesses should rebuild themselves around the customer experience.

Suppose that data is available and IT platforms are ready, including mobile, social, security, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, cognitive, and analytics, achieving an impact in the digital journey is more about building culture, such as organizational design, change management, and strong internal leadership. Transformation is driving the evolution and creation of new business models, which must be customized to match specific industry dynamics and organizational strategy.

What are the challenges for Vietnam in developing a digital economy?

With technology evolving so rapidly, it becomes harder for organizations to find job candidates with the right skills. Much of today’s IT work requires a new generation of skills and knowledge, which IBM refers to as “new collar” jobs, meaning the jobs of the future that focus on skills rather than degrees earned. This is in addition to the existing “white collar” and “blue collar” job categories.

Therefore, it is critical that Vietnam, as well as other countries, prepare the workforce for “new collar” jobs. We now have a big skills gap in emerging technologies, including cybersecurity, design, data science, mobile development, cloud, support and project management, which may greatly affect the efficiency and productivity of the digital economy.

Besides, data privacy is an imperative that each country must address in its own way. In doing so, another challenge is to strike a careful balance between protecting privacy and harnessing data and technology to expand economic opportunity for their citizens. Rules that arbitrarily restrict the movement of data across borders or mandate that it be stored locally do little to make data more secure but can have a dramatic and chilling effect on the innovation economy.

What should the government do to boost local business ecosystems?

Digital transformation or digital reinvention is too large to bite off in one chunk. Therefore, our advice is along the lines of “Think big, start small, replicate rapidly”. Early successes are critical. Start with the areas that executives know they can improve, or a few high value and achievable initiatives, and scaling will require excellent governance along the way.

Of course, this journey cannot happen without astute investment choices around education and the environment, such as IT parks and ecosystems, skills delivery, and funding. The government should also be ready to use the outcomes of digital transformation or digital reinvention, and open up markets for digital goods and services.

As Country General Manager at IBM Vietnam, what are your priorities in the years to come? How will IBM give a helping hand to Vietnam in its quest to develop a digital economy?

IBM today is a much different company from three, five, or ten years ago. Driven by the belief that the data phenomenon would re-order technology and business, we have now evolved into a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company. Our priority in the years to come is to continue to support our customers in Vietnam to embark and progress on the digital transformation journey, enabled by AI and cloud computing.

IBM has always been a responsible steward of our clients’ most sensitive data and their privacy, in each and every technology era. We support transparency and responsible data governance policies to ensure people understand how an AI system came to a given conclusion or recommendation. Last year, we issued our “Principles for the Cognitive Era”. We also encourage companies to read the fine print and examine all the contract details when making technology choices, because not all providers are committed to those principles.

IBM is also committed to continuing upskilling Vietnam in the emergence of “new collar” jobs, by forging relationships with local ecosystem partners. In early December 2018, IBM launched IBM Talent & Transformation, a new AI-fueled talent business to support the growing demand for people-centric organizations and to close the widening skills gap. This new IBM business offers the IBM AI Skills Academy, which helps technical and business professionals in areas such as marketing, HR, legal, finance, and operations learn how to create or apply AI effectively in their organization. To facilitate cultural change, IBM also introduced IBM Garage, which helps businesses change how they work, where they work, and what principles they use to guide their work.

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