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The Future of Technology: 8 key drivers of change for Tech in Asia-Pacific
After researching technology hiring, two clear predictions emerge. Firstly, technology can no longer sit apart from broader business concerns. And second, traditional IT people must speak better business. For technology leaders like George Kuan, Global CIO for Estee Lauder, the second point can’t change fast enough: “The number one priority is somebody who really has a strong business sense.”
Now more than ever, technology in Asia-Pacific has a front row-seat within any serious business. And it’s a hot seat: “Most technology heads are now part of strategy meetings: advising on automating operations, the data available, and the tools to power sales strategies,” explains Michael Page’s Shinjika Shukla. Which surely means the future for technology teams is bright? Not for those who resist change: “Techies have really kind of coasted in the last two decades,” warns futurist Alexandra Levit, a former advisor to the Obama administration. “Unfortunately, those people are going to be the first to be automated out of jobs.”
Luckily there are clear and actionable ways to ensure relevance. Over the next three articles in this series, PageGroup presents 22 trends for Asia-Pacific technology teams over the next three years - these are the drivers, hiring tips and candidate hacks that can help transform today’s IT potential into tomorrow’s must-have talent.
1. Integrate your human-machine hybrid teams
Futurist author Alexandra Levit predicts that for technology leaders, a key driver of change will be kicked off through high-level reviews of all current output: “It’s about asking, what are machines good at? What are humans good at? And how can we assist them in working together so that everybody's strengths are leveraged?” The process need not be dire, but it is about identifying the 30% of today’s work tasks less-suited to people-resourcing. While job titles will disappear, currently unheard-of roles will arrive, especially at the machine-human interface. This change may be quickening, but it’s not new. As McKinsey noted recently, one third of US jobs created in the US since 1992 “were types that did not exist, or barely existed” previously.
2. Digital transformation drives product upgrades: but it may hurt technology first
“From a financial services point of view, the most urgent thing now is digital transformation,” explains Citi’s Vincent Lin: “How do we transform from traditional channels to digital channels like internet banking, mobile banking and social media-related channels?” While this process will ultimately benefit the business, as Estee Lauder’s George Kuan warns, digital transformation is not without its internal growing pains – particularly for technology teams. “Our entire IT organisation is going through a transformation right now,” he notes. “Letting go of the old ways of doing things, and embracing new thinking. It's been a little challenging, and IT is probably the first one that gets hit.”
3. CX is technology’s king, and China its castle
More than ever, customer experience (CX) is king in terms of employing technologies that can gain and retain customers across their chosen digital channels. As Citi’s Vincent Lin notes, the game in Financial Services tech currently revolves around improved convenience and access: “We have to put ourselves in the shoes of users, remove the barriers, and make our products more flexible, mobile and user-friendly – especially as we move towards a cashless society.” Estee Lauder recently launched its first MAC Brand store in Shanghai, which integrates all WeChat technologies: “It combines social media, RFID, and is reflective of WeChat payment checkout systems,” George Kuan says. “It’s totally integrated with the consumer’s usage of technology – and that's how we have to adapt.”
4. Applied technology skills must broaden – and tech must speak better business
“The other key priority is the reskilling and upskilling of the human workforce – so that the average employee has really good applied technology skills,” stresses author Alexandra Levit. While this won’t mean everyone can suddenly run analytics engines or design software, she says people need a stronger working awareness of technology’s problem-solving scope: “It’s important that you're familiar with the resources available to you to leverage technology – which is always changing.” Likewise, even at the senior level, technology specialists must quickly acquire greater business acumen. “In China, some CTOs need to go beyond technical excellence to become a true CTO,” notes Joshua Xiang of CreditEase. “What makes a technology expert a CTO is the ability to translate technology’s language to a business one and create business value.”
5. Use AI to help drive your culture’s ideal hiring DNA
As a leader in China’s FinTech space, CreditEase is initiating a project designed to utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to define ideal talent profiles. Joshua Xiang says the initial phase targets wealth management hires: “What kind of talent is suitable to be a financial advisor? And what experience is better for us, wealth management experience in a foreign financial institution or experience in a domestic insurance company? We analyse thousands of our financial advisors’ profiles, extract the keywords from their CVs – and see what types of talent best suit us,” Xiang describes. The tool also helps to match-make financial advisors to potential clients, helping find a more natural working fit.
6. Rise of the disruptive tech-driven competitors
For Citi’s Vincent Lin, a key driver of change comes from a more crowded competitor landscape, fuelled by digital innovation. “Many internet companies are starting in financial services, with many new Fintech start-ups springing up as well,” he says. “The past five to ten years was a brewing period for this – the next five to ten years will certainly be a maturing period.” Driven by innovative technologies around AI, blockchain and big data, these new players boast disruptive business models, and a flexible culture that appeals to younger candidates. Lin advises a best-foot forward approach: “Banks should stick to our own values, while embracing and applying new technologies,” he suggests. “Prove yourself as a stable platforms with rapid growth and long-term development opportunities – which will help young talent to manage core technologies and other skills quickly.”
7. To embrace the future, first systemitise your flex workforce
Since completing Humanity Works, Levit is frequently asked where business leaders should focus first. Her advice to technology leaders: get flexible, fast. “An example of low-hanging fruit is the systematisation of the contract work-force that you probably already have.” While most companies already use flex-workers, the planning is “all over the place,” she notes. During his time helming Tesla, Elon Musk had a famous example: “He discovered that Tesla had thousands of contract workers, who were duplicating each other's efforts. Their productivity and their performance wasn't being measured,” she notes. “Why not gather together a strategy that can make that far more useful and meaningful: and track metrics associated with it?” Acting now will provide a perfect platform as the market evolves: “The contract work force and the flex workforce are only getting bigger, and it's only getting more unruly.”
8. Make it land: create landing scenarios for an investment reality-check
Given the costs involved, getting the timing right for technology investments is critical, especially when assessing whether technical innovations can deliver business results. Xiang of CreditEase explains: “The first priority for a CTO is to identify application scenarios and then apply new technologies to solve real business problems.” While exciting, investing huge sums into an AI lab may not always be the wise thing to do. “Can this solve the real problem? Not necessarily,” he cautions. Estee Lauder’s Kuan agrees that at a global level, CTOs and CIOs must help their companies avoid knee-jerk investments: “It is up to the technologist to really evaluate technology maturity,” he notes. “It's about how fast do we want to go – and at the same time, how much risk can we absorb? It a balancing act.”
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A massive thanks to those who made Future of Technology happen in particular those who have provided technology leader insights: Vincent Lin, Head of Technology Citi Taiwan, GCB; Joshua Xiang, CTO of one of China’s leading Fintech companies, Creditease; Alexandra Levit, futurist and workplace author of ‘Humanity First’ and George Kuan, Global CIO for Estee Lauder. Plus our huge thanks to PageGroup’s Technology team throughout Asia-Pacific, especially Anthony Thompson; Shinjika Shukla (Singapore); Fiona Wen (Shanghai); George Kauye (Australia), and Olga Yung (Hong Kong).