Singapore low on innovation; most solutions birthed in West: Lynette Seah, Alpha7

Lynette Seah, CEO of Alpha7, discusses the obstacles that companies are facing in their cloud transformation journey

Lynette Seah

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An author who has a keen interest for the ‘off-beat’

Lynette Seah, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Alpha7, a cloud technology solutions company that provides advisory services and technical expertise for businesses in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, in a conversation with Techseen discusses the obstacles that companies are facing in their cloud transformation journey, the support from Singapore government and various industry verticals that are overcoming tactical and strategic challenges to stay ahead of the curve. Excerpts:

Techseen: Alpha7 states that it is the ‘Trusted Cloud Advisor’ for companies who want to adopt cloud technology. Do companies today really understand the cloud and want to move towards digital transformation or many do so, considering it as a trend?

Seah: I think it’s a bit of both. Companies get interested based on news and conversations around the cloud trend and decide to look into digital transformation for themselves. Then they – hopefully – begin to see the light. If and when they meet with a cloud advisory firm like us, many are surprised to learn how far behind today’s technology their business has lagged.

However, real progress can only be made if the company’s leadership is ready to embrace new opportunities in the cloud to support underlying business objectives. Those at the top need to push for and champion digital transformation for it to be effective.

Techseen: You claim to help your clients in their digital transformation journey, what are the challenges that you face? Is it concerning awareness or acceding to technology?

Seah: There’s a mixture of resistance to new technologies coupled with limited skills, budgets and old mindsets. Perhaps they’re intimidated by it or they simply aren’t prioritizing tech updates over day-to-day management of the business. Some business leaders won’t acknowledge the problem until it’s too late. The reality is that expensive and slow legacy tech will make it harder for them to compete in the market, domestically and internationally.

Techseen: In a recent study by Alpha7, you stated that budget and tech are the biggest barriers for cloud adoption in Singapore. Why? How can Tech be a barrier when Singapore is claimed to be the tech and innovation hub?

Seah: Singapore’s world-class tech infrastructure makes it a tech and innovation hub as a country, but individual companies need to capitalize on this opportunity. All the advantages of doing business in Singapore from a tech perspective are eroded if key decision makers don’t adopt the latest technology and cloud solutions that the infrastructure enables.

For example, a business’s finances/accounting may be run on offline Excel spreadsheets and legacy systems – despite new cloud solutions like Xero being available that would reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Because costs have already been sunk into existing tech and systems, businesses can be resistant to letting it go – even though moving to the cloud is actually in their business’s best interest over the long term with the productivity benefit it brings.

Techseen: Singapore is constantly experimenting with IoT; connected devices, autonomous vehicles, gate-less fares at stations. Where according to you does the country stand from a cloud innovation perspective?

Seah: You’re right, IoT, connected devices, and autonomous vehicles are regularly making headlines in Singapore.

We’re an innovative and experimental nation of entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet on cloud innovation or adoption. A lot of the solutions we use are still birthed in the West. We do have some homegrown cloud solutions, but many of the most common are not designed in Singapore.

I’m optimistic that it is starting to change, and I hope we’ll support our local cloud companies as they mature.

Techseen: According to an industry report, Singapore is home to half of ASEAN data center capacity and is going to grow by 1/3rd by 2018, another report also states that Google is investing heavily in infrastructure to improve its cloud-computing platform in the region. If this is true, then is the government proactive enough to foster change or does it instill roadblocks in terms of compliance or regulations?

Seah: Our government has been very proactive in mitigating compliance and regulation roadblocks for enterprise cloud transformation. They have also been actively pushing for innovative programs through Smart Nation and various grants and schemes. It is clear that traditional and legacy business needs to up the ante to look into cloud transformation

Techseen: In your report you stated that 75% of organizations have no plans, or have just started on their digital transformation journey. Which are the industry sectors in Singapore and the region that need to move to the cloud? How much investment do you feel categories like healthcare, payments will be making in the coming Financial Year?

Seah: We feel that banks, telcos, and audit/accounting firms are under a lot of pressure to adopt cloud solutions for themselves and their customers. These traditionally big firms are facing increasing competition from technology disruptors. They need to innovate before they are made redundant.

Finance and HR functions, meanwhile, no matter the industry sector of the business they exist within, would particularly benefit from cloud capabilities as we look to the coming FY.

As to healthcare and payments, they should look to make very serious investments in the move to cloud tech if they haven’t done so already – in order to stay competitive at home and abroad.

Techseen: Since you have conducted your surveys of businesses across industries, what is the current trend that you are seeing when it comes to cloud adoption? Is transformation a strategic move or a tactical move?

Seah: Ultimately, it’s a survival move over the long term. The benefits of cloud technology are well documented – increased security, scalability, efficiency, competitiveness, collaboration, and productivity, better data synchronization between apps and departments, and reduced costs and disaster recovery problems. Without these advantages, it will become harder and harder to get ahead of competitors who have made the switch to cloud.

Techseen: In your experience, have you seen any specific departments that are more eager to shift to the cloud, for example; Administration, HR, Sales or Marketing?

Seah: We see a mix of interest from different departments, ranging from Marketing, Sales, Operations, Finance and HR.

Generally, traditional and legacy businesses tend to stick to on-premises, or local, apps for their Finance operations, and tend to shift to cloud for Sales and Marketing. We are also beginning to see more of HR moving to the cloud as well.

With all these different apps, the key is to have a business dashboard that connects a hybrid of apps for the management to run their business anywhere and anytime on any device. Our A7 AppsConnect platform, for example, ties in all these apps and data across business functions so that decision makers can get a consolidated view of their business, updated in real-time, in order to make better business decisions efficiently.

Techseen: What changes have you seen in the cloud adoption landscape in the past 2 years? What is the future and where do you think Alpha7 will be in the coming 5 years, both in terms of company growth & expansion?

Seah: In the past two years, the pace of awareness and adoption has certainly accelerated. Our government has been promoting innovating with technology with schemes such as Smart Nation, and we’re definitely seeing increasing interest on the ground.

However, while the cloud adoption landscape is positive on the whole, progress could be faster. We still see too big a gap between the tech that’s now available for very little (in terms of cost) and the rate at which it’s being adopted and implemented. In the next five years, our goal is to continue working closely with SMEs and Enterprises, providing advisory services and solutions to educate the market of the perils of allowing that gap to grow any bigger – and ultimately help to bridge this gap.

Singapore is a gateway into Asia and a beacon for counterparts in ASEAN given our infrastructure, talent and governance. With AEC, TPP and disruptive technologies, Singapore businesses are increasingly facing competitors from beyond our borders, but this also opens up the region for greater collaboration and growth.

Looking forward, there are tremendous market opportunities as businesses need to transform. With our agile and flexible options for business transformation, we’re well positioned to accelerate our growth and expansion.

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