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Amid Southeast Asian expansion plans, HGC builds digital foundations

HGC Digital transformation CIO

How, where, why, and what people buy will be starkly different than before, however. Every business will be impacted differently and will need to pivot without getting distracted by transient fads.

Jacqueline Teo
Chief Digital Officer, HGC Global Communications

As global chief digital officer, Jacqueline Teo is taking a lead role in helping a giant of industry transition away from traditional telecommunications heartlands.

Shaped by a desire to leverage next-generation technologies to enhance customer engagements levels, Tier 1 telco operators are embracing digital transformation to redefine market positioning and appeal.

An example of such a modern-day approach is HGC Global Communications, a Hong Kong-based titan of industry operating as a full-fledged telecom, broadband, data centre, and ICT solutions services provider.

Following a multibillion-dollar sale and subsequent shift in ownership to I Squared Capital in 2017, HGC 2.0 is breathing new life into a sector under pressure to pivot at speed and scale.

Leading expansion in new markets

Central to such efforts is Jacqueline Teo as global chief digital officer, spearheading plans to build a digital foundation upon which the business can spring into new markets and territories. This is in addition to holding responsibility for the technology and digital capabilities of both customers and employees, from strategy to architecture, delivery, and support—in addition to P&L accountabilities.

Since the start of the year, the telecommunications giant has expanded technology capabilities across the ASEAN region, with Singapore now upgraded as a major Asian hub, achieved via enhanced bandwidth-on-demand capability from Hong Kong to Big Data Exchange’s data centre location at Paya Lebar.

This was followed by the launch of eyeball-as-a-service (EaaS) in the city-state in a move designed to help international over-the-top (OTT) operators, content providers, and e-commerce companies expand footprint across wide geographical landmasses at high-speed with low latency.

“We will also continue to add to our ICT capabilities, especially in cloud and internet access services to support our enterprise customers moving to the cloud,” said Teo, an expert in delivering strategic transformation following change-agent roles at Foxtel, Telstra, and Manulife.

Supporting expansion plans—and an increased technology focus—is a further commitment to position HGC as a leader in cybersecurity and digital enablement, leveraging the company’s acquisition of Macroview Telecom in 2019.

Transforming in a year of transition

“We expect a year of transition for most businesses,” said Teo, assuming no further unexpected catastrophes. “How, where, why, and what people buy will be starkly different than before, however. Every business will be impacted differently and will need to pivot without getting distracted by transient fads.”

That’s why Teo advised IT departments to respond to changing market requirements without creating Frankenstein-type architectures and solutions. Instead, assimilate new business models into existing environments quickly and ensure such models can run and operate seamlessly, backed by new services offerings, whether locally or internationally.

Teo’s guidance comes from a position of authority with HGC also embarking on an internal digital transformation strategy, continuing multicloud and hybrid-cloud deployments as leading business priorities.

“Given the rise of new technologies and everything as a service, technology is becoming legacy at a faster rate,” she cautioned. “It’s easy to be distracted by the next best thing and, while there are merits to innovating and failing fast, this must be balanced by the integration into the overall technology stack, plus the ongoing operational complexity and costs involved.”

To ensure internal digitisation remains on track, Teo advocated the value of building out a strong governance and decision-making framework when introducing new technologies. “You need to be very focused on what is on the technology roadmap versus what is R&D,” she advised. “Before starting, align gating criteria and milestones in the form of ‘go or no go’ for further investment. Any implementation of new technology must have measurable impact and tangible value over the time-used horizon compared to previous legacy investments. Marginal gains may not be worth the user disruption in some cases.”

For technology to become relevant to an organisation—and speaking from industry experience—Teo accepted that IT must be able to demonstrate quantifiable and tangible benefits in the form of “measurable, hard dollars”, whether as an uplift in revenue or reduction in costs.

Crucially, however, such benefits must be organisation-wide and not just confined to the IT department, in addition to increasing customer Net Promoter Score (NPS) engagement. “We adopt both an in-house and outsourced approach to technology, which enables us to source the right skills for the right projects with the right model,” Teo said. “We have managed to keep our costs competitive while sustaining the agility to meet the needs of the business. On the other hand, IT has had to learn a different set of management skills to manage the diversity (gender, culture, age, background, experience, location, etc.) to ensure teams are aligned on focus and outcomes.”

Core to HGC’s digital journey is data and security—roles that Teo said are particularly “difficult and scarce” to find across Asia. According to IDG’s State of the CIO findings, 26 percent of businesses across the Asia-Pacific region are challenged when sourcing cybersecurity talent, behind only artificial intelligence and machine learning (31 percent) in terms of in-demand expertise.

“To serve our digital agenda, we also tend to look for a balance in technology and design thinking skills,” she added. “These individuals are technology gold but are hard to find.”

CIOs as digital allies—and CDOs as change strategists

As markets across Southeast Asia gradually return to some degree of normality—if such a phrase now exists—CIOs are stepping forward to cash in political capital chips following a standout 12 months of ensuring organisations remained above the watermark line amid the sharp rise in remote working.

While COVID-19 response and recovery rates continue to fluctuate per country, a strong desire to transition from ‘surviving to thriving’ is dominating boardroom conversations irrespective of company size or industry sector. “In this new normal, CIOs are well positioned to take bigger leadership roles especially in transformation,” Teo said. “CIOs with commercial nous and a passion for the business can and should step into bigger roles to lead organisational digital agendas.”

Yet in assessing the evolving role of the CIO through a digital lens, Teo acknowledged that a perception problem still exists. “It’s hard to shake the ‘IT guy’ tag despite the fact that digital businesses are essentially technology-based businesses,” she said. “The companies riding the new normal well are ones that bring IT to the forefront and incorporate technology into the business strategy.”

Citing Gojek, Zoom, Tesla, and Shopify as recent cases in point, Teo documented the advantage of having technologists run businesses due to the overriding tendency to place technology at the “front and centre” of go-to-market strategies. “Getting a traditional C-suite leader educated in this respect and changing the perception that IT is just a support function continues to be a challenge,” she said.

With the role of CIO aligned to traditional operations and support requirements, the creation of a chief digital officer position in 2018 heralded a shift in focus for HGC, prioritising digital capability enhancements—aligned to the ‘people, process, and technology’ mantra—to help execute on strategic business imperatives.

In addition to operational resiliency responsibilities, Teo is also tasked with engaging the organisation from a long-term perspective, helping define realistic and commercial meaning from emerging technologies. Should HGC need to pivot, Teo will be tasked with turning the ship.

This evolution of responsibilities also played out according to State of the CIO findings, with 74 percent of IT leaders across Asia-Pacific now directly tasked with creating new revenue-generating initiatives in 2021 and beyond, ahead of a global average of 68 percent.

In response, technology executives are primarily prioritising the automation of business and IT processes (58 percent) while creating teams focused on innovation (41 percent), underpinned by direct user interaction and customer journey development plans (37 percent).

“Change is the only constant in life,” Teo acknowledged. “During the pandemic we observed our customers accelerating digital agendas and increasing footprints into digital channels and omni-channel experiences. Therefore, my role has shifted to become more strategic, with a three-year horizon, and more focused on moving our own business into digital markets.”

For more than 25 years, Jacqueline Teo has spearheaded significant technology transformation projects across the Asia-Pacific region, with deep expertise in telecommunications, media, and entertainment industries.

As a key player in creating industry game-changing moves to shift customer engagement, Teo cites one standpoint piece of advice which has significantly contributed to her career growth: “Always started with the question ‘Why?’. Then ask ‘Why?’ again, again, and again.”

In a sense, the takeaway is highlighting the value of always being curious, seeking to understand first before jumping to conclusions while achieving a balance between challenging the norm and respecting that previous decisions were made with good intent. “Enable others to be the best versions of themselves; get them to strive beyond what they think they can achieve and help them achieve success,” she said.

“In the long run, they will run that extra mile for you; they will learn to take risks and challenge themselves without you pushing them or having to ask for it. Remember: You are but a steward at a point in a person’s life and you have that chance to be part of their legacy.”

The article was first published on CIO.com.

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