Relook your business models, leverage on data urges ex-Axiata Group CFO

  • Training, upskilling talent to leverage on data and analytics key to managing disruption
  • Drive to become data driven has to be CEO led, involves entire organization

Relook your business models, leverage on data urges ex-Axiata Group CFO

JOINING in the chorus about how routine, repetitive work, be it physical or mental, is going to be replaced by automation/robots, is Chari TVT (pic), the just retired chief financial officer of Celcom Axiata.

Speaking at last week’s Human Resource Development Fund’s (HRDF) conference and exhibition, Chari cautioned the audience of HR practitioners around the twin realities of the changing face of work and the threat of so many new and established players trying to destroy the value of established companies.

Coming from a telco background where he recently retired as the group CFO of Axiata Group, Chari was referring to the threat of not just global technology players but startups as well with their over the top (OTT) services that can scale rapidly.

To face this threat, he urged companies to pay more attention to their pricing strategies, to relook and challenge their own business models and to start focusing on and prioritizing the gathering of and analyzing the data their businesses capture.

“Honestly, the awareness around pricing, business models and analytics is very low, not just in Malaysia but throughout Asia, so companies need to go train and refocus their people in these three areas to capture the value from the disruption that will hit their industries.”

He also highlights a trend that is already happening today and one that is a precursor to a reality that marketing experts have long touted – the so called ‘Market of One’.

“Market segmentation is already moving away from demographic base to psychographic based and the increasing capture of data and applying analytics to better understand customers will eventually lead to this Market of One that is being talked about,” he says, citing how US tech giant, IBM predicts this will happen in 18-months. Maybe add another 12-to 18-months before it hits Asia, he predicts.

Pleased that the HRDF has recognized the importance of organizations upskilling their talent to face the many technology led disruptions that are impacting business, Chari says the support of HRDF especially around data and analytics training makes it easier for organizations to retrain and upskill their talent.

The impact on the bottom line from leveraging on data and analytics should not be underestimated. Chari offers the example of a data led campaign Celcom did a few years back. “Called the Burung Hantu (night owl) campaign basically this was created when our data showed us there were about 120,000 customers who seemed to be heavy users of data between midnight and 3am. Marketing then came up with a special 10GB data package for them, to be used between midnight and 5am only and we did very well in selling this to them and driving incremental revenue that boosted the EBIDTA margin.”

The successful campaign was not just a result of the nerds, as Chari calls the data crunchers, discovering this pattern of behavior. Don’t just rely on your data executives because frequently they will not possess a commercial sense and you can crunch the data but come up with wrong conclusions as well. Companies need to pair their data executives with the marketeers and those with a commercial sense,” he advices. And by the way, it was finance that asked the question that led to the data nerds discovering the 120,000 customers for the Burung Hantu campaign, shares Chari.

With so much disruption happening in the business world, customer profitability becomes even more important and “your data can lead the way here” he says stressing on the importance of organizations upskilling their talent to become data savvy.

Speaking of leading, Chari also stresses that the drive to elevate the importance of data and analytics has to be led by the CEO. It does not work even if the CEO declares that data is important and he has appointed someone to lead those efforts. “The reason why this delegation does not work is because successful data strategies depend on the entire organization being involved, and the CEO is the one person to whom every unit reports to. Your data strategy will flop if the CEO is not involved,” Chari warns while citing Air Asia as a success story with Tony Fernandes leading the way.

And while he offers examples from large companies, Chari says that small companies can leverage on data as well. “You can start your journey to becoming  data driven company by using your spreadsheets and then gradually move up the value chain.”

As he points out, it is not like small companies were not doing analysis before, just that it was with less data. But today with so much structured and unstructured data available, there is more data that can be analysed but even here, the investments to do so are much less as small companies can leverage on the technology of global players through their cloud platforms.

“So don’t think that as a small company you will not have the means to actively and profitably leverage on your data.”

To do this though companies must start training and upskilling their people in understanding and using data and analytics, “because routine work will go away, done by robots – even in accounting., which is already happening,” he says.  “A company’s best response to this is to train, to upskill and reskill their talent. Your survival will depend on this.”

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