4 Ways HKBN’s Co-CIOs are Transforming Hong Kong’s Fastest Growing Telco

BrandPost By Samuel Hui and Sam Tan
Jun 14, 2021
IT Leadership

Samuel Hui, Co-Owner & Chief Transformation Officer, and Sam Tan, Co-Owner & Chief Innovation Officer at the HKBN Group (HKBN), discuss how they’re orchestrating people, processes, data, and technologies to lead a major transformation program at Hong Kong’s fastest-growing telecom company.

Credit: SalesForce

When HKBN launched in 1999, it was with one simple mission: to make ultra-fast fibre broadband available and affordable to everyone in Hong Kong. Today, our company serves more than one in every three residential households and one in every two active companies across the territory, with more than 1 million residential subscribers and over 100,000 enterprise customers.

And we’re not stopping there. Now, we’re building on that success to transform from a traditional telecom carrier selling connectivity services to a powerful information and communications technology (ICT) partner for our enterprise customers. Over the last five years, that’s seen us rapidly evolve from an organization with a focus on product innovation to one that’s obsessed with engaging directly with our customers.

As Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) and Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), as well as the Co-Owners of the company, we’re deeply involved in driving this shift. Unlike many other companies where CTOs and CIOs might be seen as rivals to secure various resources, we work closely together to identify and then integrate the systems and technologies that our people need to deliver great multi-winning experiences to our customers, partners, and employees. This also includes helping our enterprise customers with their own business transformations.

We’re also involved in HKBN’s development of new enterprise ICT solutions: from integrated cloud and information security solutions to system integration services. You could say it’s all about offering a full toolbox, rather than just a single tool, to help our customers solve their business problems and achieve their strategic goals.

Below, we outline four approaches that have helped us create a digital-first, customer-focused strategy which is helping HKBN grow faster than any other ICT provider in the marketplace.

1.   Drive change with a talent-first culture

At HKBN, we describe ourselves as talent obsessed. We believe if we look after our people, they’ll go out of their way and go the extra mile for our company, even during tough times. This has led to a corporate culture that champions continuous training, learning and development, and a clear life-work priority, allowing great flexibility for personal and family well being.

From the IT point of view, this approach extends to arming our frontline customer-facing teams with the cutting-edge tools they need to succeed in the highly competitive Asian telecom market. That means empowering them to create seamless digital experiences tailored around consumers.

For example, we’re leveraging the automation and collaboration capabilities of Salesforce Sales Cloud and Salesforce Marketing Cloud to help our sales and marketing teams save effort on low-value tasks, like report generation, and instead focus on higher-value activities like customer engagement.

We’re also deploying Salesforce MuleSoft, an API-based integration tool, to help our people unify all available data to create a single view of the customer, automate business processes, and build better connected experiences.

All these changes stood us in good stead with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When lockdowns were imposed and our frontline team members couldn’t engage with customers face to face, we worked intensively with our people to ensure they could rapidly embrace virtual engagement tools and so continue to sell via digital platforms, including social channels.

2.   Embrace an integration mindset 

At HKBN, we see digital transformation as an organization-wide upgrade that runs much deeper than a simple technology upgrade. It’s about rethinking our daily operations across the company and how departments can collaborate to achieve common business goals.

Our starting point is always to work intensively with our frontline teams to identify their sales and servicing pain points. Based on that understanding, we co-create omni-channel solutions to address the customer needs. The process also involves harnessing the power of digital tools and technologies organization-wide to integrate data and gain a single, shared 360-degree view of every customer.

We also turn to experts from Salesforce Professional Services to guide the process. That gives us valuable insights into how best to implement and use our new tools to quickly achieve our transformation goals.

All this is helping us to deliver value to our customers dynamically and efficiently. When COVID-19 struck, we launched a customer engagement campaign #ToughTimesTogether, which included offering 1-month fee waivers of our fixed-line service to our entire customer base in Hong Kong — comprising 1 million customers territory-wide.

Such service fee waivers represented a significant part of our annual revenue – it was a major commitment. Aimed to be a quick relief to all our customers from the pandemic’s outset, we targeted to roll out the campaign as fast as possible. We’re proud that from planning to execution, it took us just one week. If we hadn’t had the digital foundations ready in place, we would never have been able to move so quickly.

3.   Unleash a fresh approach to CIO leadership

HKBN’s transformation strategy has shone a spotlight on the role of the company’s Information Technology (IT) department. When HKBN started out, IT played the traditional role of a maintaining back-end systems. But as the company began to embrace its transformation program, it realized it needed to bring IT out of the back office so it could play a more central role in driving overall business strategy.

Creating the roles of Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) and Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) embodies HKBN’s commitment to unleashing change across every aspect of the business — from customer engagement strategies to new, agile ways of working together across teams.

As CTO, Samuel works to help our workforce of nearly 6,000 people transform as a group, seamlessly adopting the tools and technologies they need to deliver exceptional customer experiences for great business results. Meanwhile, our CIO, Sam, draws on his industry knowledge to create the architecture landscape that can enable HKBN’s ambitious growth plans.

We work in tandem to ensure we can execute change quickly and effectively. That includes making the right judgement calls when it comes to prioritizing technology investments and keeping HKBN moving in the right direction. And while we may sometimes disagree ultimately, we know we’re both working towards the same goal: enabling our customers to be more successful. 

4.   Create competitive advantage with Co-Ownership

What’s the safest way to ensure a bridge doesn’t collapse? You get the builders to live beneath it to ensure they have a vested interest in supporting what they put up.

That’s the thinking behind HKBN’s unique Co-Ownership scheme. No one gets free stock options here — instead, we allow our people the choice of having skin in the game by investing a significant portion of their savings into the company.

Our Co-Ownership scheme was established in 2012 after a management buyout. Today, it’s evolved to open to everyone at supervisory level and above.

Eligible Co-Owners sign up to invest 2-24 months of their salary to buy HKBN stock at market price under the Co-Ownership scheme. If HKBN achieves or exceeds a key company performance target in a period of three years, Co-Owners enjoy free shares at a certain ratio.

It means we’ve created a common set of incentives – from growing the company to saving costs – across all parts of the business, from IT to customer service and even key external partners.

Today, we have hundreds of proud Co-Owners, representing majority of our managerial workforce and 100% of our top management. We all have a vested stake in HKBN’s overall success, creating what we like to call our “legal unfair competitive advantage” (or you’d hear us saying “LUCA”). Together, we share a common vision and a drive to create long-term value for our customers and our company.

Seizing new growth opportunities

Looking ahead, we’re seeking to leverage the capabilities we’ve built via our internal digital transformation projects as we work with customers on their own transformations. For example, we are now seeking to empower our team of system integrators to offer “digital transformation as a service” across Asia-Pacific.

The past year has brought so many challenges. But, by using technology to stay connected to our customers, we’ve been able to keep making the agile decisions that will help us scale. While we’re not the market leader yet, that’s where our sights are set – and we’re getting closer every day.

sales image Salesforce

(left) Sam Tan, Co-Owner & CIO, HKBN  (right)  Samuel Hui, Co-Owner & CTI, HKBN

Samuel is the one without glasses on

Sam Tan Co-Owner & Chief Innovation Officer HKBN Group

Sam has over 30 years of solid experience in IT, automation and consulting; serving global MNCs with 23 years in senior leadership roles. He was also a full-time Soldier with Singapore Armed Forces for 5 years. Prior to joining HKBN, he was the Asia Pacific CIO for AECOM. Not only has he achieved cost/efficiencies improvement through Data Center consolidation, Network redesign as well as user experience/satisfaction were also greatly improved.  Most importantly, he managed to uplift the IBM outsourcing relationship and services to AECOM Asia Pacific users when the rest of the world were still suffering, and later AECOM outsourced the entire IT globally to IBM in 2017. Sam previously held regional leadership roles in MNCs including Liz Claiborne, UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Hewlett-Packard and FedEx.

Samuel Hui Co-Owner & Chief Transformation Officer HKBN Group

Samuel and his team are responsible for both the digital transformation of HKBN and that of our partners as a trusted advisor and delivery expert, with competencies across Customer Relationship Management in the digital age, Data Analytics, as well as the use of new technologies such as Internet of Things and Digital Solutions. Samuel is also active in the startup ecosystem in co-developing innovative ideas with leading entrepreneurs and match-making these solutions with the enterprise market. Samuel brought onboard a breadth of experience as a management consultant advising Fortune 500 Financial Services clients on business growth and transformation strategies at Oliver Wyman NY.