by James Henderson

Prioritising ‘abundance and trust’ in a data-driven Singapore

Jun 06, 2019
Data ManagementEmerging TechnologyIT Leadership

With the emergence of the Information Age comes responsibility, and a need to cut through complexity

Amelia Green, CDO at PwC Singapore
Credit: PwC

Ask Amelia Green, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of PwC in Singapore, to outline key priorities in 2019 and beyond, and the answer is unequivocal: “abundance and trust”.

In leading more than 200 business innovation engagements globally – in addition to establishing five international Innovation Centres – Green is well-placed to assess the real-world impact of the Information Age, an age in which data is now considered as the world’s most valuable resource ahead of oil.

But with data comes responsibility, and an acknowledgement that businesses today are overwhelmed by choice, thus creating adoption challenges.

“A lack of trust is a stumbling block to the path to progress,” observed Green, when speaking to CIO ASEAN. “Without trust we don’t share, we don’t collaborate.

“We need to develop the ability to trust where the data is coming from, the quality of data we receive, and most importantly: those we share the data with, so we can truly create new insights, opportunities, products, services and experiences.”

Likewise, in an era of abundance of information, data and possibilities, Green said trust is required to access such possibilities.

“In 2019, our mission is thus to rebuild trust within the sharing economy, enabling individuals, societies, businesses and governments restore confidence in developing new capabilities to drive new business models and develop innovative thinking to solve society’s important problems,” she added.

“We also live in a world of unprecedented rate of change, navigating this world of abundance, identifying and then harnessing new opportunities in already established organisations will continue to be a challenge as anyone be it an individual, a startup or a known entity can become a new competitor.”

Having joined PwC in July 2018, Green is tasked with helping customers define digital agendas in Singapore, while promoting and building scalable capabilities.

In assuming the position of CDO, a gravitation towards new and emerging technologies is also inevitable, with Green citing artificial intelligence (AI) as a major disruptive market force.

Specifically, this covers AI in all forms, such as machine learning, reinforcement learning, computer visioning and parameter noise. The list, for Green, is almost endless.

“These technologies focus on the prevalence of data available and the ability to use it effectively in new ways to disrupt the market,” she added. “There is also obviously a lot of interest in the potential of blockchain technology.

“Whilst yet to get significant traction, the scope of its applications to reinvent industries could be powerful.”

Bleeding edge

In a career spanning more than 20 years, Green has established a track record of forecasting future business needs and driving internal change.

Most notably, Green established the first Innovation Centre in the Middle East with HP, and was invited by Procter & Gamble to establish an Innovation Centre in EMEA, capable of driving strategic and scalable innovation across the region.

Coupled with strategic executive roles at IBM, Wipro, and Accenture, Green speaks with authority on the topic of transformation.

“The emergence of new technologies provides both opportunities and challenges for our profession,” Green cautioned. “We see tremendous opportunities to help our clients address the challenges of going digital – to move faster, embrace new business models and manage the risks involved.

“The challenges for our profession will be to continually reinvent the way we carry out our work. We are embracing new technology platforms, using more automation and increasing the adoption of AI technologies.

“To future proof our teams, we are going through a major digital up-skilling programme to prepare all of our people for the digital future.”

To achieve success, Green said digital innovation must not be confined to technology, with a focus on the new business models enabled by such innovation.

“In our vision to digitally transform, we always look to see how we can leverage legacy systems, how they can provide the right foundation for the future, what can be optimised, simplified, or scaled while balancing how we consume new technologies to enable the future,” Green added. “For example, cloud vs hybrid cloud models, or consuming new capabilities as-a-service?

“Balancing capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operating expenses (OPEX) – equally important for us to consider in how we provide our services to our clients as well as how we consume digital capabilities in or outside our environment.”

According to Green, at the heart of any business or economic growth, is the benefit provided to society, business, brand and consumers.

“Our strategies are built to serve the people we seek to add value to,” she outlined. “New growth may be serving new value to consumers, or extending our reach to serve new markets; while internal agility and efficiency may be served through digitisation efforts such as robotic process automation (RPA).

“We measure this both quantitatively through improved financial performance and qualitatively through customer impact, brand development and people engagement measures.”

Internally, Green said PwC in Singapore is also undergoing digitisation through the overhaul of systems and processes.

“We are staying ahead through digitising our own profession,” she said. “This includes digitising the work we do for example through optical character recognition, RPA, digitalising processes, or in the development of new products and services.

“We have become more responsive to client needs to digitally transform their businesses and our approach in serving them.”

Digital demands

Despite drawing on a strong digital background, Green occupies a rare position in the market as CDO, a position not yet fully deployed at enterprise level. According to PwC research, only 2.2% of companies created a distinct CDO role in 2018.

“This reflects that there is a gap in the required momentum from the top to drive digital change in most organisations,” Green observed.

With many organisations now four to five years into digital transformation strategies, Green said the role of a CDO has evolved in parallel.

From digitising (conversion of physical to digital), digitalising (optimising work processes) and digital transformation (transforming products, service, organisations and business models), to increasing business value generated from digital efforts.

“A CDO must show anticipation, curiosity, drive, agility, collaboration, resilience and humility,” advised Green. “There will always be a 14-year-old smarter than you in something somewhere. My role as CDO spans ‘what’ we do and ‘how’ we do it.

“To participate in a digital economy, you need to become a digital enterprise. Digital is not a separate strategy and it is built into everything we do. I am responsible for digitally transforming all aspects of our business, internally and externally.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such a role requires a “steady focus” on the end customer.

“My team and I champion innovation using emerging digital capabilities that generate business breakthroughs and value for the clients we serve, while supporting the transformation needed to capitalise on these opportunities,” Green added. “I also work closely with the C-suite to help them define their digital strategies in their digital transformation journey.

“What became clear is that the auditing profession has continued to see unprecedented change. Internally, I play a big role in redefining the future of the profession by applying innovative new tools such as data analysis and analytics to help our talented professionals transform and promote the quality of work we perform for the clients we serve.”

Changing mindsets

Opportunity ahead lies in data, added Green, chiefly around leveraging data into the business to drive efficiencies and growth opportunities.

“There are many layers to this, but first and foremost getting the data into the system is the start point to harnessing the power of data – from greater insights into the development of new ecosystems and businesses and business models,” she said.

Yet challenges exist through the form of culture, billed by many as a blocker to internal and external innovation.

Again, citing PwC research, Green said 67% of CEOs agreed that AI would significantly change the way they worked – but over a third had no plans to pursue it.

“Organisations need to balance the digital and transformation,” she cautioned. “Technology is seldom the challenge; the challenge is the culture.

“Organisations need to adopt open mind-sets, foster courage and agility to seek new opportunities and evolve businesses, while adjusting to new market realities and adopting new ways of working to operate in a digital economy.”