What we learned at FUTR Asia Summit 2019

Jasmine consolidates her thoughts on this year's FUTR Summit.

We recently attended the FUTR Asia Summit in Singapore.

Here’s what we learnt from people and brands across industries, who came together to exchange case studies and knowledge on how industries are evolving to address changing consumer needs. 

While keynotes and panels were categorised under specific interests such as retail, marketing and innovation – similar themes emerged across presentations.

Most speakers shared experiences on driving innovation and/or digital transformation within their organisations, and discussions centered around unpacking the challenges and successes of those.

Technology is a tool, not the answer

Across the board, senior stakeholders believe that technology can enable business-wide success.

Isabelle Zhou, Head of Growth at Love, Bonito relayed this well, saying that: “Technology is not the magic pill. How to use technology to meet your objective is the magic pill.”

She emphasised the need for businesses to form strategies informed by customer insight and build talent that can harness technology to meet specific objectives.

We also noticed a departure from the mindset, that adopting the latest technology will help businesses create a competitive edge. Instead, stakeholders recognised that a people-centric approach is the key to greater success. 

Innovation through customer-centricity 

It’s clear that organisations are beginning to realise the value and subsequent importance of customer-centricity when it comes to driving innovation for their products and services.

Focus was also placed on using customer engagement to evaluate existing experiences and unpack pain points - to identify opportunities for innovation. This was often achieved through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research

In his keynote, Klaas Mantel, Head of Global Convenience Retail at Shell International, shared how his team harness customer insights to differentiate their retail offering.

In fact, Shell’s latest research on electronic vehicles uncovered that - while charging EVs - customers preferred to spend their time, being productive or eating, instead of waiting elsewhere.

That’s why Shell’s convenience stores are set to become one of their main customer touch-points. To completely reimagine the forecourt experience, Shell are working alongside EV owners to visualise and design future forecourt scenarios.    

The need for organisational alignment

Organisational alignment - another critical factor that influences the success of innovation and/or transformation – was also discussed at length. Primarily, it surfaced as a key challenge for businesses, in a panel which focused on organisations and how to deliver a unified brand experience, across online and offline touch-points.

The panelists discussed the need for change management to set up processes, teams and culture - to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience.

However, struggles around organisational alignment across companies and verticals surfaced - especially when businesses comprise thousands of people. 

Head of Customer Care Management, AXA China and HK, Sudesh Thevasenabathy, expressed the hard truth, that few departments - often customer-facing ones - believed in the customer-first mission. 

To shift mindsets across all departments required cultural change, a mix of tactics and patience. However, this moved the business toward an aligned vision. 

Siloed ways of working that become barriers to alignment was another hot topic. Kshitij Hatsu, Head of Growth (SEA), at Moengage, shared an example of where these siloed departments divide customer data and prevent exchange.

At a recent Foolproof event on digital transformation, attendees echoed this – pointing out that silos could create internal politics. Since each owned a different set of KPIs, they might start seeing one another competing for resources, instead of allies with the same agenda.

Restructuring a business and changing these attitudes were key to forming the alignment that’s required to kickstart innovation and transformation work.

Addressing the “talent gap”

Recruiting talent also surfaced as another challenge. Although the problem concerns a general lack of awareness around skillsets required for up-and-coming roles.

Steve Lee, CIO of Changi Airport Group, shared that it was increasingly difficult to recruit the right people for the job. Some positions were new, and the business was busy shaping role responsibilities. 

Sometimes, it took time to figure  out what skillsets were required to reach the intended goals. This is increasingly common as innovation creates the need for new skillsets.

As businesses shift their organisational structure and offering, they also realise the need to create new roles unfamiliar to them.

For Steve, he saw a need for an agile methodology applied to HR. In his mind, the process needs to shift toward more iterative and flexible ways of working.

He cited soft-skills such as adaptability, organisational awareness and courage as valuable.

So what?

The conference was an honest and frank discussion about progress - or lack thereof - with innovation and transformation work.

As a design practitioner, I found greater maturity around the topic of innovation within APAC and stronger conviction to a people-first approach inspiring.

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