2020 April
Businesses Seeking Changes Amid Pandemic: Digital Transformation

Amid the ravaging novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many businesses have arranged home offices for their employees to reduce the risk of infection, making home offices a trending topic in the fight against the pandemic. Businesses are continuing their operations during the intense pandemic situation through remote desktop, videoconferencing and cloud access, which also creates opportunities for digital transformation to enhance their competitiveness in the long run.


Although the Government has always encouraged businesses to embrace digital transformation, it was only after the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that they really act on it. Edmond Lai, Chief Digital Officer of the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC), said that “because of the need to fight the pandemic, many organizations enable remote-working for their employees and then find out that it’s not as difficult as imagined.”


He explained that true digital transformation essentially changes the overall business and operating models, “Digital transformation is like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, rather than a caterpillar that crawls faster.”


Pandemic-induced accelerated transformation is an opportunity for business expansion

Lai added that there has been a marked increase in queries from businesses due to the pandemic. For instance, a yoga instructor asked about how to use new technology to continue teaching amid the pandemic. “We recommend teaching via Webinar, at least to maintain communication with students. This is actually an opportunity for transformation to not only broaden customer engagement, but also help business expansion after the pandemic is over.”


In fact, home offices have many benefits, e.g. employees can use home office software for office work even when in a foreign country, which is particularly important for management. Moreover, home offices break down the boundaries of hiring talents. For roles that are suitable for remote working, such as data scientists, it does not matter whether the employee resides in Hong Kong or not. If we look farther to the Mainland or abroad, we would have much greater flexibility.


Lai noted that digital transformation can generally be divided into three levels: The first is to reduce paper usage; the second is to digitise so that the entire set of processes can be carried out remotely; and the third is to actively adapt the company’s personnel and culture to the transformation. “Of course, businesses can contact the HKPC whenever they have questions, and we will advise them on their specific circumstances.”


Make good use of government support as technology helps cut costs

Many businesses are most worried about costs when it comes to home office. Lai pointed out that the application of new technology actually helps reduce costs. “Given that rental in Hong Kong is very expensive and a large number of sales and customer service staff work outside most of the time, do they really need one seat per person in the office?” Reducing the average number of seats per person will indirectly cut rental costs.


He added that many cloud services can be subscribed on a monthly basis. The Government has also set up several funding schemes to support businesses in upgrading their hardware and software, while the Enterprise Support Scheme is designed to support businesses in R&D and the Reindustrialization and Technology Training Programme subsidises local staff for training in advanced technologies.


Lai hopes that businesses will draw on the subsidy schemes to accelerate digital transformation. The Government will step up publicity and make it easier to obtain support, “Our past approach was more passive as we mostly acted on queries before giving support. We launched the ‘SME Reach Out’ initiative early this year. Through a newly set up task force, we proactively reach out to major chambers of commerce and organisations, holding roadshows to make more SMEs aware of the various funding schemes and benefit from them.”