The year of the Tiger should symbolize strength, determination, as well as revival, and reconnecting with networks and people. But will businesses be ready to capitalize on this auspicious promise?

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of trends once deemed as the longer-term future of work. According to McKinsey, investments in digital and automation transformations, considered too ambitious before the pandemic, have suddenly become key to business continuity and survival.

These digital plans are now seen as vital lifelines to sustained competitive advantage or sustenance, and as we head into the new year, we see three key trends that will have repercussions for every business here in Asia and around the world.

These include the changing dynamics around the future of work (specifically the mainstreaming of remote and hybrid work); the need for immediate and longer-term digital transformation strategies to ensure business resilience and bolster environmental, social, and governance (ESG) credentials; and the new physical-digital mix that will characterize the after-COVID new norm.

Future of work

Remote work is here to stay, even if its adoption remains challenging for those less prepared. Hybrid work is, even more, a new reality.

These realities equate to far greater need for cloud solutions that connect both the internal workforce and a company’s external stakeholders such as customers, investors, vendors, and partners.

At the same time, decentralization of conventional workplaces is allowing for improvements in areas such as work-life balance by giving more control over time management, self-determination, and family considerations to employees–while the added flexibility is actually aiding business continuity planning (BCP) strategies.

More than ever, it is clear that the future of work will be inextricably linked to the cloud.

New physical-digital mixture

The second piece is about managing real human connections and relationships in this new digital-first environment, which will be a challenge of the new norm that all businesses have to adapt to.

Physical events will start happening again at scale and it will be interesting to see what that interaction looks like, i.e. how will digital elements be incorporated into the physical (it could be something as simple as a QR code tag in place of a paper business card to exchange contact details with fellow attendees).

Meanwhile, internal meetings at companies will likely continue to leverage new virtual solutions such as Zoom even when everyone is in the same building, making digital transformation an ongoing imperative as we enter the new year.

While companies may interpret DX in different ways, or feel so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to start, smaller initiatives or pilot projects can help them ease their way in: for example, a company’s finance department can automate the digitization of all its paper invoices as a starting point.

In Singapore, a country widely seen as a global leader on digital excellence and certainly leading the way in ASEAN, our research found that as many as 80 percent of accounting and finance staff were still going into their workplace in recent months–even as the virus wreaked havoc on people’s health and the economy.

The leading reason was the need to continually process paper documents such as invoices, contracts, receipts, and expenses that are mailed into offices physically by post.

If an economy like Singapore’s is grappling with this challenge of paper documents persisting in the corporate world, you can bet less-developed regional markets are also struggling.

Digitizing something as simple as invoices represents one easily digestible step with a potential ripple effect on process management and further digital adaptation and evolution.

Many businesses are already hiring DX leaders who specialize in delivering transformation, identifying gaps and plugging them, accelerating digital processes, and training staff.

These people must evangelize the new tech and ensure it is onboarded democratically and diplomatically. This part is nothing new; it’s been going on with new tech for decades, if not longer.

ESG factors

The third big theme for the year of the Tiger concerns the need to prioritize ESG strategies, specifically by using less paper (and more digital) as more institutional investors, governments, businesses, and individuals measure and track this criterion.

On the governance side, faster and more transparent accounting delivered over digital channels leads to less fraud – it’s no surprise that emerging markets, which are more reliant on paper-based processes, have higher rates of fraud than the developed world.

Digitizing invoice management or centralizing the existing network of internal contacts can improve governance while also reducing wastage, so corporates big and small should think deeply about the need to address these basic areas in the year ahead.

Any business that gets on top of these three trends will be off to a flying start and secure a competitive advantage over peers in their industry who are still faltering on these digital new norms – think of it as a corporate new year’s resolution.

Edward Senju is the Regional Chief Executive Officer, Sansan Pte Ltd.

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