CIO Lunch Briefing – Business Agility : Staying Ahead in today’s Digital Economy


20 July 2017

CIO Academy Asia (CIOAA), in association with IBM Singapore, organised a CIO Executive Briefing over lunch on 20 July at Hotel Marina Mandarin. More than 20 CIOs and IT leaders participated in this privately curated event to discuss new economic landscape and technologies that could help business become agile in the fast-changing and dynamic digital economy.

In his welcome address, Mr. P. Ramakrishna, the Deputy CEO of CIOAA, welcomed all the participating CIOs to the Executive Briefing.

“What’s fuelling this need for business agility? Business cycles are getting shorter, things are moving fast and this is largely due to the pervasive and agile nature of tech disruptions,” he said. “Today, systems are interconnected online and companies are gathering voluminous amount of data for decision making. As a result, new business models and tech platforms are causing intense competition for businesses.”

Businesses can cope with these disruptions through traits such as adaptability, flexibility and (achieving a) balance, he surmised.

From Mainframes to Cloud and Blockchain

Delivering the opening remarks on behalf of IBM, Ms. Lum Seow Khun, Direction for Industry and Transformation, IBM Singapore, said that IBM’s journey started in Singapore way back in 1962 when mainframes were incorporated into the IT systems by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. We have come a long way since then, as IBM has announced a new mainframe, she said. This new machine, IBM Z, is a state of the art mainframe—it is encrypted for security. It is capable of running 12 billion encrypted transactions a day. IBM claimed that its new mainframe can encrypt data at a rate 18 times faster than other platforms.

Referring to IBM’s new capabilities, she exhorted the CIOs to adapt technologies such as cloud, cognitive, and the Internet of Things (IoT) that could help them in their transformation journey.

Engineering a Cognitive Architecture to deliver differentiated outcomes

Delivering the day’s first keynote, Mr. David Bate, Vice President, IBM Hybrid Cloud, Asia Pacific, said that the mainframe was the original ‘cloud’ and how the cloud technology has evolved from then to now (with IBM Z, it has really come a long way!).

He said that today, businesses are vulnerable to seismic shifts, citing the fact that between 2000 and now, more than 50% of the Fortune 500 companies have failed.

He also noted that there is a high attrition rate among startups, and for most of them, surviving the first 10 months of its existence is the biggest challenge.

In a context like this, ‘Agility’ because crucial for any business to survive—the ability to respond with speed to the challenges that are being posed in the market by the likes of Uber and Airbnb—the biggest disruptors that have become textbook reference cases.

“Human adaptability has fallen behind the pace of change set by technology,” he said. The answer to this rate of technological evolution and disruption is the application of AI – Augmented Intelligence (a better term to use instead of just Artificial Intelligence)

To win in this environment, you must do two things, he suggested: one, turn data into insights and two, improve customer experience. “Businesses need to connect disparate data and create new opportunities,” he suggested .“Apply cognitive to enhance data intelligence exponentially.”

He gave the example of using data to derive information about storage space on shelves in a retail store. This is achieved by training the system to detect whether there is space in the storeroom. IBM Watson can accomplish this kind of cognitive work.

Enumerating the virtues of the IBM’s cognitive technology (IBM Watson), Mr. Bate said that IBM brings together more data and cognitive capabilities with an open cloud platform. It is built for the cognitive area, it is “Open” and in control and has industry expertise and delivery credentials.

IBM has built the most complete and integrated platform for innovation, he said. IBM Bluemix has all the elements that businesses need to succeed today—application, data, AI and apps, solutions and services. It features over 150 tools and services spanning categories of big data, mobile, cognitive computing, analytics, security, blockchain and Internet of Things.

For example, Blockchain is one of the advanced services available to developers on IBM Bluemix, on which more than 120,000 apps are launched every month.

The application of IBM’s offerings are making profound impact. He referred to the special Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand and how IBM’s cognitive technology has elevated the ability of its physicians. He also mentioned IBM Watson’s performance with organisations such as Memorial Sloan Kettering, Fresh Turf, Kenovo (personalised trend list) and Zumata (cognitive chatbots).

Memorial Sloan Kettering clinicians and analysts are partnering with IBM to train Watson Oncology to interpret cancer patients’ clinical information and identify individualized, evidence-based treatment options that leverage our specialists’ decades of experience and research.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chatbots

Mr. Tee Chin Wee, VP of Information Technology, Prudential Assurance Company Singapore, shared a few case studies about successful innovation projects involving AI.

Underlining the importance of data and cognitive computing, he said that most successful companies are practising data- driven  decision-making today.

He gave the example of a Chinese insurer, Zhong Han in China (which had $1.5 b HK IPO). This company sold 100 million policies in a day in China, using AI and mobility as key technologies.

Today, customers are at the centre of every business, he said. To succeed in the current environment, businesses need to focus on mobility and user experience; multichannel customer management, workflow and automation, and data and analytics, was his advice.

Start small, dream big 

Mr. Wee further advised the CIOs to start small and dream big. He has applied this approach successfully to his own company’s work. His company built a Chatbot called AskPru. Among other things, it reduced the customer call volume by 30%.

His company also uses Predictive analytics to pay claims, and there are systems in place to provide instant claim approvals, he said.

Blockchains and Last Mile Fulfillment 

The last presentation was by a Singapore-based startup, Fresh Turf. It’s co-founder Kevin Lim said that his startup tackles last mile fulfilment. It has developed solutions such as Centralised locker management system (SG Locker Deployment) and has incorporated Blockchain technology: built on Bluemix, IBM’s cloud platform, IBM and FreshTurf have been working on a distributed ledger platform prototype specifically designed to manage commercial transactions between merchants, logistic vendors, locker companies and consumers to make the offering secure.

The startup has been working with with IBM Bluemix Garage network. Using IBM Cloud and Blockchain technologies, FreshTurf has created a network of storage lockers for shipping and parcel delivery throughout Singapore. This locker ledger network is designed to help improve the “last mile” of delivery services for consumers and businesses, or the final leg of a package’s journey to a customer’s home.

The programme ended with a panel discussion which comprised of Panel Moderator Mr. Ramakrishna, and participants such as Mr. Kalyan Madala, CTO, IBM Singapore, Mr. Wee, and Mr. Lim.

Each participant talked about their interpretation of the term, agility. Mr. Lim said it was the “ability to hack quickly, and have shorter development cycles.”

To Mr. Madala, agility was about tapping into market opportunity. “If you feel the pain points, and are able to respond to them quickly, then it is agility,” he said.

For Mr. Wee, what’s more important is what the customer wants. Speaking in the context of the insurance industry, while he praised technology, he was not for it all. “We need to have balance, as we have both types of customers (who are tech savvy and who are not). One day it (insurance processes) might all be automated, but there might still be a human element to settle claims.”

The event ended with a Q&A with the audience, who showed a great interest in the case studies and how IBM’s technologies were leveraged to make the businesses agile.


To find the PDF version of this report, please head over here.

PHOTOS FROM THIS EVENT