This simple question can bridge the digital divide

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We have to convince our teams that you shouldn’t assume you’re not driving the digital agenda just because you are not coding. Otherwise, you’ll have people saying, “I’m not on stage presenting some new app. I’m not a developer. I’m not digital.”


Globally, finance is rapidly evolving with the use of AI and robotics. To keep up, we need to talk more about role models and success stories. In DTAC’s finance group, “digitising the core” means using digital automation and tools, but also simpler business processes, to improve our output. This is very much part of our digital transformation agenda. We have already identified what to do next, but we still have a long way to go.


Which side of the digital divide you’re on is simply a question of asking yourself why you’re doing your job. I’ll be blunt, here. If the answer is, “Because my boss told me so,” you’ve got a problem. But if you know how what you’re doing is actually supporting the company’s digital transformation, then you’re part of the journey.


I would like to believe that every employee at DTAC has a role to play in securing the company’s digital ambitions. There’s this story about President John F Kennedy asking a janitor at NASA what the guy’s role is, and the man answers, “I’m putting a man on the moon”. I’m not sure if it’s a true story, but I’m sure that’s the right answer.


My background is in finance and accounting. And I enjoy working in start-up environments and helping building businesses from scratch. I was lucky that I got to do that in my previous jobs at Coca-Cola and Vodafone India. One key lesson I learned is that to drive a business you have to understand how everyone has a part to play in its success.


At Coca-Cola, they have a special way of onboarding their new hires. For one month, you will be working with a salesman, travelling with him in a delivery truck to understand what it takes to sell Coca-Cola on the front line every day. You experience how to sell, how to clean the bottles and how to check the temperature of the refrigerators to make sure customers always get an ice-cold drink. What that training does is ensure that everyone at Coca-Cola knows that they’re supporting the salespeople on the road. Just like that janitor at NASA knew he’s putting a guy on moon.


At my next job, at Vodafone, they asked if I wanted to go to an existing unit or join a new business. There are over 22 regional licenses for mobile telecommunications in India, so there was always a need to expand into new areas. Of course, I chose to be part of a new unit, to start something from scratch. 


We clearly set our ambition to be among the best companies in the world in terms of finance practices. World-class finance is broader than cost reduction; it is about value creation. There are objective metrics that you can measure, to ensure you’re shifting your emphasis to value-adding activities, spending more time gaining deep insights and better supporting decisions. 


In parallel, we reduced time sent on resource-hungry processes that don’t add value, such as processing transactions or generating reports. In comparison, DTAC finance is just at the beginning of this transformation as we still spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources on complicated manual processes.


Rather than forcing change, I love consensus building and try to get buy-in from my team. 


Change doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes I’ve been criticised for the time required for consensus building. But I have a strong view on this – you cannot force change. If you do, employees won’t understand the change, won’t believe in it and won’t buy into it. Just like everything else in finance, you need a solid foundation to build on. 


I’m confident we’ll get there and that it will be sustainable. But first, start by asking yourself, “How does my job contribute to the strategy of my organisation?” If you can answer that in an affirmative way and write it down somewhere, then you’re already on the path to digital transformation.

Since September 2017, Dilip Pal is the newly appointed chief finance officer at DTAC. He previously held the same position for three years in the Telenor Group’s Bangladesh unit, Grameenphone. 

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