Chua I-Pin was appointed Managing Director, Polycom South East Asia in May 2015. In this Q&A, we discuss the key drivers of collaboration technology, vital considerations for customers investing in video, and what the workplace of the future has in store for the region.
What have you learnt in your first 100 days in this role? What inspires me the most is that our technology applies far beyond meeting rooms. We have come so far in applying collaboration technology in the most innovative ways to enable transformations in workspace, experience and workflow in multiple verticals such as education, healthcare, and manufacturing.
The possibilities are several: deploying video links in ambulances for rapid diagnosis and streaming live images back to a doctor in A&E; video kiosks at banking and retail institutions to improve customer service and utilisation of service staff; collaborating with specialists in manufacturing facilities across the world for technical advice and troubleshooting. Video collaboration is so much more than enabling people to meet face-to-face – the technology has evolved so much to transform processes and solve business issues for maximum productivity.
I’ve also learned that true market leaders are dedicated to continuous innovation. As a company with 25 years of innovation behind us, Polycom’s focus and technology has always been on ease of ease and seamless integration, and I am excited about what’s coming next as we introduce the next evolution of collaboration solutions on October 7.
What is driving the adoption of video and collaboration technology in South East Asia?
South East Asia (SEA) is a large and diverse region made up of both developed and emerging economies. We see that the latter in particular adopting a leapfrogging approach to technological development by implementing state of the art network infrastructure to improve bandwidth capabilities. Of course this is a huge contributing factor to implementing enterprise video collaboration networks.
I believe another driver to adoption is cultural. In Asia, a lot of communication can be said to be non-verbal and is reliant on visual cues – “What is not spoken is as important as what is spoken.” Therefore, conducting face-to-face meetings is very important, but perhaps not always possible due to time or distance constraints. A voice conversation would not be able to communicate to the other party what is the real message, whereas a video conference is the best compromise to being there in person.
Further, there is rapidly growing interest, uptake, and application of video collaboration in various vertical industries including government, healthcare, and education. The Ministry of Public Health of Thailand is a stellar example of how video collaboration is being integrated into daily workflow, to respond to emergencies and connect doctors and specialists in time-critical situations. Another great example is from the Indonesia Open University (Universitas Terbuka), where 38 widely dispersed campuses across the country are connected with video. This has helped improve internal communications throughout the many regions, and extended education programmes to students in remote areas.
It’s these real-life stories and the proven benefits that are also influencing organisations in the region to accelerate business transformation through technology.
Which market segments have the greatest growth potential for Polycom in SEA?
SEA is made up of over 600 million people with markets at various levels of maturity. The businesses in this region are currently faces a number of financial and operational challenges: Currency fluctuations, sliding exchange rates, companies implementing travel freeze on staff and so on. But in situations like these, video conferencing is a counter-cyclical technology, and has a big role in maintaining productivity and business continuity in the face of budget cuts and organisational change.
I believe we have a unique value proposition for every country in SEA and opportunities depending on the use cases. In Indonesia for example, the President himself has slashed travel budgets in a cost-cutting exercise and is advocating the use of video conferencing instead. Similarly, the government in Thailand is also looking to boost development on infrastructure, and this presents a great opportunity for us. Myanmar also is an emerging market with huge potential where the technology landscape is changing rapidly – the growth of mobile coverage even in rural areas, and increasing broadband access can help bring more people online. As a result, the rapid development of e-citizen and e-government services is only a matter of time and enterprise collaboration will become a critical business tool in this space.
There is also still big growth potential in a mature economy like Singapore, with the presence of large multinational companies. With their many offices and overseas facilities, collaboration is very necessary. There are also a lot of government initiatives here which promote a flexi-work culture and encourage mothers to return to work, and of course collaboration technology is key to enabling a connected workforce and work-life flexibility.
The industrial changes and talent flow within the region are also pretty interesting; Vietnam is taking a large part of the pie from China by forging ahead as a major manufacturing hub, and I believe Myanmar will follow in the same steps. With AEC 2015 fast coming to fruition, there will be a greater flow of good and labour, and so no organisation can afford to be isolated nor can human capital be restricted to one place.
What do you think companies need to do to embrace collaboration as a company-wide business practice?
When organisations invest in collaboration technology, it’s not just a top-down approach to embracing the technology further, but also across the chain of promoting its use as a critical business tool among employees. Video technology is unfortunately still not being utilised to its fullest potential and is seen by many to be a ‘board room’ function, reserved only for C-suite executives. It is a technology that may only be used for monthly events or on a scheduled basis but is not being adopted as a mainstream method of communication.
In our customer meetings, we frequently find that most employees are not responsible for just one office or territory any more, they have responsibilities across the region and frequent communication is and should be a daily part of business. Again, the culture of visual cues is required – it helps engage employees better and builds relationships, encourages more transparency, and minimise the risks of miscommunication. Likewise, customers, partners, or suppliers are able to benefit more out of a video call than a voice call. Scenarios like these are where video collaboration as a culture needs to be reinforced among all employees, particularly when the technology is more intuitive and accessible across multiple devices and workspaces.
I do believe however, that a top down push is gradually taking place, particularly driven by the CFO, encouraging people to reduce travel and consider alternatives – and technology is the greatest enabler in building the workplace of the future. We aren’t saying that video collaboration completely replaces travel. What we are trying to say is that for routine meetings, it makes more sense.
What does the future workplace look like for people in SEA and how is Polycom enabling this?
The concept of Workplace of the Future is at its most basic form the capability to work any place, any time, on any device. This means traditional office spaces shifting towards collaboration spaces, and technology becoming more intuitive and integrated into daily activities and workflow.
What does this mean for organisations in SEA? Well, essentially it means a more productive, collaborative future. Traffic remains a major issue in large cities like Jakarta, where 2-3 hour commutes are not unheard of, resulting in massive loss of productivity. Further, recruiting the right talent and specialists can often be challenging – and this should not be confined to a particular geography any more. The workplace of the future is not a physical location, and by this principle there should be a productivity-driven approach to work rather than just being measured by the number of hours spent on a job or at an office.
Our technology allows companies and employees to do this – via desktop, mobile, and cloud solutions. More importantly, video collaboration is a visual experience – and if that experience is not an excellent one, people will lose faith in the technology.
What advice do you have for customers considering an investment in collaboration technology?
There are four key areas I would ask customers to look out for:
Investment protection is a very important consideration – Technology is not a disposable purchase but should be viewed as a long-term investment. Adopting technologies from a vendor that believes in open standards, continuous R&D and investment is paramount.
Choice of vendor is key – Collaboration technology permeates throughout an organisation, so choosing a market leader with solutions tailored to a customer’s specific needs is crucial.
Interoperability – A customer’s choice of collaboration solutions should integrate into their current platform or infrastructure, without the need to replace existing assets.
Experience – Collaboration is about experience. Choose solutions which provide the right experience for continuous usage and ease.
How has video collaboration impacted your life? I have worked across SEA for over 15 years. At the peak of it, I travelled 45 weeks per year for many years, resulting in my family and I even shifting home to live near the airport! Video has definitely cut down my need to catch a flight for meetings every week, but I don’t find myself compromising my work rate just because I travel less. The technology allows me to be as much or even more effective, because I spend less time on the road and more time collaborating. Another great benefit is that I get to meet with my regional sales team on a daily basis and get to see everyone’s faces when they commit revenue numbers!