- TM and PNB remain risk-averse towards investments in tech startups
- EcoWorld X takes the road less travelled by property developers by exploring tech
AS BRICK and mortar companies become cognisant of the digital world and strive to rapidly adapt, internal strategies may need realignment. But how fast can companies change their set ways to drive forward its growth?
On the panel entitled “Pulling the right levels” were Muzaffar Othman, chief technology officer of Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB); Ahmad Azhar, chief digital officer of Telekom Malaysia (TM) Bhd; and Victor Khor, the divisional general manager of EcoWorld X.
Kicking off the session, the moderator Khoo Hsu Chuang from BFM’s Breakfast Grill asked the panellists Muzaffar and Ahmad if their organisations faced any ‘cultural upheaval’ in light of the recent 14th general election.
“I think the strategy has not changed. It has remained the same for the past 40 years. We are still trying to reach the masses or unit holders but our approach is going to be faster and more furious,” Muzaffar shared.
As for changes in TM, Ahmad highlighted the most apparent is that the company’s chief executive officer has changed three times in the past 15 months. Although TM is under external pressure following the government’s directive to reduce broadband prices, Azhar says that has been no change of the plans it has in place.
“It’s just a matter of remaining steadfast and executing the plans,” Azhar said.
Representing the property developer EcoWorld, Khor said its approach has always been customer-focused and they have constantly invested in digital evolution.
“We build gated communities, not just homes. Today’s communities are very digitally engaged so our digital focus has increased tremendously simply because our customers demand it.”
EcoWorld X is the company’s first step on its digital journey aimed at building better customer relationships from the data of consumer behaviour – what they are buying and why. “I don’t think there is any developer in town today that invests in their own technologies. We have already started looking at things like biometrics and having relevant conversations.”
Diving further into the topic, Khoo remarked on the lack of public sector investment in unicorn or unicorn-to-be businesses and asked Muzaffar if he would consider changing this. “Most of my clients are not like you and I – they are farmers, rubber tappers and fishermen. So if we were to invest in GoJek for instance, it means nothing to them. As far as they’re concerned, they want dividends.”
“We don’t tell people where we invest. It’s only a very, very small percentage of our money that we put in that space,” Muzaffar added.
He further explained that the policy has remained so for over 30 years and that PNB’s risk-averse stance is closely linked with being 10% of the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (KLCI).
“We are not jumping in because our unit holders may not understand the complexity of things. They will not see the one investment that makes money, they will look at the others and ask why you wasted their money,” Muzaffar said.
Shifting focus to TM, Khoo asked Ahmad about the company’s plans beyond digitisation. “TM doesn’t have growth particularly in mind versus Axiata that’s very aggressive, lots of mergers and acquisitions and a huge technology stable.”
Ahmad responded by saying that TM’s focus right now is on internal improvement and providing better service to our customers. Touching on investing into startups, Ahmad said “For us now, it is less of a priority compared to Axiata because our capital appetite is lower.”
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