This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on May 10, 2021 - May 16, 2021
WITH Covid-19 having affected every aspect of life, most businesses recognise that lifestyles will change in the years ahead, but few are actually reshaping their growth strategies to prepare for the changes that are coming, says Accenture.
In a recent survey, the professional services firm found that 65% of senior executives in Malaysia expect emerging new lifestyles to arrive within five years. However, 58% admit that their companies are not proactively reshaping their pre-pandemic strategies to thrive in this expected new reality.
The survey was part of a global study that Accenture carried out late last year on 1,500 senior executives in 12 countries across 10 industries.
“What’s happening is that there is only a small percentage of companies that are well ahead of the curve and taking bold steps to embrace the change. But, actually, most are not. A lot of businesses, I think, almost pretend to cope, but there is a time lag between what they say they are going to do and actually doing what they say they’ll do,” Azwan Baharuddin, country managing director of Accenture Malaysia, tells The Edge in an interview.
He says that, as companies in Malaysia look to recover from the impact of the pandemic, how they leverage technology will be vital to how well they can grow their business. But they need to put plans into action fast.
“My biggest frustration when I talk to CEOs in Malaysia is when I hear them say, ‘We’re not pioneers but we’re fast followers.’ The problem with that is that ‘fast’ in this digital world is weeks or months; but, for some of them, it’s five years, which means they are five years behind,” he shares.
Azwan notes that Covid-19 has accelerated many of the societal shifts that predated it. Giving examples of emerging new lifestyles, he says consumers expect greater transparency about the origins of goods; people’s state of health will influence where they can travel even as digital health passports come into play; and environmental concerns will drive new modes of transport such as electric vehicles (EVs).
In addition, city dwellers will demand more sustainable, smart neighbourhoods that can be navigated with e-bikes and e-scooters.
These emerging lifestyle demands will present new business opportunities that cannot be captured with pre-pandemic strategies, Azwan points out.
“The executives we surveyed expect all of this to happen within the next five years, but the kicker is that 58% admit they are not yet preparing for this. Many are still saying, ‘Oh, five years is still a long time away,’” he remarks.
From the survey, Malaysian executives said they expected “future society” to have a greater focus on human ingenuity — that is, in using technology to drive innovation — as well as on improving the environment and on collective well-being. Just as important is leveraging technology to make society smarter.
“Everything in the future is going to be dictated by technology. And the more we resist, the worse off we will be in the future,” Azwan states.
Malaysia as a country needs to catch up with neighbouring countries on some fronts.
“For example, in terms of EVs and the phasing-out of fuel-run cars. You have Thailand saying it is aiming to sell only zero-emission vehicles domestically from 2035, and Singapore saying it will phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. We’ve not done anything similar … so that tells you how ill-prepared we [will be when the time comes],” he says.
“Yes, I would argue that we can still continue to sell petrol and diesel cars today, but every day that we are not preparing for EVs is a day lost. One day, people will be asking us how come other countries have EV chargers on the roads but we don’t.”
According to Azwan, there are several things that businesses should be doing now to thrive in future society.
One of them is to target versatile talent to help them transition into a more automated artificial-intelligence (AI)-powered future. In the Malaysian survey, executives expected 14% of all jobs to be fully automated within five years, while 27% expected them to be AI-augmented.
Interestingly, in Malaysia, 56% of executives — above the global average of 48% — said their companies were hiring new leaders to help them transition to that new environment.
The other thing is to put sustainability at the centre of their business. Azwan notes that with environmental concerns taking centre stage, companies must be able to infuse sustainability into the core of how they design, create and go to market.
“People will differentiate such companies and are willing to pay a premium for [products from] companies that do that,” says Azwan.
Businesses will also need to invest in human care, and not just from the aspect of employees’ well-being. Many companies are now looking for ways to offer healthy choices to consumers, but those that thrive are the ones that go a step further by using advanced technology to invest in prevention and overall well-being.
“For example, Honda debuted an antiviral mask for cars,” he says, referring to the Japanese automotive giant’s new product launched earlier this year that is designed to kill viruses inside a vehicle.
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