Thursday 28 Sep 2023
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on June 7, 2021 - June 13, 2021

In the early days of the pandemic last year, MyWave Sdn Bhd, like many other private businesses in the country, saw big drop-offs in business. 

However, in the middle of the year, the homegrown human resources software developer started to enjoy big gains, as the entire economy effectively pivoted online for the sake of business continuity. 

“Business really started to pick back up in the middle of last year and, right now, we’re on course to see a 17% increase in revenue as we head into the last months of our financial year,” says co-founder and chief technology officer Lim Soo Jin. 

MyWave, which was founded in 2005, operates on the software-as-a-service model, and its flagship offering is the HR (human resource) and payroll software, EmplX (pronounced “emplex”). 

With the pandemic catching just about everyone in the country by surprise, businesses really had little choice but to migrate their operations online, HR functions included. 

“We had three key priorities as far as the pandemic was concerned. To digitalise key employer-facing HR functionalities for as many businesses as we could; to complement that by empowering employees to execute their basic HR tasks while working from home; and more recently, to provide high value-added HR analytics tools to employers, by crunching the sheer volume of data that is being inputted with our systems.” 

Today, MyWave is not only executing on all three of these priorities, but plans are underway to significantly expand its footprint across the region. The Penang-based software developer already has clients around the world but, for Lim, the next major step will be to set up operations in China, which he hopes to do by next year. “We already have clients with offices in China. We’re hoping to have an office set up by next year and be up and running within the next three years,” he adds.

The JobStreet pivot 

Although the company’s fortunes have grown significantly over the past year, it was its early attempts to compete with JobStreet Bhd, coupled with its first-mover advantage in the enterprise cloud space, that gave MyWave the foothold it needed for long-term growth. 

MyWave initially started out with an online recruitment proposition. “In the early days, we roped in a few partners from the recruitment space, including our CEO Khoo Siew Ling, a specialist in that segment. We started off trying to build a recruitment system that could compete with JobStreet,” Lim says. 

Back in those early days of the Malaysian digital space, JobStreet was quickly establishing a reputation for creating an open ecosystem that matched job seekers to businesses that were looking to hire. 

But rather than come up with a like-for-like platform, MyWave went about developing a closed and decidedly more curated ecosystem of recruiters and job seekers. 

“We didn’t want to develop into the kind of recruitment search engine that JobStreet had built for themselves. Instead, we thought we could create a digital network for a host of recruitment agencies, and then have the broader industry tap into that curated network to search for candidates.

“We even tried building out very early iterations of artificial intelligence applications — something we referred to as inference engines — that could optimise matches based on a company’s specific hiring requirements. In addition, we tried to get that early artificial intelligence (AI) to also vet through candidates’ curricula vitae (CVs) and improve on them so they would be more presentable to potential employers.” 

Amid all this highbrow innovation and development, however, Lim and his fellow co-founders began to receive decidedly “grassroots” requests from industry partners and contacts. 

“After about a year of trying to develop this network that we had envisaged, we noticed a number of businesses, independent of one another, asking if we could develop digital solutions for basic HR functions like payroll and leave applications.

“At this point in time, all our efforts had been focused on the recruitment space. But the more we researched, the more we saw that the entire HR ecosystem was ripe for digital disruption. We realised this could be a long-term play for us.” 

It turned out to be a prophetic realisation. Lim and his colleagues quickly found that the vast majority of businesses at the time were inputting a large amount of their HR data into digital spreadsheets. These businesses rarely, if ever, went back to this trove to squeeze it for additional insights. 

“Our initial thinking was that we should develop software that could hold this information much more securely and reliably, rather than in disparate spreadsheets. It was only later that we realised we could create additional analytics tools to help businesses maximise all this data that they were collecting on their employees.” 

In another happy twist, it turned out that much of its initial development could be repurposed to this new objective. “So, instead of having to develop digital candidate profiles that prospective recruiters would see, we turned those into employee profiles that businesses could manage themselves. 

“We also repurposed a candidate’s digital training and certification tracking function, turning it into an employer-facing system that allowed them to track employees’ certification and training needs. These were the precursors to what eventually became our flagship EmplX software.”

Early cloud adopter

In addition to MyWave’s software development pivot, Lim and his co-founders were among the first businesses in the country to adopt the software-as-a-service model — a digital subscription service made possible thanks to the near limitless scalability afforded by cloud adoption. Subscription services are all the rage these days, but in mid-2000s Malaysia, it was practically unheard of in the software space. 

“I would say that we’re probably one of the, if not the first, homegrown cloud-based software developers in the country. Bear in mind that this was in the mid-2000s and install-based software was still the dominant model of software delivery.” 

Lim first saw the huge potential for cloud adoption just before he set up MyWave. While he was still an executive with Agilent Technologies, he realised how much more convenient it was to get information across via the cloud. 

“Some colleagues and I realised that in order to get information across to our head office in the US, we had to get through quite a number of digital barriers. 

“Having data and documentation stored locally in our own servers meant that we first needed to access a remote virtual private network (VPN) and then get on the company-wide intranet before we could safely send the information over to head office. 

“This was why we ended up going with a cloud-based server once we branched out with MyWave. We saw that the cloud solution gave us this common digital space that allowed us to upload and access all the information we needed, regardless of location and time zone. 

“Further, the scalability of cloud storage meant that despite being a relatively small company, we are more than capable of onboarding and servicing a company of 50 people, or a multinational corporation of 1,500.”

The future is analytics 

There will eventually come a day when the pandemic is well and truly a thing of the past. When that happens, there are going to be lots of questions about the need to continue with the frenetic pace of digitalisation that the economy has experienced this last year. 

For his part, Lim is confident that digital adoption in the HR space will not only continue but accelerate, even in the post-pandemic environment. It would not make sense for businesses to spend all this time and money going digital, only to ignore the ability to squeeze their digital data for insights and advantages. 

“Allowing HR functions to be conducted seamlessly and remotely is important. But for the long-term, the datapoints that we’ve collected — leave applications, KPI tracking, claims management, payroll and others — open up huge possibilities in terms of HR analytics. 

“We are working to build high-level analytics functions that, for example, could flag high-performing employees who might be at risk of leaving for another job. Employers could proactively approach and incentivise them to continue with the company. 

“In fact, we think it could be possible for employers to drastically improve the entire company by using HR analytics to inform their decision-making with respect to other departments like sales. 

“For example, we are working to create linkages between our digital HR tools and a customer relationship management software. That way, an employer could very accurately assess just how much individual salespeople are making for the company per man-hour. 

“It would give employers a very good idea if sales staff brought in a suitable amount of business, relative to the amount of time they spend chasing it down.”

In all of this, however, employers and employees will eventually have to grapple with the uncomfortable trade-offs between tracking productivity and protecting privacy. 

Although the pandemic has thus far seen this issue kept on the backburner, at least in Malaysia, there may well come a time in the not-too-distant-future when employees start robustly questioning the invasiveness of these digital HR tools.

“This is a very difficult question, and I would agree that it is a very tricky combination to get just right.

“I would say the key to getting this balance correct will be down to the employers, and us here at MyWave. Much will depend on how well bosses execute on change management. It’s common knowledge that old habits die hard in the workplace and it will be up to key spokespeople to facilitate a gradual change in the way the company as a whole handles and views the use of digital HR tools. 

“Meanwhile, for our part, the challenge is to ensure that we create HR tools that are entirely seamless, and cause the least amount of disruption. We know, for instance, that tools we develop must have a high degree of user-friendliness and practical utility. People tend to ignore data capture requirements if it gets in the way of their ordinary, higher priority duties.”

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