Saturday 13 Apr 2024
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 11, 2023 - December 17, 2023

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) has rapidly transformed the business landscape, affecting not just large companies but also small and medium enterprises (SMEs), where businesses are now faced with the reality of either transforming or getting left behind.

Kissflow, a US-based company that has developed a low-code, no-code platform for simple software development, has partnered with PointStar Malaysia, a cloud transformation company. With this partnership, they hope to help advance digital transformation across the country using Kissflow’s expertise and PointStar’s local knowledge.

Justin Lee, co-founder and CEO of PointStar, which provides cloud-based solutions such as Google Cloud Premium to companies, has handled more than 3,000 customers across various industries, from traditional businesses to family-run ones, and knows that many are still using paper-based approaches.

"What Covid-19 did was that it brought forward everybody’s digital transformation goals by five to six years. What was supposed to be done by 2030, organisations are expected to do by 2024 or 2025.” - Rakesh, Kissflow (Photo by Suhaimi Yusuf/The Edge)

“[Many businesses] are looking forward to making the investment [in digitalisation] so that they can be a lot more effective to deal with a lot of challenges such as manpower and lack of skill set,” he says.

The digital transformation in Malaysia has reached a point where businesses no longer have to be convinced to make the transition. They just need the tools and the knowledge of what needs to be done, he says.

This was what brought PointStar to Kissflow, which has made a name for itself in its 10 years of operating in Malaysia, providing its platform to help businesses transform. For Kissflow, it was the local knowledge to further expand that they needed to navigate the cultural nuances of Malaysia.

“We [wanted] a local presence in many of these markets because digital transformation is a very, very complex exercise and extremely difficult to manage,” says Dinesh Varadharajan, chief product officer at Kissflow.

“[Kissflow understands that] every region is unique. The way they are and the way they are going through digital transformation itself.”

"A lot of digital native organisations that are coming up are competing with traditional businesses. So, traditional businesses need to embark on this [digitalisation] journey, without which it would be extremely difficult to compete.” - Dinesh, Kissflow (Photo by Kissflow)

Kissflow’s biggest challenge is understanding how companies in the region work, so partnering with a company with on-the-ground knowledge is invaluable.

“We already have a lot of existing customers in Malaysia. So this partnership will [help our] existing customers and also grow those accounts.”

To Dinesh, digital transformation has three aspects: business model transformation, cultural transformation and the tools that will help in digital transformation. An issue many companies face is that they focus on the tools but not the other aspects.

With this partnership, Dinesh sees it as a winning combination as they will hit all three aspects, with Kissflow providing the tools and PointStar understanding the culture and business model.

Dinesh echoes Lee’s view that Malaysian businesses are ready for a digital transformation, thanks to government initiatives and assistance from the likes of MyDigital Malaysia, and adds that making this leap is a necessity.

He says, “A lot of digital native organisations that are coming up are competing with traditional businesses. So, traditional businesses need to embark on this [digitalisation] journey, without which it would be extremely difficult to compete.”

One big way that Kissflow has seen digital transformation is how its low-code, no-code platform has transformed and empowered citizen development.

"[Many businesses] are looking forward to making the investment [in digitalisation] so that they can be a lot more effective to deal with a lot of challenges such as manpower and lack of skill set.” - Lee, PointStar (Photo by PointStar)

Kissflow’s support for citizen development

Non-IT-based employees seeking and creating their own software solutions are a growing trend. Pushing the direction of digitalising businesses towards the cloud and platforms that give these “citizen developers” the tools to solve their challenges, according to Rakesh Nandakumar, senior director at Kissflow.

Lee notes his surprise at citizen developers: how employees who now cannot code will still raise their hands and voluntarily work on software development projects, with the tools enabling them to realise their vision with minimal knowledge of coding.

Kissflow’s cloud-based low-code, no-code platform allows users to create applications and has affected citizen developers in the banking, retail, energy and manufacturing sectors.

No-code enables those without any programming knowledge to create software using drag-and-drop modules while low-code allows those who know a little coding even more freedom and creativity. This has helped businesses transform by empowering their citizen developers.

Rakesh notes that Malaysia, with recent events like the pandemic, has proved itself capable of adapting in this age of digital transformation. “What Covid-19 did was that it brought forward everybody’s digital transformation goals by five to six years. What was supposed to be done by 2030, organisations are expected to do by 2024 or 2025.” 

Work that used to be done on paper or a simple Excel sheet has proved insufficient when employees work remotely, where direct communication is impossible and waiting for an email for feedback can heavily impact productivity.

Rakesh says citizen development — businesses empowering citizen developers — is a growing trend in the digital transformation space. Organisations that have already invested in citizen development are seeing great results.

Citing the example of international online retailers, Rakesh says, “A Malaysian organisation that has an office in Europe has to comply with European regulations, just as they do in the US or Africa. So, businesses have a checklist of items that they need to comply with.”

Citizen developers have created applications to streamline this process. One application that can track all of this without needing to have a small IT team dedicate resources to creating it for them.

Cloud computing and generative AI’s influence on digital transformation

Two factors that have led to this sudden rise in citizen development are cloud computing and generative AI. These platforms have shaped Malaysia’s digital transformation.

Cloud computing has taken over many businesses’ methods of operation. The rise of remote work and the rapid growth of digital transformation have pushed many companies to adopt the cloud, with Rakesh commending Malaysia’s adaptability.

Cloud computing has done more than just make data accessible from anywhere. It has sped up communication within teams and allowed data to be easily transferred between departments and even companies.

This readiness Malaysia has displayed in adopting digitalisation and its resources has made it an attractive country for foreign software companies. Kissflow believes the country has a lot of potential to be a true data centre hub in the region. With generative AI, Malaysia has proved to be a powerhouse, able to read data, learn and deliver that information to a user faster and more efficiently.

When asked how citizen development benefits from generative AI, Rakesh says AI is a huge asset. The main limitation with citizen developers is that “they only know the problem from their perspective. They wouldn’t actually know the problem from others’ perspective”, he points out.

With generative AI, citizen developers and even other teams can find problems out of their job scope, what their short-term solutions might unintentionally cause, and make more informed decisions when developing their own solutions.

One of the biggest benefits generative AI provides is that it reduces development time. Generative AI is able to help with coding, allowing citizen developers to go from completely no-code to at least some coding knowledge to create more customisable software. Rakesh notes a 70% to 80% reduction in development time thanks to AI.

Companies like Kissflow or PointStar may have operated in Malaysia for many years, but with the recent digital transformation and Malaysia’s proven adaptability, interest is growing. The country has the tools to further drive citizen development and embrace digital transformation.

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