Zakir Ahmed, senior VP & GM – Asia Pacific & Japan at Kofax, speaks with Industrial Automation Asia on workforce digitalisation as its 2021 growth strategy.
Kofax, an American process automation software provider, has its international headquarters in Irvine, California. Founded in 1985, Kofax provides process management, robotic process automation, e-signature, and mobility and customer communication services to 25,000 customers in 70 countries throughout the Americas, EMEA, and Asia Pacific.
Zakir Ahmed, Kofax’s senior VP & GM for the Asia Pacific and Japan region shares his views on workforce digitalising and his company’s strategy for regional growth.
Q: Singapore has done a good job in upgrading its workforce in light of Covid-19 and more broadly in meeting the demands of the 21st century, but how have other countries in the region fared in embracing digitalisation and in upgrading their workforce?
Zakir Ahmed (ZA): I cannot speak specifically on the numbers in regards to how much the impact of the pandemic has brought about in terms of growth or lack thereof. But what I can tell you is automation has now become of paramount importance, regardless of the country you look in.
So whether it is Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and so on, we just need to look at some of the ASEAN countries and the growing economies. We are talking about the automation piece in any business becoming absolutely mission critical. It is no more a nice to have.
We have talked about the pandemic having an impact on every aspect of our life in every function of our life. The impact of the pandemic on the current economic climate has also completely shifted in the way organisations are now behaving, and countries are dealing with that.
If you take Japan as an example, I think Japan was hit pretty hard, not because of the number of cases that they have, but because of the way they operate.
In Japan the issue around Japan is that culturally you are used to having meetings face to face, it is a culture of people interacting and people meeting and that is just the way they operate.
So there was a huge shift. If you look at some of the larger companies, like even Fujitsu, I think they had a very large shift in how they were going to interact and how they were going to collaborate not only with their internal employees, but with all their stakeholders, their customers, the partners, and so on and so forth.
So regardless of the type of industry you are in, or even the country or the type of business sector, I think what has become very important is this business premise to ensure business resiliency has come to the forefront.
And I think that has become very important. Yes, it has impacted some countries where they did not have some of the underlying technology or digital focus in the first place, and they had to move faster than others.
Some countries are leapfrogging. So, we are seeing a huge amount of success in countries like Indonesia, and some of the other ones where they did not have a lot of automation.
They were not even using video conferencing technology. And now they are looking at a lot of these automation technologies, digitisation technologies, like the ones that we offer, such as intelligence automation, and e-signature, and many others.
If you look at any type of digitisation, whether it is e-commerce, for example, as a way to be able to interact or to be able to do business. If you look at other technologies, such as e-wallet or QR pay, these are all new technologies that are here to stay and are becoming absolutely critical on how countries are going to be operating going forward.
In countries like this, there are companies that have a different level of maturity. So what we do find is in some other ASEAN countries we are seeing, they understand that now, one of the important things is time to market, time to value, which means that they cannot wait on this automation in this digitisation journey.
Even though they may have a large project that they want to digitise their entire business, it may take them three years to be able to do that. They are finding small wins to be able to do that in a way that it starts to bring value to their business immediately.
Q: Now that 2020 is behind us, what are your predictions for 2021?
ZA: There is this paradigm shift in terms of how businesses operate. It is going to certainly be a trend that continues. So between 2020 and 2021. The first thing I would say is this high level of certainty that in 2021, customers and employees and all of the stakeholders will be in a virtual environment or partially in a virtual environment. So the customer experience, the interaction will continue to operate in a very similar world.
I think organisations are also finally coming to terms with the fact that mastering this digital landscape that we talked about, this digital transformation is the way to be able to drive that customer experience and that productivity.
So from a collaboration and from an interaction between human beings, technologies, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and all of the other automation tools that we talked about are certainly going to be around and that we are going to continue to see a lot of that going into 2021.
The second thing I would say is there are going to be technologies that will start to surface and become much more of a critical mass. What I am talking about here is we will see technologies such as artificial intelligence being delivered to a much wider audience to the masses, as opposed to being used in very small use cases.
We have heard a lot about artificial intelligence. We are going to be able to find ways to be able to really leverage artificial intelligence as opposed to some scientists or some technical people using artificial intelligence to be able to find some use cases.
Embedded in our technology and intelligence automation, AI would provide you to be able to leverage and accelerate a lot of these things through digital workflow transformation.
No longer is this going to be reserved for very large organisations for some very specific use cases. Other technologies such as machine learning. Also embedded in our product is something called natural language processing or NLP, intelligence, optical character recognition, which is part of our capture technology.
All of these technologies will probably come to the forefront, because companies are now realising that these are the types of things that will make a material impact and bring tangible value.
We see the trend next year moving towards some of these new technologies that have been around taking much more of a lead in solving business problems for organisations.
And we see much more of a continuation of a virtual environment where people are leveraging collaboration technologies to be able to help improve their business processes efficiency, and drive better results.
Q: What is your growth strategy for 2021?
ZA: One of the things that we are doing is we are very much focused on making sure that our customers are successful. And what we mean by that is we have got over 28,000 organisations across Kofax that are using our technology.
And I also mentioned that customers are looking for one integrated solution. So one of the things that we are doing very successfully right now is going and talking to our existing customers on who may be using some of our products and how we can help solve other business problems for them.
One of our strategies is making sure that we are not only a single solution for very large organisations to solve a single business problem. But we are more widespread, because that is the integrated approach many organisations are taking. So that is one area that we are really focused on.
From a geographical point of view. We have got some key offices that serve the entire region. I think we do business in pretty much every country of APJ. But our philosophy and our focus has also been where we have been successful, we are going to continue to see even more success.
Countries such as Thailand, and Indonesia, these growing economies are seeing some good momentum. So we are continuing to invest in hiring more individuals there. Not to say that any other country has been ignored.
We are certainly increasing the headcount that we have got here in Singapore, in Malaysia and Hong Kong and other markets where we are also seeing some good traction.
As such, from a geographical point of view, we continue to invest in growing the region and have people locally on the ground. And then the last thing I would say is, which is also very important to our success, is we are working with different types of partners that bring different value-add, to be able to help us and take these solutions into different markets or different industries.
So today, we have 800 partners. In some of the countries that we operate in we do not have partners. We are seeking new partners. We are going to continue to go into these countries and find new partners to be able to work with them, and bring our solutions more to the local businesses, as opposed to trying to do this from a central location like Singapore.
That is really our focus in terms of what our growth strategy looks like. And we are doing this. We have partnered with some of the largest organisations such as Microsoft.
From the distribution side, we have very large partnerships. So you know, for example, in Japan, we worked with Fujitsu, we worked with Fujisoft. In the ANZ market, we worked with some of the big global system integrators.
It is a different strategy. One size does not necessarily fit all, but we want to make sure that we cover all aspects and all angles of the market.