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HKBN rides digital transformation through pandemic

Hong Kong telco HKBN has an unusual symbol of its digital transformation journey – its office stationery sales.

It's part of a one-stop office supplies operation that encompasses inventory management, logistics and more than 10,000 products.

"We've deviated slightly from the traditional business," acknowledges Sam Tan, HKBN's chief innovation officer.

Speculate to accumulate: HKBN has moved beyond the role of a traditional telco to make the pandemic an opportunity.  (Source: HKBN)
Speculate to accumulate: HKBN has moved beyond the role of a traditional telco to make the pandemic an opportunity.
(Source: HKBN)

"They can order coffee, wine, printers, paper, anything, as well as telecom and ICT," Tan told an IDC Asia event Tuesday.

The company's ability to quickly adapt to business requests during the crisis had created a "win, win, win" for clients, employees and the company, he said.

Keeping your head

Tan says the pandemic has been a force multiplier for technology change, "compressing five years into 12 months."

Nearly every business has transformed into a technology business, he says. "We're in the age of change or die."

Tan cites HKBN's own journey, starting out as an IDD business in the 1990s, rolling out the city's biggest home fiber network in the 2000s and now running an end-to-end IT and telecom services business.

The company has acquired five enterprise IT companies that have helped grow revenue fivefold to around HK$10 billion (US$1.3 billion).

It now serves a third of all Hong Kong households and one in every two enterprises.

When the pandemic hit, the company was quick to shift to remote work, having run a pilot work-from-home scheme in late 2019.

It took just four days to adapt the IT infrastructure to enable employees to work remotely, Tan said.

"We wanted our staff to be safe at the same time taking care of their family, as well as maintaining the business."

Post-pandemic, HKBN will continue with remote working. Management recognizes the benefits of happier employees enjoying the greater flexibility of working from home.

Robot takeover

The company has also begun investing in automation to cut costs and allow staff to refocus on high-value activities.

Chatbots have been an obvious success: Introduced last November, they are now taking care of 71% of queries and improving the online response rate from 86% to 96%.

"They are not only reducing our costs but also improving customer satisfaction and reducing customer service agents' workload," Tan said.


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He said many businesses had been playing catch-up to digital transformation even before the pandemic. When it arrived they were caught off guard.

CEOs now find themselves dealing with a whole new set of problems: employee complaints about slow help desks and poor connectivity, and customer service complaints about e-commerce latency.

"The focus now is all on IT," Tan says. "The role of technology is largely about the culture of the organization."

"If your IT organization has an order-taking mindset you will need to change them. You have to tell them, now you are going to have to lead."

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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