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No firm is too small or too old to leverage technology: Google Singapore boss

Some Singapore companies may have the perspective that because they've been around for a long time, or that they're too small, or that they've been successful for years, that there's no need for them to transform digitally or technologically, says Go
Some Singapore companies may have the perspective that because they've been around for a long time, or that they're too small, or that they've been successful for years, that there's no need for them to transform digitally or technologically, says Google Singapore country director Stephanie Davis. But she says firms should not think they are excluded from this ability to digitally transform.PHOTO: GOOGLE

Tech can transform industries and change the way jobs are done: Google S'pore boss

Technology giant Google has consistently topped rankings for the best workplace, and is well-known for giving employees free lunches, napping rooms and even massages and hairdressing services.

These initiatives aim to create an efficient workplace that encourages collaboration and risk-taking, said Google country director for Singapore Stephanie Davis.

She said the perks provide employees with an environment where they feel included and rewarded, creating little working spaces which make it natural and meaningful for employees to gather to discuss and collaborate together.

It also helps the company retain the top-tier calibre of workers. Google has about 2.5 million applicants every year, and it hired just 10,000 employees last year - a success rate of 0.004 per cent.

Google, which has about 85,050 employees, approaches employee morale and workplace culture with analytical efficiency, using data to hone in on what is working or not, and making changes accordingly.

As one of the world's most well-known tech companies, Google is at the forefront of the tech-centric revolution, including the digital transformation which has overhauled workplaces and will continue to change the way work is being done.

  • Google veteran

  • Ms Stephanie Davis is Google's country director for Singapore, overseeing the company's business strategy and operations here. She took on the role here last August, after 18 months in the same role for Google New Zealand.

    Ms Davis joined the technology giant in 2006 at its Mountain View headquarters in the United States, holding positions such as managing industry director for travel in the US and head of Google's publisher partnerships.

    Before Google, Ms Davis was managing director of research and marketing at Knight Ridder, the second largest publisher in the US.

  • EVENT INFORMATION

  • The Straits Times & SkillsFuture Singapore Future of Work Forum is organised in conjunction with the World Speaker Series.

    Date: July 3

    Time: 10am to noon (Registration begins at 9am)

    Location: School of the Arts Singapore, Drama Theatre Level 2

    Admission is free. Refreshments and goodie bags provided. Limited seats are available.

    Online registration: stssg.sphevents.com.sg

EMBRACING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Instead of being afraid, companies should have an open mind to think about how they can use AI to do their jobs differently. It sounds a lot less scary or encroaching when we recognise that it is AI and machine learning that help make these products really good for the user.

MS STEPHANIE DAVIS, Google country director for Singapore.

Ms Davis shares her thoughts on the changing workplace trends and how employers can work with employees to meet the demands of a growing and changing digital economy.

Q: What are some trends changing the face of the workplace today?

A: There are a number of global trends in the workplace happening right here in Singapore too.

Technology has the power to transform business. I don't mean that as transforming individual businesses, but entire industries.

Singapore has been and will continue to be very successful for a long time. I think Singapore's past success made it potentially easier for companies to think they wouldn't be disrupted by digital changes.

But we've seen it happen in market after market and we're now seeing it - the digital disruption - in Singapore and across South-east Asia.

Q: What are some of your observations about local companies, and in particular, how they are responding to digital transformation?

A: There are some companies that could have the perspective that because they've been around for a long time, or that they're too small, or that they've been successful for years, that there's no need for them to transform digitally or technologically.

I would argue that's not the case.

There's living proof right here in Singapore. Take Hai Sia Seafood, a Singapore fishmonger and family-run seafood supplier , which started in 1976 as a hawker stall and has been at Jurong Fishery Port the last few years.

This is a company where someone can understandably ask the question - how is tech going to make a difference?

But it was able to triple its sales by applying digital marketing, whether it was through connecting with customers, advertising or providing digital interactions. They have a beautiful website now, and now you have to wait six months if you want to do a fish market tour.

So I would argue for companies not to think that they are excluded from this ability to digitally transform. There isn't a company that's too small or too old.

Q: What is the most important change happening in the workplace today?

A: The one trend that we cannot ignore is the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will have on the workforce.

There is no road map for companies to know exactly how to prepare for this. But all companies, including Google, have think about how we want to plan for it.

Which jobs in the workplace will it help the most? How can we make smarter decisions?

Instead of being afraid, companies should have an open mind to think about how they can use AI to do their jobs differently. It sounds a lot less scary or encroaching when we recognise that it is AI and machine learning that help make these products really good for the user.

Take something like Gmail, or Google Search. AI and machine learning lets Gmail sort out spam more efficiently and lets Search give us better results.

We also use machine learning to help our clients' advertising campaigns to perform even better.

Q: How have employee expectations in the workforce changed, especially with the new wave of millennial workers?

A: The expectations will differ sector by sector.

But in the tech sector, definitely, there is a desire to have a certain amount of autonomy, and to be able to think, work and act creatively. There is also the desire for companies not to be over-prescriptive in how an employee delivers.

I think that has increased over time, that expectation, I don't know if it is just millennials but there has been an increased desire from the workforce.

Q: How can companies engage employees with these new, different expectations, with ensuring the company runs as it should?

A: The practices a company adopts should always go back to its mission. What drives Google is our mission to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. We want to solve real and big problems in the world.

But to do that we have to hire smart, great, ambitious, innately curious, collaborative risk-taking people. And if we are going to recruit those types of people and expect to retain them, we have to reward them. We make sure we provide an environment that encourages them and brings them professional happiness, and which is inclusive and diverse.

However, I don't think companies should strive to just do the specifics and particular practices of what Google does. It's not about just adopting the tactics that we do.

We all feel very fortunate to have a workplace culture that gives us breakfast and lunch, and practices like being able to get our hair done in the office or to take a nap.

But that's not the takeaway. The key takeaway to align a company's practices to its principles, and for them to think about what it is that they offer and how it aligns to its larger mission.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2018, with the headline 'No firm is too small or too old to leverage technology '. Print Edition | Subscribe