Catherine Lian on diversity, inclusion and the visionary role it plays in IT

2 months ago

Catherine Lian was appointed as Managing Director of IBM Malaysia on April 1st of 2019, and with over two decades of experience in IT, she arrived from Dell Technologies where she held various management roles across Asean and South Asian markets including Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indochina and Cambodia.

She has always been known to be a strong advocate for women in leadership, and she was part of the Women’s Entrepreneur Network as well. As the managing director of IBM Malaysia, she is responsible for the business growth and leadership of IBM in Malaysia.

Intent of building strong ties with clients, partners and the government, she is committed towards advancing digital transformation with a strong focus on AI, Cloud, Blockchain and other emerging technologies.

Your journey with IBM Malaysia has just started, and looking at how things are right now, what are your thoughts?

Thank you for inviting me to be part of the Q&A series by Marketing Magazine Malaysia. I joined IBM in Malaysia in April 2019 and I have been busy learning about the business and discovering the beauty of this great company. I am totally enjoying it.

It has been said that you are a big advocate for women in leadership. How do you think the #metoo and the overall female empowerment agenda has shaped the agenda so far in the APAC region?

Women empowerment is a cause I believe in. The overall women empowerment agenda received greater global attention with campaigns by many groups the world over.

This has raised awareness on issues that was previously not discussed openly as well as shone light on matters that need attention such as education for girls.

From the IBM lens, the empowerment agenda in the APAC region is going strong. This is largely due our strong tradition and legacy in diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Diversity and Inclusion is a core strategy at IBM that has shaped a sustainable business practice. IBM hired its first women employees in 1899.

The first employee IBM hired when its started operations in Malaysia in 1961 was a woman. Today, women make up half the workforce and 30% are in leadership and management roles.  

When it comes to advertising these days, new technologies such as 5G, AR, VR and IoT are reimagining ways to connect with consumers. Could you perhaps share your perspectives on this?

The impact on technology on how we live, work and play is an on-going process. Each technological era had an impact on society and business. And each era created new jobs, new opportunities and new ways of engagement.

At IBM, our role is to help our clients adopt and utilize new technologies to serve their stakeholders and communities better. We are committed to our mission as trusted advisors and partners to our clients.  

Our corporate stewardship to clients also includes trust and security that underpin these technologies.

IBM’s Watson solutions for advertising is an interesting area that could revolutionize how we look at advertising in the global marketplace. Perhaps you could give us an idea regarding how things are progressing in the data-centric approach towards advertising the Malaysian context?

More companies in Malaysia are depending on data to help make informed decisions. We are working with Inventure, the consulting arm of IPG Mediabrands, to offer customized marketing technology solutions to help client extract insights for decision making.

In this case, Inventure uses IBM Predictive Customer Intelligence and IBM Watson Customer Insights from media buying capabilities to hyper personalisation of products and services to suit the needs of their customers.

In terms of digital transformation, how are Malaysian companies coping in this regard? What’s your take on things?

Digital transformation is not an operational issue. It is an experiential issue that is focussed on the human experience.

A technology led transformation is only the starting point. An IBM Institute of Business Value study found that 29% of CxOs surveyed already have active platform architectures to reinvent and transform their business in response to the digital disruptions.

Another 19% are thinking about the need to adopt and use technologies like AI, cloud, IoT and blockchain to remain relevant and to retain competitive edge.

But 52% don’t which signals an opportunity to engage. What does this mean? I believe that the challenge with which so many businesses are grappling is this: how to digitize in a way that achieves not only meaningful business change, but also, more importantly, to unlock this growth.

Much has been said about how the advertising marketplace these days resembles a seamless ecosystem that fuses strategy, campaign, content, media, social, crm, analytics, web design and e-commerce in an ever-evolving paradigm that can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to navigate. How does a company like IBM cut through the clutter?

Being a technology company has its advantages with many routine and manual processes have been automated. To keep up with the rapid advancements in technology, we introduced agile and kanban methods at the workplace.

If you’re orchestrating work across dozens of teams, you need more than a whiteboard and sticky notes. To meet the needs of a complex organization, you must scale up more than the tool. You must adjust the Kanban method, too.

For a large organization, you need a complete kanban system: a kanban of kanbans. You must apply the kanban process at the highest level first so that hundreds of tasks aren’t haphazardly assigned to the teams.

If the organization applies and coordinates the kanban processes at each level, the teams can understand the priorities and the decision-makers have a clear view of progress and capacity.

From your years of experience and accumulated knowledge across a variety of vertical markets, what could be the next big thing in the IT sector in the APAC region?

In my humble opinion, the right mix of skills will be the next big thing in the IT sector our region.  Skills that support the widespread use of technologies such as AI, cloud, blockchain and IoT will be in vogue. The demand for the right mix of skills to design, build, manage, operate and maintain systems that support these technologies will also be needed.

Research by IBM Institute of Business Value found that skill shortages is a huge concern among the C-suite. The most recent study found that roughly 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies have to be retrained or re-skilled in the next three years if organisations want to run intelligent augmentation and AI.

Looking forward to the future, how do you see the evolution of IBM Malaysia in a marketplace where its all about being adaptable to change? What do you see in your crystal ball?

IBM is one of the very few IT companies still in business after 108 years. It was able to do this because of its ability to change gears to meet market and customer needs. Our business evolved through the decades and through industrial era.  We have changed the way we work to take advantage of data for business.

Now we are helping our clients with their digital transformation journey by leveraging cloud, AI, blockchain and IoT technologies. Trust underpins this as our clients and the consumers they serve expect more than groundbreaking innovation and industry expertise.

They want to work with technology partners they can trust to protect their data and handle it responsibly. They want to work with partners that know how to bring new technologies into the world safely and help society benefit from them.

And they want their partners to create inclusive workplaces and communities where diversity thrives.  The promise of technology is to empower people to do good, access new opportunities and make the world better, safer and smarter – for the many, not just the few.

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