Practical methodology for Vietnam’s digital evolution

November 23, 2023 | 11:07
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Vietnam is teeming with potential for innovative transformation. Sheena S. Iyengar, a business professor at the Management Division of Columbia Business School, discussed with VIR’s Celine Luu some essential steps to aid this development, and how every Vietnamese business, regardless of size, can successfully undergo digital transformation.

What do you think are the key factors that can unlock Vietnam’s potential, particularly in the digital sector?

Practical methodology for Vietnam’s digital evolution
Sheena S. Iyengar

Vietnam boasts significant potential due to its sizeable young population, quality universities, and established industries such as agriculture, where it is a top exporter of products like fish and furniture. There is also a strong base in textiles, with many designer clothing brands manufactured here, and in heavy industries like steel production.

The key to unlocking Vietnam’s potential lies in fostering collaboration between businesses, government, and universities, particularly in the digital sector. This synergy could create Vietnam’s own version of a tech hub, leveraging its demographic advantages and industrial base.

Regarding the innovation of Vietnamese companies, what are your observations?

Vietnamese companies are increasingly focused on driving economic growth through higher-value services rather than just material goods and manufacturing. There is a clear ambition and recognition of the importance of digital innovation. The challenge is to create stronger linkages between universities, the private sector, and the government to foster new digital experiences and services.

Encouraging entrepreneurship and collaboration between established companies and startups is also crucial. This approach has been successful in the financial services sectors in other parts of the world.

In a developing economy like Vietnam, what are the primary challenges businesses face in digital transformation, and how does organisational complexity impact this process across businesses of different sizes and scopes?

Every business and organisation is capable of undergoing transformation. The difficulty in transformation isn’t predominantly due to the industry, age of the business, or the country, including Vietnam. Instead, the challenges are more about organisational complexity.

As businesses grow in size, diversify into multiple lines of business, and expand into different geographies, they inherently become more complex. This complexity is the most significant factor in the difficulty of transformation.

For instance, a business with 200 people operating solely in Vietnam, focusing on a singular type of product or service, can indeed transform. It is challenging but comparatively less so. However, an organisation with thousands of employees, catering to various needs across multiple markets and perhaps operating internationally, will inherently face greater complexity.

This journey of transformation isn’t an overnight process, particularly for larger organisations. It may take more time, but it’s absolutely possible for every organisation to undergo digital transformation in a successful manner.

Could you share insights from your personal journey in pursuing your dreams?

My family’s move from India to the US was a journey not just across continents but also of mindset. I learned early that the only thing we truly control is our choice. This understanding became a foundational tool for personal and organisational development, driving the idea that thinking bigger can significantly impact our growth and future prospects.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed that mindset to think bigger, using a framework that supports change at individual, business, and community levels. The method is about harnessing the power of choice to drive transformation. To illustrate, I often refer to examples like Pablo Picasso’s self-reinvention. These examples show how individuals and organisations that dare to think bigger amidst myriad choices often achieve greater development and success.

How can individuals and organisations apply this methodology practically, particularly in Vietnam?

To adopt this, one must cultivate a mentality that is outside of the box, steering clear of conventional patterns. Specifically, there are six steps: identify the problem, break it down into manageable parts, compare and understand your desires, search for solutions in and out of existing frameworks, create a roadmap for your choices, and finally, put yourself in someone else’s shoes to reassess your choices.

Vietnam undoubtedly holds significant potential for innovative transformation. The key step now is to build for the future, creating a system that facilitates this growth. The choices made in this regard are crucial. My advice would be to courageously embrace the principles of thinking bigger, fostering a culture of innovation and expansive thinking. This approach will drive transformation and position Vietnam as a leader in innovative development.

Considering the approach of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to digital transformation, how do you see their journey differing from larger businesses?

Despite serving limited markets, SMEs should actively engage in digital transformation, customising it to fit their customers’ unique needs. The advantage they have is their simpler organisational structure, which allows for greater agility and ease in implementing changes.

SMEs are in an excellent position to try out creative solutions without the burden of investing in expensive technologies, growing organically from their initial steps.

What is more, SMEs can benefit significantly from collaborations and capital injections from larger businesses or venture funds capital, alongside mentorship. It’s crucial for these smaller entities to recognise their market position - whether they remain small due to their niche focus or possess the potential for scaling.

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