With cameras on, the red recording light flashing and the Zoom call underway, Allyxon Cua was quick to clarify; “this has been a total overhaul of our business, we’ve turned our company 360 degrees”.
In spearheading digital transformation efforts both internally and externally, the CEO and president of Accent Micro Technologies (AMTI) is under no illusions that categorising fundamental change through such terminology can create scepticism.
But in the case of the Metro Manila-based provider, this was no ‘paradigm shift’, rather a complete and considered alteration in market approach, undertaken in close consultation with Dell Technologies.
Pioneered at executive level but built from the ground-up, the evolution of AMTI is how digital transformation should be embraced within the channel - meticulous planning, unwavering commitment and flawless execution.
“If you’ve originated from a box-pushing background, you are used to a quick transactional turn whereas digital transformation is much slower,” acknowledged Cua, when speaking exclusively to Channel Asia via video link from Manila. “This required a change of mindset and everyone within the business becoming aligned in terms of objectives and deliverables.”
Drawing on more than 20 years of in-market experience, AMTI specialises in the delivery of data centre, networking and infrastructure solutions, in addition to cloud, security and mobility offerings.
In serving over 3000 customers across the Philippines, the business is built on the foundations of system integration, managed services and now, expert digital consulting.
According to Cua, digital transformation efforts kicked into gear approximately three years ago, motivated by a desire to find a unique solution capable of creating a competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded industry.
“Dell was very influential in bringing digital transformation to our attention as a business - this is not an ordinary solution, rather a shift in focus to business outcomes,” he explained.
The pivot has resulted in AMTI having “different conversations” outside of the IT department, with increased focus at business executive level.
“When we talk to the business, we talk about improving efficiencies and operations, meaning that IT no longer becomes a cost conversation,” Cua added. “Customers want to differentiate from the competition which is no different to our objectives at AMTI. Having been through this journey ourselves, we’re best placed to advise on the next steps ahead.”
Alongside customer-facing ambitions, Cua said workforce transformation also ranked as a leading business priority and trigger for change, in recognition of the need to attract new talent to the organisation.
“The traffic in Manila is horrendous and because of this, we’ve always been challenged attracting good candidates,” he said. “Talent might live 10km from our office but would be reluctant to join because of the traffic. Imagine that? 10km.
“Because of this, workforce transformation naturally appealed to our workers and when we embraced this, we sourced great candidates because the remote working option was available. Obviously, that is now commonplace but at the time, that wasn’t always on offer.”
With the motivations firmly in place, the next and perhaps most challenging aspect centred around actually starting the process within the corridors of power at AMTI.
“Digital transformation sounds appealing on paper, but in practice, this is a broad stroke concept so where do you start?” Cua asked. “Dell guided us along the way, teaching us how to embrace digitalisation through seminars and training sessions with our executive leadership team.
“One of the key learnings was that if you want to be successful in selling digital transformation, you must also embrace digital transformation. How can you sell something if you’re not following the same path internally? From top management down, we embraced this concept.”
From idea to execution
To create both accountability and momentum, AMTI created a digital transformation team spearheaded by Cua, and flanked by Stanley Yu and Josefino ‘Bong’ Paloma.
As senior vice president of Operations and Finance, Yu was tasked with being the “internal champion” of digital transformation, ensuring the structure of the business was reshaped to align with market-facing ambitions.
Meanwhile, as executive vice president of Sales and Marketing, Bong held responsibility for enhancing consultative selling capabilities, alongside recruiting new employees from outside of the business.
“The three of us embraced and spearheaded the change,” Cua recalled. “We are a 20-year-old company with lots of divisions doing well meaning it can be challenging to introduce something new.
“For example, sales might not always embrace new ideas because they feel that they have high quotas already and hold multiple responsibilities. To overcome this, we created our special operations team, almost akin to a Navy Seals type approach. Dell helped during this process because we were a provider used to selling point specific solutions, not business outcomes.”
In holding Titanium status within the Dell ecosystem, AMTI has been a partner for more than 20 years, having originally started out as a hardware distributor of the vendor’s computer portfolio.
“AMTI is a valued partner of Dell and we helped transfer our knowledge and internal expertise to help share with employees and customers,” said Tiang Hin Ang, general manager of Commercial Channels across South Asia at Dell. “But as we outlined during a workshop at our Executive Briefing Centre in Singapore, we can provide all the technology speak but to change the way you approach customers, you must first start with yourselves.
“When partners reach out asking for digital transformation guidance, our first response is always, ‘are you willing to start from your end?’ Allyxon was so involved and invested in the process, he moved the entire direction of the company and led the charge as CEO - that is key.”
In the past, and as outlined by Tiang Hin, the traditional conversation with an IT manager centred around, ‘what’s your box and how much is it?’.
“Whereas now the conversation has changed and for a company which has been an infrastructure player, new consulting opportunities are available,” he added.
“A typical presentation from a hardware vendor may house 30 slides, of which 29 slides are product focused. But now, out of 30 slides, three slides are on technology and the other 27 slides are focused on diverse workforce requirements, including how to engage and retain talent.
“Customers want us to share more insights into our own journey whether as Dell or AMTI - technology comes into the conversation but never leads the discussion.”
Laying internal foundations
As outlined by Yu - in holding a specific focus on the operational aspect of change - an overhauling of internal decision-making processes “significantly impacted” front-end capabilities, primarily due to the learnings experienced as a business.
“Transformation begins with a need but the need doesn’t come until a lot of questions have been asked, only then can we share our experiences,” he stated. “Looking back, one of our main learnings was that digital transformation is highly contextual.
“In the Philippines, government agencies still prefer paper, as do private companies meaning there was no real incentive to change or embrace paperless transactions.
“Currently, government agencies do not want digital receipts, neither do customers - there’s no real desire to move to digital even though it’s more efficient and cost effective. Therefore, we made the decision that the market would eventually mature and when it did, we didn’t want to scramble when the time arrived, which is now.”
When AMTI started on the path to digitalisation however, Yu documented “natural” internal resistance within the organisation, creating a need to overcome the common mindset of ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it’. Fast forward to today and such mentality is diminishing at pace, driven by new remote working dynamics and the emergence of a younger generation assuming positions of leadership across the Philippines.
“When we started this journey back in 2017 however, the top management was mostly senior and this proposition was difficult for them to grasp,” Yu said. “At the start, it was hard to justify the energy and expense dedicated to digital transformation without the business necessarily seeing the results.
“Only when lockdown started - and we were able to operate business as usual - that we realised we’ve been laying the foundations for something like this for a long time. Of course nobody expected the pandemic, but our initial priority was overcoming the traffic situation in Manila.”
From a customer standpoint, a digital transformation framework was created by Dell and “followed and absorbed” by the AMTI sales team.
“Credit to Dell for providing this framework,” Paloma added. “When we started, the framework was divided into four key pillars, spanning IT and data centre; workforce; security and applications. This has since evolved in line with the market but these four pillars were crucial in driving business outcomes for our customers.”
For mature customers, and according to Paloma, digital transformation continues to represent an “easy sell”. On the flip side, some customers view such a concept as nothing more than industry jargon.
“In this instance, we introduced discovery sessions to invest time with customers through white-boarding to understand challenges and limitations, the vision of the company and how technology can help going forward,” Paloma detailed.
“Disruption is coming, with Uber, Amazon, Alibaba and Airbnb being cases in point. If you explain digital transformation in that context, then business leaders begin to understand the power of embracing new technologies such as cloud, mobility and security.”
With regards to AMTI’s evolving portfolio of solutions, Paloma was quick to acknowledge that hardware remains “very much part of the equation”.
“Servers, storage and PCs are the foundation for most deals and continue to drive the bulk of our business,” he advised. “When we start talking about digital transformation however, we have credibility given our own transformation. But the deal still boils down to pockets such as data centre modernisation or networking upgrades.
“At the end of the day, when the deal reaches procurement, that’s when the product lines and projects are outlined. But through having a high-level digital transformation conversation from the outset, we’ve already influenced the customer.”
Echoing Paloma’s sentiment, Cua acknowledged that despite the direction of travel being clear, liking a concept is different to embracing a concept at customer level.
“But during the pandemic, those that jumped in two or three years ago are the ones now swimming, whereas those who didn’t are searching for the lifeboat,” he summarised.
Channel Asia Advance is a centralised editorial resource designed to help partners access forward-looking content as the ASEAN and Indian markets attempt to reposition for growth.