Dialogues

The Comeback of Commoditisation

Interview with Chong Kok Keong, Chief Executive Officer, Global eTrade Services (GeTS)

Perhaps one cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but what about its puppy? That is exactly CrimsonLogic’s intention when it established Global eTrade Services (GeTS). Based on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, GeTS is centred on a single window that facilitates global trade with compliance connectivity, e-advisory, business process outsourcing, and data analytics suite of services.

“This will be CrimsonLogic’s 28th year. It is an old company in that sense, especially in the IT industry. However, two years ago, we started to see the industry leaning towards new strategies, such as commoditisation. In addition, the rise in cloud computing and other types of disruptive business models mean there is a need for the company to adopt a new direction. This is how GeTS came about,” explains Mr Chong Kok Keong, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GeTS.

In this issue of Supply Chain Asia magazine, Mr Chong discusses the importance of adopting best practices, the possibility of global paper-less trade and his leadership style.

From customising to commoditising

According to Mr Chong, who is responsible for all business operations, including setting the direction and strategy of the company, the market is becoming less keen on customised business solutions. “We started seeing business becoming more commoditised on a global scale. This means that what used to be the trend for customised solutions has now turned into businesses wanting to adopt the best practices. When it comes to earnings, the trend has also changed from acquiring few accounts with big revenues to many accounts with low but recurring revenues. This means the major focus is on mass market and volume gain, which is exactly the foundation of GeTS’ business practices,” states Mr Chong, who first joined CrimsonLogic in 2000.

While GeTS functions like a new entity however, it is actually made up of CrimsonLogic’s existing subsidiaries. “This group of entities functions like a start-up. What we have done is we adopted an open concept design and encouraged a different kind of working atmosphere. For example, we only have a couple of landline phones here. Everyone has learnt to go mobile,” says Mr Chong, who stresses the importance of ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to embracing the start-up culture. With a majority of GeTS’ team members coming from existing CrimsonLogic’s subsidiaries, a change in company culture and environment ensures that it will lead to a change in mentality. While the change has been gradual, the results are still clear.

“Why is it important for us to adopt the start-up mentality? We feel that this trend reflects the right business model to manage the vibrancy and agility of the technology industry. We need to work faster and be more nimble to meet the changing market demands. As an entity of CrimsonLogic, we still have the weight of a huge corporate engine positioning without compromising on our working culture. It is a win-win situation,” clarifies the CEO, who also double-hats as CrimsonLogic Assistant CEO.

Managing complex challenges

When discussing the challenges that the industry faces, Mr Chong reckons that while a global paperless trade may be the ultimate aim for many businesses, this utopia may not be possible anytime soon. He lists the following reasons: – Firstly, different countries have different customs and regulation procedures.

This makes trading rules and processes complex and complicated to understand. This is even more evident in the establishment of free trade agreements. Although the objective is to simplify trade customs, understanding them can be very difficult, which is ironic. As a facilitator of global trades, while this presents an opportunity for us as we help our clients to manage this challenge, this also means the trade industry will always be faced with this problem. – Secondly, the pace of digitisation from country to country is extremely uneven.

This makes the ability to establish connectivity a bit less straightforward and we cannot simply duplicate the same services across different countries. While GeTS cannot directly encourage countries to improve on their level of digitisation, Mr Chong enjoys the challenge in ensuring GeTS’ services and platform are accessible to every country regardless of their level of technological advancement.

“The positive takeaway from this is that all countries are already digitising its trade sector. Some may be slower than others, but every country is going at the right direction. The future is definitely optimistic,” adds the Singaporean boss, who is keen to increase the company’s market share in the Southeast Asia region. Citing the importance of being a success in the region, Mr Chong also shares his projection for the company for the year 2016.

“In terms of transactional growth, we grew close to 100 per cent in terms of transactions and volume from 2014 to 2015. For our first year, we were focused on jumpstarting customer acquisitions. But 2016 represents a development year for us. We are targeting a more modest growth of 60 per cent as we are channelling most of our resources on rolling out new services and platforms smoothly,” explains Mr Chong, who also names China and North America as the company’s other key markets.

Speaking volumes through leadership

Adopting an open door concept is not only limited to the employees but the boss as well. At GeTS, the only closed room is the conference room, which is rarely in use. “Open communication is very important to me. I encourage my team to talk to one another openly because I believe this instills trust in one another. I try to be a role model in this and talk openly to everyone. Sometimes, I even raise my voice to talk to the whole team because I realised this is the best and fastest way to get them energised and excited. Of course, certain sensitive issues should still be discussed privately, but overall, I like to think there is no secrets among us when it comes to work-related matters,” explains the CEO. While some bosses may feel that talent can be scarce in the sector, Mr Chong prefers to see it as an opportunity for companies to take more effort to understand their employees.

“While I find it hard to generalise employee’s level of competency in the industry, I do feel that we have the talent at GeTS. The question is how we channel each individual’s competency or passion to areas that make sense to them. Simply saying that there is not enough talent feels like pushing the responsibility back to the society. I believe that organisations should leverage and optimise to bring out the best in whatever resources we have,” says Mr Chong, who himself finds passion and immense satisfaction in this current job role. Prior to joining CrimsonLogic, Mr Chong held various key positions in Singapore Trade Development Board (TDB) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Between 1997 and 1999, he was TDB’s director for the Hanoi Centre in Vietnam. Concurrently, he was appointed as the First Secretary (Commercial) for the Singapore Embassy in Vietnam.

In these two roles, he was responsible for strengthening Singapore- Vietnam’s economic relations and promoting business alliances between the two countries. During this period, Singapore was Vietnam’s top investor and trading partner. When asked if he is keen to return to the government sector, Mr Chong replied that it has not crossed his mind.

“At this point in time, I have enough challenges in GeTS to keep me interested to wake up each day and charged up to bring success to the company. I am eyebrow deep into GeTS, and it is definitely enough for me in the near future,” adds Mr Chong.

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