Paving the Philippine path to digital transformation

(Bernadette Nacario, country director of Google Philippines, shares how she and her team are empowering Filipino companies to leverage technology and thus thrive in the time of COVID.)

It has been eight months since I joined Google Philippines and it has been an entirely new experience for me. Even after spending many years in the tech industry working with reputable companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, HP, and Siemens, I knew that moving to Google would be an interesting transition. I will never forget my excitement when I joined late last year. Google is a great company with an amazing culture and a noble purpose, composed of passionate and committed talents. I felt very grateful to be part of this company, but I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.

Few months into my onboarding process, the Taal eruption happened; in my third month, I already had to define what was best for the team. And just when I thought we’ve survived a crisis, COVID-19 happened.

I can say that the past few months have been a great test of leadership. Given that I was very new then, still in the process of meeting different teams and understanding operations, the need for me to step up was crucial. Though the pandemic was an unfamiliar challenge then, my priorities remained clear: first is the protection and safety of the team, and second is to ensure business continuity without compromising the first priority.

I knew I had to immediately bring the team together, manage cross-functional groups, and get them back on track. I remember coming up with a tagline in April: preparing for a strong second half bounce back. It was what guided the team as everyone stepped up to support clients, partners, and the entire ecosystem. We created workstreams to help address COVID-19 response and helpfulness, check on the team’s wellbeing, and ensure business continuity. As a leader, it was important to pivot the team’s perspective to see the bigger picture and look beyond the crisis. Leadership during such times requires decisiveness, critical thinking, and the ability to move fast and accelerate change but balanced with a caring heart.

Managing the unpredictable

Helping the country in the fight against COVID-19, we leveraged the best of our technology and provided grants. To support our frontliners, we made a donation to TOWNS Foundation for PPE kits and added the routes of the Department of Transportation’s free hospital shuttle services on Google Maps to help ferry them. For distance learning, we’ve been training teachers on how to use our free learning and productivity tool called G Suite for Education and made a grant of US$250,000 to create a capacity-building program. We’ve been collaborating with the Department of Trade and Industry to digitize small businesses, training entrepreneurs on how to use free resources such as Google My Business and Primer app. These are just some of our ongoing initiatives as part of our COVID-19 response efforts.

Much as we’d like to say that it’s business as usual, we all know that it is not. Forces like the crisis that we’re experiencing right now increase the velocity of change, and decisions made during a crisis can make a big impact in the recovery. It is important to be reminded of this truth: The lessons of history are learned in hindsight. The way we make history is by acting on foresight. It’s one thing to learn from the past, it’s another to mindfully pave the path forward towards a vision of the future.

The pandemic has compelled various companies to accelerate their digital transformation, reshaping their strategies and operating models. Timely enough, a large base of Filipino consumers at present are already digital natives. For the past years, they have been driving the growth of e-commerce, pushing brands to transition and make their presence visible online.

We see this from our friends from McDonald’s Philippines who brought to life their vision of strengthening its delivery offering by launching their app, site, and contactless payment prior to COVID-19. Another good example is how Globe Telecom brought to life its vision to mobilize the purveyors of the digital lifestyle. In order to adjust to the work from home setup, they invested in G Suite to make sure that their entire workforce would have tools necessary to become productive at home. In retail, a lot of businesses such as Metro Retail Stores Group and Landers Superstore are investing more in digital to capture emerging demands.

Common among all the examples I mentioned was their ability to act on foresight, being able to recognize patterns. The role of leaders now is to identify which patterns to focus on.

3 ways to adapt and succeed in the transition

In Google, we look at signals across three areas: shock, step-change, and speed-up to help our teams and partners recognize patterns and mobilize accordingly. The shape of a trend tells a story and corresponding action so we can prepare for sudden surges or drops brought about by shock patterns, which usually happen at the onset of a crisis. Step-change, on the other hand, is a behavioral shift that is likely to sustain. Some of these are aligned to our business offering and should be explored for integration to the longer term plans. Speed up is a signal that we need to act on it both in the short term and at a much larger scale in the long term.

We’ve seen very interesting patterns in the Philippines--especially those that point to self-sufficiency using digital platforms as Filipinos look to upskill and adapt to the new realities of daily life. Going beyond tactical responses will definitely open up ideas to build or enhance digital platforms and experiences. But the challenge now is how we lead our teams towards readiness--what exactly we need to prepare and where we focus our team’s energies.

Empowering teams with tools, processes, and capabilities that enable them to match the velocity of change is what pushes the path forward and makes digital transformation possible. And this is where we, at Google, come in: we want to help companies understand behavior, recognize patterns, and leverage tools and technology to achieve more for the future. With our free and public tools like Google Trends, Think with Google, the Mobility Reports, or tools that help marketers understand behavior on their platforms like Analytics 360 or Google Big Query, we enable companies to make sense of data and act on them to translate their vision to life.

We believe that having a strong foundation with best-in-class digital touchpoints, leveraging tools and technology, leaning on automation and machine learning, and using data to inform decision-making help paint a better picture of the entire customer journey. And we are more than happy to partner with companies to help make an impact in the lives of Filipinos and take the next steps towards a digital future.

What I realized during this tough time is that leadership during a crisis requires decisiveness, critical thinking, and the ability to move fast and accelerate change. The road ahead may be uncertain but through readiness powered by the right technology, we are equipped to match the velocity of change. We need to get ready for the future by solving it today. Together, we can recognize, reimagine, and ramp up your organization for the path forward to digital transformation.