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Tech in check: Digi’s chief digital officer Praveen Rajan

Praveen Rajan (pictured), Digi’s chief digital officer, has over 15 years of experience in internet and mobile industries. Promoted to his current role on 1 June 2016, Rajan has worked at the telco for 10 years, previously helming roles including head of advanced data services, head of products – internet and services, and head of postpaid and digital services at Digi.

In his current role, he leads the independent division called Digi-X, responsible for dreaming up and launching projects and businesses independent of Digi . This ranges from adjacent services to new digital verticals that could someday become part of Digit’s core business.

Prior to joining Digi, Rajan co-founded a social networking startup called LifeLogger in 2003, where he served as chief technology officer. We sit down with Rajan to find out what his journey has been like.

A+M: What was your first digital role like?

My first digital role in a professional capacity was when I was with Neuroweb, a web agency in Malaysia. I initially started with pre-sales where I sold websites and moved on to lead some of the agency’s software development projects such as GasMalaysia.com. I was also part of the team who worked on the first version of Maybank2u.com which was launched back in year 2000/2001.

A+M: What has been your biggest tech blunder?

It was in 2004 when the company which I founded, LifeLogger, was commissioned to launch a mobile blogging service by a leading telecommunications company. Although the service went live as planned, we found out (the hard way) that we had forgotten to index the database. What ensued was a chaotic first day for all of our users as the site could hardly load. But we persisted and overcame the challenge, and became database pros after that incident.

A+M: How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

Throughout my career, I have had my fair share of failures that I have learned to embrace and used the learning and experience to move on to the next thing. Until this day, I have always believed that the biggest take away from all these booboos is how we must not dwell and get caught up in the issue/failure. Instead we should learn from it, make the best of it and more importantly set a very clear goal to not repeat the same mistakes again.

How I have reacted to the slip-ups have rubbed off on the team that is working alongside me now. Similarly, in Digi, we encourage our people to continuously innovate and try new things. If it doesn’t work, it is okay. We will just move on and try something else that will give us the edge as a digital service provider and ensure that we are able to provide products or services that are meaningful to our customers.

A+M: What are some of the common challenges you face with digital today?

Embracing the constant fact that “technologies” change very quickly. For example, things such as React Native and Amazon Web Services were hardly talked about in the technical stack five years ago.

Another challenge is to continue investing in young talents, keeping them motivated with the risk of losing them at any time. It is quite common that nowadays, these young talents who have just left schools hardly have real experience and most are still “stuck” with programming language such as C++.

In Digi, we believe in investing in our people as part of our efforts to build future ready talents. We give our employees the freedom to learn. With a focus to develop and equip our employees with relevant skills and knowledge for the digital future, today all Digi employees enjoy equal access to a diverse range of topics via online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and Lynda.com.

We have also introduced Digi CXO Apprentice, a programme that accelerates learning of young talents as part of building our future talent pipeline. Through this programme, the chosen apprentices are not only given the chance to be groomed to build their capabilities to become major contributors to the business earlier in their careers but also to help Digi stay in touch with the digital native mind-set and the needs of our next generation of customers.

A+M: Are there any digital trends which excite you?

Blockchain! This excites me because I still do not understand every part of the ecosystem, and the speed of innovation (and buzz) seems to be moving at a rapid pace. I am concerned that many of us, myself included, will be left behind, yet at the same time remain motivated to learn more, and actually do something with it.

Another area is the use of digital as a channel in hiring new talents for the company. I personally believe there is still a lot more that can be done on the recruitment side with machine learning or AI to help speed up the process of identifying candidates, removing biasness and encouraging diversity.

A+M: Any tips for marketers and brands embracing digital?

Marketers should keep close watch on two key segments.

The first are the people who are digitally savvy and are growing older. They need to be marketed to with care. These people are more demanding, knowing what they want in a product or services that they subscribe to while at the same time, putting emphasis on value. Being digital savvy, they are also inclined to go online to find information on the best deals prior to making any purchases. Hence, having the ability to offer customers personalisation or customisation of items online and quickly delivering them will definitely be an advantage.

The other segment marketers should look out for are the young adults who are born with digital in their DNA. They are always connected and at the forefront with new technologies or tools. Soon, Snapchat or
Instagram may no longer be relevant to them. Be prepared for a new “soapbox” every two to three years.

Also keep a look out for the innovations from China, I believe we are going to see more interesting things from China, and where Malaysians will not be afraid to adopt these innovations. For example, live streaming e-commerce or shopping.

Read also:
Tech in check: Hong Leong Bank’s chief digital and innovation officer Shailesh Grover
Tech in check: McDonald’s Malaysia digital director Muhamad Zaid Hasman

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