Nurmarlina Ahmad: An unconventional route to digital transformation

Nurmarlina Ahmad: An unconventional route to digital transformation

Being a proud representative of Brunei, the country that chaired the ASEAN Summit 2021 with a focus on digital transformation, Marlina Ahmad shared that her journey with YSEALI and the YSEALI Academy’s flagship seminar on Technology and Innovation had been rather “unconventional”. Her profile is not one we usually envision when we think of a fellow leading in tech, yet her engagement on the topic is unparalleled. Marlina believes that digitalization is improving our way of life and our ways of working, regardless of what industry one sits in.

Tackling digitalization from a different angle

Marlina Ahmad is currently a Communications Advisor at Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP), an energy company with more than 90 years of history employing 4000 professionals with over 20,000 business partners. Her position although intersects multiple industries is still far from what we usually think of when we hear technology and innovation.

Marlina (middle) at Brunei Shell Petroleum’s Digi/Tech Week

When the buzzword digital transformation pops up, most people would envision cool technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, those that help businesses run faster and smoother. But these technologies do more than enhance productivity. They also change how people communicate with each other, how businesses keep in touch with their customers, and how teams work with one another.

Digitalization has an opportunity to improve our ways of working does not matter what industry you sit in. I already do not fit the [tech innovation] profile in terms of industry, I do not even fit the profile in terms of expertise. But I firmly believe that having data-backed communications is very important.” – Marlina assessed.

While ‘Content is king’ has been a proven approach in communications for years, ‘Data is king’ has been gradually gaining traction and becoming a new rival trend. “You can spend weeks cultivating this seemingly perfect message but if it does not reach the right audience, all of that work can go down the drain.” Data is a measurement of success. It is a measurement for negotiation, especially in formulating KPIs for various deliverables.

Marlina shared that her main goal was to learn how to utilize data and technology to make communications more effective. Although she does not come in with a conventional motivation, it is still a very highly applicable motivation. In fact, in just a few months after the Digital Transformation seminar at YSEALI Academy, the fellow confessed that she found herself saying “I have learned [this] in [the YSEALI] seminar, maybe we can try doing [that]” on multiple occasions.

From a makeshift change to a sustainable digital adoption

Brunei Shell Petroleum is currently undergoing a digital transformation journey to address business problems by bringing greater efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. The business modernization process was still ongoing when the pandemic hit, which prompted activities to be accelerated. Aside from new entrance passes for essential workers and extended bandwidth for work-from-home staff, communications were also shifted to a new platform.

One of the simplest examples is moving the notice board in the office to a makeshift notice board online, which may sound like a modest change, but it brings on so much more perks to all parties. From Marlina’s side, she can now generate data reading on headcounts, unique user account reached, and then identify trends for each news so that she can send out more relevant materials for the company.

In mere weeks, the company’s systems were upgraded to adapt to the new ways of working with a greater emphasis on going digital. Marlina was surprised by how people just naturally accepted digitalization ever since the pandemic. “We upgraded the system before this but did not fully embrace the transformation. Sometimes it is not about having the system, but rather about knowing how to work it. You are very dependent on who knows what to do with the data or realize that there are opportunities and data for us to grab on it.”

There is more than the technology and the infrastructure that powers digital transformation: more than anything else, mindset and the human capacity to handle such technologies are what matter most. “It is more important than ever to cultivate knowledge for digitalization and technology because we want to upskill our people and we’ve got to know how to do that,” Marlina stressed. Next year, the fellow will be moving to a new position involving even a wider range of stakeholders, and she is excited to integrate more concrete data-backed communications.

A holistic view with diverse schools of thoughts

While the technical lectures were greatly informative and applicable to her work, Marlina also found incredible value from the diverse schools of thoughts. “Technology and research can be read online anytime I want but encounters with different ways of thinking and exchanges of opinions are hard to find. Getting the right people in for a discussion and being exposed to new ways of looking at things, those are different, and those bears incredible value to me.”

She believes that information should be disseminated by practitioners. The fellow expressed immense satisfaction when she spoke about various interactive sessions in the seminar, especially ones that were paneled by leading industry experts, bringing in a very realistic and well-rounded pool of different perspectives and approaches.

Marlina at the launch of her published books: The BSP’s Energy Series

In addition to the rigorous schedule of lectures and panels, Marlina was particularly impressed with the YSEALI’s signature leadership workshops. Being a young professional in a large corporation, she reflected that sometimes it can be hard to acclimatize to certain ideas, like the traditional way of working or the corporate culture itself, and especially to leadership. Henceforth, the workshops were of tremendous help for Marlina to build her own style of leading.

“And most importantly, having so many representatives and young professionals within Southeast Asia also participating in the seminar was a brilliant experience! We get to meet people with different backgrounds and different skill sets, and we get to exchange a lot of information and knowledge.”

Marlina shared that although each country is on a unique track and each fellow joining the seminar is on their own way of becoming a regional leader, “rather than fixating on what makes us different, we decided to see what similarities we share”. The fellows all have a lot of aspirations, and they have a lot of drive, and “by learning with [them] and from [them], the seminar changed the way I view things and change the way I tackle different things at work.” Marlina is hopeful about a future where they can continue to collaborate with these newfound friends in a regional project and she cannot wait to explore all the amazing possibilities for her YSEALI fellows and for herself.

Bảo Trâm

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