At the heart of every digital transformation should be technology made for humans, with human values in mind. Josephine Monberg interviews Gia-Thi Nguyen, Head of Customer Service at Siemens Healthcare Vietnam, about how to become a digital champion and use creativity to drive the most impactful change. Listen to the episode now!
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Hi everyone. And welcome to this episode of our podcast. I am very excited because we’re going to talk about a topic that I believe all companies in all industries care about, at least they really should. And that is digital transformation, but not talking about it as in just technology, talking about it from a human centric approach. To get us all started, I’m going to actually give you all a quote from a book that you probably wouldn’t think that I’d recite. And here it goes, “my dear, here we must run as fast as we can just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that.” It is from Alice in Wonderland. And the reason that I bring up this quote is because the guest today actually thinks that this quote accurately defines digital transformation. And the guest is Gia-Thi Nguyen and he is the head of customer service at Siemens healthcare in Vietnam and formally, he was the head of operational excellence in digital industries also. So a super exciting. So first of all, Thi thank you so much for joining the podcast. I am really intrigued. So let’s start off by, can you tell us just a little bit more about yourself and what you do and just so our listeners can get to know you.
So I’ve been with Siemens for 18 years and predominantly I’ve been working in industry and I have just recently moved to Vietnam two months ago, but to sum it up in very short ways, so 18 years with the company worked in IT and then finance then sales and driving digital transformation topics. Since two months, I’m heading the customer service organization for Siemens healthcare. It’s a very exciting to be here. Thanks for mentioning the quote, because this is really what I believe digital transformation is all about.
Yeah. And we’ll talk more about that in a more about the quote as well, but so where did you move to Vietnam from?
Actually I was in Germany before I moved to Vietnam. Small disclosure, it’s actually my second trip now to Vietnam, I have been working in Vietnam from 2005 to 2008 already as the CIO of Siemens Vietnam and also at that time, by the way, I implemented SAP in Vietnam so that was a good 15 years ago.
You’re also very familiar with SAP and work closely with us as well. So that’s great. Let’s talk more about digital transformation, cause it’s obviously something that we talk about all the time. I think, especially right now, during this time of COVID where we’ve just seen how crucial digital transformation is for businesses as everything moves to the digital world for almost all industries. So I brought up the quote earlier about running fast and not staying in one place. Why does that quote define digital transformation in your world?
I think you already even gave a one part of the answer that yes, it’s true, we talk a lot about digital transformation and I think it’s important that we do talk about it, but actually I think also it’s much more important that we do something. And so that is one aspect. And I think the quote really clearly finds it so well because in my personal opinion, digital transformation is not really so much focused on the impact of change. Many people think like, Oh, everything is going to be different, but I think all our lives, everything has always been very different. I think the difference now in this social phenomenon is the rate of change. So therefore if you want to get anywhere, you really have to be moving. And that is really what the Lewis Carroll depicted so well because it is a Wonderland and it is whether it’s a good experience or a horrible experience, it really is up to you and we have to keep moving.
So would you say that companies today aren’t moving fast enough? Because you’ve also worked with a lot of companies in actually helping them on this digital transformation journey. So what do you tell customers? How do you approach the digital transformation?
I think to answer your question, whether companies are moving fast enough or not, it’s very easy and subjectively to say, you know, you should focus more on this or that, but I think the question before that is, are they moving or are they being moved? And I think especially during Corona times, we have seen that a lot of companies needed to wake up, but even that they are now awake, they are still not having the necessary actions to really move forward, but they are actually being moved. So they are more or less, let’s say for lack of a better word becoming victims of what’s happening around and to throw in another quote from a friend “even changing from worse to better is a hard thing.” And I think really we to understand that change itself is always a hard thing, even if we’re in the worst place. And I think that that’s really, really exciting to know and to appreciate it.
Yeah, that is somewhat true, change is something that can be scary too. I think also people, right? The work in companies, because you’re used to a certain way of doing things and then suddenly you have to change the way you do things and that creates a lot of uncertainty, but how would you approach digital transformation? How do you talk to both internally in Siemens, but also externally about how you move fast enough in today’s world?
Actually, I think my personal take on digital transformation is not that different or that creative, but it does really focus much more on the human and you know, like we are always much accustomed to hear that humans are our greatest assets and all of these things. But when I hear a lot of other people talk about digital transformation, I hear a lot about technologies. You know, I hear about artificial intelligence. I think about the blockchain about use cases and all of these things. But I think that actually digital transformation is in its pure sense, just the focus on the human abilities to really use technology, to serve those human abilities, like compassionate empathy, values, ethics. So because these things, humans are always better than any machine in the past and the present and in the future. So for me, digital transformation is really focusing on our most core, basic traits, which make us human.
So you’re essentially saying if you look at technology, cause that’s another topic for discussion right, which is about robots and that they can take over all of our jobs and replace humans. But what you’re saying is that we have the unique skills that can never be replaced by machines. And if we focus more on that, we can enable a more successful digital transformation. But how did the two actually work? You have a lot of employees at a company, how do you find out what those skills are and how do you then leverage them?
Maybe if I can use and paraphrase the quote of the castle, you know, like everyone is actually an artist. Every child is an artist. The tough part is only staying an artist when you’re becoming an adult. So I don’t have to focus actually to be quite honest on, on human compassion or creativity or empathy, because I truly believe that all humans have it, but I think along the line in life with external circumstances or the stress or the fast pace in the business world, we tend to lose our focus on that. And then we talk about technology and just to introduce maybe a side topic here, but I think that technology is also very human thing. You know, if I talked to my 10 year old daughter and I said, what is technology then probably she tells me about her iPad or something like that. But at the same time, the pen is technology, our written words in the books, that’s also technology because technology is created by humans and technology is there to serve humans.
You know? So therefore a lot of it is also really in the language. We think of technology as something inhumane, but I don’t believe that, you know, because I’m also a absolute nerd. I love technology. I love to learn things by myself, but I only do that because I want to enforce what humans do best, which as I mentioned, for example, it’s the creativity, you know, like, so for example, my iPad with the pen is really helping me to develop my creativity. And that’s basically what I try to say in our company. We also use different technologies, whether it’s to communicate, new conferencing tools. And they also have tools to share whiteboards and things like that, which we didn’t use to have, but we don’t do it for the technology itself, but we do that in order to serve what we have already and we want to scale it to make it more shareable and learn from each other.
Hmm. So it’s about looking at the human before the technology and then using technology to really enhance the human skills in order to complete a task or whatever project that you’re working on, essentially. So when you work with customers today and when you work internally, also in Siemens, we talked before this this interview and you told me about something called digital champions and how in any business, there are digital champions and they can really move the needle for the entire company, which I think again, is also linked to digital transformation and how you enable that. So can you talk a little bit more about digital champions and what you mean when you, when you talk about those type of people in businesses?
Yes. And also I have to admit, you know, I use this term also in a, let’s say a guilty way, you know, it would be like the same, like if I do a posting on LinkedIn to say, can we please stop talking about Corona? And then I hashtag Corona, right? So when I talk about digital champions, obviously I just mean humans, I mean, champions, but I think, you know, it has a sense of framing them in a different kind of context compared to when I just started in Siemens some 18 years ago, because times have really changed. And the context is a different one. So when I talk about nowadays about these digital champions, I really mean people who have a different type of affinity applying technology on a much more scaled range. So when, when they approach data, they don’t think in a political way, what kind of impact could it be?
But they have, let’s say a affinity to technology and sense somehow, you know, like in each, I guess in the fingers to say, wow, that’s something really cool. We can change the world with that. So they’re much bolder in terms of how to approach things and all they, maybe they’re not so structured and pragmatic, but on the other hand, they really think also like to just feed another buzz word, they really think in platforms and ecosystems, you know, they don’t really focus so much on the hierarchies. Yeah. And that has nothing to do really with age, you know, like some people say, Oh, are you focusing on a certain generation X, Y, Z, or even alpha or whatever? No, it’s not actually about page. It’s true. Probably statistically you would find more digital champions in one or the other millennial slice. But I think it’s not really so much with age.
And I’ve also worked with people just before their retirement who are also digital champions as well. So I think it’s really what they share is they really want to share the insights and findings based on technology and they want to scale it so that everyone can join in on the party here.
Right. So it’s about a mindset, a specific mindset that enables them to create real change, which we spoke about earlier as what a lot of people can have freedom. So how do you create, can you create these digital champions or is it something that you hire people and then they either they are, or they’re not?
I think that’s actually not such a exclusive question in terms of yes or no, but it’s also would be too simple to just say it depends. So let’s take an example of that. I think there are certain intrinsic mindset values, which needs to be there, which I can’t just create. On the other hand, sometimes you also just need to develop something which already is there.
So certain behaviors might have a positive connotation. Some maybe not, but if you think about somebody who is very chaotic, it doesn’t sound so great. But if you say he’s very creative it sounds great. And I think we need to really talk about something, maybe Peter Schumpeter would call the “creative destruction” and it works for some people, so they have to be open to change. So if people are really not, they’re really resistant to change, then there is really no way of me trying to convince them or try to depolarize them into a different direction. But on the other hand, I think everyone by nature is actually open to change. But maybe just along the line with, let’s say conditioning of the corporate environment or in the work setting, they have become a little bit more resistant to change.
Right. Because there’s a lot of hierarchy, a lot of politics, or there can be a lot of politics in big businesses. Do you consider yourself a digital champion?
I definitely would wish to be considered a digital champion. I think this is much more talking about the semantics. I think it’s much more important whether other people would see that I’m a digital champion or not. I definitely would love to try to be one, but not for myself, but for others because I do see a lot of value or much more value when I can share things rather than I achieve things myself. Because for me, there’s really no, no jealousy. If I actually see somebody who learned from me and was actually surpassing in many things, because I think my skillset is not really about having a superpower, but my skillset is much more about trying to find out the superpowers of other people.
I totally 100% agree. And I also think that’s how you accelerate the specific culture and how you actually create more of something great.
Because if one person’s good at something and that person finds what others are good at that creates a better company in general, right? Because people also want to leverage and max out on their abilities. So you’ve done a lot of, again, change for customers working internally with Siemens, but very few people. Right. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve approached that and what you’ve done in a team of maybe I think you just worked with two other people and to create a big change, right?
Yes. In my previous job as the head of operational excellence at Siemens digital industries we were driving global topics. And I think it would be a little bit overdramatic to say we’re only two people. But with only two people, we really started that kind of revolution, that kind of mindset change. And it’s basically like a, for lack of a better word, it’s like really we infected people and spread that new mindset, the new kind of thinking, not because we are so great influencer, but by basically not knowing what is possible, you just did it, what people considered impossible and everything actually in our world used to be impossible until the day something was made possible. And the two people that I worked with, they have been going through corporate hell, let’s put it this way. And they merely didn’t want other people to make that same experience as we did. So for me, the greatest pleasure in giving value to a company, to people who have not been with Siemens like 18 years ago, that’s a lifetime, that’s a whole adulthood, is that they don’t need to experience all the bad things to make that kind of learning after 18 years. But I want to give it for them for free, you know, like two, three months or in a workshop or two days. And I think this is really what the whole sharing culture is about. And that is also how the team has worked, because it’s also true when you share things, you have actually an opportunity to learn it again for yourself.
So you can’t really teach anyone something if you haven’t really understood it yourself. And then to make something really understandable in a thousand different kinds of ways is also a very exhilarating experience. And to really see how we were moving through all the different regional companies in the corporate world, we saw that there was really a necessity of let’s say somebody’s leaving, but at the same time, also having the courage to follow. And this is also what I always talk about leadership is, and this is what digital champions usually exhibit as a trait is they’re not really much focused on function and management positions, but they’re really leaders in any kind of function or position or level in the hierarchy.
I love everything you’re saying. I completely agree. I do believe that I perhaps also exhibit some of the traits you’re talking about to your point. You want others to say it, not yourself, but can you give a tangible example of how you made this happen? What’s your team?
I don’t know whether I can say or take the credit that I made it happen, but let’s say I allowed an environment where these things can happen. So a one off situation I always remember was we were in a workshop in the country and actually the executive management on the country level was participating and they were asking a question and we were very much into the details. It was actually an SAP related topic about EDI docs. And my teammate, she said, we are here to help your organization. So please could you leave because we don’t have the time to spend explaining something, which everyone in the room knows, but no one dares to actually say it back because you are the big boss here. Right? So it was not actually meant in any rude environment, but basically we have this environment where we allowed this, let’s say a straight up talk.
And the management actually really appreciated that kind of reaction because it really truly meant that yes, we are much focused on the content and therefore we are driving things forward because it’s not really in the interest of management to actually understand all the details either. Right. So that’s why I think that’s also a problem in this, back to the challenge of digital transformation. I don’t understand why a lot of let’s call it executive positions need to understand the choices between, talking about blockchains or neural networks. I don’t know whether it’s really necessary to really go into this deep level. And some of them actually say, well, if I don’t understand it, I can’t decide on it. But that’s actually just a different way of saying what I don’t trust my own organization.
So, yeah. And you would expect that when you hire someone, you hire them because they are better at that job than you are. That should be the way that businesses or companies should hire. So you’ve moved from, from operational excellence in digital industries, and now you are running customer service in Siemens healthcare in Vietnam. Why did you make that move?
It was just a chance of fate, it would be easy to say “well due to my background I was really ready to go back”, but it’s actually much more of the job and the environment, which really enticed me to do a, basically a second trip to Vietnam. Of course, Siemens. The fact is that I think there’s really nothing more thankful to be working in service, generally speaking. And for me also, healthcare is extremely, extremely interesting, not only due to the growth or the challenges we have in terms of human kind, but the thing is whatever I do, it doesn’t really matter what ever I do at the end of the chain of my work, there’s a person’s wellbeing on the line. So my customers are hospitals and care providers and their customers are people, people like you and like me, or like in my special case, my wife who actually had the quite serious accident last year, and that was actually really like a wake up call for me to actually say, how would I feel if I go to the ICU of a hospital, I find a very ingenious piece of technology there, but it would actually not work that night when it was needed the most due to bed maintenance or service.
And so for me, it is really something where I know that I give it my all and every day to really give the best service to my customers so that they can get the best service for their customers, which is really the best in patient experience. It was a very personal and emotional decision to actually move to Vietnam.
Yeah. And now I take it back again to bringing the human in the center of it. All right. And you even talked about human compassion and how you must love not just your customer, but your customer’s customers as well. And how does all of these fonts and especially related to health care, how do you see technology evolving along with human? Do you see humans becoming the center of everything? I know that that’s probably what you would want to happen, but how do you see kind of digital transformation evolving in the future?
I mean, the thing is that I don’t think it’s really so binary in that sense. So of course in healthcare, technology has much more increasing actually not technology, but I would say the whole digitalization aspect has of course an increasing impact in our area of work. You know, whether it’s the digital twin of a patient, but it’s using machine learning algorithms to really understand what diagnosis a newer network can give in comparison to maybe even the 10,000 best doctors in the world. So yes, the whole topic of digitalization and the technology is also extremely important. But maybe if I would just to sum it up in a slogan, which we actually used a couple of years ago, I think that without humans, we are just a technology company and I think we are not, we don’t want to be, this is also what I always say.
You know, Siemens slogan, it’s not innovation for business, it’s actually ingenuity for life. And I think this is something which we are really trying to strive for, but we really have a responsibility on the betterment of society. And whether we do this in infrastructure and energy in industry, or like now as I have chosen in healthcare, because whatever we do at the end of the line, there’s a human. And as I mentioned to you in my particular person case it was my wife, you know, and when we were in the ICU, there was actually a Siemens equipment and it was working.
You cannot even imagine how I felt that I’m leading an organization of 60, 70 people. And that is that one service engineer who made sure without knowing that he basically made sure that his boss’s wife would get the best machine at the highest confidence. So we knew everything would be right at that one night when the accident happened.
Right. That’s amazing. I think that also helps to give a lot of purpose to people in their jobs. Cause that’s also something I think, and then maybe even more so the younger generation, they’re looking for purpose. When you think about it, the way that you think about it and you look at the solutions and how they impact people, that also helps to give you more purpose in your role. So I think that’s a really good way of looking at your job, but also the role that technology plays in all of it. Thi, it was such a pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you for turning the conversation around- any final words for our listeners.
I think every time when you’re at the final line, it’s just another stopping line in disguise. So I guess it’s really much more about the journey than the destination and much more about becoming than being.
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And to all of those who listened to this episode. Thank you so much for listening. Hopefully I will see you on the next episode. Bye everyone.