This is a story of reinvention, of unlocking success in digital transformation. It is also a story of the dramatic reshaping of a business and the pursuit of excellence.
Who we are today is the CXL Group, a reimagined company that represents our journey from what started as CareerXcell 13 years ago. With humble beginnings in 2008, this Malaysian company found its purpose in supporting jobseekers with placement services.
Malaysia, at the time, was undergoing significant upheaval, and in particular, fresh graduates faced a hard time getting jobs. Knowing what we could offer, we approached the government to see how we could support fresh graduates in getting trained and then placed. At that point, the government had already spent millions of dollars on training organisations in order to get graduates trained.
The government listened to us and we began training and placing thousands of fresh graduates in roles. Then, clients began to approach us about hiring candidates with a view to seconding them. This inevitably led to our contract staffing business, CXL Executive, where we focused on contact centres and FSI (financial services industry) services.
Within a few years, we embarked on CXL Solutions by acquiring a payroll and HR outsourcing business. This then led to rounding out the end to end HR services. We built a centre of excellence, and in particular, a state of the art payroll processing centre, partnering with a leading purpose-built Tier III data centre in the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor) Malaysia. This full suite of services and our successes created some attention for us, and led to our merger last year with The Ability Center, Japan and our rebranding as CXL Group.
The impetus behind the CXL Group’s digital transformation journey
It started with the pursuit of excellence and a desire to grow and improve on what we had. This makes more sense when you consider our early beginnings which relied on a backbone of older technology.
Duplicate processes, manual aspects to the operations we led, the reliance on client server-based applications and the fact that clients didn’t have immediate and 24×7 access to their data all came together to show us that things needed to shift.
The world was digitalising all around us and we had better take a lead role or follow along.
But it was not just about what was to come.
We were working to resolve real and current problems. There was such a volume of manual work with clients emailing our team, reports being sent back and forth and with our customer base increasing, so did this manual workload. Yet, while we could see market demand for a change, there were also concerns around privacy and security, particularly in relation to HR data.
As such, we made a conscious decision to invest our time and resources in examining how we could transition and meet this demand, understanding full well the need to walk alongside our clients on this journey.
We examined our HR processes, the platform we had and made a conscious decision to embrace the cloud. In 2015, we began looking at digital platforms particularly for payroll but also for expanded services.
We invested in an HR and Payroll tool for internal use to run our day to day HR activities. We connected the HR services and payroll platform to our finance platform. We also launched a mobile app to support this. Through all of these activities, we began a slow but steady move away from hand-holding our clients through every single transaction and transitioned to a self-service model that benefitted both sides tremendously.
The transformation journey - timeline, goals and outcomes
We began this journey in the second quarter of 2015. Prior to this, I was involved in the business but I moved around different entities. Then finally, I was brought back into the business in 2015 because the owners needed someone who understood HR but also had a tech background. I fit the bill.
My plan was to take 36 months. We spent the first six in planning and reviewing how the operations would take place and what could be automated. We looked at what software could be brought in and modified and we also had to consider the budget. We started looking at tech partners who could grow alongside us. Then, in the next six months, we worked with the software developer to chart our requirements.
Our biggest challenge was customising the platform. Frequently, software developers build to meet the criteria of one organisation but we needed a single platform with multiple configurations so we could support hundreds of clients at the same time.
The following year, we began the migration process, which was incredibly challenging. We had multiple fronts to manage, from the customers, to data migration and personalised attention throughout to ensure everyone was on the same page and happy.
As expected, there were clients who didn’t appreciate the change, who were comfortable with the status quo and who needed assurances about their data. Understandably, some of these were customers who had been with us for over seven years. We knew that awareness building, educating them about the process and outcomes and addressing concerns would be key to getting them on board.
Within 18 months, we completed the migration and completely disbanded the old platform. Our big challenge was to get all of the team on board and adapting to this new way of working. Some were comfortable with the old ways – they needed a lot of support to transition. There was a learning curve. But with change management, training, assurances throughout as well as consistent, open communication, we succeeded.
It took persistence. In the past, a person was able to process 200 payslips at any one time. But with the new platform, a person could process up to 700 payslips. The combination of the self-service model, the transition from manual to digital records and a single dashboard helped our team understand what lay ahead. Quicker processing times, client access to their data when they needed it, a focus on more strategic work and more.
But one of our biggest challenges was not foreseeing the shift needed for our backup process. We had an ISO standard backup solution in place that suited on-premise solutions. But with the move to the cloud, it was no longer suitable and we needed to resolve this quickly. Somehow, in the modelling stage, we missed out on this detail but we were able to address it successfully, in time.
Current and future state perspectives
We went into this project knowing that we were after speed, ease and flexibility, accessibility, reliability and scalability. From a nine to five type operation, things opened up tremendously with the move to the cloud.
For example, clients used to have to wait for data or responses to issues based on local office hours. Now, with a cloud solution and self-service options, they could access their information online anytime and not have to rely on us for access or management. This was a big and positive shift.
Key success factors
There were a few key success factors. First, the budget was a critical constraint. We needed to remain within our parameters and we did. Second, we wanted to ensure the migration process was smooth. We were dealing with sensitive data and potential impact to client businesses.
We ensured that there was zero downtime for customers during their office hours. In the big move, we did the cutoff on a Friday night for a Monday launch. Instructions were handed out, the team was on board and supportive and it went off without a hitch. Everyone was invested in making this work because they could see how it would improve their day to day operational needs.
When charting the transformation plan, did we foresee challenges? Yes of course, who doesn’t? Our initial challenge was convincing shareholders about the business case. The business was running well at the time. Naturally, there were concerns about spending more when things were going well and there were enough customers.
So we did the research and outlined the competitive landscape. We needed to convince them of what would occur if we failed to move. Face to face communication was key. Once the chairman was on board, the remaining stakeholders came together.
Midway, there were the usual challenges related to ensuring that the data was migrating across securely. Client data sensitivity was and remains critical to our success and the smallest of changes to such data can have massive implications. We knew this and worked with this in mind.
The people side of the equation
To get this project on track, we prioritised communication. All of this occurred pre-COVID-19 so there were town halls, regular meetings (groups and one on one) to explain our direction, listen to objections and any changes that may crop up. We focused our efforts on highlighting the positive outcomes that would unfold over time. We applied change management principles and provided assurances.
For example, staff understood that they could run payroll from home if the need arose. They worried about the possibility of declining productivity. We found that concerns raised were often at the individual level, i.e. how the change would affect them and their contribution.
Understandably, sometimes, individuals would find fault with the new platform. Thankfully, our Head of CXL Solutions HR and Payroll Operations, Mardiana Wati, played an instrumental role in managing this. Positive and determined, she focused the team on the intended outcomes.
I believe that one of the keys to our success was the parallel run we did which involved learning and then using the platform in conjunction with the existing infrastructure. While we still used the old system to finalise pay runs etc, we also got the team to acquaint themselves with the new platform, putting in data and experiencing how it worked for three to four months. This familiarity and consistent use made the transition much easier.
Our biggest takeaways
Be clear about what you want to achieve
For us, it was about digitising everything from time attendance and payslips all the way through to leave management. SMART goals is what helped us achieve this.
Do not keep moving the goal post
At the first stage, make the big decisions about what you need holistically. Do the end to end research before you even begin. Understand what your team needs. If you do this, when shareholders and stakeholders come on board, they will have questions and suggestions about your process and decisions. If you know what you’re going for, you are better prepared to defend your position.
Pay attention to your team
Ensure you have a solid team in place, a team who has bought into your plan and is fully behind it. If you can achieve this and keep two-way communication open, they will be on board the whole way through.
Stick to your budget
Develop your budget and stick to it. I cannot stress this enough.
This is our powerful story of digital transformation. It is a story of rethinking, reinventing and staying in tune with what our customers need and want. And the results speak for themselves.
Through a fairly systematic and thorough implementation of these measures, we moved the company into a positive financial position within 12 months with a top line growth of MYR40 million. This initiative, alongside some other measures, led our Group to become profitable and cash-flow independent for four years running. Now that this is complete, and as we begin a new chapter with The Ability Center, Japan, we are excited about the next stage of our evolution.