The Leadership Post- A Step Ahead in Financial Management

By Sharon Ng –

Bringing business solutions to government agencies, Century Software (M) Sdn Bhd proves to be a Malaysian born company with a global and innovative vision of finance. CEO, Zainul Ariffin Harun shares their aim for a more sustainable future.

Walking into his office I can feel a friendly persona from the CEO.  Caring, Credible and Committed is stated in the office.  Wonder if he walks this talk….

You joined Censof in 2014, please share the story of your journey? What is it like to work at Century Software Malaysia (CSM)?

I joined the company in early 2014 and what attracted me most about them was their three C’s culture – caring, credible and committed. All of the staff from every level of the company is committed to upholding this culture and it fit me very well.
The second reason was the open-door policy practised within CSM, allowing everyone to have access to anyone, including the director and board. This makes it less of a hassle when it comes to decision making.  Although we do still maintain the traditional hierarchical structure, things work well because of the open door policy. Here, we also emphasise on self-development, pushing staff to their potential limit. We encourage multi-tasking. We practice Job Rotation and knowledge sharing. Last but not least, what made me truly comfortable and excited to join was the nature of the company which embraces all races. We are truly Malaysian.

Wanting to know more, I asked him about some of his challenges in his working life.  What has been the biggest let-down in your career so far?

While serving Censof, I have yet to clinch a big deal. I am still working on trying to break the 100 million income in a single project deal. It is also unfortunate that one of our big ICT project has been put on hold due to changes in policy after last year’s General Election, although it was awarded via open tender. There is also still a negative perception of local ICT solutions in terms of product quality. Some are concerned that it is sub-standard compared to foreign products. We need to rectify the perception that local products are inferior to foreign ones and are not able to command a higher price.  I have been through moments where I failed to deliver the project as meant to be. But the lesson is to still deliver the product. It took us a little bit longer but we still delivered to show our commitment and credibility.

With all the challenges he seems to be very optimistic for the future of ICT.  I am impressed with his demeanour and his friendly outlook of the industry.

What do you see in your current industry? What is the biggest change in the past five years?
What I see in the current industry is about the talent force. Now we have local vs foreign talent. For now, it is relatively cheaper to hire talented foreign talent. Outsourcing part of the job is still considered cheaper. But perhaps, we can hire lower-income local talent and develop their talent instead. Yet, with foreign talent, there is a higher margin of profit as they work flexible and long hours too. But of course, the consequences of hiring foreign talent is the language barrier. We need to find a way to balance this out. One solution would be to hire half local and half foreign talents. Another change we are seeing is that there is stronger competition, where the ‘big boys’ present lower margins. They are entering into the niche market and localising their products.

Although we believe that serving the people’s and planet’s interest while pursuing company goals are equally important, an open tender base competition which emphasises on the most competitive commercial pricing could reduce chances to win the bidding. This too needs to be balanced out.

However, one of the biggest changes has to be an increase in customer expectation. Customers demand real-time services as instant as their multimedia experience. Mobile devices have become tools for getting the task done. Mobility has become a working lifestyle. Getting work done, anywhere anytime.

We have also noticed the increase in bargaining power of the customer. Advancement of ICT enables creativity and innovation. Time for product creation can be cut almost half and less cost. More products are coming to market. Newly setup companies are leveraging on this. Customers have more choices for products. Margins are becoming very competitive. Today, the company needs to innovate the way they use to do things. Being a lean organisation is no longer a choice.

How do grow the human capital for the organisation to ensure sustainability in the long run?

The main thing is to instil ‘learning for life’ culture. I personally have enrolled to study part-time DBA to horn my leadership skill. Another method is to engage in professional coaching and mentoring for selected senior management trainees (SMT). It is also important to engage professional trainers for managers and HODs. To instal and embrace the culture of Complete, Correct and On-Time (CCOT). This is the company’s way to ensure that staff are in line with the company policy and style.
We do encourage and invest in staff to take professional certification such as ITIL, PMP, CIMA, instead of attending seminars or short courses, even though some of these professional training is not claimable under HRDF training scheme.

Overwhelmed and also in awe of an inspirational leader.  He seems very well – rounded and assured of his future in the ICT World.  My last question would be on the challenges he sees in the future. Wonder what he will say about this.

What are the challenges that CENSOF is facing today? And how do you overcome it as the commander-in-chief?

The biggest challenge is finding a succession plan. We realise that senior management staff are in the retirement stage. So, we are working to prepare our staff to take on these higher management positions.

One of the challenge that I do notice is staff behaviour. Not all staff work with a sense of ownership as they aim to just get paid at the end of the month. Our challenge is to generate staff with an entrepreneurial mindset who are more eager to innovate.

Another challenge is the perception of relatively poor service quality. Our approach is by conducting customer satisfaction surveys. This way we can improve in areas where customers share their feedback and experiences.

We also engage with key customers in a yearly clinic to gather information for system improvement.

Last but not least, our challenge is our brand equity which is relatively poor. Currently, we have engaged with a professional branding company. We hope to rebrand and focus in two key areas which focus on nation-building. One, to effectively and efficiently contribute to government resource management and two, to improve public service delivery.

Coming out of this interview convinced of his tenacity and future in ICT.  A lucrative endeavour – wishing him the best and hoping that he will bring this business to bigger and higher heights.  What are the next growth and expansion plan for the company?

Our aim is to offer integration as services. Integrate islands of the system in organisations to be integrated and seamless. This will make data accessible to management to facilitate faster and better decision making. It is also our vision to expand from FMS to cover government core system. Like the local council system, or GRP from budget system, procumbent, HR and Accounting system as a total package.

Moving forward we plan to upgrade software as services via cloud computing. Cloud services have enabled the organization to run its business operation without having a physical infrastructure. Thus enabling the changing of business models from project base to service/utility base. For the client, this means changing from the development budget to the operating budget. This will help the government to reduce big initial investment in system development, utilising their cash from operation, local council, SSM, HTDF and those organisations who charge their services to the public.

We plan to outsource ICT department function in areas of maintenance services, including infrastructure and system via SLA agreement. So clients can focus on their core business instead of worrying on their ICT infrastructure and system performance.

There is also the outsourcing government counter services. Some foreign countries have started outsourcing some of their counter services to private sectors. They just monitor that the process is in line with policies agreed upon. Services like visa application, business licensing, permit, import and export clearance even passport application and renewal. The government then can focus on enforcement tasks.

We cannot deny that cashless society is becoming an area of growth. Incorporating online and mobile payment services will be added advantage for growth too. Enabling a ‘green’ and smart government; leveraging on Artificial Intelligence, sensors as part of Industry 4.0 revolution, blockchain platform, robotics will be an area to be explored on potential growth for the company as well.