David Lang – On What You Don’t Know About Digital Transformation

From Fortune 100 companies in the US to startups in Vietnam, David Lang is a man of stories.


This post is also available in Vietnamese

Born in Vietnam, David followed the 70s’ diaspora and found himself in America. Striving forward as an immigrant, he sold his first FoxPro software product at 22, a SONET hardware product at 25, and an IT consulting company at 30. Then he served as a trusted advisor and innovator in technology and business to world’s prominent names like AT&T, Toyota, Sony, Cisco, and Facebook.

Now in his 50s, he relocated back to Vietnam to help companies undergo digital transformation. He’s an ABCD (AI/Machine Learning, Blockchain, Cloud, Data) advisor at YellowBlocks, an initiative at the heart of the country’s vibrant startup ecosystem.

Today we sit down with him to learn the behind-the-scenes of his success and his insight about digital transformation.

Watch the first episode of Transformation Series 1: The Winning Formula!!! – Mr. David Lang shared his insight about digital transformation.

?About the series
Chuyển Đổi Số Việt Nam, in partnership with and powered by YellowBlocks, presents Digital Transformation Series 1: The Winning Formula designed for business leaders, innovators and change-makers who seek for the winning formula in digital transformation journey. In each episode, we bring you the global or local expert to share a successful or unsuccessful case study of digital transformation in many industries. Since then, you can find out the factors driving the success and plan out your own formula.


Why did you decide to move back to Vietnam now, and not 15 years ago?

There are two reasons:  personal and professional reason for my decision.

I’m Vietnamese-American but Vietnamese in my heart and soul. I immigrated to the US 40+ plus years ago on a boat, a journey in which I almost died. I was really sad and missed my family and often cried to sleep. After 6 months, I gave a new life a chance but I could not forget the motherland, Vietnam. At fourteen years old, I promised myself that I would study diligently, work hard, and learn as many technical and soft skills as possible.  When the opportunity arises, I would bridge Vietnam to the world and the world to Vietnam. Now I’m finally living up to my promise.

Throughout my career, I had returned to Vietnam several times as an advisor for companies like IBM, Toyota, Cisco, and Alibaba during their expansion and M&A. Since 2017, I have witnessed a great shift in Vietnam both in business and technology. Vietnam has become a breeding ground of startups and investment potential. Now is the right time for me to come back and be a part of this change.

I am fortunate to have found YellowBlocks – young, smart, motivated leaders of Vietnam. Just like me, YellowBlocks’s vision is to be the gateway to bridge Vietnam and the world for business and technology. They are so hungry to learn and advance that I just have to stick around and help to achieve their vision. People like them give me hope and a reason to stay in Vietnam.

From the US, you’re now based in Vietnam. How was the transition for you in work and life?

To me, Vietnam is both home and a new journey. I definitely went through a transition period because Vietnam, especially Saigon, changes so fast. Everytime I come back, it gets a bit more vibrant and digitized. For example, within just two years, many general stores have turned into convenience stores and motorbike taxis (xe ôm) into an enterprise Grab-bikes business.

Working with the young colleagues at YellowBlocks has helped me adjust better to the new Vietnam. As I get to know them, I’m introduced to a youth culture that is unprecedented to the country. The new generation of Vietnam now expects products and services of global standards and they want to provide such products and services as well.

What is it about YellowBlocks that makes you their fierce advocate?

YellowBlocks works towards the same goal as mine–to be a gateway between Vietnam and the world. They always strive for win-win partnerships. We share a deep passion to elevate Vietnam to the world stage.

YellowBlocks’s culture emphasizes leadership and quality service. The young team here represents the next generation of Vietnamese leaders. Their work ethic and ability to perform in a global stage outpaces that of the previous generations.

I am the most senior person in the room, so it is on me to help them grow. In this sense, YellowBlocks is a chance for me to pay back to the industry that had given me so much. I’m happy to be their advisor.

What’s an exciting thing about being an advisor for YellowBlocks?

I get to witness the breath-taking growth of YellowBlocks and the people in it. Within just 6 months, we have become an industry brand. The speed was much faster than I anticipated, almost equal to what you normally see in entrepreneurial hubs of the US.

Working with Kimiko has been an amazing experience. She takes the time to train her team, transfer her knowledge, and her understanding of global services standards to them. I have seen the employees transformation here since day one. Wherever our employees will be in the future, I am positive they will be great leaders.

Let’s talk about your expertise–digital transformation, as it has become a buzzword these days. What’s a common misunderstanding people often have about this process?

Many people think digital transformation is only about technology. For example, if a company starts using blockchain, IoT, AI/ML or Cloud, we will be transformed. But digital transformation is about creating new streams of revenue that requires businesses to architect for the future and do things in entirely new ways. There are at least five types of transformation to occur if a company wants to transform itself sustainably. These transformation include technology, methodology, operations, marketing, and most importantly, human resources. Digital transformation is different in each vertical industry.  It is critical to have a clear vision of the future and prioritize business values to measure success and/or adjust as necessary during the transformation journey. For example, if you implemented new technology and staff who is not trained to operate it, what is the value? Another example is the mindset of executive leaders who are not convinced, the digital transformation journey is already in trouble at the start.

What’s the most important thing about digital transformation that companies should remember?

They should remember that digital transformation is ultimately human-centric. It requires not just new technologies but a shift in company culture to new ways to do business to create new revenue streams for the company. 

The tough part about my job is not just to implement tech–it’s also to bridge the gap between the existing we-don’t-want-change mindset to an open, innovative mindset of the people who are about to employ that technology.

It takes a thorough understanding of business needs, capabilities and values to decide on a change. Then it takes the right team of explorers and innovators to make that change apart of daily reality. If you have the right business needs but a wrong team, the business values will not be achieved. If one of these factors is missing, a company’s transformation will be extremely tough.

What does digital transformation look like in Vietnam at the moment? Are there steps that a company should take right now to keep up with the rest?

There is a positive recognition among the top 50 companies in Vietnam that digital transformation is a necessity for the country’s economic health. Industry leaders understand that their ability to keep up with the rest of the world on tech advancements is of survival importance.

Right now, more companies should start what I coined ‘the first phase of digital transformation’–that is to research, learn, and practice (RLP). During this process, they will understand the applications of new technologies, as well as how and where it can potentially empower their business. Once they are successful at “RLP”, they can create new services/products and identify new business opportunities to create new streams of revenue.

With the companies I have worked with, an average “RLP” process takes approximately twelve months. After that, their vision becomes a culture. The second phase starts as they practice digital transformation in their daily operations that will take another 12 months to firmly takes root.

Which companies in Vietnam are pioneering digital transformation? What can we expect from them in the near future?

With ABCD tech use cases such as this one getting more and more developed around the world, Vietnamese companies have realized that ABCD tech can create better customer engagement. Among the top fifty companies, I have had the pleasure of talking to Viettel about their own progress. They have started the first phase, RLP. FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) also shows great signs of digital transformation, using Internet Of Things to enable automatic event decision making in quality control.

In the near future, we look forward to the launch of new ABCD tech-based products and services from these companies. These early adopters of emerging tech will enjoy new revenue streams and better financial health in the long run.

What tech trend has caught your attention recently?

In 2017, not many people in Vietnam knew what blockchain and cryptocurrency were. In 2018, most people knew what bitcoin was and there was a big push for other blockchain applications across multiple industries. In 2019, the adoption of blockchain and how it integrates into Industry 4.0 remains a hot topic.

Much like the rest of the world, ABCD tech is still emerging in Vietnam. It is a precious chance for Vietnam to realize its potential and catch up with the world.


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