Digital transformation is long term


Seated from second left are Mr Ruangroj, Mr Zhang, Mr Pas, Mr Pinya and Mr Foo at the Bangkok Post International Forum 2020 held at Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld. The business leaders suggested partnerships and making the commitment to digital transformation a part of the culture from the top down. Varuth Hirunyatheb

Companies should continue with their digital transformation journeys to avoid disruption, say executives from top tech companies at the Bangkok Post International Forum 2020.

PANDEMIC-DRIVEN TRANSITION

Jack Zhang, chief executive of Lazada Thailand, said his business boomed during the lockdowns when brick-and-mortar businesses closed and more people bought items online.

“We believe in the long term people’s behaviour will continue,” he said. “New e-commerce users will realise online purchases were not as difficult as they thought, with delivery in only a few days. We think eventually they will become reliant on these deliveries.”

Although e-commerce was already rising in Thailand, Mr Zhang said the pandemic sped up the transition. Lazada Thailand plans to focus on long-term trends and hold onto customers it gained from the pandemic.

“Compared with China, Thailand does not have as many experienced workers for online businesses. We have to take people from other industries and train them,” he said.

“How you prepare a team and implement a digital transformation is very important. Taking companies from offline to online can create a lot of conflict internally when transitioning from a traditional business model.”

TECH THE FOCUS

Ruangroj Poonpol, chairman of Kasikorn Business-Technology Group (KBTG), said all companies should look at themselves as a tech or digital company, lest they risk falling behind in the new era of disruption.

“With the digital disruption coming, it will be like a domino effect,” he said. “It started in media, then went to e-commerce, logistics, payments then fintech. Everything will change, so the real question is ‘What will not change?’ Companies need to adopt digital transformation or they will not survive.”

The labour market will also see major changes through automation and the rapidly changing required skills for various industries, Mr Ruangroj said. Companies need to look at flexible work models, search overseas, and allow part-time work to find talent with the right skills, he said.

“There will be a lot of disruption in the labour market as many people need a new job and the educational system cannot adjust fast enough to train people with the right skills we need in the future,” said Mr Ruangroj. “The talent you hire has to be nurtured or they will leave for a better company with a better culture.”

Companies should not think about digital transformation in terms of three-year or five-year plans, but rather a permanent part of operations, he said.

“This require buy-in from the top down. It never happens from the bottom up,” said Mr Ruangroj. “The CEO is responsible for creating this culture and democratising innovation to continue this transformation. Innovation is not fashion. This is an infinite game to transform, with disruption a new part of the DNA.”

Companies must have the ability to tap into the pool of talent and capitalise on data analytics, he said.

The whole country must transform and modernise, including small business.

“Business needs to be open, collaborative, creative and sharing, with continued improvement,” said Mr Ruangroj.

SETTING PRIORITIES

Chang Foo, chief operating officer of Tencent Thailand, said both the consumer and business-facing sides of the company have grown as a result of the pandemic transforming both consumer and business behaviours.

“Because people have not been able to go outside, they are on their phones and playing a lot of games,” he said. “What is surprising is on our B2B [business-to-business] side, our enterprise business related to cloud, we have seen a lot of growth as businesses want to start their digital journeys.”

Its cloud business is focused on smart solutions and AI incorporated into its products. Tencent offers this technology as products and solutions to other companies, said Mr Foo.

“For us, building leadership during this period involves both hard skills and soft skills,” he said. “In any crisis there will be tragedies, but we want managers to empathise and build up our employees.”

For companies to succeed strategically, they need to have transformation as the core of their business plans, said Mr Foo.

“You need to keep on disrupting yourself or someone else will disrupt you or your business,” he said. “You need a team of people around you to weed out the wrong ideas, and find the right ones to pursue into the future.”

During the pandemic, Tencent introduced technology that supports resilience and business continuity, including tools for work collaboration, video conferencing and virtual events.

Tencent Cloud offers the first in-country interactive and AI-enabled cloud platform, helping with innovation and increasing competitiveness, mainly in smart retail, banking, manufacturing, media and entertainment, and healthcare.

Tencent Cloud can support custom templates, which can improve data entry efficiency and reduce the cost of use.

Its facial recognition technology offers authentication features, such as liveness detection and 1:1 face comparison, meeting identity verification needs in industries such as healthcare, finance and insurance.

Retail business can apply the technology to evaluate user satisfaction and interest of buyers.

In the healthcare sector, Tencent offers AI-powered image recognition to offload physicians’ work and support telemedicine.

Speech recognition can support automated call centre services by detecting users’ emotions. When a bot detects the unhappy voice of a customer, it can reach out to staff who can help solve problems.

Major global manufacturing players have embraced technologies such as AI, 5G and cloud computing to make their operations faster, leaner, more responsive and more competitive.

It is important to build teams and ideas for innovation, including having a work culture built on reskilling and upskilling employees to ensure resilience under a long-term plan, he said.

CUSTOMER BEHAVIOUR CHANGE

Pinya Nittayakasetwat, country general manager of Gojek Thailand, said the pandemic has changed user behaviour, particularly for food delivery, which has created more informal jobs such as driver partners and merchant partners.

“The food delivery platform is more relevant and reaches a massive numbers of users. Covid-19 has driven food delivery growth by 10-100 times,” said Mr Pinya.

Gojek accelerated the process of making merchants onboard its platform from one week to only three days, he said.

The pandemic played a part in driving consumer behaviour changes towards food delivery 1-2 years quicker than expected. Customers now expect more from delivery services, said Mr Pinya.

Previously food delivery operators focused more on promotions, such as a 10-baht delivery charge or even free delivery. Customers now require food hygiene standards, cashless payment, and speedy delivery time, he said.

“We need to keep up with these changes and focus more on market sustainability as this ecosystem involves jobs and merchants. We cannot be a price-driven company anymore,” said Mr Pinya.

He said tech companies need data science, effective product management and special training for future workforce in the next few years.

The key point for startups is to think carefully about what users truly need, said Mr Pinya.

On a fast track

Joshua Pas, managing director and member of the investment committee of AddVentures Capital by SCG, urges businesses to choose a shortcut for their digital technology development, which is becoming increasingly important.

“Don’t just build everything and buy everything. Focus on partnering,” he told the forum.

A move to partner with businesses in the same or different fields could be a good move if companies want to improve their efficiency.

“Choosing a partner will make the journey shorter,” said Mr Pas.

AddVentures Capital is seeking a new investment in innovations, with startups in Thailand and overseas for its business expansion.

The company focuses on high-potential markets, including China, the US and Indonesia.

In 2017, SCG Group diversified into corporate venture capital (CVC) after setting up the subsidiary AddVentures to invest in Thai and foreign startups.

A CVC firm is a new investment trend that comprises part of its focus on innovation.

SCG Group is focusing on investing in new startups related to its core businesses: cement, petrochemicals and building materials.

“The pandemic has not affected AddVentures Capital,” Mr Pas said.

“The company wants to invest in advanced technologies and innovations in science.”

The pandemic has caused startups to expand rapidly while businesses continue to face technological disruptions, he said.

“Startups have adjusted to the pandemic and this new era” said Mr Pas.

As a data science expert, he also encouraged companies to make data analytics more familiar to all employees.

“Data analytics is for everybody, not just smart guys in small groups,” said Mr Pas.



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