by Cristina Lago

How business in SE Asia are achieving digital transformation

Apr 04, 2019
Digital TransformationTechnology Industry

Grab, Forth Smart Service and Everledger are some of the companies who spoke about their implementation of emerging tech

johnson johnson runners race digital transformation agile
Credit: Getty Images

The Fourth Industrial Revolution was the topic that took centre stage at the Oracle OpenWorld conference in Singapore last week, where business leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations revealed how emerging technologies are enabling them to reshape the way we live and work – and the ways in which the 10 ASEAN countries are contributing to ‘Industry 4.0’.

From real-time supply chain optimisation and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), to blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), organisations across Southeast Asia are using emerging technologies to maximise value and deliver business success.

In Vietnam, Asia Commercial Bank is leveraging cloud, internet of things (IoT) and AI to transform its digital banking, while beyond Southeast Asia, Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric has enjoyed an 85% reduction in floor space thanks to smart manufacturing using AI, IoT, SaaS and PaaS solutions.

Grab and automation

Although primarily known as a ride-hailing app, Grab, the region’s first $10 billion ‘decacorn’, has quickly expanded into other business verticals as varied as food delivery, logistics, and financial services.

During a keynote session, Vikas Agrawal, CTO and Head of Engineering of Grab Financial Group, said that one of the startup’s major challenges has been in ensuring that people and processes are able to keep pace with the company’s rapid growth. As of today, the firm has around 150 million users in the eight Southeast Asian markets where it operates.

“We are a mobile-first company,” said Agrawal. “Most of our customers are not only mobile-first but mobile-only, so we have to make all of our services available on a mobile device. The challenges that we face are building from scratch, building to scale and building for safety. These are the key elements of what we do.”

One of Grab’s goals is bringing financial inclusion to all demographic groups in Southeast Asia, including the ‘unbanked’ such as those living in rural areas who don’t have access to banking services of any kind.

“More than half of the population in Southeast Asia is unbanked and 80% don’t have access to loans,” explained Agrawal. “Our objective at Grab is to target this segment of the population. We provide them with loans so that they can grow their businesses and have more income opportunities. Using a suite of applications we make sure that we give our partners a platform to grow.”

To achieve this, Agrawal is using automation to speed up processes.

Opening a bank account can be a fairly elaborate and sometimes expensive process which requires time, as well as a head for navigating bureaucracy, both of which can prove to be high barriers for entry. Using digital ‘Know-Your-Customer’ (KYC) procedures, users can submit identification documents using their mobile devices, backed by an AI platform. Agrawal explained that this process can be done securely and that his team is constantly training algorithms that can make the best choice for customers. 

Databases and cloud

Thai fintech company Forth Smart Service provides top-up machine kiosks for the main mobile communications carriers in Thailand. The firm operates over 120,000 vending machines nationwide to let their customers top-up their mobile phones or e-wallets and transfer money. These activities generate vast amounts of transactional data – around 2 million transactions per day.

To make sense of this, Forth Smart is using an autonomous data warehouse powered by Oracle which uses automation and machine learning to generate real-time insights into the company’s network of vending machines, something that otherwise would have taken two or three days. Introducing this degree of automation has allowed staff to focus on higher-value tasks including segmentation analysis, helping the business to drive longer-term strategy based on that data. 

“Using the Autonomous Database has had a significant impact across our financial reporting, ability to undertake complex segmentation and predictive analytics, allowing us to focus more of our efforts on innovation,” said Pawarit Ruengsuksilp, Business Development Analyst at Forth Smart.

But the protagonist at OOW was the various cloud services on offer by Oracle. the cloud, a platform widely implemented across the region. Popular Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia,  for example, has deployed Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning Cloud to centralise and streamline its financial operations.

“AirAsia has championed Asean connectivity since its inception in 2001,” said AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes. “Over the past 18 years, we’ve proudly grown our network and launched new routes across Asia Pacific as we delivered on our promise to our guests.

“We are now writing the next chapter of our story, riding on our momentum as a business and a brand to transform AirAsia into more than just an airline. We are going to be the travel technology company for the region, and as part of this journey, we’ve set our sights on becoming an intelligent, connected enterprise.”

Earlier this year, Niranjan Paranjape, Chief Technology Officer of Go-Jek, Grab’s main competitor in Southeast Asia, told CIO ASEAN how it is also using the cloud to address problems attached to the growth of their business.

“We launched a new initiative, Go-Cloud, to productise scaling so that developers across experience levels can ship quality products faster and better, and at the scale at which Go-Jek operates, which is over 100 million transactions per month, in Indonesia alone,” the CTO said at the time.

According to Paranjape, while AWS and Google Cloud automates infrastructure provisioning, Go-Cloud goes one step further by automating app deployments, scaling, fault tolerance, resiliency and multi-country deployments with ease. It standardises Go-Jek infrastructure to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation toolchain.

‘Provenance’ company Everledger, meanwhile, detailed how it used a blockchain-based platform created by Oracle to track the supply chain journey of diamonds and other high-value assets.

Speaking at one of the sessions, Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of the company, explained how the blockchain solution has helped her and her team deploy more innovative products and solutions for their customers globally, in particular with improved time to market for business intelligence reporting solutions.

“With an increasing consumer consciousness and a vocal demand for transparency, our work is focused on engaging entire business ecosystems to provide consumers the ability to make fully informed purchasing decisions,” said Kemp. “It is thus key for us to enable the ease of systems interaction and provide value add to our customers.”

If digital transformation is on the rise, why do businesses fail?

According to a report from Oracle presented at the OOW, fewer than 20% of innovation-focused projects are coming to life, the primary reasons being a lack of focus and leadership, poor processes and an ongoing resistance to change.

The study surveyed more than 1,850 decision makers across Asia Pacific (APAC) in the cloud solutions and software market. It showed that despite a clear link between growth and innovation, most of the companies interviewed have little plans to be proactive in innovation over the next three years.

“While Asia has taken a lead globally in innovation, the research confirms the growing feeling that there is an impending ‘innovation winter’ coming,” said Andrew Sutherland, Senior Vice President, Technology and Systems, Oracle APAC and EMEA.

“In today’s highly competitive global economy, companies cannot afford to sit back. Those who do risk being outpaced with little hope of catching up. Instead they need to look at the barriers and actively seek to address them. With an effective and supportive culture, clear vision from leaders, the prioritisation and funding of chosen projects and new approaches like co-innovating, activities in this area are more likely to see success. Being innovative isn’t just about ideas, it’s about execution.”