Thinking big, really big
True Digital president wants nothing less than to transform society with cutting-edge tech
True Digital Group, the innovative technology wing of True Corporation, strives to be a mix of Disney and Google, combining digital entertainment with cutting-edge tech, says president Michael Gryseels.
Since last year the company has grown its True ID streaming service to 22 million monthly active users as of the third quarter, as well as expanded its scope of operations to providing solutions for smart farming, retail and transport. It even provides opportunities to train the technology workers of the future.
"Our mission here in Thailand is the transformation of True and CP Group, as well as the transformation of society," Mr Gryseels said.
As True and its parent company Charoen Popkhand Group undergoes digital transformation, the role of True Digital will likely grow. Based out of the sprawling True Digital Park in Phra Khanong, True Digital boasts 1,000 employees from 20 nationalities, 70% of whom have a technology background in what Mr Gryseels claims is the largest digital operation in Thailand.
"We want to achieve a leadership position in all the markets we are in, whether it be consumer media and entertainment, where we are already the No.1 app, or business solutions or our academy, where we reskill and upskill workers," he said.
Many companies in Thailand boast about digital transformation, but very few have made a comparable concerted effort as True. It opened its Digital Park last summer, having only created True Digital as a subsidiary in 2018, and pitched the park to the public as a place to foster innovation and incubate startups. Less than a year later, the park has become a symbol for the new era of Thailand's development, or the government's much touted Thailand 4.0 vision.
"We want to operate like a startup, but we already have more than a thousand employees," said Mr Gryseels. "How do you maintain the speed and agility of a startup as a big organisation? We have to be agile at scale, which very few companies in Thailand are doing."
Running an old legacy corporation like a startup does not come naturally, but the two-year-old True Digital gives the company a new lease and a fresh mindset in its attitudes towards emerging technology. Mr Gryseels himself only started at True in August 2019 after an almost 20-year career at McKinsey. To scale up innovation, he demands one new innovation per quarter from each segment within True Digital.
These changes come as seismic shifts are affecting the telecom industry. 5G wireless will be rolled out in coming years, which will in turn give True Digital plenty of new opportunities when it comes to the increased number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices connected to its network.
True has 200,000 IoT devices connected on its network, but that number is expected to increase exponentially as the increased speeds of 5G create new use cases for connected devices.
Already True is working with shrimp and dairy farmers to enable smart farming technology like sensors to monitor farms and collect data. In retail it is assisting stores by using data from CCTV cameras to draw insights from customer behaviour, and in logistics True uses IoT devices to track transport fleets.
"There are so many things that could be tracked in the future that are not being tracked now, such as waste management vehicles," Mr Gryseels said. "The role of True Digital will be to enable business solutions for 5G."
But despite its anecdotal leadership role in digital transport in Thailand, it suffers the same setbacks of any tech-focused Thai company: a talent shortage of IT workers. Positions such as programmer and data analyst are in extremely high demand, which leads to high turnover, and companies poaching talent from their competitors.
To address this issue, True Digital launched their own academy, which trains workers in-house, some of whom do not have a background in technology, in skills necessary for digitally-focused jobs. In the past 4-5 months the academy has trained about 600 workers in fields like data analytics and computer science.
This year the academy will be open to the public, where workers interested in reskilling or upskilling in the IT field can take courses at True Digital Park.
"Thailand needs about four times the amount of IT workers it has currently," Mr Gryseels said. "How do you solve that gap? You have to retrain. That's why I'm so passionate about the academy, not just for us, but society needs it."