Developing Thailand's next super app
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Developing Thailand's next super app

Start with data-driven engineering, find the right partners and think long-term.

The rise of super apps in Southeast Asia has raised the bar in providing an all-encompassing, seamless user experience. Super apps are essentially digital platforms that provide multiple services, such as delivery, travel, payments and social media.

With big revenue potential for businesses, super apps are becoming an essential part of everyday lives. Grab and GoTo (formed through the merger between the Indonesian ride-hailing and payments firm Gojek and the Indonesian e-commerce giant Tokopedia) are two successful examples. Both have expanded from ride-hailing to offer an array of services, including food deliveries, shopping and financial services. GoTo has a market value of around US$23 billion and Grab is currently valued at over $11 billion.

Now Thailand is also getting its first home-grown super app, in a collaboration between the food delivery and travel platform Robinhood, Google Cloud and the systems integrator MFEC. The aim is to provide growth opportunities for small business owners and delivery riders, while serving a diverse user group in both metro and non-metro areas.

As super apps become the norm, if businesses in Thailand don't start to plan for their own super apps, they'll find other organisations moving in before they even have the chance to get off the ground.

International organisations are rapidly developing their own super apps and expanding into regional markets. Facebook, Klarna and PayPal have all been adding e-commerce and other features. AirAsia also recently expanded its super app to Thailand, offering ride-hailing, flight reservations and food ordering.

So how can Thai businesses tap into this new potential? Here are the three steps to unlocking the next super app:

1. Harness data-driven engineering: Super apps are all about delivering an amazing customer experience. As they become more integral to people's lives, being stable and reliable is critical. Response times are paramount when it comes to customer experience. With competition in the app market heating up, it is very easy for users to switch to a new app.

Harnessing a data-driven approach will result in improved uptime and reliability, increased operational efficiency, and deliver exceptional customer experiences that fuel company innovation and growth.

That means linking data from customer experience, business teams, finance, product, engineering and operations together. Currently, many organisations don't have a clear view of their data. They typically lack a central, integrated data management platform. Data is siloed in disparate repositories and there is no system that provides a single, holistic view.

By investing in data and observability and achieving a "single pane of glass" view, data can be used in a way that allows alignment and optimisation to take place.

2. Find the right partners: Having the right partners in building and maintaining your super app is critical. A partner can help throughout the development phase, speeding up the cycles and iterations that they can go through during development. Some things that are tried will fail. But if that can be done quickly and confidently, with the right tools in place, correct decisions can be made about what will and won't work.

It's about getting visibility into the platform and more importantly the customer experience. Observability is not just about uptime or downtime but ensuring a flawless user experience throughout any traffic volatility or peak periods.

While previously the main question was whether an app was up or down, now organisations want to know how their apps are performing with customers in a specific area, and what's happening with a particular user. There's much more demand for detail and granularity. The right partner can ensure that this information is collected and analysed.

3. Practise futuristic thinking: Thinking outside the box is also key in developing the next super app. This means preparing solid strategies that can keep up with rapidly changing consumer preferences and evolve with any market disruptions.

The top super apps have hundreds of millions of users, and in the case of WeChat in China, over a billion. Being able to scale quickly as the app grows is vital, as well as thinking beyond the local market. As people start travelling again, they will want apps that can provide services in multiple locations and give access to global e-commerce.

The challenge for super apps is that the more features and services they add, the less impact it actually has on the end customer. They have to maintain the same level of service as the app continues to grow. Companies need to think about how they analyse all their data so they can make informed decisions about how to improve, as well as what they should be integrating into those apps next to keep them competitive.

The time to build super apps is now: to capture new users and get a first-mover advantage. If organisations in Thailand aren't starting this process, they will fall behind and lose competitive ground.

But they need to do it right. That means taking a data-driven approach, getting the right partners, and being visionary about their goals for their super app.

Stewart Garrett is the managing director for Asean of New Relic, a San Francisco-based developer of cloud-based software to help website and application owners track the performance of their services.

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