Digital drive gains momentum

Digital drive gains momentum

Businesses are at risk of losing out if they fail to undergo digital transformation

A customer browses SCB Easy, a mobile banking app.
A customer browses SCB Easy, a mobile banking app.

The world has witnessed the emergence of new advanced technologies meant to provide more convenience, boost competence in business operations and offer cybersecurity protection.

The technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, blockchain and digital payment, are gathering pace throughout the world.

Businesses are at risk of losing out if they fail to undergo digital transformation or employ technologies to help boost their effectiveness.

Many businesses, particularly major players in the industry, have now embarked on a digital drive to stay competitive and bolster their efficiency.

BANKING

Digital technology is radically reshaping the banking industry landscape, with electronic money transfers and payments becoming the norm, while online platforms, particularly super apps, are invading business areas traditionally dominated by financial institutions, especially payment and lending.

Even though the hyperscale of tech giants is considered a threat to entrenched banks, partnership with them also presents opportunities for financial institutions to access their large customer base, helping them shift to a customer-centric model from a product-centric one by providing personalised financial services to keep pace with clients' needs.

Some local banks have forged partnerships with tech giants and large corporates.

Take Kasikornbank (KBank), the country's largest mobile banking service provider by users, as an example. It has embedded itself in selected financially relevant ecosystems by striking partnerships with Line, Grab, Lazada, Shopee, PTT and Central Group to facilitate customers through an open banking landscape.

KBank president Predee Daochai said the bank aims to use disruptive technology in three main areas -- ecosystems, digital lending based on data analytics, and comprehensive cybersecurity and customer data confidentiality enhancement in 2020.

Kasikorn-Line, a joint venture by KBank and Line Corporation, plans to roll out personal loans and nanofinance on the Line platform in mid-2020, aiming for millions of borrowers in the initial stage. The digital lending service will be available via the Line BK feature of the Line app.

Line BK takes aim at the underbanked and unbanked segments, especially small business owners, the self-employed and freelancers, as its main customers.

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) chief executive Arthid Nanthawithaya said the bank's priority in 2020 is to continue building capabilities through digital and platforms.

On the capability side, the bank plans to improve customer engagement through AI and machine learning.

With the use of big data through partnerships and ecosystems, SCB can offer predictive banking to better keep pace with customers' digital lifestyles.

"Being customer-centric has always been the most important core value and will remain a central theme in 2020. With the rapid shift in customer behaviour, we are actively looking for ways to disrupt ourselves with investment in technology and new capabilities to continue enhancing the customer experience," he said.

SCB needs to strengthen its core technology foundation with open application programming interfaces to be more flexible and adaptive, integrating with tech partners and future technology, said Mr Arthid.

The number of SCB Easy users increased to above 10 million in 2019, with financial transactions through its mobile app contributing to more than 60% of the total.

SCB also launched digital lending for unsecured loans to existing customers. The digital lending platform contributes above 20% of total approved unsecured loans.

True Digital hopes the transformation comes quickly.

TRUE

Digital transformation may happen too late in Thailand, given the rapid development of the technology, said True Digital Group Co, the digital arm of telecom operator True Corporation. The company would prefer to be at the stage of digital enablement.

Corporations that have yet to embark on digital innovation are likely to be disrupted very soon, said Ekaraj Panjavinin, managing director for Internet of Things (IoT) and digital solutions at True Digital Group.

Established in 2017, True Digital Group works with True Corp's conglomerate parent Charoen Pokphand on innovation development.

Its TrueID digital content platform has been provided in the Philippines and Indonesia, and the group now aims to expand innovative services, especially IoT tech and digital solutions, in these two markets before reaching out to others in the region.

True Digital Group wants to become a tech enabler in Asean over the next few years through comprehensive digital solutions for vertical industries.

"Business and industry sectors face a tough challenge adjusting as digital tech changes consumer behaviours," said Mr Ekaraj.

"Digital is a core" is a vision of the group, which aims to use digital tech to enhance individuals' efficiency, strengthen organisational operations, create a sustainable society and ensure the betterment of the planet.

The group's strength lies in around 120 data scientists working to come up with digital solutions through data analytics, he said.

True Digital Group believes digital power is the key to unlocking employee potential, creating sustainable business, improving customer experiences, building new products and optimising business operations.

Data and manpower, according to the group, are the key elements in all organisations.

Raw data can be analysed by AI and data scientists to shed a light on ready-to-use business insights, said Mr Ekaraj.

Regarding manpower, employees need to be reskilled and learn how to cope with rapid changes in innovation.

"Technology and industries cannot be separated," he said.

The group recently unveiled the country's first cattle monitoring solutions in collaboration with AllFlex, a global leader in livestock innovation.

The service is provided by the group's strategic business unit, called Tech Village, which focuses on enhancing the capacity of those in vertical industries.

Tech Village is focused on seven sectors: retail, supply chain, consumer, agriculture, property, healthcare and manufacturing.

The group wants to provide solutions covering all seven sectors in 2020. The services are expected to branch out to other countries in the region in the future, said Mr Ekaraj.

An aerial shot of Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort by S Hotels & Resorts Plc.

SINGHA

Singha Corporation, the country's largest beer manufacturer, has gradually transformed its business structure over the past few years after the digital wave changed consumer lifestyles. The company envisaged unsteady growth for its beer business.

As part of the effort, Singha ramped up its non-alcohol business, focusing more on food, digital, logistics and property.

As part of the moves, its property business, Singha Estate Plc, acquired Rasa Property Development Plc through a backdoor listing in 2014.

The property firm focuses on developing luxury residential and office buildings and hotel businesses.

To cash in on continuous growth of tourism worldwide, Singha Corp also spun off its hotel business to be handled by a new company called S Hotels & Resort, which recently listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

The group also set up Singha Ventures in Hong Kong a few years ago. The venture capital firm is looking to invest up to 25% in startups.

Singha Ventures focuses on three industrial pillars: consumer goods, including food, drinks, health products, seasonings and packaging; supply chain management; and logistics technologies.

The company is also interested in investing in healthcare, which is expected to grow significantly as Thailand transitions to an ageing society.

In 2018 the group established SBP Digital Service Co to provide information technology solutions and services, both within the group and for outside customers.

It recently consolidated all food businesses under a single management roof called Food Factors Co, which is tasked with the expansion of the group's food business in domestic and international markets.

Food Factors recently acquired an 88% stake in KT Restaurant Co, the operator of Santa Fe steak restaurant chain, for 1.5 billion baht.

The acquisition not only expands its steak restaurant chain in the region, but also allows it to use Santa Fe to distribute Singha products and test new products.

About 2-3 acquisition deals are pending negotiations and the group is upbeat about its food business prospects.

Piti Bhirom Bhakdi, director of Singha Corporation, said Boon Rawd Brewery Group has been restructured over the past two years and plans to focus on six growth pillars.

The six pillars encompass beverages (beer, soda and drinking water); packaging products; regional business under Singha Asia Holding Company; real estate business under Singha Estate; supply chain under Boon Rawd Supply Chain; and food business by Food Factors.

Mr Piti said to elevate the business operation cycle from upstream to downstream in the food business, the group is emphasising operations synergy in the group to create broad-based growth.

He said the company expects to spend 5 billion baht to expand its food business over the next five years, starting from 2019.

Mr Thapana says ThaiBev plans to upgrade its breweries.

THAIBEV

In keeping with the digital wave, Thai Beverage Plc, Thailand's largest food and drinks company, controlled by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, has applied technology the past five years to transform its empire.

Technology application is part of the company's ongoing efforts to become a leading, sustainable drinks company in Asean by 2020 under its Vision 2020 strategic plan announced in November 2014.

Vision 2020 calls for investment of about 5 billion baht per year over the six-year period to expand its beverage business.

To achieve its goal, ThaiBev will focus on five strategies: growth, diversity, brands, reach and professionalism.

It has streamlined its operations into three businesses, namely beer, whisky and non-alcoholic beverages.

President and chief executive Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi announced last October the company will spend 7 billion baht in 2020 to renovate 25-year-old breweries and increase sales from all beverages in populous Asean countries in the next six years.

In 2018, ThaiBev was the largest beverage firm in Asean and ranked fifth in Asia by market cap with US$18 billion.

It was sixth by net sales with $5.85 billion.

"As the global economy is sensitive, we will focus on healthier drink choices and tap more Asean markets that have large populations and robust economic growth," Mr Thapana said.

"We aim to be the market leader for all beverages by 2025. Key markets are Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos."

Kosit Suksingha, the company's senior vice-president, said ThaiBev has never been complacent, gradually adjusting the organisation by using technology such as AI and big data to analyse customer information.

It has also brought in advanced robotics to the supply chain from downstream to upstream to reduce its operation cost and increase production efficiency.

ThaiBev is conducting a feasibility study to bring in new technology to its logistics system.

Over 30 automated machines have already been installed at its green tea factories in Saraburi and Ayutthaya, and as many as 1,000 machines are projected to be installed at more factories.

Mr Kosit said the company is focused on upgrading its supply chain to reduce operation costs.

The company plans to build 18 distribution centres across the country this year, covering cities such as Lampang, Khon Kaen, Bangkok, Pathum Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat.

ThaiBev developed its own logistics system to shorten product distribution time and improve staff morale in preparation for the move to work in neighbouring countries.

Human resources are also being developed with more work skills, particularly in innovation and digital technology.

Central Chidlom department store is lit up for the 2020 New Year celebration. The country's leading retail conglomerate is developing the digi-lifestyle platform.

CENTRAL GROUP

Central Group, the country's leading retail conglomerate, has adopted technology quickly to cope with changing consumer behaviour driven by disruption.

The group declared a five-year strategy in 2018 called "New Central, New E-conomy", aiming to become the first digi-lifestyle platform leader in Thailand, delivering superior customer experiences to inspire lifetime loyalty.

The new e-commerce platform prioritises three building blocks in running business: data, loyalty and personalised experience, as well as an omni-channel strategy.

All data from all business units will be stored in the cloud to create a single view of the customer for deep insight into behaviour, in order to provide a superior experience.

Regarding loyalty and personalised experience, The1 aims to serve as a new lifestyle platform to tighten customer relationships through personalisation.

The omni-channel platform is expected to seamlessly connect offline and online shopping, anywhere and anytime.

The group also formed a 17.5-billion-baht joint venture with Chinese e-commerce giant JD.Com to establish JD Central. New marketplace JD.co.th is another shopping channel for Central customers.

Central customers who buy products online can pick up their products the same day from stores.

Customers can buy products online at PowerBuy, SuperSports, CDS, Robinson, Looksi, MEB and Office Mate, as well as from the Digital Personal Shopper service using Line and Chat & Shop with a digital assistant.

According to Yol Phokasub, Central Group's president, the joint venture with JD.com not only creates a new marketplace, but also supports the group becoming a leader in e-logistics in Thailand for integrated on-demand services to meet customers' needs.

Moreover, it will upgrade Central Group to become a full fintech company with a one-stop integrated financial system covering e-payments and e-finance for customers and suppliers.

To more completely develop its digi-lifestyle platform, Central Group gives priority to "alliance and technology" to deliver lifestyle on-demand needs of customers, said Mr Yol.

Central Group has partnered with Dusit Thani, Hongkong Land and Ikea, and plans to work with others in the near future.

The company aims to become a top tech company, he said.

SCG

With a 106-year foothold in Thailand, Siam Cement Group (SCG) has faced many challenges over the years, impacting the group's operations.

For 2020, SCG aims to adopt many digital platforms to enhance its competence in three core businesses for years to come.

Roongrote Rangsiyopash, president and chief executive of SCG, said digital adoption can benefit the company, offering new strategies, better financial performance, highly skilled employees, new technology and effective crisis management.

"Three business units -- cement building materials, chemicals and packaging -- have to be prepared for SCG's digital transformation," said Mr Roongrote.

"SCG has to be an innovative workplace and a role model in corporate governance and sustainable development in Southeast Asia."

In 2019, SCG started its CPAC construction solution through the digital platform to facilitate contractors procuring construction materials.

"SCG expects to increase the efficiency of purchasing procedures," he said.

Moreover, the company began Building Information Modelling (BIM), a 3D model-based process that combines architectural practices and structural design to increase the efficiency of construction projects.

BIM offers a cost-effective solution using architectural techniques.

In the logistics segment, SCG is gearing up for digital-driven logistics with technologies and advanced digital platforms, such as object recognition, robotic process automation and chatbots to support other parties in the logistics supply chain.

"SCG wants to deliver high-quality management services, grow consistently in Thailand and expand its service coverage to Asean countries," said Mr Roongrote.

In addition, SCG adopted a blockchain solution for its procurement and payment methods in 2018. It is called the Procure to Pay platform and already has 240 suppliers.

SCG spent 10 million baht on this platform, expecting to draw 2,400 suppliers by 2020.

The company has shared the platform with business partners in the chemical and packaging sectors to manage purchase orders of raw materials, warehouses, spare parts and services.

As global companies move towards digital adoption, the shift to these platforms by SCG will increase the company's business efficiency in terms of speed, accuracy and safety.

A cafe offers free WiFi. Technologies involving data protection will become imperative.

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

AI, 5G, multi-cloud and cybersecurity are likely to gain traction in Thailand in 2020, according to tech gurus.

Dhanawat Suthumpun, managing director of Microsoft Thailand, said AI-linked applications and platforms are likely to gain momentum this year, noting the technology is not only targeted by listed firms, but also mid-sized businesses.

AI-linked technologies, such as chatbots, face recognition and voice assistance, will play a greater role in business and industry use cases.

Vatsun Thirapatarapong, managing director of Cisco in Thailand and Indochina, said the rise of AI in IT Operations, or AIOps, can be expected as it supports agility, availability and resilience among businesses through intelligent automation.

The technology offers continuous monitoring, assurance and optimisation of the network.

Mr Vatsun said the explosive growth of data traffic from connected mobile and IoT devices along with connected applications and services could potentially overwhelm network teams in the future.

It is beyond human capabilities to handle the massive amount of data, so AI-based tech could be leveraged to deal with it, he said.

Mobility access can be faster thanks to WiFi6 and 5G, which would be a boon for innovative applications with high speed and low latency, said Mr Vatsun.

Multi-cloud adoption should also gain traction. Today, a data centre does not mean a single location. It is a distributed data centre, where applications and data can stored in hybrid, multi-cloud or edge environments.

Technologies such as cloud optimisation and orchestration, software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) and cloud security will be crucial for such multi-cloud platforms.

Weeradej Panichwisai, senior research manager of IDC Thailand, a local unit of the leading global research firm, said technologies involving cybersecurity, data protection and digital identity will become imperative.

Organisations will spend more on these technologies to comply with related laws, he said.


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