Tencent-Eyes-the-Video-Conferencing-Market
Tencent Eyes the Global Video-Conferencing Market

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As far back as in 2018, Tencent had set its eyes on the business customer, starting a Cloud and Smart Industries business group (CSIG). Since then it has not lost focus on what businesses need and has continued to evolve its offerings. Late last year, Tencent Meeting , a video-conferencing app for its enterprise business was launched. This was a savvy move, as it came right after Zoom was blocked from the China market forcing local users to search for in-country alternatives.

Tencent’s Go-to-Market Strategy

Talking about Tencent’s go-to-market strategy, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee says, “The current leader in the video-conferencing space, Zoom is not available in China so that market alone can sustain an offering like Tencent Meeting. With the popularity of WeChat, Tencent has a huge opportunity to combine conferencing on the desktop and the mobile and I see that as an advantage for Tencent when compared to other players in the market.”

In another savvy move, as enterprises grapple with remote employees and video-conferencing solution grow in importance, Tencent rolled out its video-conferencing solution for the global market. VooV Meeting, the global version of the domestic app Tencent Meeting, was launched in over 100 countries including the larger Asia Pacific markets such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

Mukherjee says, “At this particular moment in time, the COVID-19 crisis has suddenly brought video-conferencing front and centre. While people are now resorting to it out of compulsion, they are likely to discover that this is a great way to work. As bandwidths and connectivity improve across countries, video-conferencing emerges as a really viable solution. Organisations will soon realise that this technology can help save tremendous amounts of travel and facility rental costs. So, usage is likely to grow exponentially – and it is not a bad time at all for Tencent to enter this market.”

The Video-Conferencing Market is Heating up

The video-conferencing market continues to grow and providers such as Zoom, Microsoft, Google, and Slack have made many of their offerings free. In the current milieu industries such as healthcare, education and professional services are using unprecedented video collaboration tools, both internally and for customer interactions.

Zoom is gaining global popularity with stock prices rising 28% in the last month in an otherwise under-performing global market. Zoom continues to evolve user-friendly features such as the virtual background, forcing other conferencing providers such as Microsoft to emulate them. Microsoft Teams has also seen a steep rise in popularity, with the company reporting over 50% rise in chat volume in the last month.

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “Expanding the capabilities beyond video will be critical for a larger market share. Zoom is now expanding its offering to include calling capabilities with Zoom phone. Beyond video, collaboration platforms are growing in importance and Microsoft Teams, as an example, has made the platform feature-rich across voice, video and collaboration capabilities. Users will want features that will make chat, video, voice and collaboration sessions rich and intuitive. If the experience is not good, they will find another platform to use. It will all come down to user experience!”

Tencent is by no means the only tech organisation from China that is eyeing the global market. Recently, Alibaba launched a free international collaboration platform based on their productivity app Dingtalk for medical professionals to share information and advice on prevention and treatment of COVID-19. In a boost to Tencent however, the United Nations (UN) announced that they will be using VooV Meeting to host their online conversations, especially for their initiatives to mark their 75th anniversary – UN75. Not only will the UN use Tencent’s video-conferencing capabilities, they will also leverage other Tencent offerings such as WeChat Work, and Tencent AI SI.

William thinks that the market might be crowded and Tencent will face some challenges. “Tencent’s challenge is that it is entering an established market. To make a mark, it will have to continue to innovate on features, focus on platform security and ensure that the experience is seamless. Tencent announced in January that the solution can support 300 attendees simultaneously. To sustain this and make a bigger push internationally, it will need to work with local partners to help take this product to market.”

“With all the options around, people will not use VooV Meeting just because it is free – they will if they find the features to be unique and the experience brilliant.”

Mukherjee adds, “Tencent is one of the most admired companies in China – it is a top pick for most graduates as their preferred employer and is seen as a better company to work for than other big players in China. This is a reflection of its strong corporate culture and continuing success. Tencent has, so far, had a good track record of competing with the likes of Alibaba and I believe that they will move quickly to muscle in and take a leadership space in the global video-conferencing market.”

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The-New-Wave-of-Enterprise-Mobility
The New Wave of Enterprise Mobility

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Enterprise mobility was a key area of focus for organisations for many years in the late 2000s  and early 2010s. Many businesses invested significant amounts of money and time in helping their employees access the information they needed while on the go – until the consumer smartphone era drove our attention away from our employees. Now we are focused on providing the best mobile apps, websites and experiences possible.

The constant evolution of the capabilities of smartphones, along with the drive to offer an ever-improving customer experience (CX) has kept our attention firmly on our customers. However, smart businesses now understand that in order to offer a great CX, they need to keep their employees happy. And giving them access to the technology that delivers the right information at the right time is a key factor in achieving better employee experience.

“Investment in enterprise mobility tools and platforms is forecast to increase significantly over the next few years. And the COVID-19 pandemic may even see some of that spend accelerated as businesses look to better support their remote and work-from-home employees,” says Tim Sheedy, Ecosystm Principal Advisor.

What to Expect from this New Wave of Enterprise Mobility

 

#1 Growth of UEM Adoption

Sheedy adds,“Today, many businesses are empowering their employees by providing the best end-user computing experience that will drive the best outcome. This often sees them looking beyond a single device (phone, PC etc) towards the entire experience – including the application, interface, management and security of the experience.”

A robust unified endpoint management (UEM) solution provides IT teams with a transparent and traceable overview of all endpoints within the network as well as the power to manage all connected devices from a single platform. It maps out the network setup and structure by carrying out a complete inventory of all network devices, configurations, installed software, and the drivers for endpoint subsystems. Ecosystm research finds that more than 60% of global organisations have either adopted UEM or are evaluating it (Figure 1).

This trend will only go up with the rise in the number of devices organisations have to manage remotely. The workplace of the future will become exponentially digital and tech vendors will further strengthen their portfolio to offer UEM solutions.

#2 Greater C-Level Visibility in Mobility

In his report, The Enterprise Mobile Landscape in 2020, Sheedy notes that enterprise mobility decision, including the choice of devices supported often have C-level involvement (Figure 2). “A large government agency in Australia has had the Director General intervene in their mobility decisions to stamp his personal preference on decisions, and a CIO at a large bank makes sure that Apple devices are always preferred – even when it makes little business sense to do so!”

Choice of mobile devices is personal and most organisations have realised that. Less than a third of global organisations issue corporate devices and only 6% continue to believe that they can manage by only supporting corporate devices. However, nearly no organisation has gone fully BYOD either.

Apart from mobile device choice, mobility solutions also have to take into consideration the huge amounts of traffic it has to support. When organisations adopt a Mobile First Strategy it is an acknowledgement that it will involve multiple stakeholders, right from the inception of the vision. This is clearly a technology area where user experience and uptake is of importance. So, the mobility strategy should have senior level overview and input so that it can be a company-wide policy.

#3 There will be renewed interest in Mobile Security

Ecosystm research finds that the global adoption rate of mobile device management (MDM) solutions is about 44%, while only about 17% of organisations indicate the adoption of a Mobile Security solution focused on identity management, multilayered security and threat analysis.

Organisations are aware that mobility initiatives increase their risk profile (Figure 3). An enterprise mobility solution that allows people to work on their device  and OS of choice and from where they choose to, will become increasingly important in the current milieu. But the threats to organisation are equally real.

More than half of the organisations are concerned about compliance with corporate or regulatory standards in implementing mobility solutions. This is a good indication that the Mobile First strategy implementations have a strong compliance angle to them, both internally and for external agencies.

However, as Sheedy notes, it is still a challenge for the IT team. “Organisations provide one or two more operating systems that the IT team needs to manage, patch and secure. The mobile applications provide more entry points for would-be hackers and others to use and threaten the business. The devices and applications provide another set of user interface that need to be managed and governed to ensure regulatory compliance. They can also gather highly personal data (such as the location of customers when they are using – or not using – the application) so this data needs to be secured and governed.” As adoption matures, organisations will need to invest in niche Mobile Security solutions to combat their security concerns.

#4 Mobility will Drive SaaS Adoption

What organisations want most from their mobility solutions is cloud capabilities. One of the main reasons why organisations look for cloud capabilities is because mobile workloads tend to be unpredictable and cloud solutions are best equipped to handle the unexpected spikes. Most organisations also consider cloud solutions for a seamless integration with back-end systems and because a mobile workforce needs to make real-time decisions based on real-time data. Given the disparity of the data sources in a typical organisation, hosting on a neutral platform becomes more attractive. Also as organisations become more conscious about mobile security, cloud options also give them better traceability on remote device and data access.

However, conversely mobility will also drive the adoption of SaaS enterprise solutions and tools. Many businesses have mobilised their email, eCommerce platforms and unified communications and collaboration tools. But beyond that, organisations are not really empowering their employees to work on their mobile devices (Figure 4). This will have to – and will change – fast.

In his report, Make Remote Working Successful, Sheedy notes, “It goes without saying that your employees’ productivity levels will improve if they have access to the applications they need. And while many organisations already have enabled universal (or near-universal) application access from PCs and laptop computers, many of these applications should also be available from smartphones and tablets. This will allow your employees to work when they are on the move – not just when they are at home.”

 

It is time for organisations to re-evaluate their enterprise mobility if they have to remain productive in these difficult times, and beyond. Sheedy says, “Ultimately, our employee’s reliance on great mobile and targeted end-user computing experiences is increasing – and 5G services will only accelerate the transition away from traditional telephony, communications services and desktop applications. Businesses will need to continue to mobilise their enterprise systems to make them easier to use. Employees have now experienced great mobile apps and systems – and most enterprise mobility systems don’t stand up in that comparison.”

 


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Will-5G-Help-Telecom-Providers-Crack-the-Enterprise-Conundrum
Will 5G Help Telecom Providers Crack the Enterprise Conundrum?

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Telecom operators are fervently working towards 5G network and services deployment in order to be an early mover in the market. Operators are investing in Digital Transformation (DX) as well as inking partnerships with other players in the ecosystem to monetise on exciting new use cases in the enterprise segment and make market inroads.

The consumer market has become a retention play and on the whole many operators are experiencing declining margins and it appears unlikely that the consumer will pay more for higher speeds. Device affordability for mass-market remains a challenge though Chinese smartphone vendors are expected to release sub US$ 300 5G smartphones later this year. 5G can be expected to arrest the lengthening consumer upgrade cycle due to the attractions of not only faster speeds but improved streaming and cloud gaming. Data services revenues will continue to generate growth but this will be offset by losses in mobile voice services.

5G – An enterprise value proposition  

Telecom operators have thus far been largely unsuccessful in penetrating the enterprise ICT market due to a variety of reasons including the slow pace of innovation, lack of a one-stop-shop offering, insufficient channel to market to especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and lack of skills in offering non-network services. 5G technology presents operators with another opportunity to address this long-standing challenge with the flexible features of enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and massive machine type communication (mMTC) enabling tailored network and services offerings. 5G promises to revolutionise various industry solutions based on required data rates, low latency, reliability, and machine-type communications.

Monetising 5G is a key topic among leading executives and new business models are being devised. Connectivity services will be offered with a mix and match of throughput, bandwidth volumes and latency requirements. Fixed Wireless in Southeast Asia will be very popular considering the low penetration of fibre to the home and will provide enterprises with a viable secondary connection to the internet. Popular applications including video streaming and gaming which are speed, latency and volume hungry will also be a target market for operators.

More speed, latency and number of connections

5G offers theoretical speeds of 20 times that of 4G, low latency of 1 millisecond (ms), a million connections per kilometre and is expected to power a new era of mobile Internet of Everything (IoE). Offering high speed is the initial offering to the market and operators are going to be offering minimum guaranteed speeds for the first time. A high definition movie could be downloaded in 10 seconds while low latency means better performance for live sports, gaming, mission-critical automation and driverless cars – among others.

Fixed Wireless Access is the new wireless fibre

5G will offer fixed wireless access (FWA) or “wireless fibre” to households as an alternative to fixed broadband. It can be ideal as a redundant second link offering when the primary link is down. FWA broadband services offer a serious alternative to fixed broadband services which is plagued by the high cost of civil works for fibre optic deployment and expansion of the network to reach the rural population. FWA is expected to make strong inroads into households in Southeast Asia with the exception of Singapore, as many nations lag in fixed broadband penetration. As a comparison, ITU reports that fixed broadband penetration in countries such as South Korea (41.6%) and Hong Kong (36.8%) lead their Southeast Asian counterparts – Singapore (28.0%), Vietnam (13.6%), Thailand (13.2%) and Malaysia (8.6%).

A boon for Video and Gaming industry  

Gaming is huge in Southeast Asia, notably in Thailand and Indonesia, and operators can take advantage of this offering with partnerships and value-added services with cloud gaming, high bandwidth and low latency packages. With cloud gaming, gamers can access a library of popular high-quality games minus the need for expensive hardware which has been the case in the past. This platform allows content creators and publishers to access the huge Southeast Asian market and monetise.

B2B2x is not a new concept where operators partner with leading providers of video streaming services through direct billing and 5G will be able to offer low latency, for example for live events. This brings in not just a commission per subscriber but additional revenue for the additional network features such as low latency.

Video streaming providers such as Netflix, Viu, Hooq and Iflix are worthy partners for a subscription – so are ad-based video-on-demand services.  Live sports streaming service also makes for a very lucrative opportunity with 5G features of high data throughput and low latency.

Readiness through digital transformation

Efforts for preparedness for this business shift means significant operational and technology platform improvements, operating on the cloud, ease of incorporating the partner ecosystem and supporting a multitude of pricing models. DX should run parallel to the build of 5G public and private networks for a telecom provider to be in a leadership position and for them to be able to fully monetise 5G. Operators will be making major changes to OSS and BSS to support 5G use cases with the ultimate goal of ensuring customer-centricity.

Ecosystm research finds that nearly two-thirds of telecom providers are looking to increase their cybersecurity spending in the year. It is also clear that the biggest driver of that spend are their DX projects (Figure 1).

Cybersecurity is of paramount importance more than ever now with the increase in devices, software-based network services and edge computing. It is essential that a robust cybersecurity framework is in place as 5G will drive DX in enterprises, power the Digital Economy and provide the critical core infrastructure for Industry 4.0. Operators need to ramp up investment in cybersecurity technology, processes and people. A telecom operator’s compromised security can have country-wide, and even global consequences. As networks become more complex with numerous partnerships, there is a need for strategic planning and implementation of cybersecurity, with clear accountability defined for each party.

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Building a Business Continuity Plan in the Contact Centre Industry

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Agents are the most valuable assets in a contact centre. In the current environment, the biggest threat is agents getting infected, causing the closure of contact centres for weeks or possibly even longer. We are already seeing the impact of that with offices being shut, students not going to school and industry gatherings and events being put on hold or cancelled. So having a business continuity plan (BCP) is critical. The BCP should include ways to continue to engage with customers.

The contact centre manages live interactions. Every second there are voice calls coming in, emails received and self-service tools being accessed. It is important to have multiple backup plans – both from a people and a technology perspective – to keep operations running effectively, without calls being put on hold too long or with other channels going unanswered. Contact centres battle with these challenges every day and the situation will get far more serious with the ongoing changes we are witnessing.

Some important considerations include:

Having a backup plan allowing agents working from home

More contact centres today are gearing up to agents working from home, but the process is not an easy one. To begin with, the initial set up includes having the right connectivity and a reliable network. Ensuring that the agent has the right working environment with minimal distraction is crucial. A good quality headset can help. A poor-quality headset will only create unwanted problems with understanding customer issues and handling them. Other concerns include security, tracking how data is being handled, agent under-performance and safety of the agents from an operational and health perspective. Measures such as listening to call recordings and storing them centrally are growing in importance. Multi-factor authentication and analytics using agent logs are some measures that can be put in place.

While there are lots of tools and technologies to monitor and check on agents, the key for home-based agents will be trust. Some outsourced contact centre providers that have been using home-based agents for years have stated that having trust and not micromanaging the agents, is essential for the model to work. Some contact centres have also deployed a BYOD policy for home-based agents assuming the right security, device management, application management and authentication measures are in place.

Organisations should also consider actively recruiting additional home-based agents. These agents could be retirees, currently unemployed or people with mobility issues who prefer to work from home.

Given the difference in the working environment, the metrics used to measure agent performance needs to be modified to be more realistic and fair to both agents and organisations.

Employing home-based agents will drive employment amidst challenges in the economy. Ecosystm research finds that more than a third of organisations do not have provisions for agents working remotely (Figure 1).

For a long time, the industry has talked about the rise of home-based agents and while it has received positive momentum, it has never really taken off in a big way. This time it will.

Managing spikes in voice and non-voice calls

In industries such as healthcare and airlines, call volumes are exceeding normal volumes. Having the ability to deflect the calls to other non-voice channels will be important. It might need the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) scripts to be changed from time to time to manage the flow of the calls. This is when cloud architecture becomes important. The cloud model can be used to make changes to call workflows easily. The sudden peaks will also require changing the channels easily and without intervention from IT. This is where the agility of cloud comes in as it allows changes and additions – for example when 500 agents need to be added or moved to work on other areas – to be made more easily. Ecosystm research finds that currently, only a third of organisations have their contact centre solutions fully on a cloud, with another 66% with partial cloud solutions. This is set to change with the rise in the number of home-based agents.

There should be thought and planning on how to deflect voice calls to other self-service channels. In the current environment, some organisations deploy a call back option when there is an overflow calls. Similarly looking at deflecting voice calls to self-service channels to ease the load on agents should be evaluated.

Managing back up locations (onshore and offshore)

Contact centre operators are looking at ways to isolate agents and keep them safe. Apart from very strict hygiene measures, organisations are also restricting agents to their specific floor. Some are looking at having agents split into different centres, to contain the risk of mass infection.

Several contact centre operators are building contingency plans to route calls to outside the onshore location in case the situation in a site or a cluster worsens.

For back-end contact centre activities and non-voice calls, taking the load off from the current onshore setup and pushing them offshore, can be an option. The best place to start would be by evaluating each client contract and SLAs especially on security, regulation and privacy issues regarding customer data-handling.

There will be a lot to be considered too should the country go into the full lock-down mode as we are starting to see with a few countries. This makes the case for employing home-based agents stronger.

Using messaging apps, the website and FAQs for daily notifications

Many contact centres are informing citizens and customers about the changes in business operations, services offered, refunds, where to go for help, what do to in an emergency and other essential information through the website, app or the updated FAQ. This will help reduce unnecessary voice and non-voice enquiries to the contact centre. During an emergency, it is normal that phone queries will rise and developing a detailed FAQ is critical to counter that. The more detailed the FAQ giving essential information, the more agents will be able to focus on the more essential day to day activities. Several companies are now sending pop-ups within apps about daily changes to avoid an overflow of inbound enquiries.

Virtual Assistants and Conversational AI can help to ease the load

The more intelligent the virtual assistant and conversational AI platform, the more a customer will be able to get the right response. The challenge has been that many platforms are poorly designed and customers get frustrated because they are unable to get the basic information they need. In times of high inbound activity, if answers to simpler queries can be provided through a chatbot, it can help ease the load on agents. It is good to start planning for this as it will take some time to get the virtual assistant platform up and running and even longer for the algorithms to learn from historical patterns to work well. While it may not be the perfect solution now, planning for a Conversational AI can bring some sort of balance back to the contact centre. Having a solid knowledge management system at the back-end cannot be compromised. Without a good knowledge management system, the virtual assistant solution will force customers to leave the self-service platform and place a call to the contact centre, defeating its very purpose.

The challenging situation we are in is undoubtedly putting pressure on contact centres. It is not uncommon now for customers to be put on hold – for more than two hours and in some extreme cases more than 7 hours! In times like this, understanding data and the patterns around data from each customer touchpoint will help plan the next steps on how best to navigate the situation. Testing and pre-testing the channels and the changes made before they go live must be done rigorously.

Whilst these are very challenging times for the economy, the good news is that contact centres are successfully piloting or have already implemented some or all of the above discussed here. Outsourced contact centre providers are running pilots across various locations and applying technology to deal with the challenges they are witnessing daily. Technology has also come a long way in the contact centre space, and by the application of the right technologies, scale, and business continuity measures, resilience can be achieved.

This blog was created with input from CX leaders across the entire Asia Pacific region. The author wishes to thank everyone for their valuable input.

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Singapore Invests in Legaltech Research

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The Law Society’s Lawtech Adoption Research, February 2019 finds that there are significant drivers to tech adoption by legal firms. The drivers range from increasing workloads and job complexity, the needs of the younger tech-savvy legal workforce and the eternal client needs of lower costs and faster delivery. The research also finds that the B2B market is the more mature in their tech adoption – particularly the larger law firms – and solutions such as legal analytics, project management, governance and compliance, and contract management are being evaluated. Technologically mature law firms appear to have already adopted collaboration tools, document management, IP management and eBilling solutions. While the B2C market is yet to show the same level of tech adoption, law firms are beginning to evaluate customer services such as chatbots, DIY law, robot lawyers and triage tools.

The research shows that there is a growing appetite for legaltech and indicates that countries across the world would do well to start their investments to support their legal community now.

Singapore Continues to Invest in Legaltech Research

The Singapore Government recently announced a grant of SGD 10.8 million to the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Law to manage a legal technology research program. The grant comes from the National Research Foundation Singapore, under the Prime Minister’s Office. Ecosystm Vice President and General Counsel, Nandini Navale calls this step commendable and timely. “This is indeed proof that streamlining and digitalisation of the laws and the legal ecosystem in Singapore – although expensive – is an imperative investment.”

SMU intends to establish a Centre for Computational Law (CCL) and a five-year research program, focusing on Smart Contracts and Smart Statutes. Navale says, “The CCL has the potential of evolving into a robust platform for lawyers, legaltech professionals and law firms who are gearing up to adopt legal technology, artificial learning (AI) and machine learning to remain relevant in the new age. Legaltech such as AI-based due diligence tools, auto-generated contract solutions, practise management software, and deal room software have certainly changed the traditional law firm model in the recent past.” Navale sees the CCL as being able to deliver self-executing Smart Contracts and alternate coding solutions based on blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT), which will potentially transform the way the world works promising more transparency, and time and cost-efficiency.

The CCL follows the example of the Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & the Law (TRAIL), a research unit under the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law), launched in December 2019. TRAIL was set up with the intentions of being an international think-tank that enables inter-disciplinary communities to research into legal, ethical, policy, philosophical and regulatory issues associated with the use and development of IT, AI, data analytics and robotics in the practice of law.

“Digitalisation has undoubtedly transformed the world, established a new normal and redefined the ‘Future of Work, Play and Living Life’. While one of the most glaring advantages of digitalisation is significant simplification and ease, the flip side is that the legal systems and regulators are constantly faced with both policy and practical challenges, such as implementation and enforcement,” says Navale. “Fintech solutions such as Digital Banking, RegTech, SupTech and SaaS-based compliance and anti-money laundering (AML) tools – are all solid examples of the rapid impact of technology. This creates an immediate and imperative need for regulators to constantly reflect on, review and revise existing laws, policies, and regulations. And initiatives such as the CCL may just be the solution.”

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The Use of Technology in Singapore’s COVID-19 Response

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Authored by Mervyn Cheah, Aga Manhao and Sash Mukherjee

In January we wrote a blog on How Technology is Helping to Combat the Coronavirus – since then the COVID-19 outbreak has fast become a global threat, disrupting healthcare systems and economies. As the world struggles to contain the spread, Singapore’s response to the crisis shows how governments can use policies and technology to combat emergencies. While it is true that Singapore’s size is its advantage, and most of what it was able to do cannot be replicated in larger, more spread-out countries, there are still lessons there – in the simplicity and responsiveness of the measures. The threat is by no means behind us and the Government will need to implement many more policy changes in the near future. But it is worthwhile to look at what Singapore has done so far to contain the spread.

#1 Identifying and acknowledging the threat early

Like other Asian countries, Singapore suffered during the SARS outbreak in 2003. While the number of people infected during SARS was less at 238, at the end of the outbreak the country had recorded 33 deaths. Having learnt from that experience, Singapore knew that early response is key. Acknowledging the threat early allowed Singapore to have test kits made available to all major hospitals through the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). A*STAR is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. The agency supports R&D that is aligned to areas of competitive advantage and national needs. By the time the first case was reported on 23rd January, health professionals were equipped with testing capabilities. Health authorities and biotech companies have continued to modify and launch newer testing technology – like the fast-track swab test kits launched in early March – as global research continues.

#2 Focusing on contact tracing

Right from the start, Singapore has been focused on contact tracing. Following the chain of the virus allows government agencies to identify and isolate people at risk, including their close contacts. This became more important as the virus spread into the local community with the first reported case on the 4th February. The contact tracing process has been a concerted effort using technology, manpower and dedication. As Singapore faces a second wave of spread from returning travellers, the Government launched Trace Together, an app that records distancing between users and the duration of their encounters. Individual consent is required to share the data which is encrypted and deleted by the Ministry of Health (MOH) after 21 days. This allows the MOH to contact citizens in the case of possible contact with an infected individual.

#3 Keeping the citizens in the loop

The speed in imposing border controls, meticulous tracing of known carriers and aggressive testing are all positive steps in combating a crisis like this. But arguably the most productive strategy was to get citizen buy-in. The need was felt most when the country’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was raised from yellow to orange on 7th February. With the raised DORSCON level, buildings and public facilities with a high volume of people were required to do fever screening and collect personal details for further communication and alerts, if required. Simultaneously, the Government started sharing clear, transparent, daily public communication through mobile phones. The messages contain anonymised details of the patients (to make people aware of their own possible exposure), as well as an update of the number of patients being treated and released. The 2 deaths were also reported promptly – but enough details were shared to avoid panic. Demonstrating cross-agency collaboration, the information disseminated comes from multiple government agencies – the same channel is also used to drip-feed hygiene guidelines and the evolving government policies on travel, trade and so on.

The message from the leadership has also been clear and timely, and an economic stimulus package was announced fairly early. The Government is currently working on a second stimulus package, as the threat to the economy continues.

#4 Dispelling misinformation

Taking this daily communication to the next level, the Government has been prompt in stopping the spread of rumours. Not only does the MOH website share all the latest details, any spread of misinformation (usually through social media) is being quelled by official statements. It is extremely important to be able to address issues such as these, because it impacts trust in the government and the healthcare system. The daily updates are now a ‘single source of truth’ on all COVID-19 related information. The Cyber Crime Portal has also been activated with the intention to track unverified messages especially regarding the treatment and cure of COVID-19.

#5 Empowering healthcare professionals and citizens with digital tools

Unfortunately, the community spread appears to be happening in waves, especially as Singapore has a high volume of returning travellers. Healthcare facilities continue to be stretched. Although Singapore has adequate healthcare facilities to cope with the number of current cases, the Government is also prepared with additional quarantine facilities. Meanwhile, hospitals have set up makeshift triage centres in their car parks to deal with the growing number of patients needing to get tested. To counter the need for more infrastructure and the cost to get additional facilities ready, the use of digital health, remote patient monitoring and online care planning is being explored to limit patients presenting themselves to providers. KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital has launched UPAL – Urgent Paediatric Advice Line – as a pilot online consultation channel. It is expected that more healthcare facilities will offer services such as these. Being cloud based, these solutions can be deployed within days and high-risk patients can be immediately onboarded, easing the burden on the healthcare system and providing relief to patients and families. Telemedicine and remote monitoring are not new, having been proven and tested by several healthcare systems. In these extraordinary times, the technology will help the healthcare system keep all in Singapore safe.

#6 Having a strong Data and Digital infrastructure

Singapore’s data and digital services infrastructure is the overarching factor that has allowed the Government to act quickly and efficiently to fight this community threat. While this is not linked directly to the current response measures against COVID-19, it is the true enabler. Firstly, the electronic health record system has access to records of all patients who have availed of the public healthcare system (private, primary care organisations have also started contributing to the system – enabling the vision of complete longitudinal health records). This is the backbone of the Government’s healthcare measures in these difficult times. Secondly, the network infrastructure allows the introduction of online consultation services. Moreover, people are able to work from remote locations seamlessly using collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype and WebEx. This allows the Government to encourage people to work from home, to stay away from healthcare facilities and other measures to reduce overcrowding of public spaces to prevent the spread. And finally, Singapore has a strong access to eCommerce and online platforms, allowing people to access almost anything they choose to, online.

 

While the battle against the pandemic is far from over, Singapore has so far managed to avoid complete disruption by using technology to be responsive to the community’s needs.

 

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Is-Your-Digital-Transformation-Helping-Your-Business-Continuity
Is Your Digital Transformation Helping Your Business Continuity?

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The current state of the world is alarming. The COVID-19 virus is not only disrupting businesses and economies – it is taking away loved ones, it is separating friends and families, it is disrupting the education of young adults and children and it is seeding fear in communities. But while the media is dominated with doom and gloom at the moment – and we do need these reports – I believe it is worth stopping for a moment to consider the fact that if the pandemic happened ten or fifteen years ago, many businesses – and government agencies – would have closed down. You could argue that the world wasn’t as globally connected then as it is now. And to an extent that is correct – the numbers of air travellers increased up until the end of 2019. But even in 2005, the world was still a very global place – economies relied on cross-border commerce as much then as they do now.

Depending on your business or industry 10-15 years ago:

  • Staff couldn’t have effectively worked from home. And if they did, collaboration would have been hard (if not impossible outside of the usual voice services). Teleconference services would have needed to be booked.
  • Remote access would have been painful and slow – relying heavily on VPNs over slower internet connections.
  • Software would have mainly been running in company datacentres – with very little SaaS-based applications. These applications were often designed for LAN access…
  • Those lucky few with a Blackberry or iPhone might have had access to email – everyone else would have needed to go into the office to get work done.

But worse than this would have been our customer engagements. While eCommerce had healthy adoption by 2005, it often relied on very manual processes – and it was mainly focused on consumer products and services – B2B adoption was still a number of years away. And, for many businesses, it represented a tiny proportion of their revenue. Small companies didn’t often have the web presence to compete with the big players. But if I look at the big fast-food giants in Australia (e.g. McDonalds and KFC) – these companies didn’t have a web or mobile ordering until a few years ago, and even more recently for home delivery services. Any company that had to shut down their face-to-face contact would have likely fallen back on their contact centres – but even these would have been impacted as the ability to route calls to remote or home-working call centre agents barely existed then – so they would have been understaffed or closed due to an infection being discovered…

Today’s digital connectivity has the opportunity to save lives. Less physical contact means less people being exposed to – and spreading – the virus.

If this pandemic had happened 10-15 years ago, many small AND large businesses would have had to shut their doors very quickly. Very early in the cycle, businesses would have had to make the decision to shut their doors straight away, or risk accelerating the infection rates by having staff continue to attend the office or contact centre. So if there is one small positive we can take away, it is that our digital investments are paying off very quickly. The ability to continue to trade, continue to sell, continue to do business in such a market as we are facing today and tomorrow is priceless. I can purchase goods and services online, register my car without leaving my desk, upgrade or change my health insurance without speaking to a single human being. Most businesses have the ability to have their employees access many of their critical applications wherever they are located. Our accountants can still pay and send bills, HR can hire for open positions, product teams can continue to innovate on the products and services they offer.

Don’t get me wrong – business survival is not guaranteed. This is why I implored governments to aim their stimulus spending towards small and medium businesses digital initiatives – as cafes, retailers, bars and restaurants close down across cities, states and countries, many are now lamenting their immature online presence, their lack of delivery and their lack of pre-ordering. If you have any doubt about this, check your local Facebook group – it is full of small businesses putting up images of menus in the hope that customers will reach out directly to keep their businesses running. If these businesses are given incentives to build digital services quickly, they might see less of a slowdown in business.

COVID-19 will definitely stress test our digital assets and strategies. Just recently, the Australian government’s citizen-facing portal crashed as too many citizens logged on to register for welfare. This forced many people out into government shop-fronts – putting themselves, the staff and all connected families and friends at risk of catching the virus. I also heard today of a bank that called many of its staff back to the office as the VPN could not cope with the number of users and volume of traffic! If you have not already, you will quickly find out how your digital capabilities are performing – where you need extra capacity, where services are running smoothly, where you need to rethink process design or where you need to consider re-crafting this approach for the fully digital era.

But stay safe – listen to the advice of medical experts and act on that advice. A senior medical officer recently stated that social distancing is the only way that we will overcome this virus – so stay safe and stay home (if you can!). But also take the time to review your digital capabilities – start making moves now to ensure they help your business stay afloat – or your government agency to keep serving citizens in times of restricted trading or shutdowns.

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Technology-Enabling-Transformation-in-the-FMCG-Industry
Technology Enabling Transformation in the FMCG Industry

4.5/5 (2)

4.5/5 (2)

The FMCG industry has always been competitive given the need to drive high sales volume because of the low profit margins of the products. As the industry faces changes – such as the demographics of the consumer base and the need to introduce newer sales channels – technology is playing an important role in ensuring that the organisations can remain competitive.

eCommerce Disrupting the FMCG Industry

The concept of online retail is said to have originated in some form in the 1960s. But with the growth of the access to the Internet in the 1990s and Amazon’s competitive business model, it has disrupted the retail and FMCG industries. As we see a steady growth in smartphone usage, digital payments, online banking and app-based platforms, online retail is becoming mainstream. While initially thought to be ideal for the purchase of durables and entertainment products and services (where price comparison is key), it has become common for FMCG companies to use eCommerce platforms. Even perishables are being purchased online with the rise in the number of online grocery stores. This is impacting the FMCG industry in a number of ways:

Change in Marketing Strategy

FMCG companies need to continue their traditional marketing strategy for in-store consumers. But at the same time, they need to reach out to a wider base of consumers who shop online. The profile of these consumers is different – younger and technologically savvier. They do not necessarily believe in brand loyalty. While the browse-to-buy ratio for FMCG products is high, they are having to invest in digital marketing strategies including personalised campaigns and presence in social media and online forums. Even packaging for in-store and online products need to be different for some products.

Increased Competition

An online presence means that your brand can reach a wider audience – this also means that the competition becomes tougher. Now global brands compete with brands from other countries as well as local brands on the same online platform. This raises the bar, with companies competing not only on price and product but also on delivery services and better customer feedback.

Increased Complexity of the Supply Chain

No longer can an FMCG company depend solely on trucks delivering their products to stores at a fixed time of day. As they play increasingly in the B2C space, they have to constantly be aware of seasonality and spikes. This means that their supply chain operations become that much more complicated, and they are having to spend more on logistics and transportation. There is also the need to handle a larger volume of data.

Changing Consumer Profile

As mentioned earlier, the consumer profile of the FMCG industry has changed to include younger consumers who want to shop online. It also includes consumers in newer markets made possible by eCommerce platforms. FMCG companies also have to cater to consumers who are conscious about product quality, the environment and ethics. This means they want to know where the products were grown or manufactured, their carbon footprints and generally want more traceability of the products they are purchasing. This has led governments to come up with guidelines to protect consumer rights. Recently, the UK government issued guidelines on the quality, labelling, standards and food safety including the right logos, health and identification marks.

The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for FMCG companies, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). It is clear that their key priority is to handle the competitive market by focusing both on the consumer and the supply chain. Supply chain optimisation through demand forecasting ensures that they are not managing extra stock, and simultaneously not losing out on customers because of lack of stock. This just-in-time inventory management includes initiatives such as pricing optimisation in response to market demand, competition and – especially in the case of perishables – ensuring that stock closer to the use by date is cleared.

Technology as an Enabler of FMCG Transformation

The one advantage that FMCG companies have today is they have access to enormous customer and inventory data. As a result, they are able to leverage several emerging technologies to transform.

Digital Marketing

One area that is transforming the industry is digital marketing which includes multiple aspects such as search engine marketing, video marketing, social media activity and email marketing. While several technologies come together for a digital marketing solution and AI is a key component of the solutions, there are platforms that provide an end-to-end solution.

Digital marketing is most effective with a targeted group of customers and when organisations can identify digital or social champions. Johnson & Johnson’s Babycenter.com is a good example of how creating a digital community can help market products. The core idea behind the website is to give expecting and new mothers advice on early childhood. While on the surface it appears disassociated from Johnson & Johnson, the site almost exclusively carries their advertisements. This gives them a targeted base to push their products to.  Dollar Shave Club is another example of how brands can leverage digital marketing. Their social media engagement has been so successful that they got bought over by Unilever. The digital campaign includes incentivising members with their products for posting about them on Instagram or Facebook.

Blockchain

FMCG companies are investing in Blockchain and digital ledger technologies for track and trace functionalities and operational efficiency. The technology not only helps manage the supply chain better by effective shipping timelines maintenance, delivery management and inventory management; it also helps build trust in a brand. It helps in compliance management, reduces the number or need for middlemen, easier handling of cross-border transactions and brings about an end-to-end accountability.

Danone initiated a Track & Connect service for their baby formula using Blockchain for transparency and traceability to show the authenticity of their products to parents and for better customer experience. FMCG companies will benefit immensely from the farm-to-fork accountability concept initiated by Agriculture.

AI

From predictive analysis to machine learning to deep learning, AI is bringing a lot of benefits to FMCG companies. AI is enabling companies to discover gaps (both in their consumer interactions and in the supply chain) and make their processes intelligent – including demand forecasting, supply chain optimisation, personalised product offerings, social media analytics, consumer sentiment analytics and recommendation engines.

FMCG organisations are analysing internal and external data sources for both sales and improved customer experience. As FMCGs are forced to sell online to remain competitive, they have access to a high volume of the consumer as well as supply chain and inventory management data. Coca Cola remains one of the leaders in the FMCG market by leveraging this data, including product research and social data mining. Even their vending machines are looking to leverage AI for personalised offerings and for loyalty programs.

The need to enhance the customer experience has also seen innovations like the Maggi Chatbot – “Kim”- that helps customers learn about Maggi recipes, ingredients and dietary requirements, through Facebook Messenger.

FMCG companies that cannot afford to invest in technologies such as AI also have the option of leveraging the technology offerings of their online retail platform. eBay offers analytics as a service to the sellers – offering them data, metrics and analytics to help them succeed. They also introduced computer vision technology to help sellers create clearer and more attractive images for the platform.

In this competitive market, we will see FMCG companies – and not just the big global brands but also the local producers – embrace more technology.


For more insights from our AI Research, click below
Adoption of AI - An Industry View

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Vodafone-Strengthens-Enterprise-Offerings-in-UK
Vodafone Strengthens Enterprise Offerings in UK

5/5 (2)

5/5 (2)

While Vodafone remains one of the leading global telecommunications providers, they face the need to transform their services and reach out to a wider audience. The customer base of a typical telecom provider is shifting, and they can no longer afford to just focus on consumers and need to include enterprises in their go-to-market strategy. Beyond the usual offerings of connectivity and mobile plans, Vodafone Business has solutions for Unified Communications, IoT and Cloud, to help grow their enterprise customer base. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Tim Sheedy says, “Vodafone is one of the most successful telecom providers in the business space. Vodafone Business already represents around 30% of the Vodafone Group revenue, and unlike most in the telecommunications sector, they are showing growth (albeit moderate!).”

The Role of Telecom Providers in the Cybersecurity Market

An area where enterprises continue to need guidance and support is cybersecurity. The results of the UK Government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019 found that 32% of UK businesses had experienced a cyber-attack in the previous 12 months. More than a third of UK organisations have made changes in their cyber policies because of the GDPR – a majority focusing on policies first. It is not surprising therefore that Vodafone should identify cybersecurity as the next area of focus for their enterprise offerings.

Sheedy says, ”Cybersecurity services are one of the fastest-growing areas in technology. But because of this, it is a also a crowded market with everyone – from the big telecom providers, IT services providers, big audit firms, mid-sized technology providers down to the smaller cybersecurity experts – playing for this growing spend. It can, however, be argued that telecom providers have some of the deepest experience in cybersecurity and managing the risks – their networks are probably the most targeted by hackers and malicious actors. Telecom providers have massive teams just to stop threats from one or two countries. With all the work they do to protect their own network, they should have the skills to help protect the networks and assets of their clients.”

Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alex Woerndle concurs, “Telecom providers are perfectly positioned to transition into managed security service providers (MSSPs).  They already have the experience in providing a range of managed services, the ability to scale to support clients and some ready-made expertise internally in their in-house cybersecurity capabilities.”

Vodafone’s Foray into Cybersecurity

Vodafone Cyber Enhanced focuses on selected cybersecurity areas – threat analysis and intelligence, managed firewall and managed security services. The global Ecosystm Cybersecurity study finds that the solutions that organisations will invest in most in 2020 are Security Operations (SecOps) & Incident Response (by a third of global organisations) and Threat Analysis & Intelligence (by 20% of global organisations).

Commenting on the areas Vodafone is focusing on, Woerndle says, “Threat analysis and intelligence is where a lot of established SecOps providers and MSSPs are really focusing now. Previously it was simply a matter of monitoring alerts and reporting. Businesses and in-house security teams are now seeking more proactive assistance in searching for threats, before they become attacks. The challenge they face is catching up – effectively jumping from just being another SecOps centre (SOC) monitoring and reporting alerts, to matching the more mature SOCs with proactive threat intelligence to help clients mitigate before an attack is launched. This takes time, as it needs maturity of the SOC and the team, and also data, which established providers have accrued plenty of, over an extended period. While a managed firewall is not really a new service, it makes some sense to couple it with other managed security services to deliver a broader program. Vodafone is absolutely targeting the areas that businesses are looking into presently.”

Woerndle adds, “MSSPs will be crucial to the security sector moving forward. There has been a rapid growth of vendor solutions creating a very confusing market for tech buyers. This is coupled with a  tight labour market for skilled people who can manage the tools. It is not surprising , therefore, that 86% of organisations across the world will look to engage with an MSSP when deploying a cybersecurity solution, according to Ecosystm research.”

Sheedy sees an opportunity for Vodafone to go global with their cybersecurity capabilities. “If Vodafone can compete with the bigger players (and perhaps partner with or complement the offerings of the smaller ones), then they should find a significant opportunity, especially within their larger clients – particularly as they move into the software-defined networking space. However, given the confusion around cybersecurity, they should expand their focus beyond larger enterprises to businesses over about 100 employees. As one of the largest global telecom providers, with one of the largest networks, they can be an important player in the cybersecurity space – growing the spend in their business clients. And while this is a UK play for now, one assumes that they will look to expand across their operating countries as Vodafone Cyber Enhanced gains traction.”

 

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