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  • KBTG launches Tech Kampus to build national ecosystem for technology and tech talent
    The Kasikorn Business-Technology Group (KBTG) has launched a major initiative to unite Thailand’s research and development organizations and build an ecosystem in which local tech and tech talents can thrive. It is called Tech Kampus.

    ‘Thailand has no more time to waste’ in preparing for a hi-tech future – KBTG President

    The Kasikorn Business-Technology Group (KBTG) has launched a major initiative to unite Thailand’s research and development organizations and build an ecosystem in which local tech and tech talents can thrive. It is called Tech Kampus. 

    The initiative will kick off with joint research projects and academic collaboration between KBTG and nine partners before expanding to cover at least 10 more partners before the end of this year. 

    The company says tech capability is very important to fostering Thailand’s competitiveness, given that the country was rocked by technology disruption in 2016 and “disruption domino effects” came in 2018. The media, commerce, financial and logistic sectors have already been disrupted, and the COVID-19 pandemic has seen continuous disruption “raging across the globe”. 

    KBTG believes that if the trend continues, the world is bound to see drastic changes within the next 10 years. It expects a “sharp turn” next year, followed six or seven years later by another drastic turn, and if Thailand wants to survive, it must pay immediate serious attention to its tech capability. The country’s expertise and application of tech will determine where it will stand in the future. 

    At present, Thailand ranks among the world’s countries with the lowest expenditure on research and development (R&D). Developed nations such as Japan and South Korea have allocated more than three per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to R&D. With Japan’s GDP totaling USD4 trillion, its R&D budget is around US$150 billion a year. Thailand’s GDP, meanwhile, is around US$500 billion and it spends only 0.34 per cent of this on R&D. 

    KBTG says that in these circumstances, Thailand cannot afford to build its tech capability without a clear direction and a serious focus on efficiency and collaboration. Otherwise, it risks losing its competitiveness.

    The Tech Kampus project has been implemented in collaboration with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), the Artificial Intelligence Association of Thailand, and seven higher-education institutes, including the Asian Institute of Technology, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Engineering, the Information Technology Faculty of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Kasetsart University, Thammasat University’s College of Innovation, CMKL University and Mahidol University‘s International College.

    KBTG’s President, Ruangroj Poonpol,says “deep tech” has been continuously disrupting the world. “In Thailand, there are in fact many talented people. Therefore, KBTG is seeking to engage in deep collaboration and deep focus with research institutes and universities. For Thailand, there is no longer any time to waste.” 

    KBTG is the technology arm of Kasikornbank (KBank), which is not only Thailand’s leading bank for financial innovations, but is also one of the leading banks in Asia Pacific. It records revenue of about Bt120 billion a year. 

    Ruangroj says his organization cannot “go solo” on tech R&D because deep collaboration with Thailand’s leading universities and research institutes is needed, so that all parties can help one another along the way. Together, research initiatives will have a clear focus, and collaboration can be expected to deliver solutions that apply well to KBank, especially in its ongoing pursuit of overseas expansion.

    Kasikornnank aims to become one of the world’s best digital banks. Its KPLUS app now has nearly 15 million users, and as the bank’s businesses keeps expanding, the number of users of KPLUS is expected to reach 100 million. 

    The deep tech research that is expected to result from collaboration between KBTG, research institutes and universities will be used across Asia. 

    “Our collaborative efforts will allow researchers, research institutes and universities to present their work to about 100 million people. Their findings will be used to upgrade the quality of life among this body of people. This is what would happen if KBank and KBTG were the sole partners. If our partnerships expand, with other private firms jumping on the bandwagon, impacts will become even bigger,” Ruangroj says. 

    Every tech hub in the world has fostered intensive collaboration among enterprises, universities, and research institutes, he says. With such deep collaboration, private companies have set up labs within the compounds of higher-educational institutes. The tech hubs have truly pursued deep collaboration and synergy, which are keys to developing a world-class tech ecosystem. KBTG now strives to create such a system for Thailand’s future. 

    “Deep collaboration, in terms of research and education, lies at the heart of a tech-talent ecosystem. We need to prepare such a system to produce new-generation tech talents for our country,” he says.

    Even in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, KBTG recruited 300 more employees last year. This year, it plans to recruit 450 more for its operations in Thailand and 80 others for its operations in foreign markets. In all, it intends to hire 530 more employees this year and will be interested in tech talents offered up by its collaboration with nine partners in the Tech Kampus project. 

    “If we attract 530 applications and find that all applicants are great, we will hire them all,” Ruangroj says. “We hope that universities will want to work with us. We are ready to provide support, cooperation and contributions. We will share with them our insights and requirements. Our staff will even help with curriculum development and teaching. This year, results will become more tangible.” 

    He points out that KBTG also accepts interns. Even first-year students are welcome because KBTG believes that the earlier students can get an internship, the better. When they become interns, they will understand the corporate world better. When fourth-year university students serve as interns at KBTG, they receive pay as well as credits for their course of study. These credits enable them to finish their courses one year earlier than normal. Moreover, such internships give a boost to education in Thailand. The country’s educational efficiency will rise by 25 per cent because graduates with internships are able to start working immediately; they do not need to be reskilled to work in the real world. 

    ”KBTG has clear plans for the application of research,” Ruangroj says. ”For example, Vietnam has 100 million people, and in the Vietnamese market, we plan to apply the findings from collaborative research on the development of AI as a Service for commercial purposes. We will also upgrade research findings and use them to benefit universities. In addition, we are ready to connect Thai higher-educational institutes with foreign private firms that are customers of KBank or KBTG.” 

    To date, KBTG has conducted some projects with research institutes. This research has covered Natural Language Processing (NLP), an important field that is concerned with interactions between computers and human language, and is effective in significantly raising work efficiency; Computer Vision, which can be applied in electronic Know Your Customer; Contactless Technology that has had growing use; and Touchless Navigation as well as Smart Branch. While KBank’s physical branches will continue to operate, the unfolding retail transformation is expected to overhaul all touch points of retail banking. Many more uses of collaborative research will follow. 

    KBTG has already begun co-innovation activities with business partners such as Major Cineplex and Black Canyon. Their needs will be discussed in KBTG’s collaboration with universities, with a view to joint research, leading to joint development. The results of such collaboration and partnerships will be applied in a market of 100 million people. The number of users will grow even further when KBTG taps into the Chinese market. 

    “Imagine that the outcome of our research will benefit about 100 million people. It will also boost Thailand’s competitiveness,” Ruangroj says. 

    KBTG will launch its Tech Kampus with an initial focus on the important fields of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. However, KBTG is also keenly interested in Quantum Computing, Cryptography and Computer Security. It believes that Thailand should be capable of producing many more IT personnel, and in its drive to recruit more employees, is offering unlimited internship opportunities and has organized an Internship Boost Camp for interns. KBTG sees huge demand for versatile and talented people.

    In its plans for deep collaboration with higher-educational institutes, KBTG says clear expectations will be laid down and the collaborative relationships will be open to other players, because both KBank and KBTG recognize that research must be interdisciplinary to be practical. 

    “KBTG Tech Kampus is about Deep Collaboration, which covers both Deep-Research and Deep Academic Education,” Ruangroj says. “The goal will be to raise Thailand’s technological capabilities. This will pave the way for Thailand to not just survive, but also to win in many industries. We are doing this to build a better Thailand for the next generation.” 

    ​Co-research and academic knowledge

    KBTG’s Senior Principal Visionary Architect, Dr. Thadpong Pongthawornkamol, has long experience in tech industries. He has been a lecturer, a researcher and an IT specialist. He says that in the past, the tech industry, the academic sector, and the research sector had separate ecosystems. Universities were expected to produce human resources, research units focused solely on having their work published, and the tech industry strived to develop good products for customers. In the wider world, tech ecosystems are different. For example, the tech ecosystem in the United States not only connects the three sectors together, but it is also designed for the three sectors to work together and pursue shared goals. 

     “KBTG wants to deliver good products to customers and to be an employer of choice, by offering career-advancement opportunities,” Thadpong says. “We have presented our ideas to various meetings, since our efforts have led to the development of good products and we have contributed to curriculum planning.” 

    He says applied research can be divided into three major groups, from the perspective of enterprises. First is research that makes for smoother delivery of services by personnel. For example, a bank Smart Branch now has Cognitive Technology, such as Facial Recognition, integrated into its services. Artificial Intelligence, chatbot, and Natural Language Processing have also been adopted for the smoother and faster delivery of financial services. 

    The second group involves research applying to digital transformation. Within organizations, this means that less work will be done manually, as automation takes an expanding role, with a faster speed and higher efficiency. For instance, document processing in the back office will be done 10 times faster when using technologies arising from research.

    The third group refers to research that can transform an entire financial-service format or even a banking business model. For example, Quantum Technology looks set to redefine financial services once and for all. KBTG is currently conducting research on this aspect of deep tech. 

    Regarding the continuing development of Natural Language Processing (NLP), Thadpong says the technology will cover two apsects: technology and organization. He believes that Thai language NLP is already well advanced, but is not yet perfect and there is room for improvement. For example, it should be possible to develop models that will understand a single word in different contexts, extending the development of NLP for Thai language so that it works as well as NLP for English.

    For organizational use, researchers believe that NLP, which enables interactions between computers and human language, will be developed further and will work well. However, enterprises will have to think about their budgets and cost efficiency. If NLP offers to perform a function, enterprises will have to determine the extent of its benefits as well as the cost of human resources, financial resources and time needed for technical development. Application of NLP will involve both a Technology Model and a Business Model. 

    “It will be necessary to consider the cost and expected benefits. To conduct NLP research, the budget must be efficiently utilized. We must think about how NLP from research will cross business modules or industries, and how the cost of its use can be lowered. To explore solutions, representatives of the business sector and researchers must sit down together and talk before proceeding with the research,” Thadpong says. 

    Another of KBTG’s Senior Principal Visionary Architects, Yarnvith Raksri, says there are many stages of research. Some research is conducted on the basis of something that already exists. Other projects explore entirely new things. KBTG has conducted many research projects in collaboration with various organizations, involving Contactless Technology and Facial Recognition, to name just two. In the future, new technologies will emerge and preparations must be made. Both enterprises and academics should consider what they already have and think of the gaps that might be filled by technology. They should explore how academic innovations can be applied in the “real world”. In the financial sector, Online Services and Smart Branch must blend together. Startups will help to fill these gaps, so KBTG is a partner of several tech startups. 

    “Thailand needs to be competitive. Thai tech and research should be brought to startups, where they can be developed further for real usage. It is important for Thailand to have its own technology and stand on its own feet, technologically,” Yarnvith says.

    Since the business, financial, and banking sectors are so much a part of people’s lives, KBTG hopes that by collaborating with research institutes and universities, it will be able to help to conduct research that will be useful to a large number of people. 

    “We hope that Thai research will be used by a lot of Thais and foreigners. We aspire to introduce Thai technologies to foreign markets. KBTG and KBank will pursue this goal,” Yarnvith says. 

    Backing up this point, Thadpong says that KBTG and KBank will serve as a market for research from collaborative projects, as well as being their source of funding. He says KBTG and KBank will help to differentiate between some research projects and others, while functioning as a technology platform from which their output can be tested. 

    “We have the technology and expertise that will empower our partners and strengthen startups,” Thadpong explains. 

    Yet another of KBTG’s Senior Principal Visionary Architects, Dr. Charoenchai Boworntummarat, says research into artificial intelligence is very important, especially Data Analytics and Deep Technology. However, this research has several crucial requirements, and the resources or potential of just one company may not be able to meet them all. On the other hand, collaboration between organizations, especially with universities, may work well. The outcome of such research can be usable, while university students will have opportunities to explore and experiment.

    “This way, we will get both tech talents and usable technologies. They will fulfill the needs of the private and educational sectors,” he adds.

    Thadpong points out that demand for digital and information technologies has been soaring. However, tech talents are limited in number. He suggests that the private sector should speak louder, so as to guide students into relevant fields. University students should know what they are learning and how it will apply to their jobs in the future. When enterprises list clear requirements and provide support from the very beginning, the output from tech talent will be efficient. 

    Charoenchai says the Tech Kampus project aims to equip university students with three things. First, they should gain academic knowledge and understanding from their universities. Second, business organizations should understand the use of technologies. In this way, university students will know how to apply their knowledge and adapt. Third, university students should be equipped with the capacity for flexibility. They should acquire the ability to change and adjust technologies, such as data, AI, algorithms, and many more.

    Thadpong says that enterprises can help with the production of human resources by ensuring that their staff or university students know their career paths, understand life, and have a clear picture of their future selves. Without the engagement of the private sector, university students may know nothing more than academic principles. They may not recognize the benefits of what they have learnt, and this is why some graduates cannot apply their knowledge well.

    “If the business sector can send their staff to universities to help teach students from their early years, university students will get a new perspective on the subjects of their choice. They will know why they have taken this or that course and how it will help them in the future,” Thadpong explains. 

    Building an ecosystem for technology and tech talent 

    Ruangroj says he hopes to create two things in the next three to five years: a vibrant tech ecosystem in Thailand and a similar ecosystem for tech talent. The creation of the tech ecosystem will require the participation of entrepreneurs, large companies, research institutes, and universities. 

    “To create a vibrant tech ecosystem, four crucial elements are needed: Openness, Collaboration, Co-creation and Sharing. KBTG would like to drive these four elements and make the ecosystem happen. Our efforts will pay off. Our customers will get good services, be they end consumers or corporate clients. We, meanwhile, will get tech talents,” Ruangroj says. 

    He says that an increasing number of research institutes, universities and players have already joined the ecosystem. The outcomes of some research projects are already being used by some enterprises. KBank has the vision of becoming one of the world’s leading digital banks within the next five years, and for that vision to materialize, the bank must attract some 100 million customers. 

    “Building a tech ecosystem has been my dream since 2012. I have always worked with startups. In my life, I have already seen two waves of startups. So, I really want to see a ‘Unicorn Moment‘ for Thai tech startups,” Ruangroj says. 

    He envisages that Thai researchers will eventually fly to Vietnam and various other Southeast Asian countries to conduct research. KBTG has already founded K-Tech in China, through which Thai researchers may work alongside their foreign peers. Research institutes that have already joined the Tech Kampus will automatically become the founding members of an international research network. In this way, he says, they will play a role in shifting the perceptions of people in world tech environments. Thailand will gather greater importance, so that the country will be attractive to researchers, startups, and tech talents. They will all want to come to Thailand. 

    “I have told you what I have dreamed of achieving over the next three to five years,” Ruangroj concludes. “It will not be fun chasing this dream alone. So, I would like to encourage everyone to join me in chasing this dream together. Let’s build the future together. I would like to invite research institutes, universities, and other members of the private sector to join forces with us in producing tech talents and impressive tech solutions that will be embraced by peoples across the region. By producing tech talents who can perpetuate technological changes in our region in the next three to five years, we will one day look back and feel proud. You can connect with us via kbtgtechkampus@kbtg.tech.“ 

    12 April 2021
  • Praise for smartphone app that is changing community medical care
    Hopes of better quality of life from Family Folder Collector (FFC) App

    Hopes of better quality of life from Family Folder Collector (FFC) App

    An increasing number of doctors and other medical workers in Thailand are pouring praise on a medical-records application created by the Assistive Technology and Medical Device Research Center (A-MED), a unit of the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

    The app, called the Family Folder Collector (FFC), was designed to ease the workload of health professionals. It was developed after a six-months research effort in Thai hospitals and has recently been intensively trialed by doctors.  Feedback from health workers led to updates in which some rarely-used features were removed while frequently-used features were upgraded. The FCC is now in its Version 4.0, has been downloaded by about 300 organizations, and its use is spreading rapidly.

    Creation of the app sprang from realization that all hospitals have “household health work”, with files recording the health history of patients, including family members and relatives and their contact information.

    “Paper-based data leads to a pile of problems,” explains a member of the FCC development team, A-MED researcher Watcharakon Noothong. “First, it is hard to update. Second, it is very difficult to decipher handwritten data. Data usage, as a result, takes so much effort. We came up with an idea of making health records easy to record, easy to update, and easy to read, all without consuming a huge amount of paper and taking up lots of physical storage space.”

    The FFC functions as a smartphone app, and links its users to the Public Health Ministry’s JHCIS system. All state hospitals and community health centers use the JHCIS system for compiling patients’ data. Information from the database is accessible by the FCC through a cloud system, and artificial intelligence (AI) is also used to analyze the health issues of each patient. Public-health officials can easily gather information on active home-visits and record treatment data, which can be retrieved for later follow-ups. In addition, the FFC automatically draws a family tree showing the health data of household members and checks their risks of them contracting hereditary diseases. 

    บันทึกประวัติสุขภาพครอบครัว FFC กุญแจสำคัญสู่คุณภาพชีวิตของคนไทยอย่างยั่งยืน

    Watcharakon says the FFC-development team plans to give the app the ability to predict future health risks for every person. Advice will be given in advance so as to help patients to take better care of their health, particularly those battling non-communicable diseases.

    FFC lauded after four-month trial

    Among the organizations trialing the FFC is the Bueng Yitho Medical and Rehabilitation Center, in Pathum Thani’s Thanyaburi district, which is responsible for the healthcare of more than 80,000 people. The center has five doctors, three dentists, two pharmacists and seven physical therapists, and together they treat between 200 and 300 patients each day. One of the doctors, Dr. Thitinan Nakphu, says the centre began using the FFC app last October.

    Thitinan explains that detailed health records maximize the efficiency of health promotion, disease control, treatments and rehabilitation because they allow doctors to give quick and accurate diagnoses. With detailed health records, the risk of wrong diagnoses and malpractice are significantly reduced. As a result, all medical facilities compile patients‘ health records in a systematic manner. However, medical service providers often face constraints in managing and maintaining this information because data at many hospitals are hand written, and must later be digitized, so recording health information becomes a huge workload for staff. 

    Medical workers at the Bueng Yitho center are therefore enthusiastic about the FFC app. Most of their patients suffer from non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disorders, and many are unable to control their conditions well, so they need home visits and constant assessments. Health advice usually aims at adjusting patients’ behavior, so that they lead healthier lifestyles. The center’s staff find the FFC app very useful during home visits. Moreover, it gives statistical analyses that help medical teams to recognize health threats faced by patients.

    They say the application works well with smartphones as well as with tablets. Medical workers can add information to the app during home visits, in real time. There is no need to jot down patients’ information on paper. 

    Thitinan says the FFC app has huge benefits for medical workers, offering a high level of convenience in the long-term care of elderly, bedridden patients, the physically challenged and those suffering brain disorders. 

    Because recording data with the FFC is so easy, health professionals find that they can skip several work procedures. Gone are the days when they had to transfer data from their handwritten notes to the online system. With the FFC, new data from each home visit appears on iCloud storage instantly, and the iCloud is directly linked to the JHCIS system that is used in all state hospitals and medical facilities. Data may be retrieved at any time, making it easy to monitor patients’ conditions and progress.  

    “Another big highlight is that the FFC can provide statistical analyses,” Thitinan says. “When it analyzes a health issue, it can present the overall picture of that particular health concern. With features like that, the FFC has the potential not only for wider use in practice, but also in research, and this may facilitate the development of health solutions in a range of medical areas.”  

    The Bueng Yitho Medical and Rehabilitation Center is now planning to expand its use of the app, and within two years it aims to use the FFC on at least 80 per cent of its home visits. While it is presently used by the center’s doctors, nurses, public-health academics and physical therapists, it hopes in the near future that the app will also be used by dentists, practitioners of traditional Thai medicine, social workers and psychologists who may join multi-disciplinary teams for home visits. 

    Because of the comprehensive nature of data collected by the app, the Bueng Yitho center is also hoping it will help to identify health threats in the community, perhaps before they occur, and find solutions. 

    FFC creates personal health profiles for everyone

    Thitinan points out that the FFC creates a personal health profile for everyone whose name appears on the app as a patient. This profile lists not only past illnesses and health records, but also inherited behaviors and illnesses. In this way, an overall picture of a person’s health is created, making it possible for health professionals to determine the risk of hereditary diseases.  Data and statistics from the FFC also allow health professionals to understand every aspect of a patient’s health, allowing the development of more holistic and efficient approaches to healthcare.

    ‘The more integrated health data there is at a national level, the better health professionals will understand health issues in their area,” she said. “In the picture are endemic diseases, local cultures, local beliefs and local healthcare practices. When these factors are taken into account, it is possible to develop proper healthcare activities or programs for particular patient demographics.”

    A keen ear to feedback 

    A-MED researcher Watcharakon says that his team is listening keenly to feedback from health workers experimenting with the app.

    It was decided from the very beginning that the innovation must be compatible with tablets, as well as smartphone. Data registration is easier because of the size of tablets, yet they are still small enough for health workers to carry around. Tablets, moreover, have GPS technology and access to the internet. Data from the devices can thus be conveniently uploaded and linked to the subdistrict health promotion hospitals’ database. 

    Watcharakon says he hopes the FFC app will become a trusted aid to health personnel; a tool that will let them see problems clearly, identify causes, and find solutions. Despite the rave reviews, he points out that the app should be upgraded to keep pace with emerging diseases and changing social contexts. His team is currently trying to efficiently link the FFC to the IoT (Internet of Things). When they establish such a link, data from medical devices such as blood-pressure gauges or glucose-monitoring devices will be sent automatically to the FFC. Inaccuracies in recording data will be prevented and adjustments in treatments will be very effective. 

    บันทึกประวัติสุขภาพครอบครัว FFC กุญแจสำคัญสู่คุณภาพชีวิตของคนไทยอย่างยั่งยืน

    Watcharakon believes that widespread use of the FFC is a part of proactive healthcare, the ultimate aim of which is to reduce the number of patients. Thailand’s soaring budget on medicines and treatments may be halted and these expenses may even reduce. Moreover, when people are healthy, they will be capable of contributing to the country’s economy. 

    The FFC app is free to any interested organization. Its developers, moreover, are on hand to support users. If any technical problem arises, Watcharakon and his team are standing by. The only expense faced by interested organizations is paying for devices such as tablets.

    FFC-driven volunteers for community patients

    Meanwhile, the Bueng Yitho Medical and Rehabilitation Center wants to work with the A-MED researchers on another use for the FFC app.

    The center not only provides medical treatments, but also conducts what it calls “public-health missions,” in which home visits are made by a multi-disciplinary team with the help of local volunteers. Kwanjai Jamtim director of Public Health and Environment Division, Bueng Yitho Municipality said that many of the volunteers have been working with the patients for a long time, and they are essential in connecting health professionals with their patients. Health data from the home visits must be recorded, including any changes in a patient’s condition, so that further treatments and care can be planned. For example, some patients need physical therapy over an extended period, and when their progress is accurately recorded, physical therapists are able to design further rehabilitation programs, and data can also be compared over time.

    บันทึกประวัติสุขภาพครอบครัว FFC กุญแจสำคัญสู่คุณภาพชีวิตของคนไทยอย่างยั่งยืน

    The Bueng Yitho centre is now interested in introducing the FFC app to its force of community health volunteers. For example, it currently has 27 volunteer caregivers who providelong-term care to elderly, bedridden patients and others. These people have all been trained for their caregiving role, but according to a center spokesperson, their work could be made much smoother with the FFC tool.

    I think the app would be even better if it could show whether caregivers actually visit the homes of the people that we put under their care, and how much time they spend on each visit,” she said “This will make a big difference because paperwork alone cannot prove what caregivers have done. There are 120 people under their care, and if the app uses technology to show the whereabouts of caregivers in real time, we will know where and when they make home visits, and whether they comply with their assignment schedule.”

    The Bueng Yitho municipality, in which the medical and rehabilitation center is located, is also considering equipping its 200 village health volunteers with the FFC app. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the village health volunteers have played an important role in educating people about how they should protect themselves. They have also monitored people’s movements and coordinated with various agencies to obtain necessary supplies, including face masks.

    The village health volunteers, along with the Bueng Yitho center’s home-visit teams, have visited up to 10 families each day during the COVID-19 outbreak, and technology-based solutions are seen as offering faster and more convenient data registry and therefore greater efficiency in responding to the crisis.

    The Bueng Yitho Municipality is also exploring other “health tech” innovations, such as Telemedicine, a touchless system for medical devices at the Bueng Yitho Medical and Rehabilitation Center, a tech-enabled data registry system for its elderly daycare center, and a data-registry system with smart functions for post-natal mothers. 

    7 April 2021
  • Builk: an empire built on an 11-year construction job
    Contech, fintech firm aims for stock market listing in 2023

    Contech, fintech firm aims for stock market listing in 2023

    Rome was not built in a day. Neither was the success of Builk, the Thai startup.

    Now in its eleventh year, Builk is older than most other Thai startups, and the co-founder and Chief Executive of Builk One Group, Patai Padungtin, says the firm still has a long path ahead. But it is set to build an empire in further firm steps. 

    Patai says the past eleven years can be likened to groundbreaking in the construction process. Builk has spent those years preparing its site before the start of construction. Poised to leap forward, it is now focused on construction technology (contech) and financial technology (fintech) for business growth. 

    Looking back, Patai says Builk began transforming itself from a small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) into a startup in 2009. He recalls that he embraced the transformation upon seeing opportunities on the internet. He felt that staying on as an SME – although profitable – would not promise any significant growth. 

    Thailand had hardly heard of the word “startup” in 2009, but in that year, Builk set off down the startup path and established Builk Asia in preparation for its planned entry into the Asian market. In 2010, it launched a free construction software program without any clear idea of how to generate revenue (at that time, builk.com’s business model had yet to materialize). In its first days, Builk had just a few employees. Now, it has a staff of 110 people. 

    Builk ชูกลยุทธ์ Venture Builder ลงลึก Contech และ Fintech ตั้งเป้าเข้าตลาดฯ ปี 2023

    The company is well used to going through ups and downs. Its latest crisis came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, from which it learnt two big lessons. 

    First, its business cannot go ahead simply by spending the money it has raised from investors, the way many startups do. The landscape changed after investors discovered that the estimated value of several startups and their businesses was inflated, amid lingering dreams that they would become unicorns. Today, the world is more realistic about what will sustain a startup. Growth is important to a business, but so is sustainability. Patai emphasizes that a business should be scalable, repeatable, and profitable. These principles represent the goal of Builk’s development. 

    “We have yearned for scalability and repeatability over the past eleven years. Over that period, we have raised funds and – like most startups – have sustained some losses,” Patai says. 

    Further, he says the first lesson from the COVID-19 crisis was about cost control. Builk has become acutely aware of unknown factors ‘out there’. The construction industry has been adversely affected by COVID-19. Some of Builk’s customers – which are property firms – have taken big blows, and as a result, Builk has realized that it must not pin its hopes on favorable external factors. As COVID-19 begins to fade, Builk has learnt to boost its immunity by developing its internal management standards and a detailed cost-control system. By adapting, the firm has survived the COVID-19 crisis without any layoffs. 

    The second lesson highlights the principle that a diversified portfolio means greater flexibility. Builk One Group has many small businesses under its wings. When any of them falter, Builk One Group determines how to adjust its business model to suit both the situation and its customers. Because it responded actively to the changing context of its customers, it recorded business growth and a profit last year. 

    Builk One Group has kept rolling out new products, with the aim of exploring new business opportunities and to offer career-advancement to its talented staff. At present, the firm has six major products or businesses. Pojjaman 2 is the first highlight product. Designed as a management program for big construction firms, it facilitates business management and cost controls. Customers of Pojjaman 2 include Japanese construction firms as well as leading Thai constructors. 

    Builk ชูกลยุทธ์ Venture Builder ลงลึก Contech และ Fintech ตั้งเป้าเข้าตลาดฯ ปี 2023

    Another highlight product, builk.com, is designed for SMEs in the construction business. This website allows the use of enterprise resource planning (ERP) services free of charge, enabling users to enjoy business management and cost control systems without having to pay for anything. These services have been free for the past eleven years and the firm says they will continue to be free in the future. Builk’s intention is to lay down a tech foundation for business operators in the construction industry while having confidence that it will be able to develop business models for them in the future. When they are thus empowered, these businesses will be stronger, and when they prosper, they will naturally become interested in buying other programs from Builk. 

    The third product is Jubili, which is a sales-management system for businesses selling building materials, and the fourth product, Yello, is an e-commerce system for providers of building materials. Two other products are Ploy and Kwanjai, which are designed to support upstream players, or the owners of property projects. After a project owner sells all of the houses or condo units in a project, they still need to manage after-sales services such as repairs, maintenance and general support. Ploy and Kwanjai will help them to handle these tasks efficiently. 

    Builk ชูกลยุทธ์ Venture Builder ลงลึก Contech และ Fintech ตั้งเป้าเข้าตลาดฯ ปี 2023

    “All of these products are managed by startup-like units,” Patai explains. “I don’t dare describe myself as a venture builder. But I think I can say Builk has a startup-within-startup structure. Each of our team leaders is like a CEO, taking charge of his own business. In the past, the job done by our team leaders could definitely be described as that of a CEO, and their teams functioned like startups. In other words, each had made an investment even though it had not yet come up with a business model. What we have done over the past eleven years is to lay down a foundation for our six current products. These products are now well-linked.”

    Builk has two methods of income generation. First, it provides software programs to enterprises in various industries. While some programs are free, others involve license fees. These programs have provided Bt70 million a year to Builk. Also, Builk has operated e-commerce platforms for suppliers of building materials. Driven by data, the platforms are effective and generate about Bt500 million in sales annually. 

    “Our startup has already grown to an extent, with annual sales of Bt570 million. Thanks to the solid foundation we laid down, Builk recorded positive operating results and a profit last year. We are now moving into a new phase, in which we will expand and strengthen our businesses,” he says.

    Because the COVID-19 crisis posed big challenges for the construction industry, Builk recently ventured into non-construction sectors for diversification and risk-reduction purposes. Its software programs have now extended to the healthcare and packaging industries, and more. Using these programs, business-to-business (B2B) enterprises in these industries are able to implement digital transformations, similar to those that happened in the construction industry. Since Builk was able to digitally transform an industry as low-tech as construction industry, it has solid potential for similar transformations in other industries. Its solid foundation – which is closely linked to digital transformation – promises to sustain Builk’s growth and profitability. 

    “We will go deeper into the fields in which we have specialized,” Patai says “We have grown from the construction industry, where there are very few startups in the field. So, it is hard to find a peer for partnership. That’s why we have developed construction tech through collaboration with our customers instead. Our partners are medium and large constructors and manufacturers. From these partnerships, we have brought Contech to the next level.” 

    Builk ชูกลยุทธ์ Venture Builder ลงลึก Contech และ Fintech ตั้งเป้าเข้าตลาดฯ ปี 2023

    Builk has now connected many supply chains together through its programs for building materials suppliers, small and big constructors, and even property developers. Behind these supply chains are financial supply chains that help with the facilitation of transactions, credit, and payments. Builk, therefore, is now developing fintech, and is making progress. 

    “We are rolling out two new products that are based on our existing contech. These are Builk360 and BuilkInsite. Our fintech team has now prepared Builk Bill Loader – a system for managing trade documents over a cloud system. Builk Bill Loader can be linked to banks’ products. Because of the wide foundation we have laid down, we stand out from other startups. At the age of eleven, we are well differentiated. We can survive on our own business model. All of our products or businesses are profitable. Better still, they also have springboards for roaring ahead,” Patai says.

    “During the COVID-19 crisis, we helped leading construction firms from both Thailand and Japan to reduce their need to dispatch staff to construction sites. Builk360 is being used at the sites of large construction works or important projects. Our partner in Builk360 is Creful, which has worked with us all along. Thanks to Builk360, constructions are done faster, with greater efficiency and fewer mistakes,” he says.

    The construction industry has been relatively slow in its digital transformation. While other industries adopted technologies to significantly speed up their work, it still takes eight months to build a home and more than two years to construct a condo building. And after construction is complete, quality issues often emerge. Construction deadlines are regularly missed, especially those in so-called ‘mega projects’. Patai hopes that Builk will make a difference, and enable these common problems in Thailand’s construction industry to fade and disappear in his lifetime.

    Builk360 enables architects and engineers to check ongoing construction works without having to physically turn up at the site. Through this tech solution, they will be able to monitor work with a 360-degree viewing feature and coordinate with all staff, including designers, constructors, and project owners. Builk360 comes complete with reporting, comparison, and even time-travel features. This means its users will be able to trace work flows and easily prepare reports. Engineers and architects, as a result, will not have to worry about paperwork. They can use technologies to easily complete these tasks. 

    BuilkInsite is another program for construction sites. With this program, constructors can track their ongoing work. They can determine whether cement has been poured in a designated spot, whether a cement foundation is ready for the next construction steps, and whether power cables have been installed. This program offers checklists for construction inspection and has begun to catch on among Thailand’s giant constructors. 

    Builk Bill Loader – the program for managing trade documents – also offers enterprise resource planning (ERP) features. Presently, Builk’s Pojjaman has served more than 400 medium and large constructors. The website builk.com, meanwhile, has empowered dozens of thousands of small constructors. After starting to digitalize their work systems, they will have new opportunities to expand their businesses. Builk’s solutions will support such expansions by linking them to digital data for relevant suppliers. Banks and financial institutes will be able to use such data for risk assessments. This will benefit constructors, enabling them to access loans faster and easier, based on their credit status. 

    Builk ชูกลยุทธ์ Venture Builder ลงลึก Contech และ Fintech ตั้งเป้าเข้าตลาดฯ ปี 2023

    “In our journey, we have worked with several partners. Moonshot Venture Capital, our first big core investor, has been with us for years. Thanks to its support, we have been able to make a serious presence in the construction industry. Add Ventures by SCG is also our partner. Because of this, we can get all the building materials we want in Thailand. In our latest round of fundraising, Beacon VC has been the lead investor, alongside Rosewood Capital and Creful,” Patai says. 

    “We used to be just a platform service provider. But today, our platforms cover all types of business operators in the supply chain – constructors, real-estate developers, building-materials suppliers and banks. This is our firm foundation. We are an 11-year-old startup in the construction sector, and we are ready to grow further.

    “We will design our own tech startup story, in our Thai way. Our current goal is to bring Builk into the stock market in the near future, or by 2023,” Patai concludes. 

    1 April 2021
    CEO Story
  • Research pioneer calls on Thai researchers to ‘think first of your country’.
    Thai Innovation List to ensure local research is put to use, rather than just producing good ideas.

    Thai Innovation List to ensure local research is put to use, rather than just producing good ideas. 

    “I have a sincere belief and I often use it to provoke thoughts from people around me: if science and engineering are truly good, then Thai people in general must benefit from them.”

    So says Professor Dr. Pairash Thajchayapong in a special interview with The Story Thailand about his decades of devotion to the application of research in Thailand, which has earned him respect and recognition both at home and abroad.

    He is director of the Assistive Technology and Medical Devices Research Center (A-MED) and senior adviser to the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA).

    Pairash is known as the man who laid the foundation for the NSTDA and oversaw its growth, as well as that of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC). Both have become well-established state agencies. 

    He has also been the driving force behind many research projects that have brought benefits to Thai society, particularly in the medical and public-health sectors.

    Pairash admits that his personal belief often helps to create a well-defined goal, so that a research team get a clear picture of what to do, how to do it, and with whom or with which agency.

    He says that workable research and development (R&D) projects are an indicator of a country’s success.

    The more powerful and publicly beneficial R&D works a country has, the quicker it will achieve progress. Moreover, such nations can be assured of stable and sustainable growth in the long term.

    Pairash’s passion for research is something that has grown stronger as he has grown older. He is convinced that successful research is the first hurdle that Thailand must clear if it is to become truly “technology independent”. The country has to be technologically self-reliant.

    However, this doesn’t mean that Thai researchers have to come up with innovations that are ‘world firsts’ of their kind. Rather, their efforts should lead to innovations that benefit Thai people, and with regular and constant research based on previous work both within Thailand and overseas, knowledge and expertise will gradually accumulate.

    “Thailand has become familiar with modernization without development. That means we want to progress without improving ourselves. We are more interested in buying than developing domestically,” Pairash says.

    By stressing quick results, Thailand will find itself at a disadvantage in the long term, he warns. In fact, it appears as if Thailand is “spending taxpayer’s money to fund industrial development in other countries”.

    Making medical tools on the basis of society’s needs 

    Explaining himself, Pairash stresses that Thailand is not short of researchers. On the contrary, the country has many capable researchers who have done, and are doing, outstanding work. However, when some research results are published, a lot of researchers have been approached by foreign businesses with plans to convert their work into commercial products. This has led Pairash to the conclusion that the problem with Thai R&D is the fact that researchers choose issues of study that do not really respond to their country’s problems or needs.

    Fortunately, he says, he was the given the opportunity to oversee the government’s R&D project to develop medical devices and tools. This was an area with which he was familiar, and his work on the project has convinced him that to ensure maximum benefit to Thai society, the development of medical devices has to be based mainly on the needs of local users and Thai people. 

    Also, cooperation is required from state agencies and private businesses, including government hospitals, all over the country, in order to determine what medical devices and tools are in high demand in Thailand. Therefore, the next step is to find supporters for the research. 

    All research works must be registered on the Thai Innovation List, which requires that innovations produced in Thailand must have properties comparable to those of foreign equivalents, must meet international standards, and must be competitively priced. There is also a rule requiring the government to purchase 30 per cent of innovations arising from research works on the list.

    When asked about the need to register on the Thai Innovation List, Pairash says the goal is for research findings to be put into actual use, and not end up simply as good innovative ideas. 

    “Certainly, it’s not easy for new products to compete with those already on the market. But without making new products, we won’t be able to progress anywhere. And I believe that with our wisdom, patience and perseverance, we will see evolution and improved standards. When the time is right, people will come to us.”

    It is therefore not surprising that A-MED has recently produced a host of research works beneficial to Thai society. These include a CT scanner, “DentiiScan”, for dental computed tomography; an X-ray machine; and most recently, “BodiiRay”, for digital chest radiography. The latter has proved to be vital in tackling the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus situation.

    Medical devices for security and equality in Thai society

    Pariash points out that technological advancement is an important weapon for any country that is involved in international competition. For instance, by becoming self-reliant in producing medical devices, Thailand can build security and equality. 

    The economic security achieved helps Thailand to save a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on purchasing foreign-made products. Instead, the money saved can change hands domestically and contribute to national development in other areas.

    At the same time, poor people and those without disposable incomes can be given access to high-quality, efficient health services. The achievement of this kind of equality can bring security to Thai society in the long term.

    Pairash comments: “It’s like we cook dishes for our own family, so that we have enough food for everyone. But if we order food from outside, we may not be able to afford to feed the whole family.”

    He believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has reflected Thailand’s need to develop its own technologies; to be self-reliant in this area and to make it possible for Thais to be able to access high technologies at affordable prices.

    As someone with long years of experience in the research circles, Pairash calls on Thai researchers and scientists to always think of their country.

    “Whatever you are doing, you must ask what Thailand will gain. The ‘gain for Thailand’ should eventually cover everyone in the country, and result in decreased social gaps,” he says.

    31 March 2021
  • AIS on a digital-services mission, plans “Local Platform”
    Every business sector in Thailand has taken a beating from the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of the pandemic have even struck at the country’s telecom industry, which has played a big role during the crisis.

    CEO urges big companies to help the “small fish” for mutual post-COVID growth

    Every business sector in Thailand has taken a beating from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the impacts vary from industry to industry, none has been spared, and according to the Chief Executive of Advanced Info Service (AIS), Somchai Lertsutiwong, the impacts of the pandemic have even struck at the country’s telecom industry, which has played a big role during the crisis. 

    Speaking at an Investment Analysts’ Association seminar entitled “The Arrival of Vaccines: Will Thai Businesses Rebound Fast or Slowly?”, Somchai recommended a surprising business philosophy for Thai firms entering a tenuous recovery: he urged big firms to avoid being ‘predatory’, and to help smaller firms to stay afloat so as to contribute to sustainable economic growth. 

    But he began by assuring his audience that despite opinions to the contrary, AIS has suffered in the pandemic, just like every other business.

    “At first glance, the COVID-19 outbreak seemed set to offer us profit-growth opportunities. But the truth is that while demand for AIS services has grown by 30 to 40 per cent, the company’s overall income has fallen,” Somchai revealed.

    The reason was the fact that AIS could not increase its service fees based on rising demand in the face of consumers’ weakening purchasing power. The current market requires AIS to offer a package for between Bt300 and Bt400 which would have fetched between Bt500 and Bt600 in pre-COVID times. Therefore, while the telecom sector should have been enjoying lucrative growth, economic conditions meant AIS had to reduce its rates and accept the inevitability of a COVID-19 impact.

    COVID-19 accelerates digital disruption, digital transformation

    As an expert with decades of experience in Thailand’s telecom industry and winner of a Best CEO Award in the technology category in 2020, Somchai sees some good arising from COVID-19. He pointed out that the pandemic had seriously accelerated digital disruption and digital transformation, and that these things, in the end, would benefit Thailand’s business sector. 

    He said every high-level executive was aware of digital disruption and digital transformation when COVID-19 first emerged, and many had already prepared their organizations for these two tech trends. However, many organizations thought these things could wait, and didn’t go ahead at full steam. But the pandemic has changed the whole landscape and has significantly highlighted the need to rapidly embrace digital disruption and digital transformation. All enterprises are now “rushing in”, Somchai said, and AIS is among them. 

    “COVID-19 is forcing all of us to adjust really quickly. In the long run, this adaptation will strengthen our organizations. The use of digital technologies will benefit every business, and not just AIS. Thanks to digital tools, costs will become lower and efficiency will soar high. 

    “So, COVID-19 does have some benefits,” he said. “Don’t look at this crisis from a negative perspective only. There are opportunities in this situation, too. Use these opportunities for digitalization, so as to empower our businesses.” 

    At AIS, the COVID-19 crisis has sped up preparations for a 5G network. Earlier, AIS was planning to complete the preparations over the next few years, taking into account that Thailand’s ecosystem and related equipment for 5G technology were not yet fully ready. However, in the wake of COVID-19, 5G preparations have gone ahead faster than initially planned. 

    AIS has now clearly positioned itself as a digital-services provider, and not just a mobile operator. It intends to support all industries and consumers by taking up the mission of making both their lives and work easier.

    Over the past year, while most organizations decided to put their investment plans on hold, AIS increased its investments in support of 5G usage. It also supported various industries in their development of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automation, internet of things, and cloud solutions for eventual upgrading to Smart Factory status. The solutions have been created to help businesses deal with issues such as labor shortages and unstable production. The integration of 5G technology enables enterprises to continue their operations and pursue their original goals, albeit with some extra steps. 

    Somchai said that Thailand’s tech industry is second-to-none. For example, the country ranks among the first countries in the world to embrace and apply 5G. In this respect, it lags behind just a few countries like China, Japan, South Korea and the United States. However, on the technological front, Thailand does not have Deep Technology to beat other countries. 

    “We might have been rather slow in the adoption of 3G or 4G. But after the dawn of the 5G era, we acted really fast and we are far ahead of many nations. Importantly, Thai consumers are now quick to adopt technologies. Thais may not be so savvy in R&D or innovations, but speaking of users, Thais have an intense passion for tech,” Somchai said. 

    To put it simply, Thailand may not be the world’s leading innovator, but Thais know how to apply technologies to their lives. 

    Digital platform a new core business 

    In the turmoil of COVID-19, enterprises in many industries – including AIS – became acutely aware that a similar crisis may hit again in the future. AIS is now determined more than ever to be farsighted and well prepared. Fortunately, it nurtured such an attitude and work approach well before COVID-19. Its digital transformation plan, for instance, was hatched six years ago. 

     “I am not saying that I am very capable. It’s just that I have opportunities to see what has been happening in countries with more advanced technologies. We have foreseen that customers will use our services, not just for communications, but also for digital services that improve their lives and their work,” Somchai told the seminar. 

    In his view, digital solutions are a certain growing trend, so AIS is determined to transform to meet this trend and strengthen its core telecom business. 

    “There are two things AIS will pursue. Firstly, we will improve everything about the “connection” business, such as Fixed Broadband and AIS Fibre. Secondly, we will develop digital platforms, because this has been our pursuit for a long time. We really want to develop great digital platforms, something we have already seen in the world, but are not successful on this front yet,” Somchai said.

    He pointed out that digital platforms like Facebook, Google, and YouTube have already become super lucrative, with massive inflows of income. Therefore, AIS is keen to develop a remarkable platform, and if such a venture succeeds, it will be a huge source of revenue, easily surpassing that from its current core business. Moreover, successful digital platforms promise to bring AIS into various other industries, such as banking, the financial sector and advertising. The company’s digital-platform development is therefore about AIS using its existing strengths to enter various other industries. 

    However, Somchai is quick to point out that while AIS intends to step into other industries, it has no intention to dominate them. Recognizing that its expertise is now limited to its current industry, AIS believes collaboration with highly-experienced players in other industries will be more fruitful. It intends to offer its technology or a platform as a business model that operates on the basis of revenue sharing, and a successful collaboration on this front could double its revenue. 

    “For this business model, I believe AIS will have to accomplish three things: First, we must identify a new digital service for our new business. Second, we must acquire new skill sets by recruiting, compiling or developing talents. When we plan for a new business model, we will have to get new skills to support it. For this, we may develop our staff, or if new skills are very specialized, we will have to attract new talents. Third, and importantly, we will have to create an ecosystem whereby we offer our expertise in support of our business partners for the sake of mutual growth and more,” Somchai said.  

    He added that after getting a new business model, new skill sets, the right partners and a great eco-system, AIS would definitely contribute to the growth of the whole business sector. 

    “We are not sure yet whether our pursuits will be successful. But we are acting on our ideas. AIS will enjoy huge growth if we successfully implement this new business model. But even if our venture is not a success, we will at the very least learn from it. It is better than sticking with the old way of doing business. If we continue with our old approach, AIS will still grow but at the rate of just between one and two per cent higher than the country’s GDP growth rate,” he said. 

    From its digital transformation, AIS has already created some tangible results. For example, AIS PLAY is now an increasingly popular service. It charges neither a service fee nor advertising fees because it wants to firmly build its customer base. To date, AIS PLAY has attracted eight million users, and half of them are active subscribers. This high number of users hints that if AIS keeps going with a clear focus, there is a good chance that it will develop an advertising model on this platform for massive income. Moreover, AIS has the prospect of partnering with banks for the delivery of expanding Mobile Banking services. If these partnerships grow, AIS’s business will grow along with them. 

    Speaking about international competition, Somchai admitted that it was not possible for Thailand to compete against global players because they were not operating at the same level. He said there was no point in sending a school football team from a rural province to a compete against a world-class football squad. However, he emphasized that he does not consider Thailand lacking. Rather, he believes that players should understand the level at which they are playing. The digital platforms being developed by AIS will focus on Thai market only. They will not be developed to compete against international platforms. 

    “Today, YouTube is very popular in Thailand. So far, between 80 and 90 per cent of content viewed by Thais on YouTube is Thai. Just 10 to 20 per cent of content they view is overseas content. So far, Thai YouTubers have to rely solely on YouTube. After investing Bt100 in producing their content, they upload it to YouTube, and revenue from the platform, calculated on the basis of YouTube’s revenue-sharing model, may not allow them to recoup their investment. Things will be very different if there is a Thai version of YouTube. If Thai audiences agree to use this Thai platform, Thai YouTubers will be much happier. If their content on the platform earns Bt100, we (the platform owner) will ask for just between Bt10 and Bt20. The rest will go to the content producers. This is what AIS intends to do,” Somchai said.

    He concluded that AIS would transform itself and compete against itself. His firm understands full well that it should not compete against global players. In Somchai’s view, it is best for AIS to compete in a market in which it has experience. But while staying in this market, AIS has seen the need to transform itself and search for new business opportunities.  

    Somchai said investors, old and new, could have confidence in AIS’s growth potential. As a listed company, AIS might not show significant growth, but it always paid dividends. Now, it is seriously transforming itself into ​a digital-service provider without abandoning its core business.

    AIS has a firm conviction that every industry will need a digital transformation, so it intends to step into all other industries and support their transformation. 

    “Our vision is to be a digital-service provider to bring better life and better work for Thais. We hope to give our partners the tools they need for digital transformation. When they collaborate with us, they won’t have to search for tools and solutions on their own. We will be there to support them. Together, we will be able to enjoy long-term mutual growth,” he said.

    The winner of the Best CEO Award (Technology Category) in 2020 then urged other organizations to share AIS’s vision of not being a “predatory big fish”.

    “I would like to encourage big fish, or big firms, to support smaller firms. Lead the small fish in the right direction and help them to beat strong waves and wind. Our business structure should be geared for supportive collaboration. Helping small players stay afloat will contribute to sustainable growth. What AIS is trying to achieve is not about raising its own value several-fold. In essence, it is about increasing the value of all other industries, helping them to survive, and supporting growth in the digital age,” Somchai concluded.

    22 March 2021
  • UNIQLO appoints green doraemon as global sustainability ambassador
    Global apparel retailer UNIQLO announces that it has appointed “Doraemon” as its Global Sustainability Ambassador. The name of the green model of the internationally beloved blue Japanese manga and anime character is “Doraemon Sustainability Mode.”

    Global apparel retailer UNIQLO announces that it has appointed “Doraemon” as its Global Sustainability Ambassador. The name of the green model of the internationally beloved blue Japanese manga and anime character is “Doraemon Sustainability Mode.”

    Presented with the UNIQLO logo also rendered in green, he will help convey the many ways in which UNIQLO materializes its sustainability message of “Changing our future through the power of clothing”

    “We are delighted to partner with Doraemon,” said Koji Yanai, Group Senior Executive Officer, Fast Retailing. “Over the past two decades, UNIQLO has undertaken numerous sustainability initiatives through business to contribute to a better, more sustainable world. We believe that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, social transformations, and evolving consumer attitudes make it more important than ever to collaborate with customers and other stakeholders in driving positive social change,” he added. 

    Commenting on the new partnership, Doraemon said, “Hi, everyone! I’m Doraemon and now I am Green! I’ll do my best as UNIQLO Global Sustainability Ambassador to help create a much brighter future! I want to work with you all, so we can make people everywhere more interested in the future of our world!”

    Partnership with Doraemon

    Doraemon hails from Japan and has become beloved by people of all ages, all around the world. UNIQLO similarly originated in Japan; the company has evolved over the years by providing quality apparel to people everywhere in keeping with its commitment to fostering social progress. As UNIQLO Global Sustainability Ambassador, Doraemon, who has traveled back in time, will help create a better future for the world by presenting the brand’s sustainability initiatives in fun and easily understandable ways. Rendering Doraemon and the UNIQLO logo green underscores the company’s determination to accelerate its sustainability efforts. Doraemon Sustainability Mode will feature in UNIQLO stores around the world, the brand websites, and other channels.

    “As a LifeWear Special Ambassador, I am very happy to be involved in UNIQLO’s sustainability efforts. I too wish to learn together with everyone else and contribute, even if a few steps at a time, to a sustainable environment and society,” said Japanese actress Haruka Ayase.  

    Doraemon joins Ms. Ayase and UNIQLO Global Brand Ambassadors Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori, Shingo Kunieda, Gordon Reid, Ayumu Hirano, and Adam Scott in taking UNIQLO’s sustainability initiatives forward. 

    Global Brand Ambassadors in Sustainability Activities

    LifeWear Special Ambassador Haruka Ayase is slated to participate with the character in the UNIQLO school outreach program for elementary, junior high and high school students in Japan, as the first step of her participation in UNIQLO’s sustainability efforts. The six UNIQLO Global Brand Ambassadors will also contribute to these endeavors through sport and by wearing everyday apparel incorporating environmentally friendly materials.

    22 March 2021
  • KBTG establishes Kubix, a new company for the digital asset business
    To branch out into the digital asset business, KASIKORN Business-Technology Group (KBTG) has introduced Kubix, a company that will provide a system for digital token offerings in the primary market via blockchain – a new form of investment.

    To branch out into the digital asset business, KASIKORN Business-Technology Group (KBTG) has introduced Kubix, a company that will provide a system for digital token offerings in the primary market via blockchain – a new form of investment. 

    This move reflects KASIKORNBANK (KBank) ’s strategies that aim for democratized savings and investment to help customers gain access to potential wealth with efficient management. Kubix aims to become the leader in the investment development sphere, providing digital asset-related knowledge to the Thai public. 

    Ruangroj Poonpol, KBTG Chairman, noted that digital assets offer a new option for fund raising or investment in the capital market. Fund raising can be undertaken by converting assets to digital assets in the form of digital tokens.Then, an Initial Coin Offering – or ICO – is arranged with an ICO portal acting as an advisor and underwriter of newlyissued digital tokens that are offered to investors in the primary market. 

     Late last year, KBTG forged a partnership with the Stock Exchange of Thailand to establish the Thai Digital Asset Ecosystem, for which a comprehensive digital asset platform has been developed using distributed ledger technology. It aims to promote fund raising via digital tokens in response to the government’s digital economy development policy.   

    Recently, KBTG established Kubix Digital Asset Co., Ltd. (Kubix) with a registered capital of 70 million Baht or around 2.1 million USD. It is wholly owned by KBank through KASIKORN X Co.,Ltd., a subsidiary of KBTG to operate as an ICO portal, screen digital asset sellers, and assess business plans and risk appetite of investors. It will also be tasked with helping consider the digital token registration statement and draft prospectus prior to submission to the Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  

    Meanwhile, the digital token market is more secure and flexible than other investment markets because it will be operated via blockchain technology. Investing in digital tokens via ICO portal will be more exciting because investors will enjoy other benefits beyond monetary gains. The ICO portal business is under the supervision of the SEC. For persons interested in mobilizing funds or investing in digital assets, please find more details at www.kubix.co

    19 March 2021
  • Huawei’s GCI reveals top ICT technological trends for Thailand and ASEAN
    Despite uncertainties in the global economy and politics, businesses continue to invest in strategic technologies to drive their digital innovation and help them stay competitive, with ICT having clearly become a critical factor for business continuity during the pandemic.

    Despite uncertainties in the global economy and politics, businesses continue to invest in strategic technologies to drive their digital innovation and help them stay competitive, with ICT having clearly become a critical factor for business continuity during the pandemic. The latest Global Connectivity Index (GCI) 2020 report, insights from which were recently shared at the MWC Shanghai 2021 event by Huawei, has also indicated key digital transformation trends in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, as follow:

    ·         The acceleration of 5G construction and commercialization: Broadband connectivity plays an even bigger role during the pandemic as the 5G speed, latency, and capacity has become even more crucial for powering business resilience and overall recovery. Governments in the region, including Thailand, are likely to accelerate spectrum auctions and at an acceptable price.

    ·         Building sustainable future by accelerating digital transformation with Cloud: Organizations accelerate the migration of applications to the cloud, equipping them to better cope with the crisis. SMEs, which represent over 95% of businesses, can make use of cloud to access advanced technology without heavy upfront investment, benefiting from various initiatives by the government and private sector.

    ·         Fight against pandemic powered by AI: Investment in AI-based healthcare solutions has doubled from about 2 billion USD globally, as a result of the pandemic. Apart from detecting the virus, AI-enabled devices, telemedicine, drones, and physical robots have been used to reduce interaction between patients and doctors and cut the risk of infection for medical staff.

    ·         Connecting the dots in the post COVID-19 world with insights fueled by IoT: Manufacturing plants can harness 5G to power IoT solutions in smart factories, increasing productivity and ROI, while maintaining social distancing. The use cases across distribution and services, manufacturing and resources, and the public sector will be worth 311 billion USD by the end of 2024.

    Thailand is currently experiencing the fruits of its ICT Policy Framework 2011–2020. As of 2019, 78% of the population was covered by 4G, with the mobile broadband connection rate reaching 132% of the population. Thailand’s use of cloud computing has tripled over the last three years, and the Thailand 4.0 plan is further driving its digital transformation.

    Thailand has tremendous potential in sectors such as Healthcare, Education, Agriculture, Manufacturing and Tourism. Taking healthcare as an example, 5G connected ambulance is a potential solution that can help combat road accidents, an important issue in the country. In addition, Agriculture, one of the key contributors to Thailand’s economy, can greatly benefit of effective use of technology, by enabling data sharing to improve productivity and profitability. According to the GCI 2020 report, Singapore is leading Southeast Asia in digital transformation, followed by Malaysia and Thailand.

    19 March 2021
  • Huge potential seen in Thailand’s marijuana industry New alliance plans global ventures with US$100 million investment
    Cannabis is expected to become an economic plant for Thailand’s agricultural industry in the next three to five years

    Cannabis is expected to become an economic plant for Thailand’s agricultural industry in the next three to five years, giving a boost to the national economy. The prediction comes as many businesses and investors are turning to research and development of products made from marijuana, and the country’s supply chain, reaching from breed selection and cultivation to researching extracts and medical product development, is said to be ready for a major jump forward.

    A significant new grouping provides for cooperation in research and development of cannabis-based products for world markets. The alliance includes Thai Cannatech Innovation (TCI); TAC Consumer (TACC); Rajamangala University of Technology Phra Nakhon (RMUTP)’s Faculty of Science and Technology; and Japanese investor – Shiodome.

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    Their ambitious plan is to become Thailand’s leader in manufacturing medical products from Cannabis sativa, also known as marijuana or hemp, hitherto an illegal plant grown in clandestine plots for its psychoactive effects in recreational use. The new alliance is thinking of investment of about US$100 million, and is planning to use world-class genetic technologies and DNA plant-tissue cultures to maximize the plants’ production of pure cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive, but has huge potential in medicine.

    TCI President Surasak Suvouttho says his company is involved in cannabis-related businesses all over Thailand. Upstream, it works with many community enterprises throughout the country involved in cannabis cultivation. Midstream, it joins with RMUTP’s Faculty of Science and Technology in studying and researching extracts. Downstream, TCI joins forces with TACC in a plan to develop marijuana-based products.

    TCI has also signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on technical matters, research, technology and innovation with Sung Noen Hospital in Nakhon Ratchasima province. The agreement involves assistance for research and development of marijuana for treatment of patients, in line with the principles of modern, traditional Thai, and alternative medicines.

    “We view marijuana as a new economic plant that can bring extra income for farmers. If we can set standard prices for marijuana, farmers will benefit. But the farming must be in a closed system,” Surasak says.

    He believes that within three to five years, marijuana will become Thailand’s new economic plant, with prices varying according to the amount of highly-valued extracts that can be gathered from the plants. Therefore, encouraging farmers to grow cannabis is a very good idea.

    At present, there is a popular trend towards growing and studying marijuana, as well as making cannabis-based products. However, Surasak says the focus should be on medical products, to ensure sustainability. All processes must be organic and clinical, from seeding and extracting to researching and manufacturing, because the products are for human use. Prices will be higher when the marijuana is cultivated in a closed system, in line with standards for products made for medical purposes.

    Production of medical-grade marijuana extracts begins with careful selection of plant breeds. Innovations in genetic modification are required to acquire a stable strain that produces large amounts of extracts. Cultivation must be within enclosed structures to ensure high quality and maximum yields.

    TCI’s project aims to have 100,000 rai of marijuana plantations growing within this year. Cultivation involves enclosed structures measuring 72 square metres, each holding 84 marijuana plants. Harvesting occurs every four months, when the flowers deliver the best-quality extracts.

    The Deputy Dean of RMUTP’s Faculty of Science and Technology, Dr. Paisan Kanthang, says his researchers have developed a Thai strain of marijuana and a cultivation method that is fit for medical purposes.

    Pure cannabidiol (CBD) with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of less than 0.01 per cent has been extracted from the plants. It is suitable for medical purposes and has the potential for commercial and industrial production. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

    “We adopted technology called ‘plant tissue culture,’ along with world-class know-how, to improve the cultivation technique. Coupled with our research work and our allies, we are able to control the quality in making products from cannabis extracts throughout the entire process – upstream, midstream and downstream,” he says.

    Investors ready to support marijuana research for world markets

    The Japanese firm Shiodome focuses on investments in healthcare innovations or the healthcare ecosystem through its three funds, Hikari HC, Jurojin and Taima High. Its chief investment officer, Pankom Kaewmuan, says the funds have seen a good opportunity for big growth in cannabis, with high potential in the medical and food industries.

    “Japan is an open market for healthcare products due to its ageing society and reforms of treatment methods, which focus on technologies and information. Japan is among the top-10 exporters of healthcare products and imports as much as 40 per cent of its medtech products,” he says.

    “Shiodome’s focus on healthcare stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. After two waves of domestic outbreak, the Japanese government is now looking for startups in healthcare and medtech.

    “This is a good opportunity for Thai tech companies to venture into the Japanese market. We see big growth in the healthcare industry as long as the coronavirus exists.  So, cannabis is a business area in which we are interested to invest.”

    Pankom says that although cannabis production may not be able to meet the demands of the health market at present, the opportunities are growing, particularly with the Thai government’s interest in cannabis. The plants can now be grown and active ingredients extracted in Thailand, which is interesting for investors looking to develop a wide range of cannabis-based products. Such products can be made for both mass and high-end markets, depending on the research and development technologies involved.

    “We are not the ones who come up with the ideas,” Pankom says. “As investors, we take care of the business format – how to create value and bring good returns for investment. It depends on the size of investment that is required to support the research and development technologies.

    “More importantly, the business model must be sustainable and distribute the benefits to all of the sectors involved. We believe in a win-win-win business model, which means everyone must benefit, so there is cooperation and a sustainable ecosystem. For instance, hilltribe people who grow cannabis cannot survive if the buying prices are lowered, and if they don’t survive, the company in turn will be short of raw materials for production. In the end, there is no sustainability.”

    Pankom believes cannabis will be a “game-changer” for Thailand’s healthcare industry, and also for Shiodome as an investment manager.

    “We will lead cannabis-related businesses into the Japanese market. We have talked with the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the leading Japanese e-commerce company, Rakuten.

    “In the real world,” he explains, “things are not easy for investors. You cannot just take any company with you. We are not taking companies to hawk their products. Doing business that way does not work today. We opt to become allied with large companies like Rakuten for business involving cannabis. We also need to consult regulators to find out what can and cannot be done.

    “Every country has different restrictions. For example, if you want investment from JETRO, you need to set up a company in Japan and do your research there. This way, you get both capital and know-how, as well as a network of allies.

    “Doing research in Japan covers joint research work with Japanese universities. With such cooperation, Thai products made from cannabis will become a key raw material in the treatment of cancer or unusual diseases unique to the Japanese.”

    Pankom says his company often consults its large network of investors on many matters.

    “Concern often revolves around trends in relevant Thai laws. Can this medicine be a cosmetic? If so, what type or category of FDA approval is needed? What must we do if it’s regarded as a medicine? Who should we be allied with? All of these things are what we, as investors, give to the business that we invest in. Funds alone cannot bring sustainable growth to a business. We have to look at the whole ecosystem – what benefits they receive from us, what we offer them, and what we get in return.”

    Shiodome’s investments come mainly from institutional investors in Japan. It has three major funds under its management, and all are private-equity funds. Investors often focus on projects with a long-term time horizon, from five to 15 years and more.

    “The world is flooded with money now, but we cannot take advantage of this. The money is invested in the Bitcoin digital-currency market, stock exchanges around the world, and financial products in the primary and secondary markets, as part of risk management and distribution. However, there have been no substantial returns into the real sector.

    “In Thailand, there is no business model capable of causing a global impact, given the capital size and the fact that Thai startups begin in the Seed stage of funding before gradually moving to Series A, B and C. They have to fight for themselves to find allies.

    “What we do is focus on individual startups and help them to spin off one by one, with enough money to allow them to do many things,” Pankom says. “Due to our network, we can invest in projects that startups can turn into a business platform. In some projects, we invest in an entire ecosystem, and not just a single company.”

    As an investor, Shiodome looks at the big picture, deep and wide, and makes decisions about where and how to invest. As every business varies, the firm also helps to build a business model that suits the investment. Then, to ensure the healthy growth of the business it invests in, Shiodome finds them good, strong allies, as well as securing credit support for their large projects that require a lot of cash-in-hand.

    “That is why we can bring Thai companies to venture into the Japanese market, which is big, sustainable and highly standardized. If a firm is able to enter Japan, it can go into any market in the world,” Pankom says.

    The company currently has two or three deals on its hands, “some middle-sized, others quite large,” and it is aiming at an initial investment of about US$100 million in the cannabis deal.

    Pankom says there are good business opportunities in the cannabis deal that are capable of transforming Thailand’s image as an agricultural country. It could be an “upgrade” for Thailand because it involves the use of innovations to build new standards.

    Basically, cannabis involves agriculture that is based on technology and medical-industrial-grade genetics research. Production requires an enclosed system with high-end, high-grade quality controls – all of it involving technologies.

    More importantly, Thai businesses related to cannabis need to expand overseas. He pointed to “many hidden opportunities” in cannabis on which to base new research, create related businesses and inspire new startups. The plants can be used in making medical products, cosmetics, foods and beverages, among other things.

    “We bring in tech allies to help, while also developing our own technologies, to be used in the areas of business, industry and agriculture. When farmers can produce quality products backed by technology, the prices go higher, with more profits and sustainability,” Pankom says.

    “There are many hidden opportunities to be discovered, depending on the timing and alliances, as well as the laws involved,” he said.

    While downstream industries have carried out research and development on cannabis extracts for a long time, particularly related to cosmetics and beverages, Pankom believes the significant value of cannabis lies with medical use. He says, as an example, that none of the ongoing research efforts to find a medicine against cancer in the United States have yielded success. Thailand could become the source of a key medical ingredient from local research and development of extracts from cannabis – as long as patent rights are held by Thais.

    While research for products like cosmetics may take only a year to complete, research for medicinal drugs often takes between five and 10 years. In the past, Thai researchers were funded by foreigners, so they were unable to control the content or object of their studies.

    Pankom says that with Thailand being the potential source of an important medical ingredient, future developments depend upon the Thai government’s awareness of the significance of research and development. Funding is highly essential for R&D, because it is pointless to invest in an innovative business with no investment in R&D. With the changing market environment due to COVID-19, R&D has become even more necessary today, he says, adding that Thailand has many capable researchers but often lacks the budget for R&D.

    “We may set up joint labs with highly capable universities in Thailand and overseas, such as Japan, to acquire knowledge with commercial potential,” he says.

    TACC’s Chief Executive Chatchawee Wattanasuk says a “megatrend” for the health and wellness sector came after Thailand’s Public Health Ministry recently allowed commercial manufacturing of cannabis-based products containing CBD extract with a THC content of less than 0.02%.

    He says consumers in many countries welcomed the relaxation, and recognizing the potential of products made from CBD extracts, TACC joined the research and development alliance aimed at supplying the market with goods made with legal CBD content.

    The CBD extracts will come from a joint project with TCI and RMUTP. New products made from the extracts will be launched into the market, and TACC will thus become a fully-fledged player in the health and wellness market.

    Genomics and DNA sequencing specialist Dr Richard Fong from New Zealand and American Association for Genetics research says that research in his field plays an important role in boosting the potential of works involving medical cannabis plantation plant and development that define the parameters of cannabinoid profile and terpenes production which characterize the characteristics of our cannabis seeds.

    Dr Richard Fong further commented the key to successful medical cannabis lies within the cultivars where possibility of developing an incredible portfolio of diverse, premium cannabis younglings resulting in desires potency, flavor, and aroma for the best therapeutic results. This process is key to optimizing what is referred to as the ‘entourage effect’ in medicinal cannabis plants with the correct ratio of CBD, TBH and Terpenes combined together to give best synergistic outcome. Furthermore, this way we can guarantee our our plants are of higher quality and consistent product while dramatically mitigating the risk of pathogens within the operation.

    In addition, he further commented the traditional method of genetic modification have raised many concerns on the legal aspect in modifying genetics compounds that may lead to undesired short-term gain for mass cloning propagation in which future seedlings tend to have diminishing compound compare to their mother plants. Dr Richard Fong suggested the best approach is adopting modern innovative research and solution emphasizing on using cutting-edge epigenetics technology to make a version of the cannabis plant that is easier to cultivate, higher potency and easier to farm. Epigenetics is a state-of-the-art third-generation breeding technology, that focuses on revealing hidden parts of the DNA of the plant and enabling select genes to manifest themselves naturally via DNA methylation without synthetic modification.

    With genomics technologies, growers can adopt innovations that result in the development of strong cannabis strains that are not only resistant to disease and higher potency, but are also able to yield better quality extracts. More importantly, they are organic and safe which is beneficial to everyone.

    Dr Richard Fong further added “We are here as a technology alliance of TCI and here to bridge between traditional and modern science for Medical Cannabis for better commercialization based on the philosophy “Better and Stronger Plants Lead to Better Profits and Outcome”. We bring know-how on genomics and cannabis DNA to help upgrade the potential of Thai cannabis. With improved cultivation processes and research and development, Thailand’s cannabis-based medical products can be at the forefront of the global market,” he says.

    Shiodome, which invest in innovative green-tech startups, also sponsor forums on knowledge management and innovations, such as the Global MIKE Awards. Such events can inspire new Thai and regional companies with fresh ideas and knowledge for development, such as that seen in a world-class corporations.

    Shiodome has become major sponsors of the Global MIKE Awards at national, regional and global levels. Beyond discovering medicinal formulae and manufacturing new products, this year’s project offers the companies the goal of becoming a global-brand health-tech hub and the manager of innovations for business expansion.

    The Chief Organizer of the Global MIKE Awards is Associate Professor Dr. Vincent Ribière, who is also managing director of Bangkok University’s Institute for Knowledge and Innovation Southeast Asia. He says that with good know-how management, Thai companies taking part in research ventures are capable of expanding into many other businesses relating to medical technologies, and not just cannabis-based products. Technologies prove helpful from the early stages of strain selection and cultivation to the processing of products and delivery to purchasing countries. This is not just about farmers selling their agricultural products, he says, because successful innovations can instill a mindset of global growth in new regional companies in the health-tech sector.

    19 March 2021
  • dtac clinches four Thailand Best Employer Brand Awards
    In the 2021 Thailand Best Employer Brand Awards, dtac got top honors in Career Development, Excellence in Training, HR Strategy in Line with Business, Health in the Workplace. KBTG believes its software developers will bring regional, global success DEPA teams up with AIS and Phuket network to revive tourism in the Pearl of the Andaman […]

    In the 2021 Thailand Best Employer Brand Awards, dtac got top honors in Career Development, Excellence in Training, HR Strategy in Line with Business, Health in the Workplace.

    The awards reflect dtac’s pioneering approach to employee empowerment: a self-serve platform for employees to plan their careers, flexible work from home policies and a “tight-loose-tight” management style.

    Sharad Mehrotra, Chief Executive Officer of dtac said, “dtac’s quadruple-win in the 2021 Thailand Best Employer Brand Awards is confirmation that our customers are best served by empowering the employees closest to them. Whether dtac is launching a platform for employees to take ownership of their careers or implementing flexible work across all our offices, our guiding principle is ‘tight-loose-tight.’ We are clear on expectations, but we allow employees to execute on our ambitions the way they feel will deliver the most impact. And finally, we measure results very consistently. This makes for happier customers and employees alike.”

    Award in Career Development

    dtac’s PromptGrow platform enables employees to assess themselves online, chart their career goals, and close the gaps that will allow them to fulfill their ambitions.

    Award in Excellence in Training

    In addition to a vast library of online courses in the dtac Academy, a comprehensive coaching program retrained dtac’s leaders in the ‘tight-loose-tight’ management style.

    Best HR Strategy in Line with Business

    The dtac strategy of rapid digital transformation is fully supported by a modernization program that has developed the expertise of individual contributors and reorganized teams to bring them closer to customers.

    Promoting Health in the Workplace

    dtac embraced work from home more rapidly and widely that any organization of its size. Today, about 95 percent of dtac’s office workers have embraced flexible work, meaning they work outside of the office at least partially.

    The 2021 Thailand Best Employer Brand Awards are organized by the Human Resources Management Institute (World HRD Congress), CHRO Asia, and the Employee Branding Institute to honor Thai organizations for their achievements in human resources management.

    17 March 2021