One of the pioneers leading digital transformation in Thailand is True Corporation or True, a communication conglomerate in Thailand that is the largest cable provider and one of the biggest mobile operators.  Realizing the need to revamp its business and equip Thailand’s workforce with the digital knowledge needed for the digital era, the corporation set up True Digital Group, which is basically the innovation arm for True.  It works closely with the rest of 'True' to serve a wide range of digital solutions in vertical and across business sectors. 

Heading the innovation team is True Digital Group President Dr. Michael Gryseels. Techsauce had the opportunity to talk to him about the challenges Thai corporates face when it comes to digital transformation and how to overcome them.  First, here is some background on True Digital Group. 

What does True Digital Group do?

True Digital Group; a business unit launched by True Corporation, aims to enable digital transformation internal and external organisation. The company has several pillars to focus.

The first pillar addressed by True Digital Group is serving True and non True customers. Its flagship app and website called True ID provide entertainment and a point privilege system for customers.

The second pillar is focused SMEs and small merchants with an application called True Smart merchant. Merchants at night markets can use the application as a point and pay solution.  True mobile wallet members are able to pay and earn points to receive benefits from True’s ecosystem. 

The third pillar is Digital Solutions where the team is focused on B2B by serving enterprises across industry verticals by providing technology to leverage advanced technologies e.g. analytics, IoT, and other engineering technologies. This division’s team consists of data scientists and engineers who work across various businesses to solve business challenges for clients, resulting in deep insight analytics for effective marketing and advertising executions 

The fourth pillar is its True Digital Academy, with the ambition to develop digital talents with skills that are relevant to the direction of the future of work and enhance the potential capabilities for growth in Thai society. True Digital Academy, with its world-leading partner, General Assembly (GA) will provide the necessary skills to enhance talent’s capabilities in order to help create strong ecosystems for both Thailand and Southeast Asia

With a clear goal to play a major role in Thailand’s digital transformation, Gryseels shares with Techsauce what are the main problems companies have and how they can be solved. 

90% of digital transformation is with the people

Prior to joining True, Michael Gryseels  was an APAC Leader of McKinsey Digital Labs at McKinsey & Company.  At the company, he oversaw a team of over 500 digital experts and professionals who together with management consulting experts, helped accelerate the digital transformation of companies.  At the company, he leads the building of more than 20 new digital businesses for enterprise clients in Asia. 

Gryseels tells his clients looking to initiate digital transformation that 90 percent of it lies with the people.   All around the world, there is a shortage of talent to transform corporations.  In order to have a good mobile app, you need the right people to ensure it operates smoothly.  Corporations need to have staff with technical skills in software engineering, design, and new product management skills.  These skills are relatively new.  

Gryseels says the good news is people can be trained.  He believes you train pretty much anyone at any age, with a certain level of education and the capability to use a computer, to become a software programmer.  

It is like a language.  Anyone can learn a language.  A computer program is nothing else but an expression of a language.

The main thing companies need to figure out according to Gryseels, is what level of competency you need to have in-house. 

It is about having the right culture 

Gryseels says it is quite difficult to define the next crucial part of digital transformation.   It is the soft side.  It is about culture.  Gryseels says this is the more difficult part.  According to him, many organizations in Asia, have the top-down hierarchy with managers telling people what to do.  He finds it most interesting that the term most used in companies are, “My boss said this.” or “My boss said that.”.  This is the total opposite of what a company needs to do because digital organizations thrive to empower the organization more.  The best innovation happens bottom-up, not top-down. 

“There are very few Steve Jobs on this planet that can come up with the iPhone.  Frankly, we don’t need that many companies like Apple.”  

Gryseels says every company needs bottom-up innovation, whether you are in banking, insurance, or retail.  

You basically have to empower the frontline by creating a culture where teams of six or ten people are empowered to solve a specific problem. At True Digital, Gryseels creates teams of six to eight people according to Amazon’s theory that teams should be able to survive on two pizzas. This ensures speed and clearer coordinated work.  

Find your champions 

At True, the innovation team created a center for analytics for the whole company.  It works with all businesses inside True, whether it be the network team, the call center, commercial teams, or the sales team. The innovation team works with each department’s head to select what they call a “data champion”. A data champion is an individual with the potential to learn new technology at the True Digital Academy. Candidates are assessed on their attitude and aptitude. True Digital looks for people with basic numerical skills and have an open attitude for learning new things.  

We are not talking about 20-year-old university students.  These are people in their 40s and 50s that are going back to school.

Once the champions are selected, they are trained at the academy and then tasked with leveraging analytics with the data within their departments.  This method is better than having an outside tech team helping each department because the people best equipped to find solutions are those working in the frontlines.  For example, a champion in the law department could find a way to use data analytics to sort hundreds of contracts. 

Digital Interaction with consumers is a “must”

Speaking from his own experience, Gryseels believes the first imperative for traditional companies looking to transform, is to interact with consumers via a digital platform.   The new generation of consumers do not want to call a call center, they want to be able to do their business on an app. If a company does not have a consumer interface now, they need to. 

“It is not a “nice to have”.  It is a “must-have”.” 

It is unimaginable for a bank not to have some form of online banking today.  Gryseels says if a bank were to only have access through its branches, it would be dead, nonexistent, and out of business.  

With digitization happening first with banks and then airlines, Gryseels believes even the oldest types of industries such as construction and government have to digitize.   

However, it is not just about having a pretty app.  That app has to work flawlessly in the backend.  If there is no difference in the speed of service between online and offline, there is no need for the app. 

Seamless in-house communication 

Technology does not only pertain to interaction with customers. It also plays a vital role in connecting employees within a company.  Already employees are using Line to communicate with one another. They do not want to communicate with the human resources department because they cannot be bothered to fill out forms and wait.  At True, there is an internal communication app to make interactions between HR and employees more efficient.  

“At the end, the entire business system needs to be digitized.”

Re-train to tackle the shortage of talent 

True Digital Academy offers training for seven digital functions.  They are data and analytics, technology, marketing, UX/UI design, cybersecurity, innovation, and product management.  The top three fields focused on are software engineering, data science, and digital marketing. 

“The world needs more engineers.”

Gryseels says public studies in the United States show every year there are 600,000 students graduating with a computer science degree.  There is a ratio of 3:1 of students to jobs.  This means every year there are two million jobs waiting for these graduates, with most being engineering jobs.  1.4 million jobs end up not being filled.  In Thailand, if that same ratio is applied, there are 20,000 graduates to 60,000 jobs available each year. How can you fill those positions?  

Gryseels says the only way is to retrain existing staff.  This is what is being done in the United States and Europe.  

The second field of focus is data science because there needs to be better understanding of new methodology in machine learning.  

The third is digital marketing because the scientific approach allows marketers to measure everything and have very targeted campaigns.  

It is not about one big campaign.  It is about 1,000 campaigns.

Open for cooperation 

The core of True Digital Academy is a partnership with General Assembly, a leader in education and career transformation with focus on today’s most in-demand skills

However, Gryseels says it is open to partnerships with Thai universities.  Gryseels is keen on building an ecosystem with academic institutions to provide complimentary courses to the public.  

Expanding beyond Thailand 

Already True Digital has entered the Southeast Asia market with Indonesia and the Philippines. Gryseels says the company is looking to markets that are similar to Thailand so that it can leverage the competencies built in Thailand.  

Fast fish, eats big fish

These are the final words of recommendation from Gryseels for traditional companies looking to transform.  Speed is essential.  Go fast. It does not all have to succeed.  

Gryseels tells his teams to innovate fast even if not all of the innovation is successful.  The key is to develop prototypes, test them.  If it works, the company gains.  If it does not, it is still knowledge for future creations. 

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