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Digital Transformation Canvas meets urgent need in Thailand

‘How-to‘ books for business renewal through digital transformation

The concept of digital transformation has been with us for four or five years. It emerged as an obvious way forward – even when it was beyond the reach of all but a few – when people began discussing the business and lifestyle impacts of digital disruption.

At first, digital transformation appeared to be well within our capacity; it was an exciting prospect. Then, COVID-19 changed everything within a few short months.

The transformation imperative has now assumed an alarming urgency, with businesses facing certain failure if they fail to transform.

Many people now claim to know exactly what digital transformation involves, and global statistics tell us that the business sector, at an international level, is deadly serious about ‘going digital‘. In the current economic environment, traditional businesses are stuck in negative growth. Those that have managed slight growth are among the few that have benefitted from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most, if not all, businesses that are showing growth have joined the digital economy. 

A Bangkok-based expert on digital transformation, Thanapongphan Thanyarattakul, has actively counselled Thai businesses and has written two books: Digital Transformation in Action and Digital Transformation Canvas. He makes the disquieting point that a McKinsey survey has shown that only 16 per cent of businesses that embark on digital transformation actually do it successfully.

Of the rest, about 70 per cent have failed and the remainder are still working on it and have not yet seen clear results. 

The biggest digital-transformation successes of the past decade, revealed in research conducted by the Harvard Business School, rank Netflix as No. 1 and Adobe as No. 2. Within that decade, Netflix successfully shifted from online selling to home delivery, and to streaming services with original content, while cleverly using big data. Adobe, which sold design and creative software licenses in the past, is now focused on subscription and a marketing-technology platform. When it comes to big data, marketing, automation, e-commerce and marketing technologies, Adobe claims the No. 1 spot. But when it comes digital transformation, it is second only to Netflix.

In Thailand, most businesses are in the process of digital transformation as they pursue new levels of efficiency. For example, several banks have begun to develop e-commerce platforms, and in the process, they have created new customer experiences and are exploring new business models. 

Digital Transformation Canvas  คัมภีร์การทรานส์ฟอร์มธุรกิจ เพื่อการเติบโตครั้งใหม่

Success factors

On a basic level, the use of digital marketing and tech solutions do not represent a successful digital transformation. They are simply tools. A digital transformation is considered successful only if it generates new growth. 

As an example, China’s Ping An used to be a traditional insurance firm in a highly competitive industry. After learning from its database that a majority of its customers had taken out hrealth insurance, Ping An developed and introduced Ping An Good Doctor services. Using a preventive medicine theme, the services enable customers to consult doctors online and get medicines delivered to their homes. As one of its e-commerce packages, Ping An also offers health insurance to interested service users online.

The company is now the world’s biggest health platform, having found new growth in a transformation from an insurance firm to a health-platform business. 

The second indicator of a successful digital transformaton is repositioning the core. Ping An and Adobe both appear to have shifted to new businesses. The third indicator is significant growth. 

“A digital transformation can be described as a success when revenue from new business is higher than that generated by old business,“ Thanapongphan says. “Look at Thailand Post. In the past, it was engaged solely in mailing services. Today, it has jumped into fulfillment services and is in the process of moving to fintech. Clearly, Thailand Post’s digital transformation is successful.“

RS is another case of successful digital transformation in Thailand. From a music label, RS has now expanded its business to retailing. Its e-commerce businesses are now even bigger than its media businesses. 

“Even after Thailand reins in the COVID-19 crisis, it faces big problems. One third of the country’s revenue relies on tourism. With stagnant tourism, Thailand’s income has decreased considerably on top of shrinking foreign direct investments and retailing. In the ASEAN region, Thailand ranks just after Singapore when it comes to its rate of negative economic growth. In this situation, Thailand needs to urgently undertake digital transformation,“ Thanapongphan says.

Given the crucial importance of digital transformation, it will be dangerous if Thailand fails to learn how to transform successfully. If it remains clueless, it will rank among the unsuccessful 70 per cent.

The research firm Bloomberg NEF recently surveyed countries on their digital transformation abilities, based on government financial support, education, innovation adoption, human resource development and digitally-based revenue generation. Singapore was ranked first, and has vowed to become the world’s deep-tech leader. Next in ranking were Japan, China and Malaysia. 

“Thailand does not get a good ranking because its income from the digital economy is still relatively low and the digital literacy of Thais – or their ability to generate income from digital tech – is also very low,“ Thanapongphan says. Although Thailand’s per-capita income is higher than that of India, it trails behind India with regard to digital-transformation capabilities. 

Nowadays, countries compete on the basis of digital competence. A 2019 IMD report on world competitiveness showed that Thailand’s ranking dropped from the 20 to 29 range to 30th place because of its poor ability to use digital technology to boost its competitiveness.

“At this point, it is not enough for a business to know what digital transformation is, and why it must happen. Businesses must know how to achieve a successful digital transformation,“ Thanapongphan says.

In Thailand, between 60 and 70 per cent of firms listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Market for Alternative Investment (MAI) are engaged in digital transformation. Some banks, for example, have started developing super apps. However, many others have done nothing at all in pursuit of digital transformation. 

Digital Transformation Canvas  คัมภีร์การทรานส์ฟอร์มธุรกิจ เพื่อการเติบโตครั้งใหม่

Success Case

The updated version of Thanapongphan‘s Digital Transformation in Action mentions the case of AirAsia, which saw a sharp drop in passengers and recognized that its air-cargo business would not provide much help. 

Air Asia’s Chief Executive Tony Fernandes warned two years ago that the aviation business had become very competitive and had high costs and shrinking profitability. So even before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the airline industry, AirAsia was thinking about jumping into other business sectors. 

“Before COVID-19, Fernandes was pursuing fintech. AirAsia introduced BigPay. Using blockchain technology, users could make payments without the need to pay currency-exchange fees. BigPay was introduced in Singapore and Malaysia. But it flopped because of the impact of COVID-19,“  Thanapongphan says. 

Fernandes quickly launched a new initiative. Recognizing that AirAsia had a large customer database with details of customers‘ lifestyles, he sought to turn AirAsia into a lifestyle platform by using a super app. Users could pay for products in the app’s marketplace with AirAsia BigPoint. Food suppliers for AirAsia flights also started selling their products and food-delivery services via the app. The super app even developed a community mall and loyalty program. AirAsia has now positioned itself as a super app in the same league as LINE, Grab, GoJek, Lazada, and Shoppee, and the airline’s digital transformation arose from data that it had long held in its hands. 

“What I would like to tell you is that although there are just a few success stories, winners do exist. So if you want to make a successful digital transformation, I have put the key to success in my book Digital Transformation Canvas,“ Thanapongphan says.

He points out that businesses must first of all know how to start a digital transformation.

The process involves checking digital readiness, which indicates where an organization stands on the digital transformation stage and identifies what it lacks. Most importantly, businesses must determine digital success factors and know what a digital transformation involves.

“My book provides a blueprint of what businesses should avoid if they don’t want to flop. I have listed what duds have done and what successful businesses have done. I also show how to assess results,“ Thanapongphan explains. 

This book promises to lead every eager organization towards success. Digital transformation, after all, is a science: it is something that organizations, large or small, startups or well-established busineses, can learn and apply. 

Stripe is a classic case. This startup set out to disrupt the payment-service industry that was dominated by Paypal. Stripe offers sellers a code that can easily be pasted on any webpage in order to receive payments from buyers around the world. This case underlines the fact that digital transformations can be achieved by startups, as well as established companies. While startups may not need to transform themselves, they needed to transform an industry and challenge old players. 

“I would like to offer digital-transformation knowledge that will offer practical advice to business enterprises, non-profit organizations, and even government agencies. Let’s repeat once more that a successful digital transformation must have three factors: new growth, repositioning the core, and a significant increase in income. Thailand’s pursuit of the New S-Curve industries resonates with these criteria. Old industries must transform into new ones that boost both the country’s gross domestic product and the well-being and happiness of the people,“ Thanapongphan says.

Transforming Thailand for enhanced competitiveness

National competitiveness involves not only the government and its agencies, but also many other sectors. To achieve a rise in national competitiveness, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) and universities, for example, must make their contributions. 

To embark upon digital transformation, investments must be made to facilitate digitally-enabled changes.

Simply put, if an organization refuses to work on data, it has no chance of taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI capabilities rely on big data. If an organization seeks to use the IoT (Internet of Things), it needs 5G services. Without blockchain, there is risk of a data breach. This means that great data centers and super computers are essential as a backup force.

The question for Thailand is not whether it has 5G technology, it is whether the country has the relevant knowledge to raise its competitiveness. Without knowledge, Thailand will lose out to other countries.

“Vietnam is already outperforming Thailand. The growth indicators show that rich people are no longer investing in Thailand. They are putting their money in Vietnam, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand’s growth rate is very low. If the country does not change, it risks losing to Myanmar, so it is a must that Thailand develops new abilities by promoting digital knowledge and learning how to undertake successful digital transformations,“ Thanapongphan says. 

“It is for these reasons that I have launched my books. I have chosen the eBook option because I realize that digital transformation in Thailand must occur at a national level, and not just at an organizational level. It is now necessary to create awareness and promote knowledge of digital transformation. We need to drive this knowledge for the New S-Curve industries.

For Thailand to achuieve its New S-Curve, it will require efforts from both the government and the business sector. Contributions must come from all sides,“ he says. 

Thanapongphan‘s new book Digital Transformation Canvas is available in English as well as Thai. His first book, Digital Transformation in Action, lists the five principal elements of digital transformation: an understanding of disruption and changing markets, consumer experiences, data, innovations, and organizational transformation. After his first book hit the market, many Thais were keen to undertake digital transformation, but were fluent only in English. Several expat executives also expressed a need for a practical guidebook on digital transformation.

“My book is a ‘how-to‘ type. It can apply to any business. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, I heard that several organizations wanted to learn, step by step, how to successful achieve a digital transformation. They wanted to know more than just the principles. So, my Digital Transformation Canvas lists the nine steps they must take. After learning the principles, I have told them to fill in nine blanks. This can be compared to the steps for preparing a marketing plan. But now, we are talking about a transformation plan. After they fill in the nine blanks, there is a lesser risk of failure; there is no need for them to waste time trying what has already proven to be wrong. My first book tells about the principles. My second book gives instructions of how to correctly undertake a digital transformation. Readers should go through both books,” Thanapongphan advises.

Digital Transformation Canvas  คัมภีร์การทรานส์ฟอร์มธุรกิจ เพื่อการเติบโตครั้งใหม่

Digital transformation is relevant to everyone

The target audience for Thanapongphan’s books is practically everyone, as the books are designed for staff as well as executives. At many organizations, only the executives know what a digital transformation involves, so a transformation cannot happen because the staff have no idea what is going on. At other organizations, high-level executives fail to make a move even though middle-level executives have a solid understanding of the need to transform. Staff may also take different directions in working towards digital transformation, and as a result their transformation efforts fail. 

“I have devoted a chapter of my book to digital-transformation failure, so as to show what influences lead to unsuccessful transformations. Most failures have a distinct pattern. Successful transformations also have something in common The key is that executives and operational-level staff must head in the same direction. Everyone should know how to undertake a digital transformation correctly, so that their organization can change in a good way and enjoy new growth,“ Thanapongphan says. 

Digital Transformation in Action and Digital Transformation Canvas aim to provide entrepreneurs, business owners, high-level executives, middle-level executives and operational staff with a blueprint for achieving a successful digital transformation that will pave the way for their organizations to enjoy renewed growth and financial success. 



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