Interview: Alok Kumar

To what degree has digitisation affected Myanmar?

ALOK KUMAR: When it comes to business operations, there is strong appreciation for the need of digitalisation. However, onboarding is slow and back-end processes remain largely manual. We have not yet reached the critical mass necessary for transformation, and unless the whole ecosystem has this momentum it will be difficult to transform quickly. Furthermore, the economy is slower than it has been in previous years, so digital transformation may rank lower on the list of priorities for firms that are trying to maintain their current market share. Growing numbers of firms offer business IT solutions, but there are still not enough, and they can find it difficult to grow in the current environment.

One example of an industry that is experiencing piecemeal digitalisation is aviation. The largest local air carrier in the market still works with manual processes. This limits the ability of airlines to introduce dynamic pricing, as the technology and speed aren’t there. Online travel firms alone cannot influence prices given by the airlines. However, smaller domestic airlines are digitally scaling up, with apps and chat bots emerging to improve customer service. On the international level, as firms aim for a higher market share of Myanmar, we are seeing the emergence of a more aggressive and dynamic environment, characterised by deep discounting. Although this is a fractured market, the International Air Transport Association is in the process of implementing a billing and settlement plan, which will allow access to a common, digitised pool of flight products by 2021. Emergent technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence are still at an early stage, but good progress is being made. The business process outsourcing market, for instance, utilises modern technology. This market is growing well in Myanmar, as companies that seek to scale and improve the provision of professional customer service look to outsourcing as an option. Meanwhile, consumer business is transitioning quickly and has strong traction. Firms must build real reasons for people to come online. While most often this route is forged through discounting, the service delivery model is equally as powerful for onboarding, bringing better access, increased convenience, wider options and greater transparency. We are working to build a market that is service based, as discount-based models often lead to unsustainable price wars that negatively impact both businesses and consumers.

How do online cultures in Myanmar affect the roll out of digital services and strategies?

KUMAR: Myanmar is a Facebook-centric market. The website is a comfort zone and can be a positive thing if used well. It has been proven that firms must meet customers where they want to interact and not force migration onto different platforms. We will achieve this through end-to-end integration and seamless customer experiences. It is also important to increase and diversify the payment ecosystem across platforms. Initially we were linked only with banks, but now that we have integrated mobile financial services, we have expanded our customer pool.

Apps, Facebook and other websites will eventually complement each other in Myanmar. The most successful firms will be ones that can weave their services across these platforms in a consistent and seamless fashion. This may necessitate focus on e-commerce and a move into social commerce to broaden their reach. Such a move requires deep technical knowledge, however, and the talent pool is limited. Although large multinational corporations may have the capacity to undertake this change in-house, for small and medium-sized enterprises the best technique is to maintain a strong pipeline wherein raw talent is introduced and upskilled. However, companies must to be prepared to let the talent go, which can be a frustrating process. In this space, employment laws are hard to enforce, and competitors actively poach talent. Therefore, it is important to provide internal opportunities for growth.