Mapping the future of retail

A RECENT discussion on the future of e-marketplaces saw industry players and experts emphasising on the common thread of technology as an enabler for business and sustainability.

The session, which saw the participation of Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre ecosystem development executive director Johnathan Lee, Microsoft Asia small, medium and corporate lead Paulo Calado and NEM business development director Leroy Mah, was the finale for the latest SME Thought Leadership Forum: Business Highlights for 2020.

Held at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, it was moderated by Privasia Technology Bhd production and innovation director Shah Muhammad Ali.

Taking the lead for the discussion, Shah Muhammad broke the ice by giving an overview of the changes in retail over the years that have led to the evolution of e-commerce today.

“The function is still the same, but the utility has evolved further and now having [geographical] boundaries are no longer something we talk about. The usefulness keeps expanding, driven by technology and it has given rise to different business models,” he opines.

Lee, on the other hand, notes that the Malaysian government has put in significant investment - close to RM3bil - to revitalise the digital space, which requires upscaling of not only talent but also businesses to ensure they are ready for the digital space.

He adds, “The other thing that’s very interesting is that the government is also going into what is known as digital sandboxing, especially looking at disruptive technology that could enter the Malaysian market.”

This includes bringing in key players and stakeholders to work together with the government to form suitable regulations that do not hamper disruption, he says, but instead encourage safe use of technology in the marketplace in an ecosystem - consisting of larger corporations, small and medium enterprises and regulators - that is starting to take shape.

Microsoft’s Calad reiterates the importance of data to forward-looking businesses and covers the range of technologies that can help SMEs better target their customers online.

He says, “Your data is fundamental, but trying to make sense of that data and using it to create insights that will help to grow your business and help you solve problems for your customers and consumers is fundamental.”

Among the technologies he touches on include predictive analytics, with artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning as a sub-aspect. To address this changing landscape, he stresses that SMEs have to upskill their workforce to suit new functions needed in the near and mid-term future.

Mah, on the other hand, highlights the premise of trust required in doing business, which is where blockchain technology bridges the gap, especially when there is increasing consumer interest in sustainability that is slowly cascading into lifestyles.

“One of the biggest driving forces of the changes in utility would definitely be consumer behaviour and needs. We live in an age where never before has the consumer become more conscious and more aware of what they are buying and what they are eating,” he says.

For instance, he points out that consumers want to be able to trust their food sources in light of recent controversies and issues related to food poisoning and ethics. In these cases, the companies concerned had leveraged blockchain to ensure and assure food safety to track the produce from farm to shelf.

Due to the immutable nature of the blockchain, which also decentralises trust as it removes the need for a trusted intermediary or authority, it helps address the issue of trust and product authenticity issues in one go.

Prior to the panel discussion, the half-day forum saw Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie, FinTech Association of Malaysia partnership director and PolicyStreet co-founder Wilson Beh, as well as CIMB Islamic Bank Bhd commercial and transaction banking regional head Hussam Sultan sharing their outlook on next year’s economic headwinds, with relation to Budget 2020 and SMEs.

The Business Highlights for 2020 forum was the final component of the SME Thought Leadership series. Created as a platform for dialogue and learning within the business fraternity, the series is aimed at dissecting emerging business issues and identifying opportunities that can be leveraged to grow businesses.

The SME Thought Leadership 2019 series is organised by Star Media Group and presented by CIMB Bank Bhd. Call 03-7967 1388 ext 1233 (Sofia) to find out more.
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