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10 May 2020

The FinLab Thailand SMEs: Honda Nakonratchasima

The FinLab Malaysia 2019: SME Reveal

The FinLab Malaysia 2019: Jom Transform Programme Journey

The FinLab Malaysia 2019: MOU Signing

The Finlab Malaysia 2019: SME Reveal Day Highlights

The FinLab Thailand SMEs: Kingdom Organic Network

The FinLab Thailand SMEs: MCC 4×4

The FinLab Thailand SMEs: Nappi Baby

25 Feb 2020

Going Regional with Right Partners – In Conversation with Novocall

Since 2016, The FinLab has been helping tech companies grow their businesses, such as connecting them to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that would benefit from the adoption of digital technologies. Novocall, which helps companies capture, qualify and automate their inbound calls, is one tech company that The FinLab has worked with and helped grow.


In this article, we speak to Ng Jiong Han, Co-Founder of Novocall, to find out more about his experience working with The FinLab and SMEs. He also shares some tips on how tech companies can work effectively with SMEs.


About Novocall

Founded in Singapore, Novocall is a call automation software that helps businesses generate more sales calls from web visitors and helps web visitors automatically book sales calls.


The Novocall Team


Q: You got in touch with The FinLab in 2018, when we were running our first Business Transformation Programme in Singapore and were looking out for tech solutions that want to serve SMEs. How have you progressed since then? What are some of Novocall’s key achievements in 2018 and 2019?

We were looking for avenues to reach more SMEs who can and want to use our click-to-call-back solution to increase sales conversions. We were excited to hear about The FinLab’s Business Transformation Programme back in 2018 and submitted our application to be part of it.

Through The FinLab, we had the opportunity to work with EU Holidays – one of the largest travel agencies in Singapore – to generate over 100 additional calls every month using our solution. We also managed to reach and serve more customers in the ASEAN market, especially in Malaysia. Other key achievements include receiving a grant from Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and securing seed funding from 500 Start-ups in 2019.


Q: That’s great to hear, Jionghan. We’re glad to have played a part! Could you share more about how The FinLab has helped Novocall? What would you say to tech companies out there that are looking to work with The FinLab?

The FinLab is a well-known name in ASEAN’s SME digitalisation space, being active and having established various partnerships with local agencies to help SMEs in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand adopt digital solutions. Besides being able to reach more SMEs in Singapore – where we are based – joining The FinLab’s network has helped us ease our entry into the Malaysian market.

We were always interested in Malaysia but found the entry to a new market difficult for a start-up. We realised many SMEs have to overcome a steep learning curve in digital adoption and we did need to have enough patience and time to help them understand the benefits of digital tools, before we can share our solutions with them. The FinLab programme was able to equip the SMEs with knowledge and awareness and paved the way for us to introduce our solutions to the SMEs.

To tech companies that are looking to work with The FinLab, I’d say go for it if you are looking to venture into a new market and interested to work with a partner to smoothen the expansion plans.


Q: Share your experience working with the participating SMEs in The FinLab. What are some of the key highlights, and what would you say to tech companies out there that are looking to work with SMEs?

The experiences vary across the countries we were involved in. The most recent was The FinLab’s Malaysia programme. We worked with a company that takes up to 2 days to respond to a lead that comes in. By then, the prospects might have lost interest or gone to competitors. We were able to help the company reduce the response time and distribute leads efficiently, down to just 20 seconds.

With EU Holidays from the Singapore Programme, we worked on helping them automate the scheduling of call-backs between their staff and customers. This helps to increase interaction and engagement with their customers, as well as increase the conversion of each leads.

To the tech companies that are looking to work with SMEs, I think having partners like The FinLab helps as they prepare the SMEs by identifying suitable problem statements, so we can solutionise effectively. I think most SMEs want to go digital, but the initial learning curve is steep.


Q: What are the 2 key things that your company hopes to achieve this year, and what would your advice be to tech start-ups out there that are looking to reach new ASEAN markets?

In terms of numbers, we hope to hit our key milestones so that we can raise our next round of funding (Series A). The second thing that we hope to achieve is to help our customers succeed by helping them increase sales conversions and engagement with their customers. We are looking to do that by offering a new feature which is all-in-one messaging, comprising utilising the business feature in WhatsApp that the company owns. The business and personal features of Whatsapp can then be are segregated. The conversations carried out in the business feature of Whatsapp will be owned by the company, and the company can maintain these customer relationships even if the staff leaves the company.

The ASEAN markets are highly differentiated so their level of tech adoption, purchasing power and culture are all different. So, the advice that I would give to tech start-ups is that they really need to understand the market. If you want to venture into new markets, there are risks involved that you might not be ready to take. To de-risk in such situations, it is beneficial to look for partners to work with. And we have been lucky to work with The FinLab.


Jiang Han sharing how Novocall’s solution has helped Malaysian based L&T Machinery Enterprise distribute leads more effectively at The FinLab’s Malaysia Programme Showcase Day in December 2019


09 Jul 2018

Achieving customer centricity is key to business success

As consumers, we are now used to having the world at our fingertips. This is the age of the Internet, allowing each of us instantaneous access to information, thus empowering us as consumers, but also driving the standards of customer service and delivery higher than before. Consumers today are brand promiscuous – we use technology to connect with multiple brands, before deciding what we want, when we want it.

Forrester calls the era that we live in today the “Age of the Customer”, where businesses seeking to earn the consumer dollar are constantly reinventing themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful consumers.

Now, businesses that want to win not only has to fulfil consumers’ needs at that time of purchase, but also pre-empt those needs.


The ‘Age of the Customer’


Source: Forrester


Until recently, there was less of a strategic imperative for businesses to be customer centric. In a red ocean environment with well-defined competitors and the absence of freely available information for consumers, businesses used to hold the balance of power. Now, the Internet has helped to eliminate this gap by creating a more transparent marketplace digitally. With the click of a button, consumers are now able to compare product prices online, thus putting power back into the hands of consumers. For instance, the rise of online marketplaces and e-commerce websites such as ASOS, Alibaba and Lazada in recent years has made pricing information readily accessible to consumers. This has thus heralded a new age of the customer.

In this new age, empowered customers are shaping business strategy. According to Forrester, customers now expect consistent and high-value in-person and digital experiences. By comparing service levels within industries, customers demand the highest standards and will go elsewhere if businesses cannot provide them.

The widespread availability of online reviews through forums and blogs are also sources of information that potential buyers will invariably access before the purchase of a product, especially if the product is an experience. Much of these online feedbacks are believed in strongly, especially if there are corroborative views. It is important, therefore, that businesses treat the customer journey as paramount to the success of their business, and treat all customers right.

Being customer centric is now a necessity for businesses today.


Proactivity matters

Businesses must therefore not be lulled into complacency by couching on a formula that used to work. To ensure a holistic shift toward customer centricity, a key criterion is a fundamental relook of the business model. In this way, any changes made to the business can be looked at and cascaded down in an integrated fashion. This article thus proposes that businesses adopt three simple yet effective frameworks to do so: Design Thinking (DT), Business Model Canvas (BMC), and Business Process Reengineering (BPR).


First, Design Thinking should be the foundational methodology underpinning every business. This framework is an iterative problem-solving process, and can be broken down into a six-step iterative process:


Six-steps process for design thinking

  • Define challenge – craft a clear, specific problem statement. Eg. how might we make watching TV a more exciting experience? (good, specifc problem statement) vs How can we increase revenue? (general, substandard problem statement)
  • Observe – Collect data of and analyse all customer segments, even those on extreme ends (eg. non-users and hyper-users of a product)
  • Form insight – Using one key hypothesis, explain the disparate behaviour patterns between the non-users and hyper-users
  • Frame opportunities – If the insight is accurate, where can it be potentially applied to improve the business?
  • Brainstorm ideas – Throw up as many ideas as possible. Do not discard absurd ones.
  • Experimentation – Select a few simple ideas to prototype in order to test the insight. If the first prototype is successful, consider a more in-depth pilot followed by a wider implementation throughout the company


Design Thinking calls for the need to delve into the customers’ psyches and personas to best meet their needs. The importance of Step 2 – “Observe” – thus cannot be underestimated, for it is the foundation which the rest of the DT process relies upon. For instance, an environmental agency keen on improving recycling rates may realise that even non-recyclers do not actually mind recycling if inertia is reduced. With this in mind, the agency can roll out various pilots targeting this pain point specifically (perhaps more recycling bins, or an incentive-based system). Objective observation also allows for a glimpse of surprising and unexpected customer behaviour, which may help to strengthen the understanding of what the customer actually wants.

Even if the initial analysis and insight is wrong, rapid prototyping still provides a good platform for companies to try fast and fail fast. Successful or not, insights obtained can be subsequently incorporated into the company’s playbook, which ultimately provides a more well-rounded view of the customer.

The DT framework can then be applied onto a Business Model Canvas, a succinct summary of the business, which presents a structured way for managers to look at their business from a macro lens. By employing DT with BMC to understand customer needs and preferences, business leaders can then systematically map out and critically analyse how value is currently being delivered to customers. DT can be embedded within the BMC, in order to understand what customers really want.

In this way, a clear segmentation of the business into nine separate blocks will provide business leaders with a perspicuous understanding of how the company is functioning. The deliberate segmentation of each part of the BMC also has the effect of raising pertinent questions for the business. For instance, separating the value proposition from the customer segment can allow businesses to see if their offerings are delivering value to their customers. Segmenting the businesses key resources and activities from the value proposition will also invariably raise questions on whether the business is carrying out the most important tasks to deliver value. All of these questions can then be translated into focused strategies to make the business more customer centric.


Source: Strategyzer


Lastly, once the macro-level direction of the company has been reviewed, its micro-level processes should be scrutinised to ensure that the customer experience is positive and the customer journey is well-delivered. After all, it is the day-to-day operations and experiences that customers judge the business on. This final step can be done through Business Process Reengineering, a structured breakdown and analysis of a company’s core processes.

To do this, managers first need to involve their ground-level staff across different divisions/business units to draw up their respective workflow process charts. Business leaders will then analyse company-wide processes to see which segments can be automated or removed completely. This can result in attendant cost savings and a better customer experience. For instance, Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) conducted BPR to realise that getting library go-ers to use library cards was ineffective for two reasons – first, resources were wasted in the production of these cards; second, library go-ers would often misplace their cards. Through BPR, NLB noticed the flaw in its system and transitioned away from that process. It has since adopted a seamless ez-link card system (since nearly everyone uses an ez-link card!) for the borrowing of print and non-print materials. Therefore, BPR can be a positive sum game through which businesses are able to streamline their processes and value-add to their customers.


Redefining customer relationships

At the end of the day, however, the age of the customer is one full of opportunity. Even as customers get more demanding, new market spaces are opening up for businesses to compete in.

In this new modus vivendi, there is new value created for both customers and businesses alike, as businesses too are now able to leverage on technology and data to cross-sell and upsell their products. Amazon, for instance, analyses customer data to provide relevant recommendations which could cause the consumer to buy more products on their website, or purchase higher-value goods.

Being customer centric is therefore no longer just central to a customer’s experience of a brand, but also a distinct area of competitive advantage. And the businesses that understand and act on that first will be the new kings of the market.


19 Mar 2018

Stars are Aligning for the 4th Industrial Revolution

“There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril,” remarked Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), commenting on the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the 2016 WEF Annual Meeting.


In fact, with technological and economic development happening at a breakneck pace all around the world, it isn’t hard to envision how advances in technology could lead to the automation of our future.

This is the double-edged sword of Industry 4.0: the complete integration and digitalisation of the industrial value chain by merging technology with traditional production systems. It is characterised by new ways to collect, analyse, and operationalise data – where advanced technology becomes embedded within businesses and societies. Businesses able to successfully integrate the technological advances that power Industry 4.0 (IoT, Big Data Analytics, AI, etc.) into their business models will be able to leverage its capabilities to break new ground and capture higher revenue.


The Rise of the ASEAN Tiger

Macro-economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been the recent focus of investors and businesses alike. In fact, with a consumer market estimated at over $1.5 trillion, it dwarfs India’s and may even outpace coastal China’s in the foreseeable future. The figure is expected to increase by one-third by 2020.

To benefit from the digital revolution, ASEAN countries have been turning to technology in a push for more sustainable and effective urban practices. Many countries are already committing resources to establish smart cities by heavily investing in broadband and other technological infrastructure, as governments exhort their domestic industry players to procure the latest capability enhancing technologies.



Chart: Business and government purchases of tech goods and services in ASEAN


From Question Marks to Stars

Technology companies looking to enter the ASEAN economy will find a warm reception in ASEAN Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). A white paper published recently by United Overseas Bank (UOB), EY, and Dun & Bradstreet, revealed that three in five ASEAN SMEs intend to focus on technology investments in 2018. Hence there is great potential for the uptake of technological solutions by ASEAN SMEs as they seek to digitise.

For example, digital platform solutions allow firms to match supply with demand more efficiently, which will in turn help SMEs improve price discovery processes and access a wider source of suppliers.

The study by UOB, EY, and Dun & Bradstreet also highlighted that more than a third of firms have the intent to expand beyond their local borders. The accompanying increase in output demand and supply flows makes it even more important for SMEs to optimise and digitise their supply chain.

The need for technological solutions is also shared between different industries. In fact, the white paper suggests that optimism for growth is the highest for agricultural, manufacturing, and financial industries. Tech companies hoping to establish a portfolio of diverse SME and Multinational Enterprises (MNE) clients will see a rising demand for their solutions.

Previously, the lack of financing due to deficient capital markets saw ASEAN SMEs specialise in labor-intensive and low-tech supply chains. With the maturing of capital and financial markets in developing ASEAN countries, private sector investments going into ASEAN SMEs are expected to rise, giving the SMEs bandwidth to move up the value chain and tap on higher value market segments.

Aside from bullish capital markets, strong governmental support for SME digitalisation has also gained momentum in recent years. For instance, Singapore’s SME Go Digital program by Infocomm and Media Development Agency (IMDA) seeks to reinvigorate the productivity levels of whole industries by collaborating with specialised technology providers to deploy turnkey-smart solutions.

One successful example is Cheng Yew Heng, an SME food supplier in Singapore which utilises cloud-based tagging and authentication technology to help export its food products to China. Using this technology helped Cheng Yew Heng improve inventory tracking, and generating analytical dashboards of sales data.

In Malaysia, the Malaysian Industrial Development Finance (MIDF) also assists local SMEs in financing acquisition costs for working capital and fixed assets that include IT software and solutions. This is aimed at enhancing the efficiency and productivity of existing manufacturing processes.

In the private sector, efforts by The FinLab in Singapore help SMEs apply innovation and adopt technology for business growth in the new digital economy. With The FinLab’s past track record working with innovative tech companies, the discovery, engagement, and integration between tech and traditional SME businesses will be accelerated and uplift the level of digitalisation of the SMEs as well as demand for innovative tech solutions.


The Way Forward

As the SMEs owners deepen their capabilities in this new economy and look to innovation and collaboration to capture the new opportunities, tech companies will find increasing interest from SMEs to partner or use the tech solutions. With SME owners owning decision-making power, the sales cycle will be relatively faster than that of larger corporates, making this segment an attractive customer group. Tech companies looking to sell to SMEs need to focus on effectively solving the common pain points that SMEs face before accessing the opportunities in the respective industry sector.

The FinLab is an innovation accelerator of UOB, that catalyses innovation, digitalisation and growth of businesses, from technology start-ups to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Since its inception in 2015, The FinLab has run acceleration programmes for FinTech companies to scale in ASEAN, as well as the Business Transformation Programmes in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, that focused on helping SMEs on their digital transformation. The Business Transformation Programme is the first of its kind in the region. The FinLab Online now enables businesses to tap on the knowledge, tools and resources from The FinLab network established over the years.


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