L’Oreal’s chief digital officer explains how the quick adoption of e-commerce saved the company’s 2020 earnings

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Lubomira Rochet speaks onstage during the Youtube session at the Cannes Lions Festival 2018 on June 19, 2018 in Cannes, France.

As vaccination programs across the globe begin to bite into the spread of Covid-19, retail businesses are starting to think about how they’re going to welcome back customers who have saved cash during the last year’s crisis.

One of the sectors looking for a new path out of the crisis is the cosmetics industry. While some sectors – like medicine, household cleaners and soap, and vitamins and supplements all saw increases in purchases during the pandemic, according to JP Morgan, the world cut back on cosmetics.

There are several reasons for this: as nationwide lockdowns have disrupted normal life, many people have been spending less time in front of others, and when they do, masks have made it impracticle to spend the same amount of time on facial cosmetics. Another reason is that the cosmetics industry traditionally relies on tangible, in-person sales. This is why staffed cosmetics counters are a staple of many department stores.

L’Oreal is one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world, and Lubomira Rochet – who made Insider’s list of 100 people transforming business in Europe last year – has been tasked with navigating the firm through the pandemic. Rochet is the firm’s chief digital officer, and based on widespread industry trends, the last 12 months should have been a sure-fire path to decreased profits for the company. Yet L’Oreal’s full-year financial results for 2020, published in late February, saw things staying steady.

“L’Oréal has traversed this crisis in the best possible condition and has even grown stronger,” Jean-Paul Agon, the company’s chairman and CEO, said when revealing the results. The reason? L’Oreal’s forward-looking bet on e-commerce sales. “Thanks to its strength in digital and e-commerce, which has again increased considerably during the crisis, L’Oréal has been able to maintain a close relationship with all its consumers and compensate to a large extent for the closure of points of sale,” added Agon. In all, e-commerce sales rose at L’Oreal by 62% in 2020, and accounted for one dollar in every four spent with the company.

The bumper results are the payoff for a decade of work. “The matter of fact is L’Oreal started its transformation 10 years ago which served us well when covid hit, because we were ready,” Rochet told Insider in mid-2020. The digitialization of the operating model for the company was crucial to making sure the firm managed to weather the crisis, but it was also one that Rochet had seen as a key area long before that.

“We spent a lot adapting our marketing to the digital age,” Rochet said. “Investing new formats and platforms from YouTube to TikTok to Instagram to WeChat, and really completely changing our formats for faster and more interactive formats. That has been quite a journey.”

But it’s the way that people tend to buy their makeup that has seen the most significant transformation. “We have invested in technology such as AR or VR to give [customers] an extra experience when they shop our products,” said Rochet. “Those are things like virtual make-up or hair colour try-ons. It’s about teleconsultations that were big during covid. Those are service we propose to our consumers to enrich the experience.”

Like many things, the coronavirus pandemic simply accelerated existing trends that had been in train for years. Rochet points to the rise of livestreaming sales in China as an example of how the pandemic has amplified what was already there, making it more important and significant for consumers battling the challenges of coronavirus.

And as stores and businesses begin to reopen, Rochet feels L’Oreal is in a position of power. “We’re moving to an interesting moment where more people in a low-touch economy don’t want to touch products in the store,” she explained. “They don’t want physical testers. So we’re introducing services like virtual make-up try on, through a QR code people can experience the colours and the looks, but virtually.”

It’s something her CEO and chairman also agrees with. Setting out 2020’s financial results, Agon looked forward to 2021 with positivity. “Driven by the strength of its strategic choices and a determined dynamic across the year, L’Oréal has adapted to this unprecedented context and terrible pandemic with speed and agility, accelerated all of its transformations and will emerge stronger,” he said.

“At the beginning of this new year, which remains marked by uncertainty regarding the evolution of the pandemic, but also by consumer’s appetite for beauty that remains intact across the world, we are confident in our capacity to outperform the market again this year and, subject to the evolution of the sanitary crisis, achieve a year of growth in sales and profits.”

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Founder of Psious predicts VR will play a major role in addressing the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic

Xavier Palomer_foto_Angela Silva_2 min min
Xavier Palomer

The last year has been busy for Xavier Palomer, the founder of Spanish virtual reality mental health startup Psious. The platform, which is a tool for mental health professionals to place their patients in a variety of different situations to try treatments such as exposure therapy or cognitive restructuring, doubled in the number of patients from 2019 to 2020. In all, 20,000 people have been treated using Psious’s platform.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has strained many healthcare systems, it has shown the need for Psious’s tech and demonstrated the use case, too. Telehealth – where people are treated remotely from their medical professionals – has long been tomorrow’s technology. The promise has long been acknowledged, but the reality has always been that face-to-face meetings were preferred. The pandemic has challenged that notion.

“The adoption rate and interest from both healthcare professionals and patients is growing,” Palomer said. “If people are suffering, they want to use VR.” The normalization of technology in health treatment has been one beneficiary of the long stretches spent at home. “If you do something for a week, you’ll forget it,” Palomer said. “If you do it for a year or more, you get used to it. We’ve normalized this remote use.”

It’s not before time, either. While the pandemic has helped improve uptake of telehealth solutions, time spent away from loved ones, and away from physicians and psychiatrists is generating an enormous backlog of cases that Psious and Palomer hope to be able to help with.

“We’ve been locked down and isolated, with social distancing and a lot of things that make us anxious,” Palomer said. “We’re way more alone now. I used to go every day to the office; I can’t remember when I was last in the office. I don’t interact with my co-workers. When I interact with someone it’s often through a virtual connection. We don’t just talk anymore.”

Palomer thinks the increase in mental health issues is excacerbated by social distancing restrictions, increasingly negative news coverage, and general economic uncertainty for many people. “It’s like the worst mix ever,” Palomer said. “Being alone so you can’t exchange concerns or share problems. A lot of new stuff like face masks – inputs telling you something is wrong – and then bad news in everything you see or watch. It’s very easy to understand that at some point that will blow our minds.”

A mental health crisis on the horizon

Healthcare experts are already seeing the first wave of mental health issues starting to break on the horizon. “Most of us will be able to deal with it and get through it very easily, but a huge part of us won’t go through it very easily, which leads us to a growth in the number of mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” Palomer said. More than just sheer numbers, Palomer thinks physicians are also likely to see the severity of cases increase when the pandemic begins to subside. People will have lost family members; they’ll have spent a year or more locked indoors; they’ll have spent most of it worrying about what the future holds; and they may not have jobs to return to.

Palomer spoke to the head of psychiatry treatment at one of Spain’s largest hospitals. There, the department chief reported a 60% increase in caseload between January 2020 and January 2021. “For a hospital of that size, having that kind of growth in 12 months is just mindblowing,” Palomer said.

He’s concerned that we’re unsuited for what’s about to happen. “Are the systems ready, meaning healthcare providers, public and private systems? Are we ready to answer this demand?” he asks. “The answer is no. We’ll need to find, in the startup language, scalable solutions, and for me one of the best candidates is technology. Virtual reality has a very good clinical background and good validation. The scalability is there. We believe a solution like ours is needed more than ever before.”

Palomer believes Psious is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, face-to-face mental health treatment. But he thinks it’s better suited than most kinds of treatment, citing the way his back pain – the result of caring for three children and a life spent sitting at a computer – is being treated mostly through phone- and app-based physical therapy.

In 12 months’ time Palomer expects to see an even more meaningful increase in patient numbers being treated using Psious’s virtual reality systems. “We want to keep this pace in 2021,” he said. The mental health of us all may depend on it.

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Razer is leveraging its loyal fan base to introduce new fintech products for both gamers and non-gamers alike

Min Liang Tan, CEO and cofounder of Razer

Gaming hardware manufacturing company Razer has come a long way since CEO and cofounder Min-Liang Tan had the idea to design a computer mouse specific for gamers back in 2005. According to the firm’s latest financial results, 2020 was a record year, with Razer for the first time achieving over US$1 billion in revenue, in the process also registering its first ever annual profit.

Razer’s success naturally lies in its hardware business, where it enjoys a hugely loyal fanbase for its controllers, headsets, keyboard, and laptops. But there is another business segment that is growing fast and which is pointing to a new – and potentially highly profitable – revenue stream for the gaming industry: fintech

In 2017, Razer stepped for the first time into the fintech sector with the launch of in-game payment service Razer Gold, which now has 26 million registered users. This was followed in 2018 by Razer Fintech, a digital payment network targeting both B2B and B2C end users across Southeast Asia.

Revenue from the financial services arm grew over 66% in 2020 to US$128.4 million. Speaking at an earnings briefing in March, CEO Min said the financial services growth was “truly phenomenal”, adding that it had been driven by surges in Razer Gold usage in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the demand for Razer Fintech B2B services due to the accelerated digitization of many businesses in the region.

Digital payments in Southeast Asia

When it comes to fintech, Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, outpacing the US, the UK, and even China. Razer is one of a number of companies with no previous financial sector experience that are now making significant steps into the sector. From ride hailing apps to e-commerce platforms and even airlines, more companies in the region are now also offering fintech services such as digital payments, loans, and even virtual banking.

“The usage of fintech, especially e-wallets, is a growing trend in Asia, especially in East and Southeast Asia,” Darang Candra, director of Southeast Asia at Niko Partners said. “None of Razer’s fellow unicorns in the region, such as Sea Group, Grab, and Gojek, started as fintech companies, but they later created their own fintech services – SeaMoney, GrabPay, and GoPay, respectively. This helped in pushing brand loyalty to their respective services. Razer seems to be in line with this trend.”

For companies such as Razer, moving into the fintech space is simply a case of responding to customer needs. This is especially true when it comes to providing digital payment services in a region that has some of the world’s lowest levels of financial inclusion.

KPMG estimates that as many as 73% of Southeast Asia’s population does not have access to a bank account. What they do have, though, is access to the internet. According to the e-Conomy 2020 report, co-produced by Google, Temasek, and Nain & Company, over 70% of people in Southeast Asia are now online, including an additional 40 million who came online in 2020 alone. The report also said the estimated gross transaction value (GTV) of digital payments in Southeast is expected to reach US$1.2 trillion by 2025, up from US$620 billion in 2020.

“In the past few years, we witnessed strong growth in gamers in Southeast Asia,” Limeng Lee, chief strategy officer at Razer and CEO at Razer Fintech, said. “However, we also noticed that while gaming activity was on the rise, monetization by our gaming partners did not see similar growth. We identified as a gating issue the ability for the young gamers to make digital payments for their gaming and entertainment needs, especially in countries where a large proportion of the population was still unbanked.”

One example of how Razer has moved quickly to fill the financial inclusion gap can be seen in the launch of the Razer Visa card, a virtual prepaid service that doesn’t require users to have access to a bank account. Instead, card owners can top up or cash out at a network of offline touchpoints.

As well as regular card benefits such as cash-back rewards, the Razer Visa also allows users to access an in-app gamified rewards system. Razer and Visa completed the first trial of the card late last year in Singapore and expect to roll out in other countries during 2021.

“Razer’s main business model is still focused on selling hardware products and based on what we see from the cooperation with Visa through their Razer Card, it seems that they want to specialize in providing rewards, cash backs, and even gamified-based bonuses for using Razer’s fintech services to buy hardware products,” Candra said. “This would be similar to how Sea, Grab, and Gojek’s fintech products are all connected to their respective ‘traditional’ businesses.”

Focus is firmly on the youth market

While Razer’s fintech ambitions are not exclusively targeting gamers, they are nonetheless focused heavily on Gen Zs and millennials – a demographic where the Razer brand is already well established.

Razer famously attracts a cult-like following. Tattoos of the company’s three-headed snake logo are especially popular. One Razer devotee even went as far as having his leg tattooed with Min’s face in return for a free Razer gaming smartphone. It is unimaginable that any of Razer’s competitors, such as Switzerland-based Logitech, could inspire similar brand devotion.

Looking to the future, this brand awareness and customer loyalty, combined with a huge customer base in the region, could be a key differentiator for Razer’s fintech plans in what is becoming a crowded and competitive market.

Says Razer’s Lee: “We are constantly in discussions with partners on potential collaboration who either want access to our 50,000-plus online merchants where we can help upsell their services or want association with the Razer brand to gain access to our 125 million-plus user base. These partnerships will be a win-win for both parties.”

At the end of last year, Razer unsuccessfully bid for one of Singapore’s two virtual banking licenses under the brand name Razer Youth Bank. While a setback for the company – local fintech rivals Grab and Sea were part of the winning consortiums – the bid nonetheless showed both the scope of Razer’s ambition, as well as its clear market position as a youth-focused fintech.

“Moving forward, Razer Fintech intends to aggressively scale up our core B2B business which has been driving the growth of our business in the past couple of years,” Lee said. “We will invest in further geographical expansion in the SEA region and other high growth emerging markets such as Latin America and the Middle East.”

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Diversity of application has been central to nanotechnology -is accessibility the next significant step-change?

Nano copper dispersion
Nano copper dispersion

  • In July 2020, Promethean Particles won an Institute of Physics Business Innovation Award for solving a key fluid-mechanics problem enabling the use of supercritical fluids for the large-scale production of nanoparticles.

  • This breakthrough supports the development of a unique manufacturing process that enhances the scalability, safety, and sustainability of nanomaterials, whilst reducing supply-chain waste and cost.
  • Dr. Selina Ambrose, technical manager at the company, leads a team of research scientists and manages Promethean’s research-and-development projects.
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Dr. Ambrose to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming manufacturing in Europe.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

The commercial design, engineering, and manufacturing industries thrive on innovation. When process efficiency and sustainability remain core to business success and the bottom line is at stake, no business can afford to fall behind its competitors. 

One of the most rapidly accelerating solutions of contemporary industry has been nanoparticle technology. While the technology has been used in scientific laboratories for a long time, nanotechnology is surging in commercial application as the capabilities become better understood and more effectively communicated.

While at first glance, nanotechnology may seem an imposing term for those that might be unfamiliar with it, it describes a deceptively simple concept. By manufacturing and manipulating materials and devices on an atomic scale, with a dimension of 100 billionths of a meter or less, the physical and chemical properties of materials can be fundamentally changed. In turn, changing how materials behave in certain conditions unlocks new possibilities for application and innovation. 

The technology has more than proved its potential in applications such as inks and pigments, printed electronics and functional coatings to name just a few. In terms of industries, they are finding diverse use in textiles, healthcare, energy, food, retail, and construction. The opportunities are clear; however, innovation cannot exist in isolation. If the technology can’t offer the economy of scale that brands and manufacturers need, there will remain a question mark over nanotechnology as a tool for commercial success in the longer term.

The sheer depth of application has been a core driving force for the growth of nanoparticle technology – could accessibility be the next significant development? 

At Promethean Particles, we want to change the narrative around nanotechnology. At present, brands and manufacturers see nanotechnology as a commercial advantage, but don’t explore the application further because the scalability of production isn’t there. Nanoparticles are created in too small a quantity to add long-term value and present challenges in terms of reliability and consistency in large-scale supply.

Promethean Plant
Promethean Plant

Most nanomaterial manufacturers use batch processes that are either not scalable or can only be scaled with significant monetary investment, leading to extremely high pricing of the resulting materials. This then makes it less economical to implement the technology.

The challenge of cost varies greatly between markets or sectors, mainly because some are more niche and able to tolerate higher prices, if the technical benefits are present. In others, where chemical additives are more commodity-style goods, for example paints and pigments, the cost is the bottom line which dictates if nanotechnology can be adopted.

At Promethean, we are setting a new benchmark in nanoparticle manufacturing – by delivering competitive advantage for our customers. We can address the challenge of scalability through our patented continuous-flow production process, which enables nanomaterial manufacturing to be scaled up without the usual surge in operating costs.

Importantly, the process does not affect material performance or quality. By achieving economies of scale in production, we can support the commercial viability of product innovation. Ultimately, the unique manufacturing configuration at Promethean challenges the idea that nanotechnology is not accessible. This new way of producing materials has boosted supply availability and, in doing so, unlocked nanoparticle potential for an even more varied group of sectors.

Bridging the gap between nanomaterials considered as a novel, small scale idea for manufacturers, to an industrially viable innovation is core to the Promethean vision. As part of this, we recognise that manufacturers will want to incorporate the technology into existing processes to mitigate risk and cost. We provide feasibility studies and take a flexible approach to understand specific customer needs and requirements, so that we can offer a bespoke and tailored solution for any one application. When it comes to nanoparticles, it very much isn’t the case that one size fits all!

Recently, Promethean collaborated with a speciality ingredients manufacturer to improve process efficiency and health and safety in operations. The company used a batch process to manufacture a pigment but the chemical reaction to generate the pigment released heat. This led to complexities in process control and health and safety challenges, resulting in material losses and downtime, increased costs and unreliable supply.

Working closely with the customer to understand the required pigment specification and establish an alternative manufacturing process, the Promethean team was able to utilize the continuous flow manufacturing process to enable a more controlled, safe chemical reaction. The result was a pigment that displayed the same colour and stability characteristics as the benchmark material. 

Meanwhile, during the past year, Promethean has been able to demonstrate its ability to adapt its processes to suit different applications. We have traditionally developed nano-copper particles for the printed electronics market, due to the conductive properties of copper. Yet, copper is also well known for its antimicrobial properties. Working with UK and Mexican textile companies and research institutes, we have developed nano-copper for use in fabrics and Personal Protective Equipment for the healthcare sector, to deliver antimicrobial and anti-viral properties. There is also scope to further develop these nano-copper materials for use in coating applications, such as for healthcare surfaces and touchscreen devices.

At Promethean, we are creating a more accessible platform for nanotechnology for businesses of all sizes, operating in a wide variety of industries from the niche to the mainstream. It is evident that manufacturing supply chains are under increased pressure to perform in increasingly volatile and complex markets. Innovation and efficiency have never been more critical. These needs can, not only be supported with, but driven by, nanotechnology enabling businesses to improve production performance and succeed commercially.

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RightHand Robotics director of product management explains why automation is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity

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Artug Acar, director of product management at Right Hand Robotics

Throughout the pandemic, logistics has become the center of attention well beyond the e-commerce world. Consumers running out of hygiene supplies; shortages of food on the shelves at their local grocery stores; difficulties reserving a reasonable time slot for online food delivery – these have brought heightened visibility into logistics for consumers, industry professionals, and venture capitalists, alike. This global realization that effective logistics is now more critical than ever in society has made it apparent that meeting customer demand and managing growth requires improved efficiency in the supply chain. Automation is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity.

As companies look for ways to keep up with increased demand, a smart approach is to add automation into an existing system. At this time of digital transformation, companies look to cutting edge technologies that they can embed into their existing operations to provide short-term improvements. Unfortunately, incremental upgrades in the system for processes that were not designed for automation often cause unforeseen problems, subsequently leading to blaming the new technologies for these significant issues. Traditional hardware components and methods, however, rarely mesh well with new technologies. The key to solving this problem is stepping back and looking at the overall system as a whole to really gain the most out of these new high-tech products.

However, this concept is not new – visualizing automation in warehouses has been going on for around 30 years. What is new is the rate of innovation and the level of automation now available. Today, automation can impact the heart of your core business with new technologies that can automate picking, pack-outs, and even front-door delivery. It requires team effort to ensure that you can meet customer demands without disrupting your supply chain.

A brilliant example of team effort and the steps it takes to meet customer demands is in the 2019 movie, “Ford v Ferrari.” This film depicts the American automaker Ford putting together a winning formula consisting of a powerful driving machine, a skilled driver and a team that was fully in tune with the need for all parts to work seamlessly together in order to get the most out of the Ford GT40. To be victorious required synchronizing different variables — from the race car designer to the ownership team and talented pit crew; the right wheels and engine; to the driver who knew how to handle the track properly. All these came together to make the Ford GT40 program a success – a true team effort.

So, how does this apply in a warehouse? Ask yourself, “Who is my team now?” Your team is beyond your four walls. When we think about going through a digital transformation, these are the three most critical parties involved and scenarios that typically take place:

1) You and the warehouse/logistics division that are investing in the new technology and putting resources into it. You know that automation is about being lean, and you are prepared to implement process improvements such as Kaizen to get the most out of automation.

2) The companies that are developing breakthrough products. You must work hand-in-hand with your innovation partner to ensure that your needs are being included in their roadmap.

3) The integrators (sometimes the technology companies themselves) who are in charge of meeting your needs with the available solutions. When a core step is affected, the limitations of the technology may not allow your expectations to be met, and integrators are crucial for bridging the gap between what the technology can provide and what you need achieved.

At this point, integrators play a critical role. Working with older systems while adapting newer technologies is not an easy task. The result is that projects take longer, and both the customer and the technology provider go through multiple iterations. Each party shares responsibility in the success of these projects.

Take for example one of the most successful case studies of digital transformation ever seen from our previous generation: Kiva Systems. Kiva was created by Mick Mountz (now board member at RightHand Robotics) after he experienced the burden of fulfilling customer expectations by relying on legacy technology for a growing industry while working at Webvan. What Mick and the Kiva team did was not just integrate autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) into an existing solution, he also analyzed the problem and developed a solution that completely changed how logistics and warehousing industries were thinking about automation. AMRs have been around since the 1950s, but until Kiva introduced their solution to the market, they had never been used the way they are today.

Since then, the pace of digital transformation has accelerated dramatically. Computing power and the evolution of vision systems, along with advancements in machine learning, opened up all-new possibilities that were not conceivable a decade or so ago. Right now, the challenge is not about developing components to solve these problems. Today’s innovators must build a solution for a complete overhaul of the legacy systems, so that the industry can get the most out of these breakthrough technologies.

Major players in the industry are looking at this problem by taking a step back – just like Kiva did 20 years ago. Large ASRS (automated storage and retrieval systems) companies such as AutoStore and ASRS integrators such as Element Logic are considering the capabilities that are needed to utilize these newer technologies at full capacity. Additionally, automated piece-picking, which is what RightHand does, is a growing market that ASRS companies are looking into for additional support within their systems. As the warehouse landscape improves for these breakthrough technologies, integration will be faster and continuous.

Successful automation is defined by how well exceptions are handled, and that requires a complete solution rather than small fixes. For example, an exception could be dropping an item during transfer. With a well-thought-out product in place, the automated piece-picking system would be able to detect this issue and either resolve it automatically or notify the site operations team to assist. These types of systems would consist of a flexible, nimble gripper connected to a robot arm, enhanced with vision capabilities and enterprise-level artificial intelligence software, integrated and designed to detect and address such issues effectively. New innovations and upgrades in these systems are now more widely available thanks to rapid technology developments. With the right system in place, exceptions can be minimized and easily resolved, leading to higher overall equipment efficiency – a key metric for automation systems. 

At the macro level, companies that are undertaking digital transformation would benefit more by doing a complete overhaul with buy-in from every team member. For a successful transformation, vendors and integrators must align around continuous improvement processes, including KPIs and timelines. At the micro level, your choice of partner is as important as the solution they are providing.

Now more than ever, implementing automation in warehouses is critical for a business to sustain itself, keep up with increasing demand, and manage growth. For warehouse professionals who are contemplating how to automate their systems, remember to apply lean processes and make it a team sport – that is the recipe for success. 

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Led by CEO Ian Watson, Cellcard is building on its rollout of Cambodia’s first 5G use case by tapping into the country’s youth-driven mobile market

IAN WATSON   Cellcard
Ian Watson, CEO of Cellcard

  • Led by CEO Ian Watson, Cellcard is one of Cambodia’s largest and most innovative telco firms
  • Cellcard is tapping into the youth market — and gamers in particular — to help drive mobile penetration
  • This year the company launched its dedicated esports division, hosting competitions and live-streaming events
  • In a short time, Cellcard has already increased its proportion of the youth segment among its customer base by more than 50%
  • Because of his work, Business Insider named Watson to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming consumer tech in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Despite the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2020 was a historic year for Cambodian telco Cellcard. Led by CEO Ian Watson, Cellcard rolled out Cambodia’s first 5G use case – a telemedicine service introduced across four key health facilities in the capital of Phnom Penh to help cope with the pandemic. 

This was a significant milestone for both Cellcard and Cambodia, a country with one of the least developed digital infrastructures in the Southeast Asia region. When Watson joined the company in 2012, Cambodia was still very much playing catch up to some of its more developed neighbors. However, by 2018, and with an investment of over US$300 million, Cellcard had established a 4G LTE network that covered 90% of the country. 5G will be the next stage of this evolution.

Technological development aside, 2020 has also represented a transformation in Cellcard’s business strategy, with more emphasis being placed on the large Cambodian youth market to help drive digital adoption, with a particular focus on growing and supporting the country’s young gamer community. 

Cambodian demographics favour the youth market

The attraction of the youth segment in Cambodia is clear. Out of a population of roughly 17 million, it is estimated that close to 50% are under the age of 25. As these young people start to come online and access the internet, mobile is the dominant platform. Cambodia now has roughly 21 million mobile connections, with over 14 million enjoying 3G or 4G broadband access. 

Cellcard has launched various youth-focused initiatives over the past 12 months. In May, it brought together a number of its musical ambassadors for a Cellcard 4U Virtual Concert to entertain Cambodian families at home during COVID-19. More than 1.7 million viewers watched the concert live on the night on the local MYTV channel, with an additional 5 million online video views of the concert highlights. 

In July, the company announced its support to local education infrastructure by establishing an e-learning platform for continued education in a joint collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and Ministry of Posts (MPTC). The app allowed students across Cambodia to continue their studies online, with Cellcard providing free data access between select hours.

But it is one youth demographic sub group in particular where Cellcard has been concentrating its marketing and customer engagement activities this year, and that is gamers. Over the past three years, Cellcard has been investing in promoting and facilitating a mobile gaming culture, and these efforts were ramped up significantly in 2020 with the formal launch of an esports division 

“In a market where 48% of the population are under the age of 25, operators and  brands have to be youth focused,” says Watson. “There is enormous growth potential for Cellcard in the youth segment. Previously it has been known as the operator for the older business and professional segment, but this is changing as we evolve our digital offerings to be youth centric, especially our move to lead esports in Cambodia.”

Using gaming and esports to drive smartphone penetration

Cellcard’s gaming legacy began just three years ago, with the launch in 2017 of Super Data Race, a Pokémon-style mobile game. Several other popular mobile games followed, but what really transformed Cellcard’s youth appeal has been how it has tapped into the emergence of a hugely popular esports community. 

Cambodia has seen a rapid rise in demand for gaming and esports among its youth, not only domestically but also internationally as gamers connect with their peers in the wider region through regional competitions and livestreamed matches. Cellcard was Cambodia’s first telco to stage an esports tournaments back in 2018 and since then has been nurturing the gaming community across the country.

Earlier this year Cellcard launched PlayGame, Cambodia’s first gamer platform, supported by PlayGame Unlimited, a data plan created exclusively for gamers. PlayGame, which partners with leading global game developers such as Tencent, Netease and Moonton, gives customers access to a full range of gaming experiences including online esports tournaments that offer cash prizes and in-game incentives. This year, Cellcard has held almost 200 esport and arcade tournaments and live-stream events, garnering 75.9 million impressions on the PlayGame platform

The company is also working closely with gaming influencers, with 20 dedicated gamer influencers on its roster. Leveraging these relationships, the company this year developed its own esports-focused TV Show called PlayGame TV. The show is dedicated to celebrating and sharing the gamer lifestyle in Cambodia and  features its influencer talent pool as hosts.  The first season of eight episode aired simultaneously on local free-to-air TV and Facebook and reached over 9 million viewers.

“We have some of Cambodia’s best performing social media channels including one million-plus fans on TikTok,” says Watson. “Our engagement rates are high as we are very active with social influencers and content creators which is driving more youth customers to Cellcard.”

Youth engagement  is already delivering results

The investment in youth and in particular the promotion of esports and gaming is already having a positive result on Cellcard’s business. The company says that gaming helping it drive smartphone penetration and data usage, particularly in provincial areas. Cellcard has increased the mobile data traffic over its network by 32% this year, while the proportion of young consumers on its customer base has grown from 26% to 40% 

Cellcard says it is confident it is on the right track and will continue to lead the esports agenda and grow the gamer and Esports community in the country. The company says it will continue to add more billing and payment choices to give gamers more convenient transaction options. 

At the same time Cellcard is continuing to expand its 4G LTE network – as well as beginning to open its 5G network – which it says will further improve speeds and counter latency and jittering issues for gamers. Ultimately, Cellcard argues that increased digital access will benefit not just gamers or young people, but Cambodia as a whole.

“We have entered the digital age, and telecommunication companies such as Cellcard are playing a key role in driving transformation of the people, of companies and of the nation,” says Watson. “Digital empowerment will transform people’s lives for the better by advancing education, health, agriculture and manufacturing, and deliver to all Cambodians, access to the world.”

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How CEO Tony Fernandes and AirAsia are looking to redefine the role of an airline in a post-COVID world

  • Headed by Tony Fernandes, budget airline AirAsia has this year accelerated the rollout of its non-airline offerings
  • Key to the company’s transformation has been the launch of a digital travel and lifestyle platform and superapp
  • New digital products and services include e-commerce, last mile delivery, digital payments and an expanded rewards program
  • Fernandes believes non-airline revenues will eventually match and then surpass airline revenue
  • Because of his work, Business Insider named Fernandes to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming supply chain in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Under the leadership of co-founder and CEO, budget flyer AirAsia has been disrupting the Asia airline industry since operations first began in 2001. The Malaysian company was last year named the world’s best low-cost airline at the Skytrax World Airline Awards. This was the 11th consecutive year it had picked up the award.

Despite its pioneering success, AirAsia has in recent years been implementing strategies to pivot toward a unified, all-in-one digital travel and lifestyle platform. Business Insider looks at how Fernandes and AirAsia are looking to redefine the role of an airline in a post-COVID world.

Moving from budget airline to digital travel and lifestyle platform

AirAsia has from the outset put digital and innovation at the heart of its operations. It was, for example, the first airline in the region to focus on selling tickets directly online through its own website, and today around 85% of its customers book directly through its website. 

From 2018, the company saw the potential to drive new revenue streams by building an ecosystem of businesses, all anchored on travel and all leveraging off each other. The arrival of COVID-19 and the subsequent downtime of flights provided the company with the opportunity to fast-track this digital transformation strategy. 

“As I always say you have to evolve or you die in this industry,” said Tony Fernandes. “The decision to pivot into a digital travel and lifestyle platform actually commenced in 2018, well before COVID-19 hit. One silver lining of the pandemic was that it allowed us to focus on and fast-track our digital transformation by growing our non-airline businesses which not only provides new revenue streams, but also creates new job opportunities for our staff to be upskilled and pivot into new roles within the company.”

The airline saw digital transformation as a natural progression. Pre-COVID-19, the company’s website had 60 million monthly visitors, which adds up to a powerful database of  loyal customers. 

“I’ve always been a firm believer in the digital revolution,” adds Fernandes. “Today, data is king and we realised we had a huge opportunity to extend our own assets and leverage our strong brand in Southeast Asia with our own big and rich data.”

Expanding the AirAsia product offering

To facilitate the company’s digital transformation, the AirAsia Group split its operations into two main divisions – the airline itself and the digital businesses under ​AirAsia Digital​. Under the digital banner, the company now has four key offerings:

  • airasia.com In October, AirAsia re-launched the airasia.com brand around the central concept of enabling its customers to fly, to stay, to shop and to eat, all from the convenience of one platform. There are now 17 lines of business available on the app including airasia food (meal deliveries), airasia fresh (groceries) and airasia shop (retail), powered by AirAsia’s logistics arm Teleport. In addition, there is airasia Health, which promotes medical tourism, Islam-compliant service IKHLAS, SNAP (flight and hotel bundles) and more.
  • Teleport AirAsia’s cargo and logistics division has transformed into a major Southeast Asian e-commerce transportation provider. The entity first focused on a cross-border e-commerce  delivery service, leveraging AirAsia’s flight networks to enable businesses to conduct cross-border trade anywhere in Southeast Asia within 24-hours. Adapting to post-COVID reality and recognising customers’ preference for home delivery orders, Teleport pivoted once more to concentrate on last-mile deliveries, transporting parcels, restaurant orders and fresh produce from airasia shop, airasia food and airasia fresh. Teleport now has over 5,000 delivery partners, with deliveries available across 70 cities.
  • BigPay AirAsia’s digital payment service started out life as a simple debit product but now offers money transfers, with remittances available in 10 countries including Malaysia and Singapore. The company says that loans, marketplaces, insurance and wealth products are all in the pipeline, and that BigPay is on track to become Southeast Asia’s first virtual bank. BigPay has received a provisional license for lending and users will soon be able to apply for fast loans at low interest rates. ​BigPay is also targeting key digital licences in the Philippines and Thailand. The payment service currently has 1.2 million users. 
  • BIG Rewards Already one of Southeast Asia’s largest travel and lifestyle rewards platforms with over ​35 million members, BIG Rewards has evolved from an airline loyalty program to a broader lifestyle rewards service, offering points redemption on a range of dining, shopping and entertainment deals. The platform includes BIG Xchange, the first airlines points exchange platform, which allows BIG Members to convert credit card loyalty points from participating banks into BIG Points.

Digital transformation already beginning to pay off

As a result of its accelerated digital transformation, AirAsia says it has seen significant growth in terms of customer base, as well as revenue and other key metrics, for all non-airline business divisions in 2020. According to 2020 third-quarter results, the non-airline subsidiaries grew by 182% and almost all non-airline business divisions are now profitable. 

The company says it expects non-airline revenues to contribute up to 50% of total AirAsia Group revenues in the next three to five years and gradually overtake the airline revenues in the longer term.  

“As I always say, never waste a crisis,” says Fernandes. “We have lived through many before and this will be no different. We will use the opportunity to extend our assets and leverage our big and rich data and go places we have never been before. For AirAsia, nothing is off the table anymore. We will consider any opportunity that makes commercial and viable sense. We are already selling flights for other airlines, including our competitors on airasia.com and providing last mile deliveries.”

In terms of the future, AirAsia says demand for travel is still huge and that people still want to fly. Noting the pent up demand for travel, the company says it is already seeing with strong demand for our domestic flights in its key markets of Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and India. 

Given that during an economic downturn, low cost airlines are generally more popular, AirAsia believes it is in a strong position to recover faster than many of its competitors. The company points out that 50% of its traffic is domestic short haul, while the majority of its customers travel for leisure rather than business, both advantageous for fast recovery. In addition, many of its key international markets are in COVID-19 Green Zones, areas that are likely to reopen first. 

“Air travel is here to stay and it will bounce back,” says Fernandes. “I do believe we have weathered the storm. The worst is over. Our comeback is the best part of the story and I see this as a never ending story. No virus will kill the spirit of AirAsia. We will continue to innovate, adapt, recover and come back stronger.”

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CEO of data analytics firm Quantexa shares how digital resilience and data-driven decision-making will determine which businesses thrive in a post-Covid world

Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria
Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria

It’s no secret that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant missed opportunity in enterprise data and analytics. In fact, at least three-quarters of companies today have limited their use of analytics and fail to capitalize on the operational decision-making opportunity of modern data intelligence. Organizations often struggle to operationalize analytics into the day-to-day business. However, businesses have begun to realize that state-of-the-art decision intelligence requires a blend of machine intelligence with human intelligence to ensure optimal decision-making. Applying graph representations to high performance data sets is fast becoming an imperative to modern decision-making success.

Digital resilience is the new watchword in a post-COVID-19 world

The ability to respond and adapt quickly to new situations has never been more stark than during the pandemic. The crisis has taught organizations that a new level of agility and digital resilience is needed across ecosystems, partners and the supply chain. The focus for any would-be intelligent enterprise should evolve the capabilities created to manage the impact of Covid-19 into productive analytics hubs, capable of using leading indicators to predict and react to future risk with greater frequency, while simultaneously discovering hidden future opportunities. Those that fail to implement an effective enterprise data model enabling the foundation for resilient decision-making by 2021 are forecasted to underperform on profitability by 10% according to IDC.

Data at the core – but how can you trust it?

The volume of data being created is quickly surpassing the rate at which computing and storage systems are being developed. According to IDC, the amount of data available will be enough to fully occupy a stack of tablets measuring 6.6 times the distance between the moon and the earth by the end of this year. The point is, both external and internal data are growing at such a rate, 26% year over year, that ensuring data is available in a meaningful, operationalized way is becoming more important as a core discipline. By definition, the volume, velocity and variety of big data is creating huge operational pressure – called the data-decision gap.

According to KPMG, 56% of CEOs don’t trust the integrity of their data. That said, when the analytical models and technology they use to guide decision-making work with untrustworthy data, they naturally doubt its recommendations. It’s become important to understand the context of your data so you can reveal the unseen and, in some cases, unexpected connections that either create risk or opportunity.

A new generation of intelligent decision-making

The lack of a single, trusted view of data across an organization is a serious obstacle to data-driven decision intelligence. Without this, decisions can’t be automated in an accurate or efficient way, and individual entities such as customers and transactions, cannot be properly and fully understood and analyzed. However, reliable data integration, especially at scale, is difficult, which is why data becomes stuck in multiple silos – inhibiting the connected single view and holistic, contextual analysis that is desired. Traditional rules-based approaches to decision support are not sufficiently agile or resilient in today’s uncertain and rapidly changing business and geopolitical environment – advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI are needed to empower users or automate key processes.

The good news is that new approaches and innovations to data and analytics show a path forward for maximizing the value enterprises can get from their data.

Entity resolution and network generation, surfaced through graph analytics, are key to understanding relationships and behaviors of customers and third parties in the supply chain, resulting in better, faster operational decisions. By integrating the right data, decision makers can become empowered as their new insights come from finding explainable links between fully understood, trusted data in a single view provided by entity resolution.

Machine learning to deliver big, but not without human input

Less than 15% of analytics adopters have made progress with automated decisions. This is a big problem, especially when dealing with large complex data sets. Deployment of fully automated operational decision-making moves analytics from reactive reporting to active, intelligent, and real-time decision-making. As more tasks are automated, the enterprise can focus more on differentiating work.

The key to this is augmentation – combining the best of human and machine intelligence. This allows repeatable routines of work to be fully automated and exceptional cases requiring fine judgement to be dealt with by humans. A great benefit of augmented analytics is that it accelerates the formulation of new data and analytics capabilities which, in effect, can be adapted to the skills, needs and problems of different classes of business user, which extends the reach of analytics across an organization. By maximizing the value of human and machine intelligence, there is a clear path to creating an effective data-driven enterprise.

Organization implications – creating the ability to adapt

To shift to a data-driven enterprise, business leaders need to reimagine how they operationalize the data they consume and analyze. The key to this is gaining a trusted, contextual, connected single view of the vast amounts of data that now exist for better decision-making.

Analytics now drives today’s enterprise, from formation of business strategy to powering operational excellence. Creating a culture of collaboration and getting the best out of humans alongside machines is crucial. Analytics has clearly moved from being an optional extra to serving as the core of decision-making, so creating a data-centric contextual decision intelligence framework has never been more important.

The C-suite and all business leaders need to spearhead a change across the enterprise to help drive adoption and utilization of advanced analytics. Before the pandemic, data and analytics were already the new competitive differentiators. But now, creating the right level of digital resilience across an organization that can adapt and change quickly in response to external pressure and threats will set the foundation for the enterprises that ultimately survive and thrive. The key questions we should all be asking ourselves are how well do we trust the data that we use to make decisions?  And how can organizations implement decision intelligence to ensure future sustainability and growth?

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L’Oréal is banking on influencers and try-on technology to cash in on online sales – and it’s made up for half its pandemic losses

L’Oréal chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet.

With people stuck inside during the pandemic, brands are selling online more than ever.

At cosmetics giant L’Oréal, e-commerce has grown 65% during the pandemic to represent 25% of revenue, its chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet said during a marketing roundtable conversation recently convened by Business Insider.

Further, e-commerce made up for more than 50% of its losses in brick-and-mortar during the pandemic and is expected to account for 50% of its sales by 2023.

L’Oréal leveraged the growth in online sales by spending more on platforms like Amazon that are performance-driven; in SEO to drive people to its own websites; and on ad formats like YouTube for Action. 

It’s also been spending more on virtual try-on technology, social commerce, and personalization. Its try-on technology ModiFace can now be found across 15 other sites and apps, including Amazon, YouTube, and Google Search. L’Oréal also invested this month in the social commerce platform Replika Software, which lets influencers, makeup artists and a hairstylists using its products to sell them directly to people online.

“L’Oréal brands have all embraced the trend of social commerce and have experimented with different models – influencers, e-beauty advisors, as well as consumers – with very promising results,” Rochet said. “We want to crack this new e-commerce channel that has a very strong potential in beauty and build a solid ecosystem of advocates and social sellers around our brands.”

The rise of e-commerce during the pandemic has also made marketing more conversational, with L’Oréal having a 40% rise in interactions with consumers across channels like Facebook Messenger and WeChat to pass 60 million interactions this year. That increase has given L’Oréal more data on which to base business decisions.

Read More: L’Oréal now handles 20% of its ad buying in house, and it’s another sign of the growing threat to traditional advertising agencies

“We were able to track category shifts like hair color sales growing 300% and make-up falling 30% by managing data and insights not every quarter, but literally everyday,” Rochet said. “Having our finger on the pulse of consumers is important also so that we can talk to them in the right tone.”

Despite e-commerce’s growth, Rochet said brick-and-mortar wasn’t going away. 

“There may be some disruption, but the Boots and the Carrefours in Europe are embracing omnichannel commerce and emerging as an alternative to Amazon,” she said.

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How Salesforce COO and star exec Bret Taylor has steered the cloud giant through a tumultuous year to help companies adapt to an ‘all-digital, work-anywhere economy’

Bret Taylor Salesforce
Bret Taylor, Salesforce COO

Salesforce chief operating officer Bret Taylor played a key role in the firm’s $27.7 billion deal to buy Slack, putting the exec in the spotlight near the end of a tumultuous year in which he’s leaned on his experience and expertise to help guide the firm. 

Taylor acted as the main Lisson to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and Salesforce CEO Benioff publicly praised him on an analyst call following the announcement:

“I couldn’t be more excited about what Bret and Stewart put together,” he said. 

Taylor has risen rapidly through the ranks at Salesforce since he joined the company four years ago via the acquisition of his collaboration tool Quip and is widely believed to be the next in line to Benioff thanks to his prominence and vision within the company. 

For example, he leaned on his experience as an entrepreneur who built a collaboration tool to extol the benefits Salesforce could gain from Slack.

“Slack is really one of the few companies in the history of software that set out to change the way people work and actually succeeded,” he said at the company’s annual investor day. “We truly believe this is the next generation of the way companies work together.”

His role at Salesforce this year earned him a spot on Business Insider’s annual list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech.

Salesforce went through executive upheaval at the beginning of the year, and then needed to shift gears as the coronavirus pandemic began raging through the world.

“Every single industry overnight went digital,” Taylor told Business Insider in a July interview. As the needs of Salesforce’s customers adjusted, so did the company. 

Here’s how Taylor is leading the firm as it adjusts to what he describes as an “all-digital, work-anywhere economy”: 

Rising through the ranks at Salesforce

From the moment Taylor started working at Salesforce, he was reporting directly to Benioff, who had said it was his “dream to work more closely” with the young “rising star.” 

A year later, he made the leap to the C-Suite, becoming president and chief product officer – a role he held until December 2019 when he became the company’s chief operating officer. He now oversees global product vision, engineering, security, marketing, and communications, taking on a greater leadership role with more influence over the future of Salesforce.  

Taylor’s background is much more product-focused, rather than sales focused like Keith Block or Benioff. Before co-founding Quip, Taylor was Facebook’s chief technology officer. He gets credit for creating its “Like” button an helped lead the company through its IPO in 2012. Before that, he was at Google, where he helped found Google Maps.

“What we see with Brett is, bringing that deep product knowledge, the understanding of how dev teams work,” said Valoir analyst Rebecca Wettemann.

Quip’s office suite tools are now embedded directly into Salesforce tools like Sales and Service Cloud. Earlier this year Salesforce also took the infrastructure and technology it acquired from Quip and added built in chat features to its customer relationship management tools.

How Salesforce is pursuing its product vision during a pandemic 

Since Taylor joined Salesforce, the firm has been building its platform with the goal of offering clients a “360 degree” view of their customers across sales, service, marketing, commerce, and other customer touchpoints. The goal is to make the customers of Salesforce’s clients feel like they’re interacting with the same brand or company no matter what their needs are. 

That got even more difficult as the entire customer experience changed. 

“Across our portfolio – across sales, customer service, marketing, e-commerce – we’ve really tried to work on digital technologies that are relevant in an era where a huge percentage of your customer and employee interactions are digital,” Taylor said in July.

Part of that 360-degree approach is “speaking the language of our customers,” which has increased Salesforce’s focus on building industry specific tools, like its Health Cloud and Financial Services Cloud. 

Taylor is also behind Salesforce’s new Work.com tools to help companies and public agencies reopen their facilities safely. Thirty-five state and federal agencies are now using Salesforce’s tools for contract tracing, as are countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The pandemic has shown businesses that it needs software to help it deal with all types of crises, and Salesforce wants to be the one to provide those important tools. 

The tools were developed because Salesforce executives asked, “How can we have a culture of action to help every community and every business reopen safely?” Taylor said. “But behind that is actually a robust platform that really will endure.”

It’s relied on partnerships with companies like Amazon, Zoom, and Workday for this initiative. 

The Slack deal is also a big part of that goal, Taylor said at the company’s investor day, because “Slack amplifies the value proposition of this entire platform.”

Over the last six months, under Taylor’s leadership, Salesforce has displayed “much faster development and time to market,” according to Valoir’s Wettemann.

Embracing remote work across the company, customers, and products

Embracing distributed and remote work didn’t come naturally to Salesforce, but it has managed to adapt, Taylor said. “We’re famous for having towers in every major city in the world,” he said in July. “We weren’t exactly a company that was oriented towards distributed work, and now we’ve proven to ourselves we can do it.” 

A few months later in November, Taylor told Business Insider that Salesforce execs are now asking themselves what practices they want to continue doing even after the pandemic ends.  

“Our answer is likely a hybrid model that optimizes for distributed and in-office work,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity because it opens up recruiting in a big way and gives employees a lot more flexibility if we do it right.”

On the company’s earnings call earlier this month, the company said it plans to scale back its multi-million square foot office footprint and expects to write down between $80 million and $100 million for offices it will offer for sublease during its fiscal fourth quarter.

To influence the company’s thinking and product direction, Taylor has also spent time this talking to executives who are “trailblazers” of distributed work. That’s long been part of Salesforce’s culture: Rather than just selling software, it aims to act as a partner and advisor to its customers as they undertake massive digital change, which allows it to learn from them in turn. 

“I think we’re unique in technology because we really lead with our values,” Taylor said, “and we really try to sell to not just technology leaders, but to business leaders, who aren’t necessarily looking at technology for technology’s sake, but looking at it to achieve an end.”

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