The ASEAN DXPF Corporate Innovation Program Demo Day: Proposing useful technological solutions to help Japanese companies in their digital transformation journeys

Note: This is the second instalment of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

The ASEAN DXPF Corporate Innovation Program Demo Day was held virtually on 9th March 2021, as part of the Japanese External Trade Organisation’s (JETRO) Digital Transformation Platform (DXPF) initiative. The online event saw 9 selected companies showcasing their final co-creation proposals live to the three challenge owners.

In order to come up with a customised proposal for their respective challenge owners, the 9 companies spent several weeks with the owners, understanding their requirements and challenges they are facing.

Here’s a quick recap on the challenge owners and their challenge statements:

Challenge 1: Smart Cloud Data Platform for IHI Future Smart City

Challenge Owner:IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd

Theme: To co-create solutions which can support traffic monitoring and management to realise IHI’s future Smart City vision

Challenge 2: Enhancing Industrial Customer Value in ‘New Normal’ Remotely

Challenge Owner: Nittoku Singapore Pte Ltd

Theme: To utilize immersive technologies, such as 3D images, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), to enable technicians to collaborate with local employees remotely for product set-up and advisory

Challenge 3: Building New Synergies by Digitalization of Human Resource Model

Challenge Owner:Sojitz Asia Pte Ltd

Theme: To utilize Human Resource (HR) data through DX and HR tech to create digital infrastructure scalable for future cross-country implementation of strategic HR management

Both Mr Satoshi Oyama, the Deputy Managing Director from JETRO Singapore, and Mr Tomoya Sato, Senior Consultant from ICMG, gave opening speeches before the start of Demo Day. They explained the importance of this program in providing Japanese companies opportunities to work with tech start-ups. In addition, the co-creation process proved to be useful, as it provided the support needed to help accelerate Japanese companies’ digital transformation.

Before the 9 companies took the virtual stage, the session rules were explained.

Each challenge owner was allocated a dedicated session to give a company introduction, followed by an elaboration of the challenge statement. Thereafter, every co-creation partner was given 8 minutes to present their solutions, with another 8 minutes allocated for the Q&A session.

IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd Challenge Session

Demo Day then began with the first challenge session, with 3 companies showcasing their solutions to IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.

The 3 companies were: GeoSpock Ltd, Sentient.io Pte Ltd and Transwarp Technology.

Each co-creation partner presented a comprehensive proposal, detailing the specifics of the system required to create a smart city to support traffic monitoring and management. Some of the solutions addressed the concerns of traffic congestion, while others proposed using data to identify traffic patterns, so as to analyse the probability of accidents occurring on particular roads.

Representatives from IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd addressed some of their concerns for each proposal during the Q&A session, with the co-creation partners taking turns to answer these questions.

Nittoku Singapore Pte Ltd Challenge Session

Next up was the challenge session by Nittoku Singapore Pte Ltd. The co-creation partners were: ST Engineering Training & Simulation Systems Pte Ltd, TotalYmage and VooX.

The challenge ask was to address the need for remote training, so that Nittoku’s technicians can work with their overseas counterparts to complete machineries set-ups and advisory. This challenge ask is closely related to the current travel restrictions due to Covid-19.

To solve this issue, one of the solutions provided was to capture the machineries images with 360° video cameras, in order for overseas counterparts to have a holistic view even when they are not present in the factory.

In the Q&A session, Nittoku’s technicians and other representatives posed questions to each company, so as to gain a better understanding of the proposed solutions from an end user perspective.

Sojitz Asia Pte Ltd Challenge Session

The main objective for Sojitz Asia Pte Ltd is to create a digital HR infrastructure, so as to help reduce the manual processes for the department. The three contenders for this session were: BrioHR, entomo and Mercurics Pte Ltd.

As data privacy was of concern, some contenders provided data security measures to safeguard employees’ information. In addition, creating a holistic employee experience was also being highlighted by some participating companies. This is so that Sojitz can track all aspects within the HR spectrum, such as employee retention rate.

The session wrapped up with the Q&A session, where several representatives from Sojitz asked questions to further understand how the proposed solutions can help enhance their existing HR processes.

Demo Day drew to a conclusion with a closing speech by Mr Satoshi Oyama, where he gave his heartfelt thanks to all challenge owners and participating companies whom made this event possible. Challenge owners were then given several weeks to decide on the company they would like to collaborate with to make the selected proposal come to life.

As the event draws to a close, we had a chat with some of the participating companies to find out more about their thoughts on Demo Day.

Q&A with participating companies

Question: What interest you to become one of the participants for the ASEAN DXPF Corporate Innovation Program?

entomo Pte Ltd: We have been quite in tune with what's happening in Japan and the Japanese multinationals which have gone global. Thus, the ASEAN DXPF Corporate Innovation Program, and specifically, the Sojitz challenge were very much aligned with what we can contribute to, ie a company which helps global organisations with their people practices.

Sentient.io Pte Ltd: Sentient has always been interested in opening up a market in Japan, which was why we were eager to participate in this challenge. Moreover, we have done projects similar to IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd’s challenge statement. Thus, we felt that this would be a good chance for us to leverage on our experience for the challenge.

TotalYmage Pte Ltd: We are a Swiss company and our goal is to continue developing our solutions globally from Singapore. When we saw this program, we thought it would be a good idea to participate. This is because it provides a good opportunity [for us] to tackle Japanese companies’ issues and help with the digital transformation process.

VooX Pte Ltd: Our product is about remote collaboration, visualisation and intelligence, which is why the ASEAN DXPF Corporate Innovation Program is suitable for us. We were curious to see the problems other challenge owners have, beyond those we are familiar with. Secondly, we are constantly looking out for different challenges to stretch our understanding on the things which we can build for our products. Lastly, as we would like to engage with Japanese companies, that was also one of the reasons why we participated in this program.

Question: How will your proposal contribute and support the challenge owner’s digital transformation process?

entomo Pte Ltd: When organisations make the decision to go digital, they either take small incremental steps or leap-frog into full digital transformation. When we had our discussions with Sojitz, [we understood that] the company was geared up for a leap-frog, ie to transform the employees’ experience in the organisation. Our technology platform and the fact that some of our team members have been HR practitioners helped in shaping Sojitz’s digital transformation journey. In addition, the comprehensive suite of solutions we provide helped to create a seamless and integrated journey.

Sentient.io Pte Ltd: Manufacturing is one of the fields in which our expertise, ie artificial intelligence, will be very useful, especially in the areas of defect detection and defect classification. These are specific areas of concern which manufacturers will experience, as the final goods need to go through quality inspection. As such, this technology will be very useful for all manufacturers.

TotalYmage Pte Ltd: Our augmented vision solutions allows industrial companies to work more efficiently. We are providers of simple solutions to help companies accelerate their digital transformation.

In Nittoku’s case, they were looking for a solution to help save their experts’ time; allowing their overseas technicians and clients to have full remote training for their machines set-up and procedures. Our proposal offers new ways of working and also greatly reduces training costs. This is because operators are
not required to travel overseas with the use of our solutions.

VooX Pte Ltd: By using our remote system software, Nittoku’s engineers in Japan can now direct the others remotely to re-assemble machines when they reach the overseas locations. Thus, the technology is used to connect people, solving the travel restrictions issue due to Covid-19.

Secondly, by using a digital platform, Nittoku is able to collect all the information about their customers’ machines as well. Having a digital platform like ours which allows employees to upload the machines’ information into cloud [storages], ensures that Nittoku’s customers and themselves can access the information anytime, anywhere. This really raises employees’ productivity.

Lastly, a singular dashboard will help the management team to look at all issues and machine installation status at one glance.

Question: What were some of the challenges faced during the proposal preparation stage and how did you overcome them?

entomo Pte Ltd: To compress what we will typically do over 12 weeks into a 2 to 3 week process was something we thought was going to be daunting initially. However, with the Sojitz team available for the co-creation sessions, the instant feedback we got from them, and more importantly, their openness to explore the platform’s possibilities, we were able to overcome this challenge together.

Normally [during pre-Covid days] we would have probably met face to face at least three to four times. The fact that we were able to conduct these meetings very quickly under time pressure over Zoom calls showed everyone’s collaborative efforts.

Sentient.io Pte Ltd: The projects we did previously were catered to specific customers. The challenge here is how do we reuse that [solution] for more customers. We need to figure out how to scale it up for the use of all manufacturers, as well as making the solution flexible enough to meet the needs of many customers.

It took us some time to make our previous solution more generic, so that it fits the requirements of all other manufacturers. We had to put in new technical solutions to make the solution more flexible.

VooX Pte Ltd: I thinkwe were one of the few companies which did a full demonstration based on the customer's environment. For this particular proposal, we wanted to develop a demonstration on how our solution will look like in Nittoku’s environment. So that was a challenge, as it took us about 1.5 to 2 weeks to craft the proposal. For the demonstration itself, we asked our guys to do some coding which took about 4 weeks or so, as such the timeline was a bit tight. But we felt that it was worth the effort, as Nittoku could really see how our solution fits into the real environment.

The second challenge was the difficulty in getting a machine to do the demonstration. It wasn’t easy during the pandemic [due to restrictions]. Our guys had to go down to the customer’s location for a discussion, and had the customer to give the consent to loan us a machine in the factory. This is so that we can build a demonstration around that life machine.

Question: How did the sharing and co-learning sessions help to shape your proposal?

entomo Pte Ltd: It was a very important phase for us as it helped us understand more about the appetite and boundaries of the client. This was the best part about the whole challenge - the ability to spend two to three weeks with the client - that's a luxury you don't have in many other places.

Sentient.io Pte Ltd: The sessions were good as we got to learn more about the challenges which IHI Asia Pacific Pte Ltd faced on the ground. This was important for us as we needed to hear directly from the challenge owner on their experiences. Understanding the experiences of the on-ground users helped to frame our solution in a way that’s going to be useful and meaningful for the end customers.

TotalYmage Pte Ltd: The goal was clear from the beginning [during the sessions], ie we had to create the digital documentations of Nittoku’s machines. With this clear objective in mind, we then defined our plan and included steps such as, training sessions for Nittoku Singapore’s team, creating the 360° video capture of the machines and the addition of their digital content. During these co-sharing sessions, Nittoku reviewed our work and provided us with feedback to enhance the digital content.

Question: What have you learnt from this program?

entomo Pte Ltd: One of the things Japanese organisations do really well is to give attention to details. While we looked at the big picture, we also made sure we understood the details at the same time. This was one of the learnings for us, ie a reminder that details are important.

The other thing we’ve learnt is about collaboration. The days leading up to Demo Day was a collaborative experience. In addition, when we were talking to Sojitz, we understood that they wanted to measure the howof things, instead of just the what. For example, how people are achieving their KPIs or performance metrics. This was a very interesting observation for us, because many organisations focus on the what, and here we saw equal consideration on the how part of things.

TotalYmage Pte Ltd: It was a very interesting experience,as we didn't know much about the digital transformation in Japan [before participating in this program]. To know that there’s an initiative on the corporate level to help Japanese companies accelerate their digital transformation is interesting. As a global company, we are also looking for Japanese partners. Thus, this program also helped us gain exposure to Japanese companies.

This program also helped Japanese companies to address their main issues and find solutions to improve their processes. It’s an interesting way to allow companies to reflect upon their business activities and redefine their digital strategies.

VooX Pte Ltd: I think bringing problem owners and problem solvers together in a setting to generate new ideas is a very good thing. It inspires creativity as technology helps solve problems. The role which JETRO and ICMG played was critical, as they introduced Japanese companies which had real problems but were not that in tune with the latest technology offerings to meet start-ups. This facilitator role was a good thing.

Most start-ups find it hard to grow after they’ve reached a certain point. As such, allowing Singapore start-ups to gain exposure to the international scene using this platform is a valuable thing.

Participating companies’ corporate profiles

With over 30 million users in its platform and global marquee clients, entomo is a modern performance management software built for the future of work. With operations spanning 15 countries, entomo powers organizations to build their tomorrow by aligning goals and driving performance behaviours with the use of personalized insights and nudges.

Sentient.io provides unique benefits to enterprises by making scalability a core and enabling easy extension to existing applications. The company helps software developers who have little or no AI skills create AI-enabled applications or AI-driven services by embedding AI capabilities into their applications via REST API calls.

Based in Switzerland, Canada and Singapore, TotalYmage provides immersive and interactive tools for the display and remote management of complex, distant or secure environments. Its patented 2D and unique 3D 360° videos augmented content management software helps employees to learn, operate and communicate remotely, providing them a sustainable and innovative digital workspace.

VooX is one of the world’s leading spatial based solution company. Leveraging on the fast-growing Chinese market and the world leading Fortune 500 companies, the company seeks to deliver productivity solutions to front line employees, using the latest technology in AI, spatial computing, human computer interaction and IoT.

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