Thursday, 30 July 2020

Business of Change: How a simple chatbot turned Singapore’s circuit breaker into a business opportunity

*Produced by SilverKris for DewTouch*

While Singapore leads the region in digitalisation, the past six months have shown that many enterprises are still vulnerable to disruptions. Across the city-state, hundreds of small to medium businesses (SMEs) and even departments within multi-national corporations (MNCs) have struggled to cope with remote work, changes to workflow and legacy IT systems that are unable to cope with the new normal.

For DewTouch founder Chua Aik Boon, the advantages of digitalisation were obvious well before Covid-19. Founded in 2012, DewTouch is the parent company of Fleetnetics, which develops software for car leasing and auto repair companies. Fleetnetics’ cloud-based solutions make remote work possible, automate time-consuming tasks such as invoicing, archive important data and more. DewTouch’s Foodnetics offers similar services to catering companies, speeding up business processes and eliminating human error in areas such as front-end web order forms, scheduling and delivery.

In recent months, Aik Boon has been busy pivoting to the demands of the circuit breaker, as well as helping his clients stay afloat. These challenges have resulted in exciting new innovations that have transformed both DewTouch and its clients.

Here, Aik Boon tells us about his most interesting new innovations, and the regional opportunities that nimble and lateral-thinking start-ups can mine.

DewTouch Fleetnetics
DewTouch developed Fleetnetics, an all-in-one cloud-based enterprise software for the automotive industry

How was business affected during the circuit breaker, and how did you respond?

Most of Fleetnetics’ vehicle rental company clients suffered from lack of customers – both tourists and Grab and Gojek drivers who rented vehicles from them. At the same time, the market saw an increase in e-commerce and food delivery services. DewTouch has catering businesses as clients through Foodnetics. These clients had huge orders to deliver food to various dormitories, but not enough drivers. I thought, “Can we match all these people up?” We quickly developed an autonomous chatbot to automate this process. Now, with access to drivers and jobs, our car rental customers can take up corporate contracts and become logistics companies as well.

Why did you go for an autonomous chatbot rather than a standalone app?

If we were to develop an app, for iOS and Android, it would take a lot of time and money. You wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre fast enough. So we decided on developing a Telegram bot. The Telegram app itself is very versatile, and it can be installed in anyone’s phone. In Singapore, we typically use Telegram for only one or two chat groups. Most of our social interaction takes place on WhatsApp. In fact, in the region, Telegram is underutilised, but it has a lot of interesting security features and functions that we can use quickly.

Singapore is way ahead in the region for digitalisation, but many of the SMEs and even corporate departments are at stage zero

It would seem like the opportunities are endless in that space right now.  

Yes, and this dispatch bot is just one of many bots we are building. We have another bot, Townetics, for our car workshop customers. It all started because during lockdown, people couldn’t take their cars to Malaysia for servicing anymore. But the uses are endless. What if you’re driving from Johor to Penang, and your car breaks down, and you don’t know who to call? A simple chatbot like what we’ve done asks simple questions: What’s your car plate number? Share with me your location. And we use that to match you with the nearest person who can rescue you.

DewTouch Fleetnetics
Some sectors are still not jumping onto the digitalisation bandwagon

Singapore leads the region in digitalisation. Are there gaps yet to be explored?

I agree that Singapore is way ahead in the region for digitalisation, but many of the SMEs and even corporate departments are at stage zero. When we first started, most of my customers were all using Excel, even the MNCs. That’s where we found a gap and capitalised on it.

What’s the regional applicability?

Without a cloud-based system like ours, Singapore companies would not be able to branch out into the region. These days, you can’t just send a person overseas. Singapore is such a small market, and companies have to look at ways to manage overseas subsidiaries. You may have a gigantic, million-dollar system in Singapore, but there’s no way for you to clone it overnight and deploy it overseas. So some big clients use us to help start a mini-start up in a new country. We are even talking to customers in the Middle East and various parts of the world.

You may have a gigantic, million-dollar system in Singapore, but there’s no way for you to clone it overnight and deploy it overseas

So you have to be lean and nimble like a start-up, despite being a decade old.

I call it a guerrilla way of doing business, and so far it’s been working for us. We hire people in the local market, and I already have programmers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. We also try to convert our overseas customers to become our distributors in the local market – chances are those bosses are looking for additional businesses, and they already know our system is good. This is quite unlike commercial businesses that set up a new office in each country. We are able to scale very quickly and effectively.

Digitalisation is crucial in streamlining operations

What are other advantages of digitalisation for SMEs?

When it comes to small family businesses, digitalisation can create value for the company, especially when the younger generation is looking to sell. Without a proper digital system and recurring income, who will buy your company? If there’s a family feud, for example – and these are not so unusual, even for huge corporations – digital systems can help manage breaking up companies into smaller ones.

DewTouch banner

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