December 2018

 

MARKETING FUTURES TAKES FUTURE MARKETERS TO IIEX APAC 2018 FOR
UNDERSTANDING INSIGHT AND INNOVATION FOR BETTER BUSINESS

Name a business that has sustained success without leveraging a real insight into the way people think or act or consume? Now name a business that continues to succeed without any innovation? “We do nothing new and have no idea what makes a difference” is not the claim of marketers who succeed. With change being the only constant and technology sweeping the ground beneath our feet every now and then, marketers are bestowed responsibility to drive innovation when it comes to attract new target group and sustain the loyal customer base.

Considering all these and more, it was wonderful for me to be able to chair a conference that focused totally on EXCHANGE of the newest ideas and trends to generate INSIGHT and propel INNOVATION. That was the intent of IIeX Asia Pacific 2018, held in Bangkok on 28-29 November. The latest installment of annual event had nearly 400 attendees from all over Asia listening to two dozen speakers talking about innovations like artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, the latest use of mobile and smartphone capabilities to innovate and gain new insight for better marketing. Fortunately, over 20 of the attendees were from Bangladesh. Our group, Marketing Futures, organized a block of enthusiastic marketers from companies like Mutual Trust Bank Ltd., Square Group, Ispahani and others to attend and gain new learning into the trends, which would be driving market research and how to be more innovative in the overall marketing endeavors. Below is a list of few key insights I would like to share with our readers:

Be people-centered
Adrian Terron, the head of customer centricity projects for TATA group made the point clear in an early keynote address. You can build all kinds of innovation and new products and services but the winners are those that focus on what real people want and how to help them and their communities attain whatever they want from life.

“Thank you, Dave and Faiyaz and the Marketing Futures crew, for organizing the IIeX Asia Pacific 2018 with so much perfection. Knowledgeable speakers, relevant content and good times.”
–  Samia Chowdhury, Senior Assistant Vice President, MTB Communications Department, Mutual Trust Bank

Exploring the way people react
Sometimes great insight only doesn’t suffice to usher in new innovation; one can do so by using old techniques in new ways and markets. Aung Thura from Myanmar shared great examples of using photographs instead of words to get reactions from potential consumers in research. In markets where people are not used to writing or even answering detailed questionnaires and where visual mediums like Facebook are increasingly becoming the most common way people communicate; the use of photos can help understand how people can communicate feelings, attitudes, and answers to question. His session initiated a lot of corridor conversations about the increasing role of photos/pictures/emoji as the primary form of literacy for many and the need to adjust communications and marketing to meet this reality.

“A great session; got to meet a good number of passionate marketers and researchers.”
–  Saimum Jahan Nishita- Sr. Brand Manager Square Foods and Beverages Limited

Craig Griffin shared research for pharmaceutical company Sanofi in China which focused on how to communicate with doctors. What was really interesting was the reminder that findings reminded us of what should be obvious: doctors are really just people. And they use and prefer the mediums that other people use as well. Want to reach doctors? Think about using social media to get their interest and remind them of what they should know.

The shopper experience is more interactive
There was a lot of sessions focused on the dynamic change happening in retail experience and the way we now have more tools than ever to understand how people shop.

The concept of real-time customer focus came up again and again as speakers like Grant Bertoli of Marketbuzzz highlighted how the use of ubiquitous smartphones means that taking photos as part of live feedback on retail or other experiences is increasingly a must for good research. Don’t just ask people what they think or experiences; get them to photograph the experience and report it live. Or make use of all those taps of keys. Greg Lipper of Happi in Singapore has developed a simple app based model that rewards shoppers for sharing information throughout their experience and get reward points for doing so. And in a “Happi” twist all those points can be assigned to your favorite charity, public cause, etc. So research and better understanding that can lead to real insight now also become an innovative means of helping those causes people care about.

“IIEX 2018 APAC brought by Marketing Futures was a great experience for new marketers from Bangladesh as we got to learn how other markets in APAC is applying digital medium and insights for their brands and products, altogether it was great learning for Ispahani Team.”
–  Subrata Deb, Sr Brand Executive – Ispahani Tea Limited

One of Asia’s leading shopping consultants, Mike Anthony of ENGAGE, focused on the simple message that all the new technologies need to be focused on a few simple things like understanding the interaction of on and offline experience. Too often retailers and brands at retail are not providing inter-connecting messaging, equal aesthetic appeal, parallel reactions to potential consumer interest and behavior.

Understand whom you are dealing with
Much of the content was focused on better understanding potential consumers and customers. My co-chairperson, Priscilla McKinney, came from the USA conducted great sessions and workshops on user persona profiling for better understand individual business partners, investors, and customers. Deeper approaches to understanding what drives their behavior and real insight into how to develop more rewarding relationships are extremely important for marketers of tomorrow.

“I learned how insight is helpful in context to social/cultural aspect to develop the design and creative piece, IIEX Apac 2018 brought to us by Marketing Futures had great speakers who carried vast experience in their respective areas, the sessions were very inspiring.”
–  Kawser Mahmud, CEO Karuj Communications.

Dangjaithawin Anantachi from Intage provided a wonderful session re-looking at the need to understand how what we do as professionals and companies are doing to really understand and contribute to social understanding. A great reminder that companies that succeed and people who are happy in their work have a common trait: a sense that they are doing something that is helping people.

“The Nestle case study was interesting and relevant for us.”
–  Head of Marketing Square Toiletries Limited

Fortunately the delegation from Bangladesh all seem to feel that attending IIeX Asia gave them valuable new ideas. And perhaps, more importantly, they agree that attending and understanding what is happening in markets across the region provides real value in finding growth for their own business. Thanks then to Marketing Futures partners like ICE Business Times, Digital Express, Karuj Communications for their support in putting together the opportunity to share the learning with interested companies.

Now let’s make sure that all future thinking marketers continue to learn and share best practice.

 

By Nazmul Karim Chowdhury

Advertising. Technology. Management. Three distinct siloed disciplines are now converging. As a marketing communications professional, while traveling along the path toward digital transformation, navigating the marketing complexities, technologies and organizational challenges on daily basis, I keep on re-examining my professional identity, role, and responsibilities, and realized, our role as marketers are changing. Our future role now lies with training ourselves fast as hybrid leaders charged with breaking down silos and assembling marketing and advertising technologies that deliver exceptional results for our organizations. But it’s not a solo journey.
There are many tech-savvy marketers blending diverse expertise to propel their careers and organizations into a more sophisticated and accessible future. Conferences such as ad: tech or MarTech are creating a huge opportunity to meet with our kind, learn from them, and train with them. Recently, I have attended the ad: tech Mumbai 2018 summit at JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai from 28-29 November 2018, where I got to see how tech-savvy marketers are blending diverse expertise to propel their careers and organizations into a more sophisticated and accessible future. Organized by Google and supported by organizations such as Adobe, Oracle, Shareit, Network 18 and many others, it was two incredibly intense days of sessions and networking; where I have received an unequaled chance to meet the peers and connect with leading marketing technology vendors. In this column, I will begin with the insights from two senior marketers from the region who have already set themselves apart from the dinosaurs of the industry.

BANKING THROUGH BOTS
The first session “My Kind of Banking – Data meets creativity to unleash consumer engagement” at the conference began with the keynote presentation by Niamh Byrne, Regional Head of Marketing, APAC and EMEA of Citibank N.A. Niamh took the stage with a question, “How do we engage the digitally savvy customers of today? The evolution of the marketing ecosystem has been levered by data insights and social media trends, and the digital age of financial services is very different today when engaging next-gen customers.”

She explained, “the world has changed rapidly from 2015 to 2018; world population has increased 5%, Internet users grew 34%, mobile user-base escalated to 41% and social media user-base jumped to 74%. The landscape in Asia is evolving very fast. Asia is the region where a group of diverse cultures and economies are moving at different speeds, with one common theme- change. She added, “What is working in Mumbai and Delhi might not work in Thailand so as a global bank we are thinking global but acting local.” While planning the marketing strategy, there are four areas she and her team keep into consideration; changing family structures, the influence of global culture on segments, the rapid expansion of technology and service economy and modernizing traditional values. “Citi at the moment is trying to think and act like an e-commerce venture and trying fast to partner across industries to be part of the e-commerce ecosystem.”

“Marketing experiences based on reliability, value, and influencers also need to be constantly evaluated. As people are consuming more content from digital media, the success will come from moving from mass marketing to personalization and gradually shifting to hyper-personalization.” In a nutshell, we need to reimagine the banking experience. Now the people are so demanding for a great experience, every time they are riding an Uber or Grab or booking a stay with Airbnb, they are encountering a great deal of digital experience and their desire to find similar experiences increases immediately from other brands that are currently part of their life. Even every device that Apple produces and launches making the anticipation much higher for other brands and the desire is always going up.

Niamh couldn’t be more right about our enhanced dependency on technology. We always want to be rewarded as consumers and always look out for next great thing. Simply think of our expectation from Netflix, we always look for the next great thing from Netflix. So, who is driving this desire? Maybe the millennials who are now the most emerging consumer base of the world. They are always waiting for the next big thing from their brands of choices.

In a recent research, Citi found how the millennials feel for their banks: “I would rather visit a dentist than visit a bank branch”. This single statement speaks volume about a consumer’s perception of the current banking system. Banks today, for them, need to provide personalized financial service and need to build products which are fully customized according to their requirement and served through the channels where they are and where they want to be. So, they must not be forced to come to the branches, should not be forced to log into online or so-called Internet banking and never dare to drag them to download a mobile application. “So when Citi thinks of building a relationship, we are constantly trying to figure out, how to discuss with these millennial customers about enriching their lifestyles through banking rather than discuss banking, “ Niamh said. So how does Citi tackle the challenge of creating more personalized experiences for the individual consumer? The bank doesn’t think about product lines anymore, the entire product development idea is based on human-centric intuitive design thinking. Therefore, whenever Citi wants to create any product idea it starts from the research and wants to know what should it offer to benefit a customer. “So the discussion in our boardroom ended up creating a more intuitive Chatbot to create a personalized experience for a customer and discarding the use of mobile app based online banking where someone is more concerned to observe auto log-out while completing a transaction. Similar tying up with WeChat in China – the largest digital mall of the world and collaborating with Alipay to facilitate seamless online purchase have made Citi propagate the idea ‘Be where your customers are so they don’t have to leave what they are doing’”, she explains.

DRIVEN BY THE DATA
Right after Niamh Byrne, Kaushal Kurapati, Group VP, Products, Global Oracle Marketing Cloud, Oracle Corporation, US took the stage saying, “Artificial intelligence won’t be replacing creativity in marketing anytime soon. Creativity needs common sense and it’s also uncommon for AI.” During his keynote, Kaushal shared his views on “How technology is changing consumer behavior and what we should look forward to in the future of marketing technology.”

He believes, Marketing is transforming because the consumer behavior is changing. If we now look at the number of devices that we keep at home that is connected to the Internet and receive information consistently through them, it’s changing their behavior significantly. So, as consumers we are changing, we are also forcing the marketing to change too.
And as marketers, if we don’t respond to that then we become irrelevant. Now, marketers need to own the entire customer lifecycle journey. For instance, we now live in moments where the behaviors are;

(I) watched | viewed | visited | searched | browsed | opened | clicked | bought | liked | reacted to | subscribed to | called for | tried | ate | consumed etc. etc.
If these are the usual behavior marker, we as marketers can predict what this customer group is likely to do next. If we analyze each behavior it will indicate us some key decision-centric behavior, if we look at the combination of those activities, it would indicate us something deeper and more comprehensive. And that’s the basic premise of using AI. By using Artificial Intelligence, consumer behavior can be measured, codified.

Kaushal strongly believes that marketing technology has heralded a new era for the domain. “Over the years print has given way to TV and TV now holds a big sway of advertising dollars. Also, the advent of performance marketing, the Internet and smartphones have unleashed new form factors and new ways of targeting consumers. All of this is primarily because technology is driving consumer behavior to change. Now marketers have to understand this difference in consumer behavior and be able to target appropriately. Otherwise, they will be missing a big opportunity,”
Underlining the difference between big data vs. quality data and the need to give precedence to the latter, we need to follow the consumers deeply and more precisely with the help of their data. If the data going in is noisy, then our prediction and our estimation and all of those factors will be bad as well. Smart businesses or smart organizations have to take care while considering data and a lot of people miss that point. So, it is not just about the amount of data but also the quality of data that is important.” Kaushal explained, “Many brands would like to monitor what is going on in the social media space and how people are talking about the brand in terms of the positive or negative sentiment.” “Also when it comes to mobile apps,” he keeps on to elaborate further, “they want to understand what happens to the customer journey as they come and navigate the site and also to understand the overall digital footprint.” According to him, digital marketing has eclipsed the need for performance marketing, so we need to teach our marketing team to be data-centric and learn to experiment by leveraging the power of data.
However, Kaushal mentioned, “We will see a unified data picture because there is still data in silos even in the advanced data markets. Figuring out what to recommend as a product based on what you already purchased would become more strategic in the future usage of marketing technology.”

HE ENDED HIS SESSION WITH SOME TIPS FOR FUTURE MARKETERS. HE THINKS MARKETER NOW MUST LEARN TO:
• Quantify consumer behavior
• Audience segmentation and targeting
• A/B testing,
• Site Optimization
• Predictive Journeys
• Right Message / right time: send time options
• Content personalization
• Campaign analytics
• Lead scoring
• Sentiment analysis
• Chatbots / Customer Service

Above all, Technology is enabling a new marketing dynamic which is making the task for marketers more insightful and efficient while also retaining its own set of complexities.
More to come in next month.

*THE WRITER is a Marcom professional

 

With so many companies opening up offices in Bangladesh in an ever-expanding NGO, garments and IT industries, we see a lot of expats coming in to work. It’s almost no news that the way they would like to think and perceive the surrounding and what they consider to be as acceptable work norm vary from our own. In an increasingly globalized world, more and more Bangladeshi professionals also find themselves traveling to new places and interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. During these interactions, it is important to be aware of the cultural differences and sensitivities of all parties involved. Minor cultural mishaps that are easily overlooked in social interactions can become serious transgressions when applied to the professional environment, where important business deals, respect, and goodwill are at stake. In both cases, we as Bangladeshis experience an acute culture shock while interacting with colleagues and stakeholders in a new environment abroad. How we prepare and cope with this shock defines our future success in the professional world.
We must take into consideration some very basic points and prepare ourselves mentally before getting into a new work environment where we have to interact regularly with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Below are a few questions every traveling business executive should ask himself or herself:

Do your peers come from a collective social background or a more individualistic society?
This is important because it can affect both the way the other makes decisions and the way they perceive you. Americans tend to be more individualistic and can be perceived as aggressive in their business dealings. Europeans tend to rely on input from a number of people. On the other hand, Asians wish to get to know you better on a more personal level before actually start dealing with you.

Finding out more about their background enables you to know how to approach them and break the ice early on. Synergy is important in corporate culture and knowing the mindset of your colleague will help you collaborate with them as well.

How do your colleagues communicate?
While in some cultures, expressing emotions during business dealings are acceptable, in others, such as with the Japanese, this is considered an inappropriate loss of self-respect. It is useful to find out what kinds of emotional expressions are considered negative by the counterpart in order to avoid making a bad impression. How you communicate will determine how fast you can manage the people around you and get things done quickly.

Is your new workplace formal or casual in approach?
It is important to know how people interact in your work environment. While for some cultures relative informality and familiarity among workmates are acceptable, for others it is a shocking sign of disrespect and a breach of personal space. While Latin-based cultures are generally noted for their warm behavior, they generally strictly adhere to a formal approach when addressing superiors or elders. British prefer to have a formal work environment as well where a clear chain of command and communication is appreciated. Dress code tends to be very important to Europeans. Americans tend to be very informal in their approach, communication and even dress code.

Do your colleagues value structure or flexibility?
Learning how a culture perceives time and deadlines can save a lot of confusion and frustration for everyone. German cultures are very strict about scheduling and structure, whereas the French perceive these to be less important than actually achieving the established objectives in a satisfactory and thorough manner. Knowing who you work for will enable you to establish a mindset that best suits your expectations and performance thereof.

But even after all the preparations, you may feel out of place. Coping with culture shock is not easy, as it doesn’t come from a specific event. It is caused by encountering different ways of doing things, being cut off from cultural cues, having your own cultural values brought into question, feeling that rules are not adequately explained, and being expected to function with maximum skill without adequate knowledge of the rules.

So you must learn to cope through the following:
• Learn as much as possible about your new organization and their background.
• Find logical reasons for cultural differences. Many have evolved over time for very specific purposes that are no longer apparent.
• Identify a colleague or mentor whom you can trust and discuss your problems. Mention specific incidents, tell how you would do it differently and ask what you must have missed in a particular encounter.
• Have faith in yourself that you will survive and cope and have a positive experience. This faith in yourself that you have the drive and energy to learn about a new culture will inevitably pay great dividends and make for the remarkable experience it should be.

Bangladesh is becoming a very important economic powerhouse. With this distinction comes the responsibility for us to grow and adapt as professionals. The only way we can do so is by understanding our limitations; if possible anticipate the impending culture shock, and prepare ourselves for it.

 

Amazon’s new Kindle Paperwhite is a must-have for serious readers

I was probably one of the first people in all my circles to move away from real books and start moving to electronic books, or ebooks, as they have been known for a while. It was quite a daunting task at that time, given the myriad of challenges and pitfalls awaiting me. The phones on which I used to get my reading done had diminutive displays with giant pixels, capable of viewing only a few lines of text at a time. The software I used for reading ranged from bug-ridden to downright unusable. And, worst of all, ebooks were not readily available anywhere aside from the seediest of piracy havens. It was painful, but the convenience of being able to read a book without having to carry around a paper brick was more than enough to keep me interested in it.

Fast-forward a dozen years, and ebooks are now all but ubiquitous. Services like Amazon’s Kindle eBooks and Apple’s iBooks have not only managed to turn ebooks into a mainstream and legitimately profitable enterprise but have also actually managed to put a sizable dent in the paper book publishing industry. Additionally, reading off screens has never been more comfortable, with even an average Chinese smartphone being endowed with a giant screen that was unimaginable in the times when I had first taken up reading ebooks. Tablets are also great for reading on the go, offering even more visual real estate. However, nothing feels more like reading a book than a dedicated ebook reader with an E Ink screen that emulates the glare-free appearance of paper to near-perfection. And in that department, Amazon’s 2018 iteration of its popular Kindle Paperwhite line of ebook readers is proving to be a smashing success in every regard.

The Kindle Paperwhite 2018’s biggest new feature is its new IPx8-rated waterproof design. This is a boon for voracious readers who don’t want to pause their reading just because they are chilling in a pool or a bathtub or soaking up some sun on a beach. The waterproofing not only ensures that the device can take its share of dunks and splashes (according to official announcements, it can survive being immersed for an hour under two meters of freshwater), but it also shows that the device is rugged enough to brave a bit of rough use.

The Paperwhite has a remarkably small form factor and weighs less than most modern smartphones at only 182 grams. At barely 8 millimeters thick, it can be slid into most bags or backpacks with ease and can be held up with minimal effort without straining the wrists. In fact, for people who enjoy reading while lying down, this ensures that accidentally dropping the Kindle on one’s face would not result in a smarting nose. However, given how well the Paperwhite feels in the hand and how easy it is to grip, it is not very easy to simply drop it by accident.

The six-inch touchscreen display of the Paperwhite has a pixel density of 300 PPI (pixels per inch) and is also capable of displaying up to 16 shades of grey, which means that any text being displayed on the screen will be wonderfully crisp, and the individual pixels would not be distinguishable unless the device is held very close to the eyes. As is the case with E Ink-based devices, the screen is devoid of glare, and it can be enjoyed to the fullest under bright sunlight or indoor lighting without having to worry about annoying reflections. The device is also perfectly suitable for reading in the dark, with its screen being evenly backlit by five white LEDs.

For some reason, however, the Paperwhite still makes use of a microUSB port for computer connectivity and charging, and it is a bit of a mystery as to why Amazon would go with microUSB as a connectivity option instead of adopting the new and rapidly spreading USB-C reversible connector. However, microUSB is still quite some ways away from becoming extinct, and finding a proper cable for the device should not be a huge problem.

On the wireless side of things, aside from the usual Wi-Fi connectivity (and cellular connectivity on certain models), the Kindle Paperwhite 2018 also brings Bluetooth to the table, allowing users to enjoy Amazon’s Audible audiobooks over Bluetooth earphones. The Paperwhite comes in two flavors when it comes to storage options, 8 GB or 32 GB. For users who prefer Audible audiobooks, the 32 GB variant is definitely a better buy, but for most regular readers, the 8 GB version (starting from USD 130) contains more than enough storage for hundreds of books.

Amazon sells a wide range of accessories for the Kindle Paperwhite, among which screen protectors and flip covers would go a long way to enhance the durability and preserve the physical integrity of the device.

Thanks to the superb efficiency of E Ink technology, the Paperwhite 2018 has remarkable battery life, lasting for several weeks on a single charge. E Ink displays drain the battery only while rendering a new page of text (e.g. when a book is loaded, a page is turned, or a menu is opened), but no charge is expended while a static page is being displayed. This has been a defining characteristic of the Kindle line of ebook readers, and the Paperwhite is no exception. The only downside to this is that it’s often far too easy to forget to charge the device on time, given that it is required so infrequently.

The software on the Kindle is simple yet elegant. Fonts, text size, margins, character spacing etc. can be adjusted quickly and easily to suit the preferences of individual users, and combinations of settings can also be saved as preset themes, giving the reader total control over the look and feel they prefer. Pages can be ‘flipped’ or ‘turned’ by simply swiping across the touchscreen. The device’s simplicity and no-nonsense approach toward reading and reading only is further enhanced by an absence of any superfluous input options aside from a wake-up button on the bottom.
While the Paperwhite 2018 isn’t the first waterproof Kindle, with last year’s Kindle Oasis being the first, it is the first truly affordable one of its kind, and it offers a distraction-free reading experience like no other. For people who cherish their reading time and want to make every second of it worthwhile, there is no better option for it for the price.

 

Water & Life, along with Shobar Jonno Pani Ltd. is creating a good living condition for slum dwellers

With an aim to improve the living conditions of poor slum dwellers through the access to essential services like drinkable water at home, sanitation, solid waste management, hygiene, civil security, Water and Life Bangladesh (W&L) started working in Dhaka in 2010. Currently, the NGO works in the slum of Bhashantek.

Based on a comprehensive approach and social entrepreneurship, Water & Life Bangladesh and Shobar Jonno Pani Ltd. have been working in Bhashantek since 2010. Shobar Jonno Pani Ltd (or SJP) is a social enterprise that acts as a local operator for water management and other essential services. It builds a water network and distributes good quality water in every house where local operators do not want to or cannot to invest.

In parallel, the non-profit organization Water & Life Bangladesh allows incubation of new services (such as access to rehabilitated latrines) and community mobilization through hygiene awareness session, firefighting training and creation of dwellers’ committees. Community engagement in WASH services delivery is vital in ensuring project sustainability. The beneficiaries are involved in a variety of key decision-making processes (e.g. on design, tariff, service, area demarcation). The inhabitants become actors of their own development without being the direct managers of the essential services, which requires the skills of an enterprise and avoids conflicts of interests.

The lives of the slum dwellers have numerous difficulties. According to W&L, the biggest challenge W&L Bangladesh would like to address is the lack of essential and safe services in urban slums such as water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste management, and firefighting. The lack of access to essential services leads to higher water-borne diseases incidence, because of unsafe water storage and consumption of poor quality water. Furthermore, the environmental conditions in the slums (clogged drains, waste thrown in ponds and low quality and unsafe latrines) are aggravating factors leading to an even higher incidence of diseases.

The organization provides access to safe running water in every house after constructing a water network legally connected to Dhaka WASA’s own network. The households have legal and sustainable access to water, available at all times of day and night. They pay a fee to cover their water consumption, which gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their individual tap.

W&L also trains brigades of firefighting volunteers into reacting to fire events occurring in the slum. The organization provides equipment and extinguishers to the brigades so as to increase their preparedness to disasters. Hygiene awareness-raising sessions are held for the community members to safely manage their water and increase their knowledge of best hygiene practices preventing water-borne diseases.

Since 2015, the organization has been providing a paid service for door-to-door solid waste collection. One year later, a pilot project for improved latrines access was inaugurated and will now be scaled-up at the whole slum’s level.

AS OF THE END OF 2018:
– l 7000+ people have sustainable access to safe water at home;
– More than 120 volunteer firefighters are trained and equipped in the slum;
– More than 1,000 people (mostly women and children) attend hygiene awareness-raising sessions every year;
– More than 1,000 people(mostly women and children) attend hygiene awareness-raising sessions every year;
– Almost 3,500 people get their waste collected every day at home;
– 1– beneficiaries have access to a renovated sanitary block of improved latrines in the slum.

 

Services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.
have changed the way we perceive televised content.

“Consumers are in control”. This might be the headline tomorrow if anybody decided to splash a story on television viewing across the front pages of newspapers, with the story beneath talking about how an ever-expanding array of channels, platforms, devices, experiences, and choices is positioning customers to dictate the future of television for a foreseeable amount of time.
The television industry is currently in a disarray, with multiple disruptions hitting it from all sides. For years, the model for broadcast has been simple – advertiser-driven. Advertisers paid the networks to broadcast their messages to a large group of TV households. For the cable industry, cable programmers used a subscription model, paying good money for good programming.
But now, the industry is in a turmoil, being turned upside down because of Internet connectivity in homes, Smart TVs and an ever-widening array of viewing options for people. Ultra-cheap streaming video options and television services are cutting into the market share of the long-time cable television powerhouses. Television appears to be assailed by a range of digital challenges, but how is it faring in this environment?

SUBSCRIPTION VIDEO-ON-DEMAND – A BLESSING OR A BANE?
Proclamations of doom by commentators on the internet about the future of television are easy to find. Every major technological advance, such as the Internet and tablets has prompted a flurry of misguided obituaries for traditional television.

But regardless, traditional television’s current nemesis is subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), a service that delivers television programming via broadband networks. This is seen primarily as a challenge to traditional pay-TV providers but is also perceived as a potential threat to free-to-air broadcasters. SVOD competes for spend, as well as for on-screen talent, programme producers and writers, and viewer attention.

Faster and better broadband have made SVOD a commercially viable proposition, and user numbers and revenues both appear to be growing rapidly. The best-known SVOD provider, Netflix, has over 50 million subscribers in over 40 countries; and investors’ faith in the company is such that as at the beginning of August 2014 its market capitalization was over $25 billion. The critics have been impressed too. Netflix had 31 nominations (compared to HBO’s 99) in the 2014 Emmys for shows for which it is the distributor.

However, research by Nielsen has found that SVOD is only a small part of overall viewing: among the top 20 percent of US viewers who used streaming to get programmes, their average streamed content was 22 minutes per day, compared with an average of 242 minutes for their watching of live TV.

At the same time, most discussions about SVOD focus on new players in the TV space, most commonly Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. However, the SVOD market globally also includes services provided by traditional pay-TV companies and free-to-air broadcasters, many of which are extending their SVOD offer, including giants such as HBO in the US and Hotstar by Star India.

DOMINANCE IN SPORTS BROADCASTING RIGHTS, BUT FOR HOW LONG?
The total value of global premium sports rights in 2017 stood at $47 billion as per Inside Sport. Key drivers of the increase are new domestic broadcast deals for major North American sports properties, namely the NFL, NHL, and NASCAR, all of which are delivering a substantial uplift in rights fees compared to previous deals.

Many commentators continue to ask when the sports rights value ‘bubble’ will burst, leading to stagnating or declining rights fees. Consulting giant Deloitte’s view is that rights fees for live rights to premium properties will continue to grow.

The premium live sport continues to deliver large audiences, typically with an attractive demographic profile. It drives subscriptions and can generate advertising for broadcasters, particularly in an increasingly diverse media landscape. The development of pay TV, in particular, has transformed the broadcasting of premium sports leagues. Live content is a key subscription driver and underpins pay-TV business models. As the pay-TV subscriber base rises and revenue per user grows, operators are investing increasing sums to secure this key content.

Along with substantial growth in rights fees, there continues to be further investment in the quality of broadcast production for sports. Premium rights owners face a continual challenge to ensure cutting-edge broadcast quality, for example by evaluating the viability of coverage in ultra-high definition.

It is important for broadcasters and production teams to review continually the technologies available to them, in order to enhance the value that their viewers derive from watching sport. For the television experience, this includes UHD, super-slow motion and an enhanced choice of live matches. On-demand services available to viewers include camera angles, player tracking, instant replays, statistics, and commentary. Making all of this available, not only on the television but also through any other device that fans may want to use, should increase the perceived value of the experience, even if these additional viewing options are seldom exercised.

At the same time, such on-demand innovative delivery can be made via channels such as smartphone application, similar to how ESPN has been operating over the past few years. Rather a worrying prospect is the selling of premium sports right to social media platforms, such as the case of Facebook buying rights to show La Liga games in India.

CAN THE TELEVISION INDUSTRY COMPETE IN TERMS OF INNOVATION?
If you were to ask a hundred senior executives to name five innovative companies, you would likely end up with a list dominated by Silicon Valley’s finest but bereft of traditional media companies. If you were to compare the research and development budgets of the top ten technology companies with those of broadcasters, you might struggle to find sufficient broadcasters with R&D teams of any scale.

This does not imply, however, that the traditional television industry is not innovative. Rather it reflects popular perceptions of ‘innovation’ which tend to focus on disruptive technology-centric innovations, such as the self-driving car, delivery by drone or tablet computers.

Television’s innovations are typically smaller in scale and greater in quantity: the aggregate of all these changes over the last decade is a television service which for consumers and suppliers alike is distinct from a decade back, and which has retained audiences and grown revenues despite the recent surge of digital and digitally-enabled distractions.

The TV industry has survived this decade of change through reinventing itself technologically across multiple aspects. Production quality has improved markedly: the majority of footage from just a few years back is markedly dated. The TV has also become more agile in delivering stories by exploiting advances in connectivity. For example, news broadcasters are using multiple 3G and 4G channels simultaneously to deliver a high-quality feed from wherever there is sufficient mobile coverage, rather than having to wait for the satellite truck.

The distribution of television pictures has undergone profound change over the past decade. The majority of broadcasters in Europe have successfully migrated to digital terrestrial transmission, increased their HD offer and launched on-demand services. There has also been innovation in the financing of programming, with initial funding being raised from a variety of rights – from streaming on mobile to subscription video-on-demand in other territories – in addition to the first broadcast. Crowdfunding is also being used – it provided the money needed to revive Veronica Mars: fans raised $5.7 million to bring the title back to life.

TELEVISION’S EVOLUTION IN THE LONG-TERM
Looking ahead, television will continue to evolve – as it has no other alternative. Change is likely to continue to be characterized by multiple increments, some taking many years to deploy fully, rather than dramatic change.

Online delivery of television programmes will become steadily more popular and more voluminous. Viewers will expect the quality of on-demand delivery to be similar to that offered by broadcast, even though the underlying technologies are very different: the Internet,after all, was not designed for real-time delivery of content. Broadcasters, SVOD providers and network operators will need to work together to architect networks so as to be able to replicate the broadcast experience.

Today’s television still largely resembles that from a decade back: channels, story arcs, peak programming timings are all constants. But at the same time, TV has become profoundly different, production quality has ratcheted up, formats are more refined, there are more channels, there is more choice over when and where to consume. The consumer’s response to this has been to largely carry on as before: the majority of viewers choose to watch in the living room, live, in the evening, with adverts, in the company of people, and with the TV tuned to the channels that dominated ten years ago; teenagers and older children living at home, choose to watch in their bedrooms, but on laptops now, and not on portable TV sets. Television has innovated and is adapting to the digital world, and for now, its consumers have largely chosen to stick with it. But things may be totally different five years down the line. Are TV channels ready for that revolution?

 

If you know anything about the digital age, it is that invention and Innovation will drive the growth rate of a country. With such high expectations, we often revere the entrepreneurs and laud the venture capitalists that have invested in startups and thus help transform those startups to scale up. And so while the entrepreneurs are treated as the modern day rebels, the venture capitalists have been given the coveted position of the trusted sidekick; sturdy, reliable and essential to the hero’s success, all for a little piece of the action of course.

The venture capital scene in Bangladesh has been experiencing a spike of activities with the recent successes of several startups. The success stories of these startups litter the popular media and further adds to the growing romanticizing of the industry as the trusty sidekick. However, it is essential to separate the realities of the industry from the myths in order to understand how the industry functions and this is especially true for aspiring entrepreneurs.

VC IS WHAT MITOCHONDRIA IS TO THE CELL
Venture Capitalist (VC) firms are the powerhouse behind a company whose job is to see the startup through its early phases all the way to Initial Public Offering (IPO). With promises of high return, these VC firms, invest the much-needed fund and dispense the much sought-after advice that has proved to be indispensable for newcomers. However, investing in these startups is risky business since if the business goes belly up than the VC firms have effectively lost all their investment. As a result, many venture capitalists firms are given the power to influence major decisions for the company they are investing in. Just like mitochondria provides the required energy for the cell, VCs do the same for new businesses.

VCS ARE DIFFERENT FROM ANGEL INVESTORS
Repeat to yourself: Angel investors are not Venture Capitalists. Angel investors, also known as business angels, invest their personal funds in a business. These are rich, influential individuals who have chosen to invest in a high-potential firm for a stake at the company. But don’t let the ‘angel’ tagline confuse you; these investors also want a piece of the profit pie. There are some other notable differences between the two investors.

Angels and VC, invest in different phases of the company. Angels usually invest in early-stage businesses and early market entry whereas VC firms are more likely to invest in firms with a proven track record. Similarly, the two investors differ in investment amounts and responsibilities.

VENTURE CAPITAL IN BANGLADESH
Bangladesh has seen a surge in startups in recent times some of which have experienced phenomenal success. Take the case of ShopUp. This fin-tech platform helps the micro-entrepreneurs to automate online sales while providing greater access to finance all with the help of Facebook. The company announced that it has raised $1.62 million in seed money from Omidyar Network; an investment firm that was founded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. There was also some angel investor in this round from the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Grab and so on.
Local investment firms have made enormous contributions to the startup culture of Bangladesh too. Doctorola.com was able to snag a huge investment by BD Venture Ltd., a local venture capital firm. Similarly, Chaldal, a delivery startup, raised $5.5 million series A funding from International Financial Corporation (IFC) with participation from Bangladeshi firms such as IDLC Finance limited and Y Contributor.

Given that the financial system in Bangladesh is mostly bank based, the emergence of Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NBFI) is truly a godsend. While banks are more willing to bet on companies that have a long history of solid track record, NBFI’s are more lenient towards startups. As of January 2018, 11 venture capital firms have registered with the government, providing three forms of capital; private equity fund, venture capital fund, and impact fund. These firms have produced success stories the likes of Popular Pharma, which had been bankrolled by Brummer & Partner Asset Management.

Despite such progress, you can often hear outcry by the local entrepreneurs about the lack of availability of finance. Shawkat Hossain is the Managing Director of BD Venture Limited and he has been vocal about how the lack of VC in Bangladesh has impacted the startup scene. Hossain believes that while 11 firms are registered with the government, a few of them are actively seeking out new investment opportunities and even fewer are actually operational. But the woes of the industry do not end there. Venture capital firms usually invest when the company has reached a mature stage, having been backed by angel investors in the beginning phase. And for some reason, there has been a stark absence of angel investors in the startups of Bangladesh.

Regardless, companies such as the BD Venture Ltd. has striven to provide seed money to SMEs and startups. Venture Investment Partner Bangladesh Limited (VIPB) specializes in providing funds to SMEs in the rural regions of Bangladesh and as of date has funded the rise of 500 SMEs in poor regions.

NEXT IS WHAT
As it turns out, just making the funds available through the VC firms to aspiring entrepreneurs simply won’t cut it. Entrepreneurs often complain about the local firms often have stringent term sheets and valuation of the business and have termed such behavior to be outright conservative and demotivating. However, Shawkat Hossain has news for them. Hossain believes that such a conservative attitude towards investing and valuation of the business is not unique to the Bangladeshi market and is, in fact, a worldwide phenomenon. Furthermore, he has stated there exists an expectation gap between the entrepreneurs and the investors, which can be termed as a lack of business acumen in part of the local business owners.

This lack of acumen can be deftly chalked up to a lack of experience by local firms and has been a major source of challenge for the venture capital firms. Local enterprises might have very promising ideas with a strong leader at its helm, but their lack of business experience can translate as unpreparedness for investment readiness. This simply means having issues such as improper account books, problems with the valuation of the company leading to an expectation gap and lack of effective instrument such as convertible bonds.

Lack of regulations also plagues the industry. Startups usually lack property, equipment’s or any item, which can be used as collateral, which means higher risk for the VC firms. Hence the VC firms might ask for a greater share of the equity in the firms.

While the country is brimming with potential, it is important to recognize that we need to focused attention on certain sectors of the economy in order to fast-track our growth. Having a reliable source of funds is a great way to ensure that entrepreneurs are able to contribute to the countries GDP while furthering the goals of the nation. Venture capitalist firms are an excellent form of investors that can help the local enterprises and encouraging further venture capital firms to begin their operations in Bangladesh will greatly aid our local enterprises.

There are 7.7 billion people in the world, producing over 2,500,000 terabytes of data every single day. We can also say that, on an average, every person living in Bangladesh is currently creating 13.5 MB of data every hour. The number of internet subscribers in Bangladesh as of April 2018 was at 86 million, and with the current government in pursuit of Vision 2021, this number is only expected to go up. Given these astonishing data and in the era of IOT (Internet of Things), where does Bangladesh stand when it comes to protection of data?

With the help of the internet, almost all products and services are simply a click away. Any transactions as such require us providing information like our name, address, contact number, email address, credit/debit card numbers, etc. to organizations engaged in e-commerce. We as consumers are not always aware of how this plethora of information will be used by these organizations. Sometimes the intention is as obvious as using the data to track sales, build relationships with customers, or design marketing campaigns targeting them. However, at times for the ease of collection of data, organizations store them in insecure locations, share with third parties, or if the worst comes to the worst, even sell them for their own benefits.

Concerns about how much data is collected, for what purpose, privacy losses, security risks, and other consequences have been growing worldwide. This is also true for the brands themselves. A research undertaken by data management specialist Ensighten this year has revealed that close to half of all enterprise brands believe they have a probable (or greater) risk of a website data breach. And they should be concerned because data breach also affects their own reputation in the market. According to a study done by Ping Identity across the US, UK, France, and Germany, around 50% of consumers will not sign up or use an online service or application that has experienced a data breach.

In September 2018, around 380,000 transactions in the British Airways website were exposed to hackers who may have stolen names, addresses, email addresses, card numbers, expiry dates, and even CVV security codes, which gives an extra layer of protection for online transactions. The brand’s ‘impression score’, which measures whether someone has a positive or negative impression of the brand, fell significantly after the incident. However, some of the damage was contained by British Airways by acknowledging the data breach, apologizing to the public, and contacting all affecting customers via email immediately after they realized it. The Ponemon Institute, in its “Cost of Data Breach” (2013) study found out that a single data breach, on average, costs over USD$500,000 for companies.

With all these statistics at hand, let us analyze the situation in Bangladesh. The e-commerce business has been expanding at a rapid rate, crossing $110 million (around 900 crore taka) in 2018, growing from $65-70 million in 2016. The market size is expected to reach the 70 billion Tk mark by 2021. There are around 100 formal e-commerce players in the market, while it is being flooded by the “informal” f-commerce platform which now contains 10,000 – 15,000 companies. Although there have been only a few incidents of data breaches, the recent accusation against the ride-sharing app Pathao has made headlines and caused much clamor on social media. Pathao is the most successful ride-sharing Bangladeshi brand valued at over $100 million and had recently received an investment of more than $10 million from Indonesian firm Go-Jek. Today the organization has 50,000 motorbikes in its network and a team of 500 users with its operations in three cities in the country.

In November 2018, a young systems analyst based in Dhaka released findings from his investigation about the app’s access to user data and mentioned that Pathao is “stealing information and storing it in a server” without informed consent from its users. He mentioned that from the consumers’ end, there is a general lack of understanding of the significance of allowing an app to access other apps and functionalities of the smartphone. He then compared the app with its competition Uber which only asks for user’s location at the time of installation. He demonstrated his findings through an on-hand evaluation of the app on a video, which went viral in social media. The brand acknowledged that they had been collecting SMS and contact lists from the users but claimed that the information is safe and secure with them. They also released an update of the app within a day changing its installation policies. However, many users abandoned the app claiming that they do not trust the brand anymore.

Data protection laws are also globally rising in numbers, the recent comprehensive law being the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into effect in May 2018, strengthening the consumer rights and hold businesses more accountable to the people whose data they collect. Even our neighbor India enacted specific Data Protection Rules and a consolidated Privacy Bill namely the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 has been proposed, prescribing how the organizations should collect, process, and store consumer data, making individual’s informed consent central to data sharing. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on Data Protection Regulations (2016), there are around 108 countries with either comprehensive data protection laws or partial data protection laws. Unfortunately, Bangladesh is not one of them.

There has been a growing demand for enacting data protection laws to ensure the safety of digital personal data collected by e-commerce platforms in Bangladesh. The government has approved the draft of a digital commerce policy to make e-commerce and digital transactions safer and easier with the aim to protect the interests of traders and consumers. While complying with policies like this can mean more work for the brands, it will also sow benefits for them in the form of trust of the consumers.

The truth is consumers want and will be desiring more control over personal data. It is important for the brands involved with e-commerce to recognize this growing need and be on board. The marketers often make the mistake of recognizing trust as one of the many factors that affect consumer decision. However, it is sometimes simpler than that. Sometimes, mistrust can be the single thing that makes a consumer turn away from a brand.

Collecting and protecting consumer data more carefully and with transparency can boost a brand’s reputation and increase brand love and loyalty. This can be done by giving the consumers full control over the types of data they share, explaining to the consumers what they will be receiving by sharing their personal data, and providing them with tools that easily allow customers to edit their privacy settings.

Building a safer digital world for all of us is extremely important; how fast and effectively we can do that is the question we should ask the government, policymakers, private sectors, and tech experts. Because a mammoth task like securing zillions of data for the greater good cannot be done without everyone’s concerted effort.

 

*As narrated to Irfan Aziz by Din M Shibly

A glimpse into Bangladesh’s disappearing natural reserves

One of the biggest challenges to climate action is not only understanding the risks of flooding, extreme heat and land subsidence, but how our community might respond to these risks. What are the community’s strengths? How might the existing system make the best use of current capacities and address weaknesses?

A string of villages lining our coastal areas are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as rising seas, storms surges, land subsidence (sinking), changes to rainfall and increasingly stronger cyclones. Kutubdia, one of Bangladesh’s oldest villages, is one cyclone hit away from being wiped off the map. Heavy cyclones have ravaged the village of Dhalghata, and unprecedented loss of embankments have caused the villagers to live as refugees in their own land. The Cox’s Bazaar – Teknaf Marine drive, which took 12 years to construct, is almost entirely by the sea and constantly at the risk of being swallowed by inundation. In order to fully protect this road from rising tides and sea level, and introduce newer technology to build stronger embankments, the government will need to spend twice as much as it cost to build it over the next 25 years.

While, multistoried houses can be one solution to villagers losing their homes – the hour has come for the government to prioritize our coastal areas and construct a plan ahead that will conserve our natural jewels for years to come.

Sharaitala, Dholghata, Cox’s Bazar.
September 04, 2018

UNFULFILLED DREAMS
Muhammad Yasin (9) was a kindergarten student when this school was being built in the middle of the village. The Sharaitala Govt. Primary school was abandoned in 2015. After the 1991 cyclone, most of the embankment surrounding the village was wiped away. As a result, the village got smaller as the year went by. By 2011 due to the embankment being broken down constantly, no much of the village remained and within the next five years, the villagers had become refugees.

NEW HOPE
Lands in Madartola village will be available for cultivation (Rice) in about a month. Water in the river Shalta is sweet now and the switch gates are opened on a weekly basis in order to bring water inside. Barriers (Polder) have been built around the villages in Dumuria sub district in Khulna district to protect these low land from salty sea water. As a result, these villages can grow crops twice a year.

Madartala, Shuvna, Dumuria, Khulna.
November 08, 2018

RISING EXPENSES
The Cox’s Bazaar-Teknaf Marine drive road is almost 100km. It took around 12 years and almost BDT 450 crores to construct it. Almost the entirety of the road is by the sea. In order to fully protect this road from rising tides and sea level, and introduce newer technology to build strong embankment, the government will need to spend twice as much as it cost to build it over the next 25 years.

Marine Drive, Cox’s Bazar.
September 02, 2018

Dhalchar, Char Fashion, Bhola.
November 16, 2017

THE RISE OF SEA LEVELS
The island that emerged on the Bay of Bengal with the deposit of silt for the last 100 of years, is already at the verge of extinction, triggered by the rise of the sea level due to global warming.
If the rising temperatures are constantly neglected, it is assumed that by 2050, the sea levels will rise by approximately 0.5 meters. This will cause 2251 square kilometers or 42% land of the Sundarbans to sink. It will also cause 25 lac(2.5million) people in major coastal districts to be inundated, as the water will wipe out about 2000 square kilometers of land.

Cox’s Bazar.
May 21, 2016

HE UPHEAVAL OF OBLITERATION
The coast of Bangladesh is regularly hit by cyclones moving from the Indian Ocean northwards up the Bay of Bengal. The coastline is shaped like a funnel, directing the storms towards landfall. In 1970 a cyclone hit the coast of Bangladesh, killing more than 3,00,000 people, and in 1991 over 1,38,000 lives were lost by a cyclone of similar strength. Cyclone Roanu which was a relatively weak tropical cyclone hit the coast of Bangladesh in May 2016 with and had caused the deaths of around 30 people.

West Char Dhurang, Kutubdia Island.
November 16, 2017

ON THE EDGE OF UNCERTAINITY

Diluara Begum (55) lives in the far northern end of the Kutubdia Island which is under threat of being completely destroyed. Her livelihood is one cyclone away from being wiped out but unfortunately, she has no place to go. In 2016 the cyclone Roanu ruined all the embankments and barriers protecting the island. Due to constant climate change and depressions in the sea take the form of frequent cyclones. Even though casualties have decreased, crops and lands cannot be saved in any way.

Dhaldata, Moheshkhali, Cox’s Bazar.
September 05, 2018

HAVEN FOR THE REFUGEES
A cyclone shelter built after the 1991 cyclone by an NGO in Dhalghata, Cox’s Bazar which is nearly abandoned now. The shelter has been taken over by the Shraitala Govt. Primary School. They took refuge in it in 2014 after becoming forced migrants due to climate change. The shelter requires substantial renovation in order for it to be suitable to protect people.

WREAKING HAVOC
Cyclone ‘Mora’ first hit the mainland of Bangladesh with a blow to this village. One-fourth of the land of ‘Majher Para’ of the island Shah Porir Dwip is now inundated beneath the sea. Majority of the people have been forced to abandon their home. Three other villages used to precede Majher Para but hey are all under the sea now.

Majher Para, Shah Parir Dwip, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar.
September 02, 2018

West Char Dhurang, Kutubdia Island, Cox’s Bazar.
April 07, 2018

ALL FOR A CHANGE
Kutubdiya is one of Bangladesh’s oldest islands. A good portion of this island has disappeared from Bangladesh’s map due to rising tides. Rising tides mean that the rest of the island is also under threat. Outdated technology available in the islands is not sufficient enough to stop erosion from the tides. Newer technology needs to be introduced for which hefty investments need to be made.

Jhulonto Para, Kalabogi, Dakop, Khulna.
November 09, 2019

A SERIOUS CRISIS
Drums and ‘Motkas’ storing rain water from the rainy season don’t event take a month to finish in the villagers of ‘Jhulonto Para’. The water that surrounding the village is not drinkable due to the presence of high level of salts. There are no fresh sources of water around the village either. This is why women in the area have to travel long distances to collect fresh water.

BUILD THE WALLS

‘Jhulonto Para’ is a village situated beside the Shibsha, a sea connected river to the Sundarbans in Khulna. Residents living there have to settle in little huts that have been elevated from the ground. The entire village has to endure incoming tides twice per day during rainy season. A huge amount of investment is required in order to bring these villages inside a dam (Polder) and prevent the people and their crops from being destroyed.

Jhulonto Para, Kalabogi, Dakop, Khulna.
November 09, 2018

Char Kalatoli, Monpura, Char Fashion, Bhola.
July 23, 2017

HARSH REALITY
Char Kolatoli is newly established island in the River Meghna which is part of the island Monpura. It was a reserve forest 15 years back but due to pressure of increasing landless migratory people of Bhola district, it is now the biggest destination to establish new home. It is an island with at least three thousand families but it doesn’t have any embankment around it. This is not a photograph of flood effected area but everyday reality of the people of Char Kolatoli.

*Photographs By Din M Shibly

 

The RMG industry has been one of the largest contributors to Bangladeshi exports over the years and a substantial contributor to the growing GDP. This industry has, to date, employed an estimated 4.4 million people, out of which 80% of workers are women. This has contributed to both economic growth and social development in the country. The availability of a large and cheap labor pool has created a favorable environment behind such exponential growth. Bangladesh is still the go-to destination for core garments like shirts, t-shirts, and trousers, because of low Free-On-Board (FOB) costs and high productivity.
However, the past few years have seen a significant shift in global fashion trends. The ready availability of high fashion garments with low lead times which is the time taken from the release of an order to production and shipment has emerged as an important factor for the industry. This fetches high FOB which results in better returns. The quantity per style of garment has also reduced and the number of styles per season has increased. This requires low lead times, and capacity to handle ever frequent style changes. According to industry insiders and technical experts, around 70% of the total manufacturing cost of an apparel product is fabric. This single cost can be reduced by around 10% with the introduction of new cutting technology. This is where ThreadSol steps in.

ThreadSol is a software company founded in 2012, with its headquarters based in Singapore. Operational in Bangladesh since 2014, ThreadSol brings new-age technology used worldwide, like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and IoT-based Mobility, to the apparel industry. ThreadSol products directly impact the P&L of businesses by targeting their biggest cost, the cost of fabric. The products have a sharp focus to deliver enhanced visibility, process control, and cost competitiveness.

The current planning and manufacturing process is largely human-centric, and this makes it prone to errors with its limited bandwidth. In order to see improvements in this space, there is a need for heavy investment in skilled manpower. However, this could lead to high running costs to ensure continuity of results and detainment of resources. But worker migration impacts the quality of results, leading to planning prone to errors, slow response time affecting lead time and causing production delays.

Also, as a consequence of human bandwidth, the solution space for planning issues is limited. AI ensures accuracy, quick response time, and with neural network assisted learning it only gets better with time. It has zero running costs and ensures cost effectiveness, accuracy, and speed. The thriving need of the industry for a credible and intelligent product which reduces the biggest costs in manufacturing: labor and fabric cost, is very smartly accomplished by ThreadSol products which encompass some very exclusive benefits for the global apparel industry.

The newest addition to the ThreadSol product line is IntelloCut Version 2.0. IntelloCut V2 was developed to provide manufacturers with the edge to automate their planning process which will reduce material wastage by using effective concepts of fabric utilization. This software meets the diverse requirement of fashion manufacturers across the globe to counter fast fashion problems and brings them closer to attaining the vision of wastage-free factories. IntelloCut V2 claims to reduce the order planning time from 25-30 min to just under 6 min. Moreover, it makes AI based decisions by planning small markers to use all the end bits on the floor. It is mobile-driven and generates a score of automatic reports, which are available on mobile phones.

The garment business is extremely competitive, but manufacturers can position themselves for breakthrough profits and improved customer service by focusing on managing material cost. The advantages of adapting technology in the garments sector are very clear as it will draw the attention of global buyers giving Bangladesh a cutting edge to help it remain the second-largest manufacturer of apparel products in the world.

Best in the Class

In conversation with Syed Naved Husain, Group Director, BEXIMCO

Syed Naved Husain
Group Director, BEXIMCO

What are the current RMG industry challenges you face, competing with other countries for orders? How is the industry tackling high fashion trickling into Bangladesh?
I think Bangladesh is very well placed, the reason being we have a population of 160 million, of which 80 million people are between the age of 20-30, and 80% of the foreign exchange of the country comes from the needle-work and RMG export. This is changing but it won’t change very quickly. Since we are not making bullet trains, we are not super big in IT, we are not in a hurry to start making aircraft, the garment industry which is the biggest employer will give Bangladesh a competitive advantage for the next 20 years. The minimum wage is now 8000 Tk, roughly about 30-35% increase of what it used to. After the increase, the cost per minute is still one of the lowest in the world. The garments owners here made big investments in machinery and in automation. This has helped attain higher efficiency and enhanced productivity. We have ten of the world’s best green factories, which are Leed Platinum certified. The other thing is that because of Accord & Alliance, Bangladesh’s record in terms of structural, fire and electrical safety is best amongst the apparel producing countries of the world.

Looking from a geopolitical scenario, the current US-China trade war benefits Bangladesh, Sourcing from China has become very expensive plus due to their increased domestic demand, big buyers are looking for alternate destinations and Bangladesh certain has a competitive advantage from that point of view. Myanmar has had its own issues due to the Rohingya crisis. Vietnam is very good but it is becoming expensive and again thanks to the current Trump Administration for not going with the TPP. This will be helpful for Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the main challenges are still the lack of infrastructure and energy supply. The latter is being worked on; similar progress is happening when it comes to the port. The government has been helpful in both cases. Both the government and the opposition have quite a stake in the garment industry because it provides 80% of the export earnings.

Is the RMG industry prepared to cater to ever-changing demands of high fashion based mfg?
Yes very much so. In the sense if you take BEXIMCO itself, we have a design studio in Spain, North America; we have design and product development centers in Hong Kong and China and there are a massive design and production center in Dhaka where we produce more than 15000 samples a month. We actually ship 250,000 garments per day so when we go to our customers we play the whole symphony: we sell tops, bottoms, knits, men, women, kids apparels and we approach the customer with our collection. Now we have moved into retail, so from cotton to retail, and I think that’s the direction that the big Bangladeshi players are taking. That’s the direction that the international brands and international customers want to go to: from a photo to a proto.

In the old days, someone would sit and make multi-page product pack telling you exactly what was needed, the measurements and all that, then you had to do a tailoring job. Now the focus is on co-creation. Better engagement between customer and manufacturer on new developments, trends, what to sell, etc. Sometimes with PVH, there are fabrics which we are jointly patenting together, and that connects the buyer with the manufacturer who then connects to our suppliers like Hunstmen, InVista who are also doing research on dyes and chemicals. It’s become an integrated industry where design and product development are taking place both ways. From the design point of view, Bangladesh has a rich cultural heritage and that’s now being translated into design and product development. I also think whether it’s food, film or fashion, consumers are more into fusion these days and that gives us an opportunity to be more interconnected and learn from each other.

What made you choose ThreadSol?
Every morning when you wake up, every manufacturer in every country is trying to steal your lunch, which means the competition is fierce and only the best and the most efficient ones would survive. Therefore, BEXIMCO wants to be the best in manufacturing with a huge factory on a 350-acre campus where 40,000 people are working. Our activities start from procuring cotton. We are shipping 2,50,000 garments per day. All these require seamless monitoring to track our activities, to make sure that we can avoid wastages as much as possible.

We chose ThreadSol for a number of reasons. 60% of the cost (FOB cost) of the garment is going behind the fabric. 15% is trimmed, and the rest is other stuff. How to cut efficiently to save fabric can breathe new lifeline in our business. If you don’t do it right it can kill you, and ThreadSol has done a fantastic job in that area. A number of companies like Lectra and Gerber showed us how to save fabric by making a more efficient marker, but ThreadSol came with this unique proposition that they allow us to save the fabric at the pre-cutting stage and shows us how to lay. So by using we had savings of 2-4% in the fabric. If you take 2-4% savings on half a million yards of fabric per day, that amounts to a lot of money saving, and it gives you transparency and control. I found the ThreadSol team very responsive and passionate about their work. They have a young team, so my experience with them has been very good.

How did the ThreadSol team partner with your production teams to help handle changing production requirement?
We have a big campus, so they sent a young team who came and stayed on the campus; held workshops to train the workers involved in our cutting area so they exactly understand how to use the software and then they went through the execution and the monitoring. They did a lot of hand-holding like most software companies need to do because you’re not actually selling a software, you have to sell a solution. What I liked about them was that they were committed to Bangladesh. They had people on the ground, people willing to stay with us, work with the teams till the thing was a success.

What control/visibility did ThreadSol provide? What extent of business benefit have you gained?
60% of the cost of a garment is due to the fabric. Typically ThreadSol IntelloCut and IntelloBuy get everyone focused and look at the fabric consumption and fabric saving, so you can end up saving up to 2-4%. 2-4% out of 60% is a good amount of money.

There is a big move all around the world with technology, we at BEXIMCO have also embarked upon that journey towards a more efficient tomorrow. We are putting up very sustainable plants. We are moving to waterless washing that allows washing garments without water. Laser finishing and flexible automation are there in our factory to reduce the minutes to make a garment. Being one of the largest corporations in Bangladesh, BEXIMCO has created a leadership role in the industry. We are looking into multi-country manufacturing. We have got our own retail Yellow, which is the number one retailer of Bangladesh. Yellow is also now selling products on platforms like Amazon, across North America and has gotten into countries like Indonesia. In a nutshell, the world is Bangladesh’s oyster as far as the RMG goes. I think that in the next 10 years you’ll see that.

Adapting to Automation: Ananta and ThreadSol join forces to tackle industry challenges

In conversation with Asif Zahir, Deputy Managing Director, Ananta Group

Asif Zahir
Deputy Managing Director, Ananta Group

What are the current RMG industry challenges you face, competing with other countries for orders? How are higher wages impacting cost competitiveness of core garments?
The RMG industry is quite competitive. It’s a global market, so we are not just competing with factories in Bangladesh; we are competing with those in Vietnam, India, Pakistan and China. Beyond that we have our own challenges in Bangladesh. The costs of production are on the rise. In addition, inefficiencies like port and logistics delays, power issues and the lack of a very good supply chain in the country have always taken a toll on the business. All these together puts a lot of pressure on us when it comes to delivering goods on time, adding further to the already increased costs of production.

We are actually not as competitive as we should be given that we have some of the cheapest wages compared to what our competitors are offering. In the context of that what we do which is woven garment manufacturing, the material side is really important since 60% of our FOB is material which is fabrics and accessories etc, with fabric occupying the lionshare. That’s also an area with a lot of scope since there is a lot of wastage, and if we can better utilize our materials definitely it would help to become more competitive.

Wages is definitely a very big component. Apart from procuring the materials, the wages are probably the second largest component of what goes into a garment, especially in a woven garment. We do have competitive wages globally but given the fact that it’s going up every year, and now it’s gone up 60%, which definitely poses a challenge for the industry.

What made you choose ThreadSol? What business objectives would they be solving?
We looked into the solutions available for tracking fabric consumption, cutting efficiencies, etc. We saw that ThreadSol has a lot of focus in those area. They’ve been doing this for a while, using a kind of best-of-breed software solution which mainly addresses these problems. They also have a lot of expertise and understanding on what’s happening on the cutting floor and how factories are actually utilizing the fabrics, and where the inefficiencies and wastages are. Given their experience in this particular segment we decided to go with them.

The main objective is better visibility of the cutting floor and to help us understand what exactly is happening in our cutting room. With the help of their software, we find answers to a number of important questions we have been grappling with: How are we utilizing the fabrics? How we are cutting and what is the wastage due to various factors? Is it a fabric quality issue which is leading to wastage? Is it the way we are laying the fabric which may not be very efficient? Is it some other factors that are leading to wastage? So it’s for better visibility and monitoring and having an effective and better control on our fabric consumption.

What control/visibility did ThreadSol provide? What extent of business benefit have you gained?
With the shop floor system that they have implemented on our cutting floor, it’s actually quite a nice android based solution that’s connected to the cloud. We are able to get real-time updates of what is happening on the cutting floor starting from the roll level like which rolls are we cutting, for which styles. It’s all on a tablet, ensuring that we get real-time information and ultimately we are able to react accordingly.

It’s been about 3-4 months since we began implementing the software. It’s still being implemented in the factories. We are already seeing some benefits. The target is to reduce about 1% of the wastage or save 1% of the fabric. We are hopeful that we are going to get there. It’s still a work in progress.

How do you see this business benefit being sustained?
Obviously ThreadSol is one aspect of the solution. At the end of the day factories themselves have to be vigilant about what is happening, and how the best practices are sustained. We have our own mechanisms and our own team to monitor the implementation of the software, and to ensure that the best practices are being carried out and upheld.
Infrastructural issues are an ongoing challenge. We have a lot of investments like for power we have backup diesel generators, and diesel tanks. A lot of the time power is unstable; therefore, we have UPS facility for sensitive equipments, which is an additional cost for us actually. That’s the reality of working in Bangladesh so we have to make those investments. It’s good that ThreadSol is focusing on this market and ultimately we need to adopt technology to keep improving, and be more efficient.

TECHTONIC SHIFT

Anas Shakil, Director, Manufacturing Excellence at ThreadSol pens down how the company is partnering up with local manufacturers to provide the much-needed tech upheaval in the RMG industry

Anas Shakil
Director, Manufacturing Excellence at ThreadSol

Bangladesh has a rich history of expert craftsman spinning the most intricate weaves. Muslin, Jamdani and Indigo dye were crafted in its cradle. It’s only befitting that Bangladesh is looked at as the next big thing in the apparel trade.

I first came to Bangladesh back in 2015, looking at business opportunities for our technology. My previous experiences in Sri Lanka and India had painted a difficult uphill drive, coupled with the fabled fear of tech. The first year we added 12 manufacturers to our happy customers’ board. This was twice the rate of adoption that we saw in SL.

Since then we have never looked back, with over 50+ happy customers in Bangladesh alone. The rate of technology adoption, skill development and the need for machinery automation in Bangladesh have been unparalleled compared to anywhere else in the world.

The technology basically empowers the end user, by aiding faster decision making, providing accuracy and data backed solutions which help save Millions of Dollars over the lifecycle of the product. Low skilled manpower, with technology aided decision making can outperform a high skilled workforce, working with manual systems. This alone makes a strong case to trigger a tectonic shift in the status quo. and it has the capability to do so. We have seen this all over the world, on how the adoption of technology has been a strategic catalyst to drive economies and industries to scale up, outperform without any of the usual teething issues.

Our tech enables manufacturing to have a quicker turn-around, shorter lead time by reducing manual efforts and impacts manufacturing cost as it targets the biggest cost which is fabric. It has proven time and again, the capability to make per garment manufacturing cost cheaper by multiple % points.

The manufacturing space in Bangladesh is evolving, some players move faster than others. However, there needs to be a wide scale understanding of the importance of tech. In some regions, there still persists a fear of tech. This fear comes from not being able to understand technology or drive the change management needed to aid it. One of the cornerstones of our delivery methods is a successful change in management, ensuring a quick turnaround with all of the stakeholders having a keen buy-in.

Otherwise, just buying a software aids no one.
Also, we need to understand that smart technology, which aids decision making or replaces manual decision making is the need of the hour. Data storage/sorting platforms like ERP only aid in recording data and do not provide any optimization over it.

We don’t maintain a buyer-seller relationship, we have adopted a partnership model. Where we become an important stakeholder, this gives our customers the confidence to accelerate adoption. Which is why today we see most of the biggest manufacturing groups in BD adopting our AI-based technology to impact their P&Ls. Fabric cost has a strong correlation with the manufacturer’s P&Ls, be it a topline boost by shipping extra, earning FOB$ or a bottom line impact, reducing their spends on material costs.

The management in Bangladesh being extremely hands-on ensure a strong focused approach, alongside a strong feedback loop from on floor workers-this, has ensured our delivery times stand at two weeks, and the ROI reflects in their books within 2 -3 months.

Imagine, gaining in efficiency with a 2-week delivery program, getting 100% tracking and visibility on your biggest cost Fabric, with an added ROI of 2-3 months, no wonder we have seen so much success.

Right now Bangladesh stands at an interesting crossroad, where their efforts of the last decade will culminate to position itself as a leader in this industry. A much welcome focus change is the advent of fast fashion business to Bangladesh, a departure from doing core garments with low FOB. This will allow BD to leverage its massive industrial complex to cater to the world’s demand. The only missing piece of the puzzle is tech-enabled.

We as a tech partner are proud to be a part of this story, and take immense pride in our minute footprint so far. I am sure with the coming years, with the investments made in technology, Bangladesh will be the top manufacturing hub.