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June 2017


    Southeast Asia provides an interesting palette for those wanting to examine the digital landscape of any major region. Here’s why-there is very little doubt that the region has registered impressive growth in all things digital. What’s interesting is the diversity in this growth, especially when it comes to mobile application usage. It is, to put it mildly, rather unevenly distributed!

    Let’s quickly set the stage. As per the Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia report jointly released by We Are Social and Hootsuite, digital indicators, such as the percentage of active social media users (47 per cent), mobile subscriptions (133 per cent) and active mobile social users (42 per cent) continued on an upswing. Meanwhile, internet penetration over the past year grew by over 30 per cent, largely driven by mobile internet usage alone.


    Source: We Are Social

    Breaking it down further, as per Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey (the Southeast Asia edition), the use of mobile applications has increased significantly across the region. Having said that, though, the application spectrum across these regions is, diverse, to say the least. For example, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, social networking applications rule, whereas, customers in Singapore and Thailand turn to messaging and gaming respectively. In fact, customers in this region also utilize voice-assistant applications for lifestyle and information updates, such as weather or sports, navigation or travel assistance.

    Social Media Gains Prominence

    There’s no escaping it-we live in a social world and Southeast Asia is no exception. Why? Simply because subscribers prefer to share content on these channels, of course! As per the report, the number of social media users registered a 31 per cent increase over the past year. This essentially accounts for 72 million subscribers using social media platforms for the first time in the 12-month period before January this year.solving-the-southeast-asia-digital-content-puzzle2

    Source: We are Social and Hootsuite

    A closer look at these numbers reveals some very interesting facts. For starters, Brunei heads the regional rankings for regional social media use. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of Singaporeans use social media each month, but barely one-quarter of the populations of Laos and Myanmar are using social media today. Speaking of which, Myanmar is quite an intriguing case study. Merely five years ago, Facebook was still blocked in the country. That was then, though and since this has been lifted, usage has taken off, with 14 million subscribers! The twist, of course, is that 6 million of these users only joined the platform in the last 12 months. All this has translated into 84 per cent year-on-year growth in social media users-amongst the highest in the world!

    Unsurprisingly, Facebook emerged as the clear winner across the region. The report states that the platform net a staggering 305.9 million monthly active users, of which, 89 per cent accessed the site on their mobile handsets. Speaking of which-mobile social media also registered a dramatic increase-with the number of monthly active users accessing social platforms via mobile devices up 34 per cent year-on-year.

    Mobile Messengers: A Mixed Bag

    The mobile messenger landscape in the region is, at best, mixed. Simply put, several players are competing, without a clear winner. Overall, a clear divide exists between regional and western platforms.

    For example, as per the report, LINE is particularly popular in Thailand. So much so that the country features in the platform’s top four global markets. On the other hand, BBM rules the roost in Indonesia, and is, in fact, one of the last remaining global strongholds for the once omnipresent messenger platform. However, data from other sources reveal that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and LINE all now have more active users in Southeast Asia’s most populous nation.

    Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger has displaced Viber in the Philippines, and quite spectacularly so. According to data released by GlobalWebIndex, the former is now almost twice as big as Viber in the region! Facebook Messenger seems to have made a mark in Vietnam as well-industry data suggests that it has nudged home-grown platform Zalo to second place in terms of monthly active users. Last but certainly not the least, WhatsApp leads the pack in both Singapore and Malaysia. It has overtaken Facebook Messenger (to second) spot. But it doesn’t end there-both WeChat and LINE have a rather significant customer base in these countries too!

    Mobile Gaming Takes Control

    According to OneSky, the Southeast Asian gaming market is pegged to become a $2.25 billion market by 2018. No small stakes, these! Unsurprisingly, the youth segment in this region is single-handedly responsible. A Newzoo report states that gamers between the ages of 10 and 35 made up the biggest proportion of players. In Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, gamers in this age segment made up 50 per cent or more of all mobile gamers. In addition, gamers in this region more often than not make it a daily habit to access gaming applications on their smartphones. The result? Increased revenue opportunities for game manufacturers, of course, apart from a very healthy boost to the segment overall!

    Mobile-based video: Still Standing Tall despite Competition

    As per industry reports, the mobile video space in Southeast Asia has a number of players jostling for room. In a nutshell, this space includes some familiar https://blog.mahindracomviva.com/digital-content-space-problem-plenty/global players, particularly YouTube at the regional level. Interestingly, Facebook is also widely used to distribute video content.

    Now, here’s where it becomes slightly murky. While these platforms are free and rely on advertising for revenues, subscription-based video services are also rearing their heads. Most notably, Netflix has launched its subscription-based services in a number of markets across the region. To add to the chaos, there are also a growing number of both national and regional content providers, with a mix of advertising-funded and subscription-based models.

    Content Monetization: A Long-Standing Challenge

    Like its contemporaries, Southeast Asia’s digital content space, too, has its share of challenges. Arguably the most significant of these is monetization of digital content. Now, the question here is-how can operators monetize their vast library of digital content, keeping in mind the region’s diversity and contradictions?

    As per the GSMA, a number of measures can be a viable solution:

    • Providers of applications like mobile video and television-on-demand can drop their prices to leverage the opportunity provided by the millennial segment’s preference for micro-payments over monthly or annual subscriptions
    • Bundling third-party content: Operators can ink partnerships with existing video-on-demand platforms (such as Netflix or Hulu).
    • Building their own video content platforms: An increasing number of operators in the region are looking to develop their own content platforms, with business models mainly split between freemium and subscription.

    Permit me to offer another perspective-making non-linear media interactive, in order to create new services. Say, for instance, allowing customers to connect with the celebrity of their choice. In this case, the content being pushed won’t be a one-way street; it would connect people and make the entire experience engaging and interactive. And (arguably) the best part? The customer is more than willing to pay for this!

    In sum, the Southeast Asian digital content space continues to (and will continue to) surprise. Operators, don’t lose heart, though, there are still numerous untapped opportunities this space has to offer. Stay tuned for more!


    June 20, 2017 0 comment
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    The digital content space in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is, for all intents and purposes, booming. And why not, the region is, after all, conducive to everything mobile!

    Permit me to quickly illustrate this point. As per GSMA’s The Mobile Economy 2017 report, smartphone adoption witnessed a 46 per cent increase in 2016, while subscriber penetration stood at 59 per cent for the same period. It doesn’t end here-by 2020, these figures are expected to reach 64 per cent and 62 per cent respectively. Unabated growth, this!

    Naturally, then, this growth has had a cascading impact on mobile broadband uptake. To elaborate, Ericsson’s Mobility Report on Middle East and North East Africa (November 2016) states that by 2022, average active smartphone data consumption per month will reach 13 GB, from 1.8 GB in end-2016. Meanwhile, mobile data traffic is expected to reach around 4.8 Exabytes per month by the end of 2022. This is almost 13 times greater than at the end of 2016. Clearly, mobility has made a lasting impact in this region!

    A natural consequence of this growth (in my opinion, at least) is a significant increase in the consumption of digital content. And that, dear reader, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The aim of this piece is not merely to examine which content is king (though that bit is included). The idea is to examine the gradual shift (if any) in a customer’s consumption patterns and preferences in a multi-screen era.

    What’s Driving Digital Content

    It would be a bit of an understatement to say that mobile applications are in demand in MENA. Here’s why-as per industry estimates, almost 85 per cent of mobile internet users have downloaded an application. Briefly, the applications in demand include email, social networking, videos, news and weather, sports news and hobbies.

    The trend, in short, is clearly shifting towards non-linear viewing. On-demand viewing is the order of the day, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey. Industry reports state that the lion’s share of mobile data traffic is generated by video streaming, social media, messaging and browsing.

    As per industry reports, in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, YouTube is the numero uno application, while in Egypt and Lebanon, social media applications hold the spotlight.

    Let’s start with video-on-demand. This has, without a doubt, managed to carve a niche in the MENA digital content space.

    Simply put, over 304 million smartphone users will be watching OTT TV and videos at least once a month by 2021. This amounts to more than triple the number in 2015 and up from 5 million in 2010. No mean numbers, these!

    Of course, no piece on digital content is deemed complete without mentioning social media! The common perception is that social media has (quite literally) taken the MENA region by storm. Why? Simply put, this channel has become an important facet for content distribution. According to the Digital In 2017 Global Overview jointly released by We Are Social and Hootsuite, the number of active social media users stood at 93 million, with a penetration rate of 38 per cent, as of January this year. On the same note, 83 million (or 34 per cent) of these customers access social media sites on their mobile handset.

    What Will Shape Digital Content…

    Not surprisingly, gaming will emerge as particularly significant in this space. As per reports, this space is expected to triple in size from $1.6 billion in 2016 to $4.4 billion in 2022. Online and mobile games are to net the most interest, while the most popular categories will include massively multiplayer online games (MMOGS), action, casual, and social games.

    Moreover, on-demand, interactive and personalized entertainment-centric content is expected to be a standard feature. Advanced virtual reality bundled with digital agents and holographic entertainment worlds is expected to transform the customer’s entertainment experience. The convergence of the Internet with television, telephones, kiosks, autos, and wireless devices will further create many new media channels.

    In sum, the rules of the digital content game in the MENA region have changed. While the overall outlook is bright, operators would do well to make a laundry list. In my opinion, these should include offering converged content and service-centric products, focusing on sponsored data and opening up existing APIs to third party developers. This is, of course, merely the beginning. A long and (possibly) rocky road lies ahead. Operators, are you geared up to meet the challenge?


    June 19, 2017 0 comment
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    Today’s competitive environment requires companies to firefight simultaneously on several fronts. Broadly, these include fast turnaround time, reducing ownership cost, identifying key investment areas, et all. In this context, therefore, it wouldn’t be an understatement to state that now is a good time for operators to look beyond on-premise deployments.

    Despite being the centre of various discussions, cloud-based infrastructure has, so far, been considered a mere substitute for on-premise deployments. It is time, thus, that the technology got its due-it’s time that it attained the mantle of a significant cog in an organization’s overall machinery.

    A quick and easy way to achieve this is by, naturally, highlighting the benefits accrued by the technology. Very briefly, these are centered on cost, time to market, performance, reliability and maintenance and global scalability.

    Let’s take a quick look at each. Now, as far as costis concerned, the biggest benefit is that no payment is required to be made upfront. Moreover, factors such as data centre space, annual maintenance of hardware and software, et all, require negligible investment. Next up, time to market is reduced significantly with cloud deployments. How? Well, the hardware and software required for the same are available on the fly; one merely needs to install them as per the required configuration.

    Moreover, deploying the technology would yield reduced latency. Ideally, this implies customers are able to access the service from any part of the globe. The cloud is specifically designed for caching content to the edge locations. This is to fulfill incoming service requests from the nearest available location, based on the geographic presence.

    Reliability & maintenance are achieved as there are mechanisms available for easier data backups, in-built monitoringtools availability and support for disaster recovery to achieve business continuity.

    In a nutshell, if we consider a rough estimate, project timelines can be reduced by around 50-60 per cent, while cost can be reduced by 40-50 per cent. This, of course, is in addition to other advantages the platform offers.

    Having said that, however, I feel it is prudent to point out that merely examining and being acquiescent of the benefits accrued isn’t adequate to measure whether an organization’s solutions are cloud-ready or not.

    The bigger question here is: how does one determine if an organization’s solutions are cloud-ready or not?

    Naturally, a number of factors come into play. First and foremost, the on-premise solution has to undergo certain engineering-centric changes. Simply put, an organization has to ensure that the cloud platform can support multiple tenants, deploys stateless protocols in client-server communication and ensures session management. This, in turn, is to permit load distribution through horizontally scaling the product as and when required.

    Now, let’s examine all the aforementioned factors. Support for multi-tenancy implies that the solution ought to ensure that even a single deployment can cater to multiple geographies, languages, charging mechanisms, price points, time zones, currencies, et all. The list is endless but for the sake of convenience, I have whittled it down to the most vital factors.

    Next up, the solution ought to be designed so as to support horizontal scalability.This is merely to ensure that the additional instances created at run time are able to accommodate the increased load. Now, ensuring run time configurabilityis a must, especially if one wishes to add to the number of regions or instances in one’s running deployment on the fly.

    Of course, the solution may require certain customization, based on the specific implementation of cloud environment that one is choosing for one’s solution deployment.

    In addition, some other aspects that should also be looked at by the organization includes up skilling of the existing work force and understanding the in-built tools and technologies, the risks and dependencies involved with the cloud migration, state policies and changes to the existing set of processes to support cloud deployments.

    In sum, the intent of this write-up wasn’t to merely advocate the cloud but to also list the benefits that deploying the same accrue. The essentials are all (to my knowledge) listed here-now it’s time to ask the big question-is YOUR organization cloud-ready?

    June 8, 2017 0 comment
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    The world is experiencing one of the biggest refugee and displacement crises in its history. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of displaced people is at its highest ever, exceeding even post-world war II numbers. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 181. In fact, if all globally displaced people form a country, it would be bigger than the United Kingdom and France.

    untitled Source: UNHCR

    Millions are fleeing from countries impacted by war, conflict, discrimination and poverty in search of a better life. However, even after relocating to more secure and stable regions, the refugees still have to face poverty and multiple hardships. Moreover, the influx of refugees into the host country is impacting economy and political stability of the host country, which only serves to alienate the refugees even further.

    Concerned about the seriousness of the issue, the world leaders convened on September 19, 2016 to address challenges related to large movements of refugees and migrants, immediately prior to the general debate of the 71st session of UN General Assembly (UNGA). The meeting resulted in the adoption of New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which expressed the political will of world leaders to protect the rights of refugees and migrants2. On the ground-level this translates into providing aid and support to the refugees and migrants, enabling them to fight poverty, hunger and insecurity. It also extends to economically empowering refugees and migrants so that they can send children to school, secure a job or do business and live a dignified life.

    Till now the focus has been in meeting basic needs like food and the aid is mostly in-kind such as sacks of flour and rice. Almost three-fourth of the assistance given by World Food Program (WFP) is in-kind3. However, in recent years there has been a shift from food aid to cash aid. With limited banking infrastructure and complexities involved in opening and operating a bank account, mobile money has emerged as an apt channel to disburse cash aid directly to refugees and migrants. With 271 mobile money services in 93 countries and agent network much greater than the banking and ATM network, mobile money is the most viable financial inclusion and cash transfer medium for refugees and migrant.

    The concept of transferring cash directly to refugee’s mobile money account rather than providing food supply has multiple advantages. Firstly, cash aid offers freedom of choice allowing a family to decide on which food item to buy. In case of food aid, the aid recipients mostly complain about the quantity and quality of food. With cash aid, they have control over food choice and expenditure, which allows them to balance food quality and quantity and get proper nutrition. Cash aid also provides choice to refugees to spend all of the aid money at once, or save it in the form of mobile money on their phone for future needs. Secondly, as cash aid is in digital format, it is secure and cannot be stolen. On the other hand, aid in-kind is prone to theft as many refugee camps or colonies are not safe. Moreover, cash aid is distributed equally to all refugees. There are no queues and the entire process is instant and convenient. In case of food aid, refugees often quarrel to get more food bags. Digital money also supports nomadic life style of many refugees, who can make payments even when they are on the move. Thirdly, refugees can make payments directly to the shopkeeper using mobile money via a peer to peer transfer. They do not need to covert money from digital format to cash, making the entire process cashless and convenient. Even in case the refugees want to have physical cash, they can cash-out at mobile money agents, which are present in large number in many countries. Lastly, mobile money based cash aid is more transparent and prevents corruption. When aid is distributed in form of food, middlemen are involved, who take their cut or pocket a part of supplies and sell them in open market. From 2003 to 2012, more than half of the $17.9 billion the United States of America spent on food aid went to contractors4. Another drawback of food aid is wastage. Food aid is mostly sourced from donor countries and transported to refugee areas. This process can take days during which food can rot or deteriorate in quality.

    Beyond food, cash aid can also be provided for other purposes such as paying school fee for children, providing start-up capital for business and providing financial assistance to build house. This echoes with UN’S aim of generating the feeling of respect, safety and dignity in refugees. From technical stand point, the same mobile wallet can be used for providing cash-aid for different purposes. It is also possible to designate funds for a particular cause, for example, an agency can provide funds which can only be used to buy food at particular shops. This helps to ensure that the aid is used for its intended purpose that is buying food, while ensuring that the customer also has the freedom to decide on which food item he wants to buy.

    The benefits of mobile money based cash aid programs are not just on papers. Many mobile money cash aid programs are live and have been running successfully. For example, the World Food Program (WFP) in Cameroon is providing mobile money based cash aid to vulnerable refugees and displaced people, impacted by the Boko Haram insurgency in the region. Cameroon hosts over 190,000 internally displaced persons and 340,000 refugees, from Nigeria and the Central African Republic, who have fled conflict and violence spilling across borders. In 2016, WFP aims to provide assistance to 500,000 internally displaced people and refugees in Cameroon5. WFP cash aid program specially targets single women households and try to bring stability in their lives. Fadi is one such women living for past 2 years in Mora, a Cameroonian city near Nigerian Border. She is the sole care taker of her 10 children as her husband is no longer with the family. Fadi’s house was burned by Boko Haram and she also lost her job. Since then she has been living in Mora. Since May this year, she has been receiving XAF 10,000 FCFA (about US$ 18) every month, sent by WFP through her mobile phone, enabling her to feed her children. Cash aid brings normalcy back in her life, as she can go to local market and buy food of her choice and cook a meal which her children prefer.

    Cameroon is not a one off case. In Kenya, WFP is providing financial aid through mobile phones to refugees in Kakuma refugee camp. With the digital cash, refugees can buy food of their choice in local market. Shopkeepers in the camp carry two phones; if a customer doesn’t have their own, they can use it to access their electronic funds6.

    The cash aid program also provides business opportunities to refugees. Fatosaleh, a female refugee from Central African Republic, is working with WFP to sell cassava flour in Gado refugee camp in Cameroon. More than 150 people come to her shop daily. In a month, she sells over 14 tons of cassava flour costing 11 million FCFA5. By running her own business, Fatosaleh is able to live a dignified life.

    In-kind aid is irreplaceable in some situation such as natural calamities when networks are not available. However for other situations, mobile money based cash aid, with its benefits of efficiency, security and freedom of choice, will rapidly grow as the channel to support and empower displaced people and refugees.


    1 http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

    2 http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/sites/default/files/un_press_release_-_new_york_declaration_-_19_september_2016.pdf

    3 https://www.wfp.org/cash-based-transfers

    4 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/11848330/Heres-a-simple-way-to-help-refugees-give-them-cash.html

    5 http://news.trust.org/item/20160916162703-20472/

    6 http://mastercardcenter.org/action/mobile-money-transforming-financial-inclusion-refugees/

    June 2, 2017 0 comment
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