Jean-François Gebhart, Chief Operating Officer True Digital

- Posted on January 8, 2020
True Digital Group (TDG) is the innovation arm and digital center of competency of True Corporation a major mobile operator in Thailand. Beyond the solid consumer segment, True Digital is growing in B2B with IoT and analytics offerings in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. As part of this strategy, True Digital Group develops innovative digital solutions by linking IoT with strong analytics capabilities in order to digitalize their clients.

Telecom operators are seen as providers of pipes and sim cards, how did True Digital contributed to move True Corporation up the value chain and what was the role of IoT in this strategy?

True Digital Group develop and provides end to end solutions that requires system integration. In that regard, our business is very different from the pure telecom operator model. True Digital Group enables True Corporation to implement the group shareholders where the development of data analytics and IoT solutions are part of their strategic priorities. These domains are seen as absolutely strategic, like for most major telecom operators, and represent already a significant part of True Digital’s Group revenue.

What IoT verticals are you focusing on? Do you plan to address smart cities and smart utilities?

We first need to agree on what is exactly included in smart city and smart utility. Our approach of IoT verticals is instead very pragmatic. We focus on customer problems we want to solve and what outcome we can deliver. For instance, in 2019, and aside other vertical solutions domains, we have launched a Smart Transportation solution as well as a different tracker for people or assets. This could be considered as a first step into Smart Cities.

Being part of a telecom operator who collects a lot of data, we can tackle much wider issues by processing and computing all these data with algorithms that can enable us to obtain urbanization analytics such as traffic jam levels, transportation trends and other city infrastructure information. Location based advertisement and information are also a part of the portfolio we bring to the market. More than 130 data scientists work at True Digital making it the largest data scientist community in Asia-Pacific.

How do you see the growth of Smart Cities and Smart Utilities in South East Asia? What are the main drivers?

I foresee a tremendous growth for Smart Cities & Smart Utilities in South East Asia. The driver is the adoption by the citizens that can only happen if we solve one of their problems. When it comes to Smart City its mostly related to security, comfort and energy management. Depending on the country/city, the need of these 3 main concerns can be different. Wisely choosing which use case you want to address in which country/city is key. The enabler is technology: communication networks, device and data analytics. The growth will depend on this magic mix between what problems are you really solving, the user adoption and the technology. Again, without adoption, the development of any solution does not really make sense.

What are True Digital ‘s main human resources and talent challenges shifting from connecting people and providing services to consumers to connecting things?

Recruiting and on-boarding the right talents are our main HR challenges, especially considering that we need teams able to deliver and launch solutions to the market. One of our key strength in attracting Talents is our clear vision and go-to-market strategies. Also, our strong employer brand in Thailand is a plus as we are a leading digital brand and we communicate a clear market strategy.

The challenge is really to detect the talents and identify those who truly have the willingness, the energy and the strength to join our adventure and go for the extra mile.

But recruitment is just the first step as it’s in your day to day management that talent you recruit will reveal their strength and deliver their best. For this, the recruitment phase is of course essential as you need to detect how a new talent will be able to integrate himself in an environment where innovation and tight schedules are a reality.

How difficult was it to find the right people for your team in Thailand? And how did you manage to compensate the shortage of talent?

This is a regional problem and not only related to Thailand. Of course, we are using headhunters in addition to our internal recruiters. We are also convinced that we need to identify and train our future talents and that is why we did engage a few initiatives like the launch of True Academy. After that, it is our job and responsability to inspire talents and give them enough space to grow.

What skills are required for non-Thai expatriates to integrate well into a Thai corporate culture?

In Thailand and more widely in Asia, an important part of your team should be local just because locals are more able to understand how to drive the expansion of a company in its own country.

For the few non-locals joining the adventure, they should integrate themselves very smoothly and be flexible. Of course, understanding of the local culture is a great plus. At the end, it’s the role of the manager to enroll people that have this capability to adapt, integrate and grow well within the team

It is not very complicated but it can take time. At the end of the day, and it’s everywhere the same, the more you give to your team, the more your team will perform and feel at ease day to day.

Before joining TRUE in Thailand, you were working for Dimension Data in Singapore. Which are the main working style differences between Thailand & Singapore. As an International C-suite Director, which country do you find the most challenging?

All countries are challenging in their own way. You really need to bind as much as you can to the local culture. You need to accept that you have to learn, be humble and hardworking. In my previous job as Head of IoT APAC for Dimension Data, I was managing teams in more than 10 countries and there were almost as many different ways to see the market, approach a client, identify an opportunity, drive the sales etc. What is similar in the whole of Asia is that it is no longer the big fish eating the small fish but the fastest fish eating the others. APAC is definitely a pragmatic market that adopts very fast a solution as long as it solves a problem. Listening carefully to your client and truly understanding his context and strategy are always key success factors.

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