By Asina Pornwasin,
The Nation Weekend
Google Thailand has made a commitment to help Thailand transform digitally through initiatives that merge efforts, technology and resources. The move will focus on empowering individuals, students and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to benefit from Google’s products and services.
Ben King, country director for Google Thailand, said the role of the tech giant would be to make information universally accessible and useful.
Thailand is viewed as a mature market with 45 million people connected to the Internet, and engaging with technology in an increasingly varied way.
Thailand has seen huge growth in digital economy transactions, including ride sharing which exploded from nothing to a US$600 million (Bt19.67 billion) in gross merchant values (GMVs) last year alone. E-commerce has also seen growth of around 40 per cent and is driving toward even greater retail market penetration, with sales now reaching GMV of over $2 billion. Thailand’s digital economy grew from $5.8 billion to $10 billion in 2017, and is on track with projections to surpass $37 billion by 2025.
Google Thailand will focus on four areas in the coming years – affordable access, education, localised content and product, and SMEs. That’s similar to the focus for the past three years and is related to the ecosystem development, but the company has changed its approach, King said.
“Over the last three years, these four themes included affordable access, education, localised content and product, and small businesses. The theme has not changed much, but the change is in the evolution of approach, strategy and activity expansion. Affordable access is about infrastructure and the accessibility of Internet access – and the real challenge is affordability.
“We share this theme a lot over time – digital access and digital opportunity – but in terms of accessing information that grows businesses, develops revenue streams, makes a better life, this is one of the key themes Google has been driving over the past several years,” King added.
The second theme is education, which can be divided into two points – digital literacy and skill sets for a professional career. Google Thailand has worked with the Education Ministry through the Google Education Group to help teachers digitise their classrooms and engage students in many different ways ways.
Google’s aim is to help people understand how to maximise their practical use of the Web, learn how to protect themselves and their children, how to create a business online, how to access information in a meaningful way and how to communicate meaningfully with their communities.
Google sees this as the pathway to building digital literacy using grassroots education.
The tech giant also worked with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) to train 3,000 community managers over four to five months. Google developed the curriculum.
“In the future, we will evolve a couple of things we have focused on,” King said. “One is the domestic expansion of the digital literacy programme – we are really interested in expanding what we doing with Depa and the Education Ministry to the public and private sectors. We will distribute the curriculum through multiple channels.
“Since it is not a programme run by Google, we can plug into many different education networks and the private sector. This is good for Thailand and good for grassroots education – this is our strategy,” he said.
“Of the 45 million people on the Internet in Thailand, we consider around 20 million people as highly advanced users,” he said. “The other 25 million people are already connected, but not connected all day.”
Google will focus on these 25 million people, increasing their skill levels so they can get the best use of the Internet.
Another area of evolution will be Academy Bangkok, announced by Google at a recent local event. The idea behind the academy is to find the right talents and the right skill sets so as to capture digital opportunities.
“It is the biggest roadblock that businesses have faced. We have tried out a pilot programme over the last eight months, to take great talents from universities and connect them with jobs in the top tiers of big business in the country.
“Now, we’re thinking about expanding this dramatically. We will get space and develop it as Academy Bangkok, which would be launched in October or November depending on when the True Digital Park actually opens,” King said.
Academy Bangkok is a means to build digital skills for professional people. One of the biggest roadblocks in any country with a dynamic similar to Thailand is having people with the right skill sets to capture the amazing digital economic opportunities, he said.
Google partners with businesses to advertise job openings for recent university graduates. The pilot programme this year had 30 spots and got 3,000 applications for the in-depth two-month incubator held in Google’s offices.
With Academy Bangkok, Google plans to support between 150 and 200 recent graduates at a time. And it will increase from one co-host to two co-hosts, so that 300 to 400 recent new grads can be trained for jobs requiring a high level of domain expertise. The graduates will be trained in marketing, entrepreneur and developer skills.
“We probably would not run a specific artificial intelligence course [by the way machine learning and AI are in every Google product such as advertising and marketing products and cloud computing products]. AI will probably be more in line with the products set we cover, rather than being a separate course,” King said.
One specific need in Thailand is for Google’s neural machine translation, which powers Google Translate. With 35 million tourists visiting Thailand annually, the sector is a key driver for the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Machine learning is driving and powering this property.
Since Google launched neural machine translation powered by machine learning, it has increased demand, with a 300 per cent increase in Google Translate usage over the last 12 months in Thailand. This is an example how machine learning can improve Google products. Another example is Google Assistant.
The localisation of products and services is another focus. Over the last few years, Google launched a whole range of localised products, including localising existing products into the Thai language such as Google Assistant and Google Voice Search.
“We thought about trying Translate for Thailand to power up machine translation, and this theme is continuing. We are looking for the right products for people in Thailand – it could be products that exist globally and we bring to Thailand, or it could be new products,” said King.
Google is also focusing on small businesses. From its perspective, small businesses span two different areas – entrepreneurs and the ecosystem – as exemplified by Google Launchpad Accelerator and Google for Entrepreneurs.
“We have partnered with Hubba, and partnered with the government on Coding Thailand, providing educational material for entrepreneurs on developing the ecosystem,” King said.
There are 2.7 to 3 million SMEs in the market and Google focuses on helping them digitise their business. It aims to make sure they have the right accesses and digital properties and the right information online – so they can really drive discoverability.
That is probably the key – online market is big as the demand is not constrained by geography.
“When somebody searches for products and services we want to make sure the business is discovered.
“This is really about focusing around Google My Business, where Google is really putting a lot of attention in the next 12 months. That is a little about evolution,” said King.
The seven key Google products – Google Map, Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, Android and Google Play – are heavily used by Thais, King said.
“These seven products have over a billion users at the global scale. They are all very important, but the most important is Google’s mission to get the world’s information online and to be universally accessible and useful.”
He admitted that it is difficult to say which service is most used in Thailand, since they each have different uses.
For example, Search could be used by someone hundreds of time in a day, YouTube could be accessed less often but for longer periods. Google Maps is an important product, as it helps people locate local businesses and services.
One thing that has really undergone change over the past three years is the quick adaptation of consumers, while businesses lag a little behind, said King.
Meanwhile, Google Analytics, Google Advertising Solution and Google Cloud are the key for businesses.
Google Analytics offers the insight of measurement, while Google Advertising Solution provides marketing and advertising help. They are included in YouTube Ad, Search Ad and Display Ads Network functions. Google Cloud infrastructure is available for businesses of all sizes.
“When we looked at what we can do or what we want to do in the country, we asked ourselves what has the most impact and what is it we do really well. We can benefit the country the most by being big and doing it very well. The result was the four key areas of our focus,” King explained.