Malaysia’s homegrown innovators Katsana, Hostel Hunting, Swingvy, and CXS are cultivating a more human side of tech
With the advent of tech, the race to innovate within the tech spectrum is largely focused on coming up with the “new.” From smarter algorithms, to artificial intelligence (AI), and even to augmented reality (AR) — the goal has always been to disrupt.
But more than disruption and awe, today’s tech innovators are constantly coming up with ways to improve human experience. By this, we don’t just mean using tech to promote greater convenience and ease in people’s daily lives. We mean solutions that impact the very nature of people.
These are solutions that help inculcate road safety discipline, democratise HR platforms for small and medium companies (SMEs), provide cheap lodging options for young people, and even ones that power human development through skills training.
True, some of the most interesting and most inspiring solutions out there are ones that are anchored on cultivating a better quality of life. These are solutions that transcend the common notions of convenience that saturate the market.
Because of this, we spoke to four of Malaysia’s tech startups to see what innovations they’ve come up with and how those innovations are hinged on helping improve human lives.
Safety first for drivers and passengers alike
According to Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport, a total of 7,152 recorded deaths up to 2016 are due to road accidents. This data places Malaysia on the 18th spot when it comes to the road fatalities index in the world.
With a total number of registered vehicles accumulating to 27.6 million, how do you fully inculcate road safety to such a significant population of drivers?
Katsana, a tech startup that pioneered the next generation GPS tracking and fleet management system, came up with a solution that helps train drivers to become more safe on the road: DriveMark.
A mobile telematics app, DriveMark scores the way you drive using mobile phone sensors to spotlight risky driving patterns and behaviour. By introducing a gamification and rewards approach, drivers are encouraged to reach a higher level of safely on the road.
Drivers may also enroll into monthly contests that come with free personal accident insurance and rewards from their partners as a further incentive for further protection.
With the Katsana Advanced Telematics, the team has gained significant experience from its initial launch in 2013 especially in understanding driver behaviour patterns derived from sophisticated telematics data from vehicles, which has allowed them to precisely score driving risks.
Katsana came up with DriveMark as a way to democratise this unique information and apply their technical know-how on a mobile app in the hopes of helping as many people as possible—all through data analytics and impactful engagement.
“When we look into conversations surrounding safe driving, it’s predominantly a discussion of deterrence through penalization and tend to be reactive instead of being proactive,” said Syed Ahmad Fuqaha, CEO and co-founder of Katsana. He added, “with DriveMark, we associate safe driving with positive cues which comes in various forms; acknowledgement that you are driving safe, rewards, prizes, rebates, discounts and social recognition.”
Katsana wants DriveMark users to also be part of their mission — to be ambassadors of safe driving. They believe that having clusters of people who are truly passionate about safe driving helps them grow and spread the word to like-minded people; and hopefully, to have that passion spill over to larger part of the community.
By 2017, Katsana had analysed 460 million kilometers worth of travel data, collecting approximately 1.2 to 1.4 million kilometers of data on a daily basis.
Creating livable spaces for the Millennial generation
The comparison between the Millennial and Baby Boomers generation includes the premise that while one generation could afford housing at a comparatively younger age, another could not even even manage long-term rentals for spaces with proper living conditions.
However, this debate ignores the contextual differences between in the two very different socioeconomic realities happening in at different times in history. Baby Boomers sometimes point to Millennials’ inability to sustain proper living spaces without realising that today’s world demands different priorities.
Meaningful innovative solutions often arise from necessity. One such innovation grounded on helping young people find affordable and professionally managed long-term spaces is Hostel Hunting.
Hostel Hunting started as a student rental marketplace. The idea was simple: to get landlords to list with them and provide the supply, and then connect them to the potential tenants who make the booking.
In 2008, they introduced HH+ Rooms – affordable rooms that are professionally managed by Hostel Hunting from renovation and furnishing to daily community management, home maintenance, and tenant living experience.
Widening their market beyond catering to University students, Hostel Hunting now provides rooms to accommodate both the youth market and young adults. HH+ is a full stack proptech and propserv solution.
In the B2B sector, Hostel Hunting helps companies to provide housing needs for interns, foreign students, and outstation staff.
“More people are looking to rent rather than owning a place of their own. Despite that, tenants are still required to do the nitty gritty such as buying their own furniture, DIY, or hire cleaning services to maintain their homes. We want to provide and shape a better living experience for our tenants,” said Wen Khai, CEO and co-founder of Hostel Hunting.
In addition, for the tenant side, he said, “We guarantee [owners] a higher rental yield, hassle-free operation, and the HH+ living experience.”
Hostel Hunting believes the trust and support won both from their customers and the quality of their investors, has positioned the business well —especially with offering and shaping an improved living experience in the home rental landscape.
An HR solution for all
One of the most visible indicators of performance gap in industries is a company’s capacity to digitalise its data. While most large corporations have the resources to implement Enterprise Relationship Planning (ERP) solutions, the majority of SMEs in this region are stuck with past manual HR practices involving tons of papers. Often, the companies turn to regular spreadsheets, or outsourced payroll agents.
In many instances, the simple process of managing pay slip distributions and leave applications are paper-based —open to the possibility of human error, and unnecessary costs.
This challenge to a company’s limited resources often leaves companies stranded in that predicament. To address this, digital HR system provider Swingvy decided to help fill in the gaps. By seamlessly connecting HR information, Swingvy automates all administrative work — employee onboarding, core HR, leave application, payroll, and benefits administration — in an efficient manner.
The tech evolution of HR systems is not new, having started more than a decade ago. What differentiates Swingvy is its “freemium” business model, which allows users to register and use the solution for free and without any time lock.
Swingvy democratises its HR system in two ways: first, the platform runs on the Web without the need to pay for any licenses, hardware, or maintenance fees—making it perfectly accessible to both large enterprises and small businesses. Secondly, it allows everyone in a company to use the software in a instead of just HR admins.
The only time the product is monetised is when satisfied customers choose to add on to the range of services they want from Swingvy, and can then decide to unlock premium features.
Since Swingvy is an all-in-on HR platform, the premium package integrates the payroll and the benefits platform, promoting full transparency for both admin and employees.
In addition to helping SMEs cut costs and save time, Swingvy administers its HR system to global standard user experience. To fully compute a company-wide payroll system, the automation takes about 10 minutes to produce results.
“It doesn’t make sense for companies to go through the unnecessary challenge of building their own HR software. Our HR platform, besides managing admin and employees’ HR related information, also integrates and automates with the country’s statutory and banking files,” said Jin Choeh, CEO and co-founder of Swingvy.
In 2017, Swingvy was the first Malaysian startup to win the Arena Battle in Tech in Asia and become a part of e27’s Top 100. It is one of the youngest companies to be awarded “Malaysia HR Technology Entrepreneurial Company of the Year” by Frost and Sullivan, and is set to appear as one of the 10 finalists in Asia to pitch in the first Google Asia Demo Day in Shanghai.
Lifelong learning and human development through tech
With the impact of advanced industrialization trickling down to the grassroots, it is important to ask the right questions on exactly what changes the workforce has to make.
“How will working be different? How will the way we understand ‘employability’ shift? How will ‘gig economies’ change the way small and large companies hire? How is it possible to close the gaps between education and employability? How do we bring valuable talent data out of the silos in which it typically resides to construct meaningful pictures of future workforces? How do we help individuals become self-driven lifelong learners?”
These are all critical questions raised by Malaysia-based tech startup CXS.
CXS is a learning analytics company with the capability to manage talent development from education to employability with a focus on preparing national workforces for the ever-changing demands of what is known as the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Essentially, CXS provides a suite of products, services, and solutions augmented with technology to power human development and promote lifelong learning.
With their analytics system, CXS helps clients with a range of issues including the implementation of improved recruitment and hiring solutions, talent management, and executing large-scale upskilling and reskilling programs.
“Talent acquisition and talent supply is now a major macro-economic factor affecting all industries to differing degrees. We help our clients get data out of silos and put it to work to solve problems. Good examples of the kinds of problems we typically help solve are: locating top talent to drive the growth of emerging industries, or helping find the local talent to secure direct foreign investment in key industry sectors,” said Jan Lambrechts, CEO and founder of CXS.
In addition to what the talent pool looks like currently, clients need to know where the to find potential talent. CXS believes that the best way to answer problems posed by advanced industrialization is through better hiring, smarter learning, and evidence-based outcomes.
While CXS is maintaining a strong focused on the ASEAN region, it is rapidly expanding to other parts of the world such as the Middle East and Latin America.
Malaysia is becoming a hub for tech innovators
Among Malaysia’s strengths is that it is operating as a microcosm for the Southeast Asian ecosystem. Hostel Hunting believes that localisation in the region is effective because the fundamentals of putting up a tech startup is established in Malaysia, making it a suitable platform to scale up into different territories.
While Hostel Hunting is a beneficiary of government support and guidance though MDEC, Cradle, and Magic, itt is also noteworthy that Malaysia’s startup ecosystem in Malaysia is very supportive of each player.
Swingvy is also contributing back to the startup community with the launch of a programme offering 90% discount for the use of its product for startups in Malaysia and Singapore.
Funding also poses an important role for many players. “Being a tech startup involves heaving in machine learning and predictions. We would not be here without a government grant early in our days,” said Fuqaha of Katsana who credits much of their success to state-sponsored financial support.
Meanwhile, CXS believes there is no doubt its early and rapid growth was made possible by the invaluable support received from agencies such as MDEC and TalentCorp. CXS highlights that the private sector has been equally amazing, demonstrating their willingness to collaborate and innovate. This is important because it sets an example for other countries in the region—truly a case of “Malaysia Boleh!” or “Malaysia can!”
How to take this to the next level
When asked what Malaysia could do better in terms of supporting startups and innovation as a whole, DriveMark creators suggested, “Allowing budding entrepreneurs to experiment with technology and innovation right after secondary school by funding innovative ideas. Start with a fund as small as RM2000-5000 with no expectation of return. If any of the ideas grow, then nurture it with bigger fund or assistance to help it go to market.”
Swingvy creators echoed this sentiment, saying that education plays a major role. Support should start from education, especially since Malaysia has always had the talent potential as well as the resources.
They believe that it’s always best to have innovation and entrepreneurial thought nurtured from a young age. This means, the government should acknowledge that the previous educational system has not addressed this this area, and that private institutions should create and invest more funds to build a stronger startup ecosystem.
On the other hand, Hostel Hunting believes that Malaysia could benefit from better public awareness and understanding of the ecosystem landscape.
All the four startups—Katsana, Hostel Hunting, Swingvy, and CXS—believe that to holistically enhance the growth and impact of tech innovators requires adequate funding, sufficient support to nurture creativity, and educating both the players in the startup ecosystem as well as the general public. This will nurture better tech innovation and continued enhancement of human experience.
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