Lost In Translation: IoT Adoption In Southeast Asia In 2015

We spent a large part of the year in the cities of Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur speaking to local enterprises about this (too) broad and (too) overused term: the Internet of Things (IoT).

We discovered very quickly that, although IoT seems to be very much overly/wrongly used in the English-speaking world, there really isn’t a direct local translation in these four locales. For local enterprises in these countries, they see IoT as an extension of Enterprise IT, without having a definition/term for it.

As we near the end of 2015, let’s look back at the industries in the region where the conversations involving IoT projects are more pertinent.


This industrial segment was not something we focused on in 2015, but as we worked with local telcos and government agencies to invite enterprises to attend our events, we found the interest from the local manufacturing firms to be overwhelming.

We should have known. In this part of the world, countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are increasingly important global players in the space. Granted, these countries are chosen because of low labor costs, but locally run vendors and OEMs are very proactive when it comes to technology implementation within their factories (technology implementation is a lot more attractive when you’re experiencing double-digit growths versus no-/low-growth environments). Plus, legacy IT systems/culture are a smaller problem in young, growing firms.

Among others, we had the opportunity to speak to several representatives from one of the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer. The local entity is owned by an international parent, but because they produce a slightly different product (close to 90 percent of locals in Indonesia smoke kretek), they couldn’t implement manufacturing processes wholesale from their parent company. Another cliché with much truism: Think Globally, Act Locally.

Manufacturing and industrial automation will be a big theme in 2016, especially in Thailand and Indonesia. Macroeconomic conditions (weaker local currencies, young workforces, etc.) also have made these locales more attractive to international companies looking to set up manufacturing facilities — and technology, when used properly, can overcome (some) productivity inefficiencies usually associated with emerging countries.


In the more developed countries, the aging demographics make healthcare a natural topic of discussion. Remote monitoring/diagnostics is important not only in elderly care, but for archipelagos like Indonesia and Philippines. We found that in this part of the world, implementation of such systems are being driven largely by government agencies and young startups.

Some notable implementations in the region: In Singapore, applications like Healthcare ATMs have been rolled out and in Philippines, local startup Medifi implemented a pilot program earlier this year, with plans of expansion to other Southeast Asian markets soon.There’s always a buzz during the Healthcare segments of Asia IoT Business Platform, simply because it’s something to which all of us relate.

Distribution, Transportation, Logistics and Freight

I am reminded of a conversation I had with the owner of a logistics company in Manila who was a native English speaker but wasn’t familiar with the term “IoT.” But talk about telemetry, control software and sensors that track everything from his vehicle locations to petrol levels, and he’s in his element. His company was growing very quickly, and he was in the process of modernizing its systems to:

  • Create efficiencies
  • Gain better control/insights
  • Account for future growth

If those first two don’t constitute the classic definition of IoT, I don’t know what does!

In countries like Indonesia and Philippines, the distribution, transportation, logistics and freight segment have employed M2M technology for years. On the other hand, because of the low cost of labor, many companies still use manual methods to achieve the same goals: Instead of sensors, some Indonesian freight companies send “spies” to follow the drivers of their trucks to ensure that they don’t siphon off petrol in their vehicles to be resold!

Which Types Of Companies Do Well In The Enterprise IoT Space In Southeast Asia?

It’s a given that IoT will change business landscapes globally over the next five years, but it’s interesting to note that, because of the uniquely local problems that enterprises face in this part of the world, the companies that are best positioned to take advantage are those with a big local presence:

  • Telcos: With the need to connect millions of devices, IoT provides a new revenue stream for the local telecommunications companies. This is reflected in the setting up of IoT/M2M teams in most local telcos in the four countries. These firms now run their own revenue targets (aggressive ones!) and we can only see this portion of their business growing over the next few years.
  • Large Multinational Vendors: This goes without saying. These companies have been deeply entrenched in the local infrastructure; the Microsofts, Intels and Schneiders of the world. They have established relationships with local enterprises and the advent of IoT technology will make them natural partners to enterprises looking to upgrade their systems to fully realize the benefits of IoT.
  • Local Startups: We’ve had the pleasure of working with many new companies who understand local problems intimately and are flexible enough to work around the lack of standardization within IoT. They are providing innovative and cost-effective solutions to small/medium enterprises in these countries. There were a lot of enterprises interested in presentations given by companies like N’osairisVersaFleet and Medifi in 2015. The best part is, we are seeing projects being implemented.
  • International Vendors With A Presence In Southeast Asia: Over the years, we’ve seen this group of companies increasing as they realize the potential of the market here. In 2015, we’ve had more interest from international firms than we’ve ever had. But we’ve noticed that those who have invested heavily in the region (companies like ThingworxAxirosSIGFOX, etc.) by being present locally and building a dedicated team have reaped the largest rewards. There will be an inflexion point in this market; it remains to be seen if the first movers stand to benefit more than latecomers. I believe they will.

There are other developments within the B2B2C space (of course; Southeast Asia has more than 600 million consumers!) — but that warrants a discussion of its own.