Master of Data
By Digital News Asia September 18, 2017
- Fusionex International CEO, Ivan Teh on leveraging data for business success
- Invested US$24 million in R&D/talent, aims to double this over next few years
(The following is an edited version of an article that appeared in the July issue of Malaysia Retailer and is used with permission.)
TECHNOLOGY giants are often synonymous with their founders or CEO, intrinsically tied to each other, for good and bad. For example, Amazon and Jeff Bezos, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, Apple and the late Steve Jobs, as well as Uber and former CEO Travis Kalanick, not forgetting Alibaba and Jack Ma.
These are just some examples. One cannot help but notice that most tech giants of the world are either Silicon Valley or Asian based.
Aiming to join their ranks is emerging global Big Data and Analytics specialist Fusionex International and its founder/CEO Ivan Teh (pic). When met at his Malaysian based headquarters in Petaling Jaya, it was evident that Teh was a wanted man – buried under work and attending to numerous calls for his attention. No one said running a business empire that stretches well beyond Malaysia, was easy.
Staff describe him as the hardest worker in the company, responding to emails deep into the night, and even putting off a corporate photoshoot for years as “he has other more important work” to attend to.
So for him to spend a couple of hours with us at his office that occupies four spacious levels, each decked out in a futuristic design – was a rare opportunity to observe the man in his lair. The Fusionex dream that he has built is an multiple award-winning company specialising in Big Data and Analytics to help its clients manage, make sense of and derive useful insights and information from the vast amounts of structured and unstructured data at their disposal. But what makes the man tick?
Why did Fusionex come about and how has it achieved its current status?
It all started as a problem statement. Before Fusionex, I worked in MNCs where we used complex and very costly systems to cater to business needs. Long hours, sleepless nights, large teams and expensive technology were the norm. One day (after years of ploughing through various projects), I thought, “if we could find an innovative way and breakthrough to overcome this business challenge, i.e. data tsunami, as well as get rid of this major headache most companies endured, wouldn’t that be great?”
Naysayers were abound, telling me, “don’t bother, you are a capable man but this problem is just too huge to solve”, while others said, “I believe you will be able to do something great!”
Essentially, I wanted to solve the most complex “business and data” problems through the effective use of software and technology. The objective was also to do it in a manner that was faster, more “humanised”, intuitive and affordable compared to what was offered by the mega vendors. In principle, we wanted to bridge the gap between business and technology. Incidentally, the word “fusion” refers to a fusion between business and technology, and “ex” stands for experience and excellence. Hence, Fusionex was born. Competing against the largest and strongest players in the industry (most of them being western mega vendors) was no easy feat, when one considers at the beginning, Fusionex possessed no track record, no brand presence whatsoever, with zero external funding except for personal savings, which I almost exhausted at one point.
We didn’t want to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Instead, we focused on a key segment – data – which we believed (years ago) was going to become the new “crude oil”. By focusing on providing the much needed business value that Fusionex’s products offers to our customers, the team has succeeded in establishing a strong brand for us in the global IT industry.
Being in a space traditionally dominated by Western companies, how did you beat them at their own game?
The Western companies have good software. However, their products are normally complex, costly and sometimes, an overkill. At Fusionex, we focus on delivery of value with ease. GIANT 2017 and Fusionex ANT were developed from ground up to be powerful, high-performance, user-friendly and yet affordable.
We believe if anyone, and by that I mean literally anyone, from whatever walks of life, can use GIANT 2017 or Fusionex ANT with ease, then the product will sell by itself. We want to provide large corporations as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) a platform to grow their businesses via the effective use of technology. In essence, we provide our partners and customers with technology anytime, anywhere, anyhow and literally any form. That, we believe, is a key differentiator.
Market research firm Gartner predicts enterprise data will grow 650% over the next four years with analytics taking the centre stage. How would Fusionex solidify its position as the region’s top Big Data and Analytics player?
Fusionex is the pioneer and early mover for Big Data and Analytics in this region. We have had the good fortune and advantage to be involved in Big Data and Analytics (BDA) before it became one of the hottest business tools. Fusionex has also been cited as a vendor of interest by Gartner alongside white papers written by International Data Corporation. With the years of R&D, experience and the head start in this region, Fusionex will continue to invest and strengthen the awareness in this space. We hope to be able to solidify our position as the leading go-to big BDA, not just for enterprises, but for anyone and any company keen to benefit from the insights and information of data technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).
How does Fusionex leverage on opportunities available beyond Malaysia?
Fusionex has established and will continue to work with parties and partners to establish footprints in jurisdictions outside Malaysia. Interestingly and as a matter of fact, we started our business internationally before returning to Malaysia to share our global experience. To continue growing, we will expand to selected geographies via direct engagement as well as through strategic partnerships and collaboration. Such partnerships will add value in terms of scalability of opportunities beyond local shores.
In light of recent use of AI, AR and VR in the retail industry, how would Fusionex bring these technologies to the ASEAN retail industry?
Consumers in the retail space are confronted with a plethora of choice. In order to attract and encourage such consumers and prospects to remain loyal to one’s brand, it is important for retailers to constantly upgrade their offerings and to provide end customers with the best (hopefully personalised and relevant) user experience. To achieve that, retailers need to be kept up-to-speed on how various methods and technologies such as effective and targeted e-commerce, AI, AR, VR, BDA, digital marketing, digital payment services and so on can help them stay ahead and remain relevant in this fast-changing landscape.
At its heart, Fusionex is a data company. Our vast experience and superior technology allows us to tap on our huge resources to help customers achieve their goals (such as market access, customer reach, targeted marketing and understanding patterns/ trends etc) much more easily, quicker and more cost effectively. On top of that, Fusionex’s extensive partnership network allows us to facilitate integration and connectivity for other areas of technology and businesses as well.
Being a Big Data Analytics specialist, how can a retailer benefit from your solutions and insights?
With all retailers, the key to success is to know what your clients want, when they want the products, and how to encourage them to remain or start being a loyal or a repeat customer to you. Data management, digital marketing and analytics would help provide such essential insights and information to retailers. In this digital era, it’s important for retailers to leverage on both online and offline channels, as well as to reach out to prospects and customers in a scalable manner.
Fusionex recently agreed to sign on as the corporate patron of the Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA)? What value will this partnership entail for the association and your company?
Fusionex believes the potential of retailers in Malaysia is immense and will continue to grow. We believe MRCA plays a pivotal role in the retail sector, where MRCA has and continues to provide a highly supportive environment for the development and growth of the retail industry. We are honoured to be a corporate patron of MRCA, and we believe the partnership will bring further value to the industry and the wider ecosystem. We believe that a journey of a thousand steps begins with a first step and now is the time for us to leverage on this partnership to bring about a positive impact to the retail industry.
In your opinion, what technology can Malaysian retailers adopt quickly to improve their business and operation efficiencies?
There is a convergence of a few technologies which we refer to as the “nexus of forces”. Technology such as mobility, social media, cloud computing, data analytics, IoT, eCommerce and so on are no longer a luxury, but becoming a necessity. The notion that “I don’t know what I don’t know” is no longer good enough, simply because the competitor can exploit this power of data and knowledge to win. At Fusionex, we believe the effective use of the right technology could provide a huge competitive advantage to virtually any company willing to embrace technology to make a difference. We’ve seen great use cases and customer success stories where sales and marketing could be enhanced with effective technology. Likewise, we’ve also helped customers improve operational efficiencies through automation, data analytics and AI. Far-sighted retailers are beginning to realise that gone are the days where they can just rely on a closed loop and in-house skills.
How will the Digital Free Trade Zone change the business landscape for retailers in the future?
The world is increasingly become more and more digital and inter-connected. Free trade, open trade and globalisation provides a window of opportunity for local brands and retailers to reach out to international prospects/customers; yet at the same time if retailers don’t upgrade themselves with modern skills, techniques and technology, this also inevitably constitutes a potential threat as the window will naturally also be open to other brands as well to enter the markets. This is just the very nature of how free trade is.
Digital Free Trade Zone, with the right plan and execution, and once in full mode, has the objective to allow retailers to trade more conveniently and efficiently without the hassle of unnecessary delays, encumbrances that come with the usual physical process and alongside that, reduction in costs by all parties. It’s noteworthy to highlight that in this digital era where disruption is taking place in almost every space thinkable, we could either sit back (while being left behind), or we could look at this as an opportunity to increase our competitive edge and reach.
Can you share the idea behind the launch of GIANT 2017 and Fusionex ANT, especially its natural language processing capability?
Fusionex GIANT 2017 is an enterprise Big Data Analytics successor to the earlier version of GIANT, equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technologies to stay ahead of the curve in terms of Fusionex being the market leader for data analytics and usage of this with ease. We recognise, however, SME players may not require a full slew of offerings that come with GIANT 2017, and hence, Fusionex ANT was launched – a light-weight Analytics offering but with the power, leanness, efficiency and muscle (similar to how strong ants are for their size) to deliver what we believe is necessary to SME owners in terms of data management and insights.
How would you get SME owners to understand cutting-edge technology and its benefits?
Fusionex has set up a Data Technology Academy which is aimed to empower SME owners to understand how data technology can help them improve their businesses in today’s competitive climate. To that end, we provide training, awareness programmes, mentorship and other forms of assistance with the goal to help SME owners and decision-makers understand technology and how this could benefit their businesses. Fusionex is looking to increase our investments to support the SME space, as we believe there is great potential and we believe that SMEs will continue to drive significant growth in most countries, including Malaysia.
Over the last few years, Fusionex has signed on many high profile MoUs, partnerships and so on. Firstly, how do you do it, and secondly, what do you expect from these decisions?
Fusionex is fortunate and blessed in that it has a good relationship with many partners, associations, institutions and parties, which has in turn led to the further introductions and facilitations of new relationships. We believe each decision to engage in a MOU or partnership opens a new door or opportunity for us as well as our partners. We advocate good, synergistic partnerships/collaborations, and together we can bring about a more concerted, positive impact to the industry and ecosystem.
As technology progresses very quickly, how much has Fusionex reinvested in developing/upgrading facilities and manpower?
In our field, being ahead of the curve and investments in R&D is key to a technology company like ours. We constantly invest in our facilities, infrastructure, and most importantly we invest significantly in our great people. Training and R&D wise, we’ve invested more than US$23.8 million (RM100 million) over the last few years. We expect to invest US$47.7 million (RM200 million) or more over the next few years on our people.
On Glassdoor.com, an employment review website, Fusionex scored 3.6/5. How do you keep a large number of staff in and outside Malaysia happy and inspired?
Thank you. I am honoured by the compliment, but the truth is a lot of work for this should be attributed to our hard-working and ever-committed HR team, or the talent management team, as we like to refer to them. Naturally, I would not go so far as to say that our team is perfect, but I have a lot of appreciation for both the talent management team and the fantastic employees that I am proud to work alongside with. There are many aspects in relation to employee satisfaction that’s important to understand. But for us, I believe in empowering our people to excel and to scale new heights; I believe in giving them a conducive working environment (where people work, eat, play and have fun), the facilities, support and resources to hone their talent and to challenge themselves.
Are there any business decisions you've made but regretted? How do you come to terms with that?
Generally, I don’t make business decisions lightly. I try to consider as many angles as realistically possible, and would give careful thought before coming to a decision. I believe any well-thought-of decision is better than no-decision. I personally don’t believe in regretting business decisions. That’s not to say that we’ve made perfect decisions in the past. Neither does that mean that we have not made mistakes.
Rather, my point is once a decision is made and once we have carried out a plan, there is really no point in regretting it. I believe sometimes you make the right decision, at other times you make the decision right!
In other words, if we make a call, we are committed to see things through and be responsible for the decision. I believe fear of regrets hinders the decision-making process. Failing doesn’t mean that we’ve failed, it just means that we haven’t found a way to succeed yet. We will get there (eventually) if we persevere. I’ve learnt from many mistakes in the past, and will continue to keep improving as I believe learning is a lifelong process.