Digerati50: Flying the highway to success

  • Workaholic relies on family as support system to cope with work pressure
  • Morphing away from drone platforms to high-impact Unmanned Aerial Systems

Digerati50: Flying the highway to success

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital version can be downloaded from the sidebar link.  For information on customised reprints please email [email protected]

[Ed: The article here is an expanded version of the one that appeared in the July print edition.]

You would think mapping the Pan Borneo highway would be a laudable achievement in itself. How about doing it over and over again?

"In total, we have achieved over 25,000km of highway data collection," said Armi Majid (pic), founder and CEO of OFO Tech Sdn Bhd. "(It's) something of a world record," he states, without any hesitation.

For two years, starting in 2018, the company had continually mapped at a rate of a thousand kilometres of highway per month using their Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to centimetre accuracy, proving that drones could be a viable alternative to using helicopters to do the same work.

"The system is revolutionary," he boasts.

Not bad for something that started as a hobby for Armi. “Drones was a new technology back in 2015, and I figured I might as well give it a shot,” he recalled. “Apparently it was a perfect fit!”

Still, he was a little tentative at the beginning. "We started out very small, trying to test the waters if you will. We did not harbour grand ambitions neither did we expect to be where we are today."

That attitude in part is reflected in the company’s playful name: OFO stands for “Ohsem Flying Objekt”, a play on the word UFO. “We wanted something fresh, young and hip to define us,” he maintained. “We did not imagine to be part of the corporate environment.”

"Needless to say, as time progressed we realized we had the capability to do bigger things.”


From Kuala Lumpur to Ulm, and back again

Describing himself as a "typical KL boy", Armi spent most of his schooling life in the capital city, apart from a brief sojourn in a Penang boarding school for two years. After his SPM (the equavalent of O-levels), Armi began to look abroad.

"I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from JPA (a public agency) to pursue my studies in Germany," he said. He went to Germany and enrolled at Fachhochschule Ulm and then Universität Kassel for a degree and Masters electrical engineering, respectively.

Following that, he was attached to Daimler GmbH in Ulm, Germany as a researcher, developing test software for TV and Radio Tuners in Daimler, Mercedes and other smart cars.

He finally returned to Malaysia in 2015. "I was exploring and developing business opportunities using unmanned platforms and drones. We saw a gap in the market, which lacked a comprehensive platform for geospatial data for common industries (SMEs) to access," he says.

"We knew we could do better." In mid-2016, he founded OFO Tech, and developed a front-end to an asset management solution called RÄISE (Reality Asset e-Information System). (Note the use of the umlaut symbol, a nod to Armi's Germanic links.)

"One of our first jobs was a mapping project for 70,000 hectares of a government-linked plantation player," explained Armi. "It was our big break. It cemented the belief that we could compete with the big boys."

And the big boys took notice. At the Frost & Sullivan's Annual Malaysia Excellence Awards in 2018, OFO Tech won the UAV Services Entrepreneurial Company of the Year. In 2019 they followed it up with the UAV Service Company of the Year.

The recognition gave Armi the confidence that he could do bigger things.


The new challenges: People and Family

From electrical engineer, to drone hobbyist, to startup entrepreneur, Armi admitted that he had to change his way of thinking several times along the way.

"Being an engineer, I always had a scientific sort of approach to thinking. But, the business world, requires more social variations."

Specifically, managing his staff. "People come in all shapes and forms, and in order to attract the right talent, you need to be people-oriented," he admitted. "People respond positively if you communicate with them in the right manner. I guess when it comes down to it, it’s about the right mix of attitude!"

The other thing that Armi felt he needs to come to terms is something every entrepreneur is familiar with: "I am told I am a workaholic."

It is an area he desperately wants to improve in. "To find (a) work-life balance, between family and profession is something that requires extra effort on my part. Because I believe that spending quality time with family will both revitalize and allow myself to be emotionally recharged," he shared. "Business is a tough arena, so having your family as a support system really does help."


Focusing on the future

Like many other businesses, OFO Tech has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, although fortunately it has not been that badly hit. "Our services do register as essential such as inspection and asset management services for critical assets such as highways as bridges, enabling us to operate as usual," he said, but with new SOPs and guidelines. "Like everyone, we are still getting used to this new normal."

"Regardless of the economic situation, OFO Tech will be focusing more on technology development in 2020," he continued. "When border restrictions are loosened, we will continue our foreign expansion, to aggressively penetrate newer markets abroad."

OFO Tech can already boast branches around the world, each of them established for particular reasons. “We understood early on, that the market was bigger outside, and that our technology has relevance across continents,” he said.

“Indonesia represents our first market abroad, an obvious choice given its proximity and the similar culture we share. Bangladesh on the other hand, is our first attempt at South Asia, where the market has big potential.”

Armi has ambitions for Europe as well. “We chose Romania because we have good contacts with the tech scene there. Our Romanian partners specialize in factory work automation, building robots of the future.” The partnership is a win-win situation. “For the time being, they act as our official representative in east/central Europe. Likewise, we represent them and their product for the Southeast Asian market.”

Meanwhile changes are afoot at OFO Tech. “As we speak, we are morphing away from drone platforms and merging into other platforms,” said Armi. “The platform itself represents only one component of a wider spectrum of high-impact Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology.”

Armi sees the bigger picture as a platform that integrates other IR 4.0 technologies such as AI and data analytics. "(This is) to ensure that we always stay several steps ahead of our competitors."

Another thing Armi pointed out is that a key piece of his business is not the drone itself, but rather what the drone does. "In truth, we’re becoming more like drone data companies, rather than drone companies," he has been reported saying.

"We always knew that data was the key value for all sectors involved and that drones helped with the data acquisition process."

As of now, they are not aggressively pursuing any funding. "We do not necessarily put a timeline to raise funding. At the end of day, our approach is more of a marathon instead of a sprint. We are still evolving and guided by our passion."

One thing he is sure of: "We are confident the drone industry is very much relevant to the future and will always have strong demand. We see a bright future ahead."

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