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The pandemic resulted in a contraction of almost 5% in Thailand’s IT spending in 2020, but it is forecast to bounce back to a 5% growth this year, propelled by people working from home and studying online, according to a report by a global leading tech research firm.

In 2020, IT spending in the country fell 4.9% year-on-year to THB636.2 billion. Devices saw the biggest year-on-year drop of 14.5%, compared with other IT sectors, to THB161.7 billion, followed by IT services with a 3.5% fall to THB60.1 billion, data centre systems with a 1.1% decline to THB24.8 billion, communications services with a 0.9% dip to THB349.2 billion.

Only enterprise software saw growth with a 0.4% rise to THB40.4 billion. IT spending in Thailand is expected to recover and grow 5% this year to THB668.2 billion. The biggest rebound is forecast for enterprise software spending with a 13.6% jump to THB45.9 billion as remote work support is expanded and improved.

Remote work and remote education are also driving demand for tablets and laptops, which is expected to boost growth in device spending by 9.5% to THB176.9 billion this year.

In 2022, IT spending in Thailand is projected to continue to grow with a rise of 5.3% to THB703.5 billion. Enterprise software is forecast to see the biggest growth with an 8.9% surge to THB50 billion, followed by devices with a 5.8% rise to THB187.3 billion.

The expected rebound of the IT market in Thailand in 2021 falls short of projected growth in global IT spending, which is forecast to see 6.2% growth to US$3.92 trillion.

Last year, global IT spending declined 3.2% year-on-year to $3.6 trillion while chief information officers (CIOs) around the world prioritised spending on technology and services deemed “mission-critical during the initial stage of the pandemic”.

One expert noted that CIOs have a balancing act to perform in 2021 – saving cash and expanding IT. With the economy returning to a level of certainty, companies are investing in IT in a manner consistent with their expectations for growth, not their current revenue levels. Digital business, led by projects with a short time to value, will get more money and board-level attention going into 2021.

All IT spending segments worldwide are forecast to return to growth in 2021, particularly enterprise software, which is expected to see the strongest rebound with 8.8% growth to $505 billion as remote work environments are expanded and improved.

The devices segment will see the second-highest growth in 2021 with a jump of 8% and is projected to reach $705.4 billion in spending.

It was noted that there several factors pushing the devices market higher. As countries continue remote education through this year, there will be a demand for tablets and laptops for students.

Likewise, enterprises are industrialising remote work for employees as quarantine measures keep employees at home and budget stabilisation allows CIOs to reinvest in assets that were sweated in 2020.

Digital disruption has grown to become a major force across a broad number of industries worldwide. Thus, the vast majority of global executives admit that their industries will be disrupted to a major or transformative extent. In Thailand, it is interesting to discover what Thai executives’ perspectives are on digital disruption and how companies develop and implement digital transformation in the era of digital disruption.

In October 2019, the Thailand of the firm conducted The Thailand Digital Transformation Survey among 91 executives from several industries. This was to gain insights into the digital transformation phenomenon in a business context in Thailand, how and what way businesses adopt it, as well as the key challenges or obstacles faced. The following are some key insights from the survey.

They found that most Thai businesses especially in Technology, Media and Telecommunication and Financial services are aware that digital disruption is happening. However, they are still optimistic about the impact of digital disruption on their companies.

The report suggests that Thai companies should speed up their digital transformation readiness to deal with major to transformative digital disruption impact as it is likely to happen within the next five years. Moreover, COVID-19 crisis will accelerate digital transformation.

According to the report, tax incentives, easing regulations and well-established infrastructure are the most popular demands companies wish they had from the government. Hence, the Thai government should improve the digital business environment in Thailand by focusing on these issues, reforming education systems and emphasising the importance of data science skills.

Across the world, communities are fighting to restore tree cover. Biodiversity loss and efforts to mitigate climate change are driving forces for this renewed interest in forests. However, the high costs in developing economies and poor political resolve in wealthy nations continue to hinder reforestation efforts.

Fortunately, various governments are stepping up and petitioning start-ups and tech firms to use drone reforestation to radically reduce reforestation costs. These developments allow private companies to play a forward role in forest revitalisation and climate change mitigation.

New Drone Technology

Drones are unmanned aircraft wildly ranging in size and controlled by human operators on the ground. They are one of many new technologies that scientists and policymakers alike are actively using to mitigate climate change. Many of the innovative start-ups touting this technology hope to use their tech in developing nations across the world.

Thailand, for example, is one of the economic powerhouses of Southeast Asia. It is home to more than 68 million people. It is also employing drone technology to meet its emissions targets and reforest its lands. Since 1961, forest cover in Thailand has declined from 53.5% to 31.6%, with significant portions of the deforestation occurring in wildlife hotspots located within Thailand’s rainforests.

Much of the country’s deforestation has been to accommodate not only the industry but rapid population growth. In 2014, due to a renewed dedication to reforestation, the Thai government swiftly and randomly evicted thousands of people to conduct reforestation efforts. While reforestation is a necessary endeavour, the rights of many Thai were violated in the name of environmental protection.

However, recent political developments in Thailand point to a renewed interest in bridging the gap between reforestation and population growth. Through “community forestry,” thousands of communities now manage the forests around their homes in line with conservation measures.

Moreover, Thailand has established rapid reforestation campaigns through the use of drones. Sustainable, cooperative reforestation will help Thailand meet its emissions targets and grow its economy through eco-tourism, restoring the nation’s biodiversity and improving human rights for its minority communities.

Other nations are using drone tech to reforest their lands as well. For example, Madagascar which is home to over 25 million people and located off of the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, has lost more than 40% of its tree cover since 1960.

The island has a unique geographic history, separating from the main continent of Africa more than 88 million years ago. As such, many of its species are endemic to the island. Madagascar has such stark biodiversity that it is home to nearly 3% of all animal and plant species in the world, including the lemur and the baobab tree.

Deforestation causes immense harm to the Malagasy people as well. It disrupts local rainfall patterns, destroys water tables and expedites the loss of topsoil. These factors can cause poor agricultural yields, leading to food and water insecurity and ultimately further deforestation.

The government of Madagascar has recognised the issue and is engaged in a reforestation campaign to plant four million hectares of trees across the island, in part using drone technology.

Looking ahead

Forest decline is a complex issue. Political, social and economic developments, however, can prevent massive declines in the rate of deforestation. New developments in technology, particularly the new possibility of rapid reforestation with inexpensive drone technology, offer the thrilling possibility of restoring forests across the world.

Instead of violating human rights to get there, drone reforestation can plant trees while ensuring impoverished communities receive the benefits of climate stability and water and food security.

Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center provides preventative healthcare under the concept “Chamchuri Health City”, following the university’s policy on wellbeing on the 60th anniversary of the Health Center. On 21 December 2020, the centre launched the “Digital X-Ray Room” (CUHC General Digital X-Ray 2020), which offers diagnostic radiology services for various diseases to members of the Chula Community.

The Chulalongkorn University President presided over the opening ceremony. In the opening speech, he stated that X-ray machines are the heart of diagnosis and the Digital X-ray room at the Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center will help provide efficient and self-reliant health services to Chulalongkorn students and personnel.

Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center also has a network connection to Chulalongkorn Hospital and nearby hospitals. This will make Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center a model for medical care for other agencies and will help expand services to the general public in the future.

The Director of the Chulalongkorn Health Center revealed that the Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center started as Chulalongkorn Health Unit, established 63 years ago in 1959. The centre never had an X-Ray machine and when patients required an X-ray or were in an accident, they had to be transferred to a hospital. The process was time-consuming and complicated and so plans for the Digital X-ray Room were drawn up.

The CUHC General Digital X-Ray 2020 project has the world-class Phillip Digital Diagnost C90, which is the latest model and the first to be imported into Thailand. It is certified by the Department of Medical Sciences and will be used for medical examinations, lung x-rays, and medical certificates for renewal of government tenure.

A Lecturer at the Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine and radiology expert said that the x-ray machine can take high-resolution images and help with the diagnostics of various organs, such as the lungs and abdomen, and bone and joint diseases inflicting the spine, knee joints, and skull.

The digital X-ray images will be transferred to a monitor so that radiologists can read the images and interpret them immediately in just a few seconds.

Chulalongkorn University dedicates itself to support the health and well-being of its personnel and students, aiming for a vigorous, healthy, and happy life on campus. Stepping up to this task is the Chulalongkorn University Health Service Center. Located at Chamchuri 9 Building, the centre provides comprehensive medical services, including preliminary care, 11 specialized clinics, dental care, physical therapy room, preventative care, physical recovery, as well as a 24-hr ambulance service for emergencies.

The digital x-ray room is now open to faculty members, staff, students, as well as residents in the Chula neighbourhood.

The value of x-ray machines has not gone unnoticed in Thailand. In late 2019, the Thai Customs Department had plans to install 23 X-ray machines at Thailand’s main international airport. The Customs Director-General stated that X-ray machine installation above the baggage carousels at Suvarnabhumi International Airport is aimed at improving the efficiency of security checks of luggage of inbound passengers and to prevent goods smuggling.

The machines improve the security check of luggage transported from inbound planes before the passengers can claim them. Previously, the Thai customs resorts to random check method by human staff this resulted in smuggled goods slipping through on occasion.

It was noted that the x-ray machines, customs officials can immediately see what is in the luggage and immediately prompt the passengers to pay the Customs duty before leaving the airport. The X-ray machines at Suvarnabhumi International Airport help with tax collection as well as prevent the smuggling of sensitive goods into the country, such as agricultural products, palm oil, fuel oil and drugs.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) will launch a digital asset trading platform in the second half of 2021 to allow trading on all types of digital token assets excluding cryptocurrencies. According to the SET, cryptocurrencies do not meet its product qualifications and could facilitate money laundering, while causing harm to the bourse’s image as a “high trust” exchange.

The Executive Vice-President of the SET stated that the digital asset platform will be similar to other popular e-commerce marketplaces but all products on SET’s platform will be digital token assets. He said tokens traded on the platform must meet at least one of three conditions. First, the token must have an underlying asset that investors can analyse on value. Second, it must be a valuable product that supports economic activities. Third, the product must have benefits to society and the environment.

The bourse also formulated a fully integrated distributed ledger technology (blockchain) and digital asset investment service in 2020 to link various digital asset exchanges, digital wallets and initial coin offering (ICO) portals in Thailand under one platform via a collaboration with an arm of a banking group in Thailand.

The bank will be responsible for sourcing and screening products entering the SET digital asset marketplace. The SET is looking to sign an agreement with other partners with an aim to achieve exponential growth through tech innovations and investments via its three arms.

The SET also has studied several ICO cases. Most projects being studied have the possibility of making profits in the future. In order to protect investors, the digital asset must meet at least one of the three conditions set by the SET but cryptocurrencies don’t meet any of them. Thus, they cannot be counted as the SET’s product even though some countries accept payments in cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrencies are currently used in some countries which are experiencing high inflation and currency fluctuations such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela as an equivalent of fiat money. Thailand has a strong economy. As inflation has remained low and the Bank of Thailand’s measures to keep the baht stable have worked in the past, the SET has no reason to support cryptocurrencies at the moment.

However, the Executive Vice-President said some stock exchanges in Europe currently provide cryptocurrency trading to attract digital asset investors before launching other digital token assets via their platforms.

He said one of the measures to prevent money laundering is to do “Know Your Customer” (KYC) with clients who open trading with the exchanges. KYC will filter and screen unusual investors who come to open trading accounts. Cryptocurrency is just one digital asset product among others, he added.

The bank and other ICO portal firms will search for new products and evaluate the ICO project before putting them on the trading platform. As each product has different characteristics, the bourse must employ experts from different areas to help screen the products.

Digital token assets can be many valuable things such as diamonds and title deeds.

The SET expects that the digital asset marketplace will grow faster than today’s stock market as it emerges in the 4.0 era, while the traditional markets were established in the 1.0 or 2.0 eras which had less technologies to facilitate trading. The stock and bond markets are also governed by regulations that are far less flexible than the digital asset law and usually need intermediaries such as brokers and banks to make transactions.

Rajavithi Hospital in Bangkok has introduced a high-tech surgical robot to assist medical teams with a promise of better accuracy, and a safer and shorter hospital stay for patients.

Under the name of da Vinci Xi, the US-made surgical robotic technology is designed to assist surgeons’ accuracy during urologic surgical procedures. Highly magnified 3D HD technology allows surgeons to see a surgical site with improved depth perception and clear vision.

Meanwhile, the instruments bend and rotate for beyond the abilities of the human hand. With high motion technologies, the robot allows surgeons to operate with a steadier motion than is humanly possible, the company says.

The head of the hospital’s committee overseeing the surgical robotic system said da Vinci Xi is the most advanced technology in the country and is providing satisfying results.

Patients are happy with the operation done by the robot due to less pronounced wounds after operations. The robot’s technique helps patients recover quickly, reducing their hospital stay. That, in turn, frees up beds for patients, he said.

It was noted that the robotic arms are developed to be close to people’s hands, in terms of movement. “But the good point is that they can go deeper to small points [of the body] that need operating on without any limitations,” he added.

The hospital has launched 11 new operating theatres, including one room for the surgical robot. A surgeon requires at least 30 hours to be trained on how to use the robot, before performing an operation on a patient.

Many patients with cancer and complex diseases have already been operated on by the robot. The hospital says 85% of operations by the robot are related to diseases found in the throat, ears and nose, 11% for gynaecology, and 2% for prostate and kidney cancer.

There are eight surgical robots in the country at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Siriraj Hospital and Ramathibodi Hospital. It is estimated that 5,270 surgical robots are currently working around the world.

The Chief of the Department of Medical Services stated that the hospital has over 6,000 walk-in patients per day and the number is expected to increase. The robot will play a significant role in treating patients who need complicated operations.

Robots are not only time-saving but also provide safety to patients by reducing direct contact between patients and medical teams, he said.

According to recent research, the market for surgical robots is expected to grow from US$6.7 billion in 2020 to US$11.8 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 12.1% during the forecast period. Growth in the surgical robots’ market can be attributed to factors such as technological advancements, advantages of robotic-assisted surgery, increasing adoption of surgical robots by hospitals & ambulatory surgery centres and increased funding for medical robot research.

Based on product and service, the global market is segmented into robotic systems, instruments, and accessories and services. The instruments and accessories segment commanded the largest share of the market in 2019. The large share and high growth rate of this segment are mainly driven by the recurrent purchase of instruments & accessories as opposed to robotic systems, which are a one-time investment.

Based on the application, the market is segmented into general surgery, urological surgery, gynaecological surgery, orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, and other applications. The general surgery segment is expected to grow at the highest rate during the forecast period.

Growth in this market segment can be attributed to the increased use of surgical robots in general procedures such as bariatric surgery, Heller myotomy, gastrectomy, hernia repair, cholecystectomy, transoral surgery, and pancreatectomy.

Based on end-user, the market is segmented into hospitals and ambulatory surgery centres. The demand for surgical robots in hospitals is primarily driven by the increasing focus on carrying out surgeries with better precision and ensuring more comfort for surgeons.

The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) plans to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) university project and drone academy this year, as part of the agency’s plan to drive digital skills and support the digital economy.

The AI university project is meant to provide AI knowledge to learning programmes and workshops at designated universities, while the drone academy is set to help Thais learn how to use drones for their businesses, particularly in the agricultural sector.

The Depa president and chief executive stated that the projects are part of the agency’s strategic cooperation plans aiming at digital economy development, which covers digital transformation, manpower skill enhancement and startup incubation.

About THB200 million will be used to develop the AI university project, with half the amount budgeted by Depa and the remainder by private entities through a matching fund. For the drone academy, Depa plans to set aside THB50 million to develop the project and a matching fund will earmark another 50 million.

Universities are being considered for the AI project, with Mahidol, Chulalongkorn and Thammasat the main contenders, he said.

He noted that drones are a new technology for Thais in terms of business use, especially big drones, which are very useful in several sectors, including agriculture and logistics. When the drone business approaches maturity, international tech companies will come and invest in this segment in Thailand. Depa will also support AI courses at four vocational schools in 2021, targeting 150 students at each school.

The agency also aims to incubate 70 start-ups throughout 2021 under a start-up fund. This is an increase from 50 start-ups this year. These start-ups’ operations must be linked with the country’s core technology development and infrastructures in five digital service areas: agriculture, education, finance, tourism and healthcare.

The aim is meant to support digital start-ups while the economy is sluggish and accelerate the digital service transformation to improve people’s quality of life. Through the start-up fund, Depa plans to spend THB1 million on each start-up in the initial development stage.

Another THB5 million will be allocated to each start-up when they begin to grow their business. Some 120 start-ups have been financially supported by Depa the past two years. Their combined business valuation is THB7 billion.

In addition, the agency is supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), communities and farmers in terms of digital adoption, he said. Some 350 SMEs, 100 communities and 3,000 farmers are under the Depa’s assistance programme. They can use digital solutions and services provided by tech start-ups at half the cost because of Depa’s subsidy, he said.

In the first quarter of 2021, Depa plans on unveiling a labelling scheme called “d Sure” to guarantee the functionality, safety and security of digital products sold in the country. The scheme should help people to choose trustworthy digital items; it is expected to be a boon for innovation adoption.

Depa will work with the National Science Technology Development Agency and the Thai Industrial Standards Institute on this scheme, he said. The programme should make consumers more confident in their decisions to buy digital devices, ranging from drones and Internet of Things gadgets to CCTV cameras and wearable devices.

Digital product producers or importers can ask to test their equipment to receive the label. Three security camera brands and five drones’ brands have qualified for the standard. Depa plans to roll out a new mobile app called “d Hunt” to search for digital services or tech professionals that can assist people.

One of the largest commercial banks in Thailand announced the launch of its Thai language Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered chatbot that was built in-house in a joint collaboration with a Singapore-based fintech start-up. The chatbot called, TT01, was a result of the bank’s innovation programme, InnoHub. The development began earlier in 2020 and the chatbot was fully completed in October. The solution will be available to clients of the start-up.

Meanwhile, the bank will use this as a digital sales assistant on LINE for their sales and relationship managers, scheduled to launch in Q1 2021. This solution adds to the start-up’s growing portfolio of languages available on its proprietary conversational AI chatbot, which includes English, Chinese, Bahasa Malaysia, and Bahasa Indonesia.

The Head of the bank’s Innovation Department stated that they are excited about TT01, which they believe to be the first in-house built advanced Thai conversational AI engine that works. According to multiple internal tests, TT01 has achieved an accuracy rate of up to 96%.

Thai is a complicated language and has long been neglected by the global data science community, so the team is proud to be able to finally build this engine with the start-up, and hope this will lead to more interest in Thai conversational AI in the region, he added. TT01 was reportedly trained to process mixed-use language in Thai and English, as well as emojis, both of which are commonly used in daily text-based communications.

Commenting on this approach, the Founder and CEO of the start-up noted that the team wanted to build a Thai conversational AI engine for everyone. Therefore, it must be able to process utterances that reflect how ordinary people communicate in their daily lives. Through their first partnership with the bank, the start-up accomplished just that, he said.

The Singapore-based start-up is an alumnus of Bangkok Bank’s InnoHub which is a global accelerator programme in 2019. The launch of TT01 comes shortly after the pre-Series A funding by the corporate venture capital arm of the bank.

Growing demand for chatbots

Market research from 2019, showed that the chatbot market size is expected to grow to US$9.4 billion by 2024, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29.7% during the forecast period (from 2019). Key growth factors for the market include advancement in technology coupled with rising customer demand for self-service and 24/7 customer assistance at lower operational costs.

Further, initiatives toward the development of self-learning chatbots to deliver more human-like conversational experience, growing use of chatbot among various industries, and increasing focus on customer engagement through various channels to create many opportunities for vendors in the global market.

Customer engagement and retention is one of the main focus areas of various verticals. These verticals have started deploying Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots into their operations to engage customers and offer them seamless experiences throughout their journey.

Chatbots act as an effective tool for verticals to attract, retain, and engage new customers, owing to their ability to engage customers, collect new data, and shorten sales life cycles. Hence, customer engagement and retention is projected to become a crucial application area to deploy chatbot solutions.

The global chatbot market covers 5 major geographic regions, namely, North America, Asia Pacific (APAC), Europe, Middle East and Africa (MEA), and Latin America. North America is expected to hold the largest market size during the forecast period.

The APAC region shows rapid growth in the market, as the APAC region holds more than 50% of the world’s population, and therefore any major technological shifts, such as those being heralded by AI are likely to shape the future of the region.

Many Asian countries, such as China, Singapore, India, and Japan are leveraging information-intensive AI technologies, and chatbots are some of the leading technologies trends and hence, APAC is expected to show promising opportunities to deploy chatbot solutions.

members of the public.

The Telecommunications Association of Thailand (TCT) launched a centre to coordinate efforts to combat cyber threats in the telecom industry and to serve as a venue for information-sharing about the issue on 14 December 2020.

The centre is called TTC-CERT, or Thailand Telecom Computer Emergency Response Team. Around THB18 million will be budgeted by the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund to the centre over the next three years.

The TCT plans to build a centralised data-sharing platform next August, which will serve as the main channel for its members to notify and get updates on cyberthreats as well as exchange related information with members of the public.

The President of TCT stated that TTC-CERT will also gather information about cyber threats from other organisations, including the Thailand Banking Sector Computer Emergency Response Team (TB-CERT) and Thai Capital Market CERT (TCM-CERT).

This will foster collaboration in all core sectors, which play a crucial part in the country’s digital economy.

TTC-CERT will also connect with the Thailand Computer Emergency Response Team (ThaiCert), which is operated by the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA).

The establishment of the TTC-CERT follows a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between nine members of TCT for cooperation. The TTC-CERT will work on data exchange, a warning system and training activities, not only for TCT members but also around 1,000 companies in telecom and ICT-related fields.

While big enterprises in the telecom business sector, especially mobile operators, have strong measures and technical support in place in dealing with cyber threats, the threats are increasingly sophisticated. Cyberthreats include D-Dos, malware and ransomware, which could wreak havoc on digital platforms as well as telecom infrastructure.

The telecom is not just a business sector, but a fundamental infrastructure or foundation of communication for every sector, he said.

The Director of TTC-CERT stated that the centre has two staff responsible for routine work and coordination with members. They must work to ensure optimum benefits for all members and keep information secure, he said. TTC-CERT has to build trust among members.

Thailand government is proactive on cybersecurity

A recent report noted that the rise of cyberthreats is setting off alarm bells among state and local governments, forcing them to pay attention to the problem and invest in cybersecurity measures, the Thailand unit of the US cybersecurity firm said.

The Senior Manager for systems engineering at the local unit that state and local governments are seen moving towards investment in cybersecurity measures due to the rise of attacks and they are among attackers’ top targets.

According to the “2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report”, ransomware is the most common cyber threat for the public administration sector in the US, with 61% of ransomware attacks being malware cases.

In Thailand, a public hospital was hit by hackers in September in a data ransom situation.

The increasing use of multi-cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and Software as a Service (SaaS) also bring further exposure to security threats. Government agencies must work to comply with the Cybersecurity Act to ensure cyber protections in connection with security operation centres, access control as well as email and application security

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