Riding A New Wave Of Digital Innovation

Next-generation technologies are reshaping the world at an unprecedented rate.

The world has never felt the pervasiveness of technology more than it does today. The pandemic accelerated numerous tech trends that were already evident in the days before Covid-19 made its presence felt. Whether we’re exploring virtual worlds, making payments with our smart watches or traveling in driverless vehicles, technology has embedded itself in almost everything we do.

Amid buzz over the latest digital trends, the metaverse—hailed as the next iteration of the Internet—is perhaps the one that has drawn the most attention recently. Experts envision the metaverse to encompass multiple online platforms that combine aspects of the physical and digital worlds.

Meanwhile, NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, powered by blockchain technology have captured the imaginations of digital artists and content creators around the world, giving them an avenue to monetize their creativity.

For businesses, digital transformation is an area that they can no longer afford to ignore. Companies that fail to adopt technology to increase productivity, generate new revenue streams or reach new audiences, risk being left behind in an increasingly digital world.

Digital Payments Gaining Traction
As e-commerce continues to gain pace, digital payments are also starting to become mainstream in many markets. According to a recent Mastercard survey, consumers in Asia Pacific are among the most enthusiastic adopters of digital payments globally.

The study found that 88% of consumers in this part of the world have used technologies like digital wallets, QR codes and cryptocurrencies in the past year. While the pandemic may have been the catalyst for this rapid adoption, Mastercard predicts that this shift in consumer behavior may be permanent.

Clearly, Mastercard is playing a key role in shaping the future of payments in Asia and the rest of the world. Among other initiatives, the company has been leading efforts to strengthen the digital ecosystems of its partners and customers with a host of innovative solutions.

AI Transforming Major Industries
However, it is not just multinational companies that are helping to transform the world through technology. Innovative startups are also making their mark in the dynamic tech sector. Malaysian drone technology solutions firm Aerodyne, for instance, pioneered the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for large-scale data operations, analytics and process optimization in major industries.

With a presence in 35 countries, the company, founded by Malaysian entrepreneur Kamarul A Muhamed, employs drones armed with cutting-edge AI software to help businesses in areas such as precision automation, security and intelligence, as well as logistics. The 8-year-old startup has found much success, and is ranked first in the global remote sensing category by Drone Industry Insights.

With both global leaders and startups striving to make an impact through technology, the world can expect new, innovative solutions in the coming years that will impact the way we work, live and play in unimaginable ways.

Transforming the Digital Payments Space

Mastercard is playing a key role in shaping the future of digital payments to benefit its customers, merchants and end consumers.

Safdar Khan, Division President for Southeast Asia at Mastercard

It’s not uncommon to see Safdar Khan, the Division President for Southeast Asia at Mastercard, receive a lesson on cryptocurrency or the metaverse from a younger colleague at the payments giant’s Asia/Pacific regional headquarters in Singapore.

These “reverse mentoring” sessions are part of Khan’s efforts to keep Mastercard at the forefront of a global payments landscape that is transforming in double-quick time. “I am open to learning,” Khan says. “If I don’t evolve, how can I lead an organization that wants to be a leader in an industry that is rapidly changing?”

The acceleration of the payments revolution in recent years—partly due to the pandemic-fuelled e-commerce boom—is most prominent in Asia Pacific (APAC). According to a recent Mastercard survey, consumers in the region are among the most enthusiastic adopters of digital payments globally, with 88% having used technologies like digital wallets, QR codes and cryptocurrencies in the past year.

Almost 70% of APAC consumers have also upped their usage of at least one digital payment method during the same period, significantly higher than those in other regions. While Covid-19 may have sparked the trend, Mastercard’s latest research indicates that this shift in consumer behavior may be permanent, driven by the convenience of such “frictionless” payment methods.

Significantly, Khan notes that Mastercard’s card-not-present transactions—defined as transactions that occur when neither the cardholder nor the credit card is physically present at the time of the transaction— crossed card-present transactions in APAC when the pandemic peaked.

“Asia Pacific comprises a younger population compared to other parts of the world, and this group is a lot more digitally savvy. As such, their ability to adopt any new kind of payment technology is quite fast. The region’s smartphone penetration is also helping because making digital payments on a smartphone is far more convenient than through other channels,” Khan says.

Moves by governments in the region to promote digital payments and a still growing e-commerce sector will continue to boost adoption. A leading funds transfer service in Thailand, PromptPay, now registers over 1.1 billion monthly transactions, up from less than 800 million a month last year.

These trends essentially mean that consumers will be spoilt for choice when it comes to payment options, compared to just a few years ago. As such, it is essential that Mastercard “keeps pace with evolving consumer preferences, innovating and looking at new ways to give consumers more payment choices that suit their changing needs and lifestyles, so that they can pay when and how they want,” says Khan.

New Choices Emerge

Beyond more common payment methods, including contactless, QR codes and digital wallets, there has been an emergence of new digital platforms in the last few years. While the majority of consumers in APAC are aware of these next-generation offerings, including cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), uptake has so far been gradual. In the crypto space, for instance, the focus is currently on investment rather than use for direct payments.

“Right now, crypto is not widely being used as a payment mechanism for everyday goods and services due to the high volatility of its value, lack of strong consumer protections and nascency of the underlying technology. Instead, users mostly consider it to present a new class of assets to make investment. Looking ahead, we feel that certain types of crypto, such as stablecoins, will primarily be used for B2B and trade-related activity,” says Khan. Mastercard’s research found that greater involvement from governments and dependable institutions such as banks would likely boost consumer confidence in crypto.

Another emerging trend is the growing popularity of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) schemes that allow consumers to make purchases, and pay for them in several instalments at a future date—often interest-free. In APAC, 50% of consumers say they are comfortable using BNPL today, with many attracted by the low or zero interest rates. “We are seeing a high uptake of BNPL across all markets. And in Southeast Asia, the desire to adopt BNPL is a lot greater than other parts of the world,” Khan says.

Security is Paramount

Amid the proliferation of new payment solutions, security remains the number one consideration for consumers when it comes to choosing a payment method—beating out discounts or promotions, rewards and even low interest rates. And according to Cybersecurity Ventures, with global cybercrime expected to cost US$10.5 trillion annually by 2025, up from US$3 trillion in 2015, having adequate cybersecurity measures in place has become critical for both merchants and consumers.

On this front, biometrics is emerging as the leading solution for consumers to confirm their transactions and accounts securely. While most consumers recognize biometric identification, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, as easier to use compared to PINs or passwords, they remain concerned about privacy.

Mastercard has been active in the cybersecurity space, leading efforts to strengthen the digital ecosystems of its partners and customers with a host of innovative solutions. One such solution is NuDetect, a technology that identifies whether a user is a potential threat by looking at their behavior.

According to a recent Mastercard survey, usage of biometrics has increased in the past year.

“If someone steals a phone and wants to do a transaction, the software can detect if the user is genuine based on multiple different data points, including the way a person presses the keys or holds the phone,” Khan says.

Another Mastercard security initiative is Cyber Front, a platform that validates the effectiveness of an organization’s cybersecurity controls to prevent and detect threats. By leveraging a continuously updated library of more than 3,500 real-world threat scenarios, Mastercard is able to uncover security gaps and provide insights in real-time to help organizations improve their cybersecurity.

A Virtual Future

Looking ahead, Khan believes that the virtual world known as the metaverse will be the next exciting frontier for payments. In the next few years, he foresees a future where consumers will be able to purchase goods and services with avatars in the metaverse, using all forms of digital payments currently available in the brick-and-mortar world.

“The metaverse is evolving in a big way, and the next stage is going to commerce. In two to three years, someone can walk into a Starbucks in the metaverse and order and pay for a coffee, and it would get delivered to their home,” says Khan.

Yet there are still some issues to be resolved before commerce can truly take off in the metaverse, such as the anonymous nature of users in these virtual spaces. “Currently, you can’t tell who the actual person is behind an avatar. So we are doing a lot of work in the area of secure digital identification, which will be key for commerce and payments to take off in the metaverse.”

Regardless of whether it’s in the virtual or physical world, Mastercard’s efforts on multiple fronts—from cybersecurity to new payment technologies—are crucial in transforming the digital payments space for the benefit of its customers, merchants and end consumers.

Aerodyne Group: Reshaping Industries in a Drone-Enabled World

Discover how this Malaysian company is leading the charge to digitalize major industries using drones and artificial intelligence.

Successful entrepreneurs are those who can identify human problems and solve them in such a way that makes a huge difference to mankind. This belief drove Kamarul A Muhamed, Founder and Group CEO of Aerodyne Group, to set up his drone technology solutions business.

Kamarul A Muhamed, Founder and Group CEO of Aerodyne Group

The tech aficionado identified opportunities in a variety of sectors that were facing problems which could be solved using drones and software intelligence to monitor, manage and report on critical infrastructure projects. This has since evolved to include addressing food security issues, border challenges and logistics.

Kamarul says, “We are driven by our purpose—advancing humanity through drone intelligence’—to help our customers benefit from performance improvements, derive cost optimizations and improve safety performance while empowering their operations. And this led to the birth of Aerodyne in 2014.

“I realized that I could disrupt the status quo, and from day one, I’ve been driving development by working with experienced tech experts, connecting dots and creating solutions that can have great impact and change the world one step at a time. I also believe one must be in the right place and at the right time to capitalize on such opportunities. This was my moment.”

Kamarul says the success of the company is underpinned by its people, called AeroRangers. “They are aligned with our purpose and passion to provide equality and freedom by delivering solutions that replace 3D jobs (dangerous, dirty and demeaning) with aerial robots. My mantra has always been ‘to think differently’ and that is how we do things at Aerodyne. ‘The Aerodyne Way’ encapsulates our values and capabilities to ensure we are all moving in one direction and delivering on our promises.”

Today, Aerodyne has 13 offices worldwide, four development centers and operates in 35 countries with over 1,000 employees, of whom over 300 are data scientists and analysts, AI engineers and developers. Aerodyne also pioneered the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for large-scale data operations, analytics and process optimization in major industries.

Its key solutions include precision automation in the agriculture industry; utilizing autonomous swarm technology for security and surveillance; generating insights and intelligence for critical infrastructure management; and redefining modern logistics models through middle-mile and long-range heavy lift industrial drone deliveries, as well as urban air mobility.

The 8-year-old startup is ranked first in the global remote-sensing category by Drone Industry Insights. The company is profitable and has to date raised funding from global investors, with further plans to raise US$100 million to US$200 million in its series C funding round slated for next year.

Sustaining Growth

As smooth sailing as it is for Aerodyne today, the road leading there was anything but. While it could quickly scale its monitoring and reporting business, Kamarul realized the key to sustainable long-term growth is focus on technology and innovation, in the field of AI, data science and autonomous systems. To do this, Kamarul pivoted Aerodyne to become a DT3 company, an abbreviation for drone technology, data technology and digital transformation.

The 2020 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Malaysia says Aerodyne is successful today because it is able to solve clients’ needs holistically by deploying advanced drone and data technology, as well as digital transformation strategies, while challenging them to rethink their operations.

“In the early days, it was difficult to convince established companies to change their existing ways of working to improve efficiency. A company using helicopters to inspect its infrastructure—from damages due to wear and tear—took three months to report. Using our drone and analytics technology, we did this in three weeks and saved the company 20% in costs while improving efficiency by four times. We totally disrupted the way things were done traditionally,” says Kamarul.

The value that Aerodyne has created for its clients today speaks for itself. By providing data capture from generational to transmission and distribution networks, visual and thermal condition-based maintenance inspections, power companies benefit from improved data acquisition efficiency of 400% and 15% savings, all done by drone crews working safely away from the high voltage assets. Its telco clients have seen up to 500% process acceleration for cell tower inspection and cost savings of at least 20%; for agriculture, it has hit up to 500% of cost savings in operations and up to 67% increase in crop yields.

Today, the four main verticals that spearhead Aerodyne’s value creation are code-named DRONOS, Agrimor, Fulcrum and Argentavis. DRONOS is the next-generation SaaS-based ecosystem builder for drone players globally that is focused on capturing human intelligence on drones within its platform.

Agrimor is an agriculture superapp that addresses precision farming at plantation level scale, whereas Fulcrum is anticipated to enable nested drone applications by remote and autonomous control of drone swarms across large geographies. Fulcrum has gotten strong traction in game-changing federal security and nationwide infrastructure management initiatives.

Argentavis is expected to disrupt middle-mile logistics by cutting through cost-intensive enterprise operations which typically require expensive helicopters, time-consuming vessel operations or critical goods navigating through high traffic or remote areas.

Kamarul also reveals that Aerodyne will launch its latest offerings that will encourage “inclusive ecosystem building” so that there will be opportunities for all industry players to collaborate and co-exist together.

Aerodyne Drone Solutions, advancing humanity through drone intelligence

Looking to the Future

Kamarul is a thinker and futurist with a deep passion for human history, astronomy, theoretical physics and technology. A nonconformist, he often ponders how the technology of the future will advance humanity towards equality and freedom. He believes that in the future, drones will evolve from being seen as merely “dumb flying machines with smart sensors” that need to be operated by humans with particular skill sets into aerial autonomous intelligent robots.

“AI will become so intuitive that drones will not only be situationally aware at all times but can also adapt to changing variables in order to fulfill mission requirements. The process of transferring human intelligence will go beyond data capture; it will be able to autonomously inspect, conduct repair and undertake remedial work with human-level contextualization,” he says.

Kamarul believes that companies that will succeed in the future are those that are willing to put technology at the forefront of their outlook because innovation and change are taking place at lightning pace.

He says, “We must be in tune with megatrends and we have to think differently. This is why I am pushing the limits and hiring top talent to focus on improving AI, automation, cloud technology, augmented and virtual reality, and geospatial intelligence—all underpinned by a clear understanding of a modern, disruptive business model.

“There is no reason why we cannot be trailblazers in these megatrends but to do this successfully, we need to have a clear focus of the future and constantly align our business plans with these global transformations. Being innovative, successfully identifying and analyzing these megatrends, and mastering them will ensure our future success.

“In our DNA is the desire to think differently, to keep going when the going gets tough. To peer into and predict the future. To play a key role in defining it rather than letting it define who we are.”















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