A peek at investable tomorrow's human-technology interface, today.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ITCN Asia: The Catalyst of Pakistan BPO

Today is the eve of 7th ITCN Asia in Karachi. Looking back to ITCN Asia's birth, I wonder how many souls out there realised its importance and catalyst for Karachi's economy, especially at that time when the city badly needed the economic boost.

It was not too long ago at the 3rd quarter of Year 2000 when CommerceNet Singapore planned to organise a CommerceNet Asia meeting and conference in Karachi. Yes, Karachi - to be held in end March 2001. The general view then for CommerceNet was this: if India is doing so well in software export and BPO, there are no reason why Pakistan cannot replicate it. Many tech companies in Pakistan then was at its infancy. Then, there is also the question of Karachi vs Lahore. We settled for Karachi for its superior air connectivity, hotels and exposition halls.

Seeding an international conference then was not an easy task at all. Not in a country like Pakistan, especially in Year 2001. Hurdles and mindset had to be changed. Firstly the name itself: Information Technology, Commerce Network Asia, hence ITCN Asia was coined to reflect CommerceNet Asia meeting and conference to be held in Karachi Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Then there is also the need for an international exhibition. We managed to get PICO Art as the contractor with ECG of Singapore investing the princely sum required to start Pakistan operations. Allies need to be won, mindset needs to be changed, sceptic needs to be overcome, and red tapes needs to be cut. With the strength of volunteers students, civil servants, and dedicated workers, ITCN Asia 2001 was a reality.

It wasn't the event that matters, but the ability to serve as a rally call to move the entire IT sector forward. The dotcom bubble bust did not help the situation at all, but the spirit of ITCN Asia had magnified and somehow was successfully maintained for the 7th year in a row. That, in Pakistan is an achievement by itself! Things are getting better in Karachi by the day. Very soon ITCN Asia may just fade into just another trade show and just another conference. But it sure had earned the desired returns from the initial investment, at least a meaningful returns for the investing party.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

NGIP - NexGen Industry Park

When SMEs are struggling to make ends meet, I think something is wrong somewhere. Either these guys have got it all wrong, producing something that no one needs, or they are hosted in a wrong place...

With the numerous feedback received by CommerceNet, sometimes it is not difficult at all to put some basic plan into action. A taskforce comprising of CommerceNet Consulting Partners (CPs) started working on a solution. We codenamed it the NexGen solutions. We are designing some kind of a support network - a kind of 'management software' embedded into an industry park 'hardware'. Here, the focus is on entrepreneur and task centric environment - immersed in a controlled holistic live, work and play environment: technologies, feedback mechanism, business support solutions, data repositories, rapid prototyping and mentoring networks are fused into a seamless package. 

Something as simple as NexGen was often overlooked: our tendency to overcomplicate things did not help. When I fist saw the solutions proposed, i was dumbfounded: there is no rocket science in the whole thing, all existing technologies. Simple things like the tenancy mix is that of a logical business ecosystem. The focus is to overcome the failure often imbued into existing industry park configuration. They had all planned to fail. Some failed to plan. Here, the needs of businesses drive the planning, the needs of coexistence and survivalism determines the deployment of resources. Often this approach outclassed the often abused dictum of competition (and that supposedly resulting efficiency). A whole new way of working and pricing resources result. One that is sustainable, not only for the businesses, but that for the next generation as well. NexGen will someday grow into a powerful franchise. CommerceNet is proud to be associated with it. I am proud to be involved. It is one vision that is more gentle to humanity and also to the mother earth.

Happy Earth Day.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Water For Life

It had not escaped my attention that there is a severe shortage of potable water everywhere I traveled. Even within Singapore, water supply is an issue.

On the other hand, water as a resource - suffers from the lack of affordable, simple, proven technology that allows it to be transformed from raw water to potable water in an instant. Here I was lucky enough to visit TK Cosmic Holdings Sdn Bhd in Ipoh, Malaysia whereby they concentrated their Research and Development in developing affordable and reliable 'safe water' and 'quality water' solutions for emerging countries. These solutions are also suitable for rural areas of developed countries where applicable.

The company had grown from being an OEM suppliers to others, into a full fledge entity with their own R&D and products development. The company is starting their own brand with market penetration into countries like Iran, Pakistan and even Singapore! Critical to their successful thinking is that they are focusing on the last mile. Yes, municipal water can be treated, but if the delivery channel is contaminated, it very often goes back to zero. Also, they pumped contaminated river water as well as contaminated ground water as their input source: all raw water transformed into WHO compliance potable water.

The market for the company can generally be segregated into 'Safe' water and 'Quality' water. In most country, 'Safe' water is all that matters. In this case, 'Safe' is defined as compliance with WHO standards. 'Quality' water is water that had been polished to the right ORP and pH level. The level of population growth in many developing countries are alarming. The need for potable clean water is growing at an unprecedented rate. Unless there is a change to human being's behaviour pattern and physiological structure: our demand for clean water is always there: this market is constantly relevant. It is a critical resources that is getting more and more scarce.

The whole world is indeed in a water crisis - and here, we have a bright company valued currently at only USD 2.3 million. This is a gem of investment, going for a song!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Resources Recovery and Recycling

Kinta Recovery and Recyling (KRR) may be a small set-up by international standard. What amazes me is the way the business model of the company: one that focuses and 'wrapped' around services to humanity and environment.

I remembered reading an inspiration book that foretold: humanity should invest in investments and businesses that will cure the earth - the likes of top soil repair, waste disposal management and recycling, clean water resources etc. I often imagined that it may involved going to hard to find places, looking out for exotic businesses like these. Little did I realised that in Malaysia, a small company like KRR in Ipoh can become a true blue global beater.

It may not be too far fetched if I start to label KRR as a participant or key player in the 'petroleum industry'. Afterall, they should be known as 'petroleum resources recovery and recycling' business. Why? They are very efficient when it comes to recovering the waste plastic bags, and I am not talking about PET bottles which every other business is going after. I am talking about the humble waste plastic bags - yes the shopping bags. KRR had made a name for itself in a very short span of time in Ipoh. Today, they are a leader of plasting recovery, recyling and management.

It will not be long for a company like this to go global, I mean, once their efficiency out-process the waste plastics in the smaller towns. I remembered that cities like Karachi and Lahore are full of plastic waste strewn all along the roads and on empty fields. Perhaps one day the likes of KRR will have operations far beyond ASEAN into these markets. For the time being, the righ management will propel companies like KRR to uncharted heights: a kind of MNC focusing on plastic waste. KRR had just started going international, looking towards future presence in Maldives, Pakistan and Singapore for a start.

The investment into companies like is inexpensive. For USD 1 million, one can easily hold a substantial stake in KRR. In this busines, it is not money that counts. It is the kind of environment consciousness and service to humanity that matters, and money made is just a by-product, albeit a rewarding one that is!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A World Class University for Pakistan

How can a country with 150 million people do not have a single university that is within the 'top 100' ranking in the world?

I had the privileged to know Abdullah Dadabhoy for six years years now. His little outfit know as DIHE had grown into a respectable institution, with his first crop of graduating students convocating next year. We both shared a common sentiment, how Pakistan has got everything, and yet it has got nothing. I mean, what is happening to the talents? Where have they gone to? Everywhere! But not in Pakistan.

Abdullah Dadabhoy led a foundation that owns a piece of land in Hawkesbay - a full 250 acres which he gladly set aside for a university campus. Both of us agreed that if there is ever going to be a world class university in Pakistan, it will come from the private sector. It is no accident that DIHE is seeking recognition from Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to recognise it as one of the better institution in Pakistan.

It now seems odd to think how our relationship started. Two disparate parties from totally way out of the world got to meet, and shared a common vision. It was on 3 March 2001, when Pakistan was considered much more favourably then, before the September 11 crisis, that CommerceNet's task force spin-off, the Institute of E-Commerce (IOEC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Dadabhoy Foundation to work hand in hand with the foundation to assist in the growth of a forward looking institution, leading to a new university.

The foundation has just received their university charter from Sindh government and is working with IOEC to establish what will ultimately be known as Dadabhoy University at Hawkesbay, Karachi. IOEC was originally set to transfer the technical expertise, know-how, and experience in the field of Information Technology and teaching expertise in assisting the setting up of Dadabhoy University and will actively work on the curriculum development pertaining to the needs of 'new economy' sectors.

Dadabhoy Foundation was represented then by its Managing Trustee, Mr. Abdullah Dadabhoy. I was representing CommerceNet via its special IOEC task force then. We agreed that establishing Dadabhoy University on the 250 acres Hawkesbay land, owned by the foundation, may be the best thing that can happen to Pakistan. The project is to include the larger science park framework to be incorporated into the master planning.

It took us longer than expected. Trust indeed needs time to be formed, and work habits too needs to be synchronised. Abdullah was a busy man, and my scheduled is no help either. It was not until 2004 when we started seriously working on the core elements. I had outrightly criticised the original master plan for its amateurish and lackasaidal approach to university planning. I was surprised Abdullah took the criticism gentlemanly and agreed a total revamp for a world class university. Three full years after that stinging comment - the university campus was re-planned. We never looked back since. Each hurdle was taken with even greater positive stride.

Our bottom line is this: Pakistan needs a world class university. One that is ranked within 'top 100' in the world. And it will come from the private sector. Since we cannot lay our fate in the hands of others, we may as well do it ourselves. And do it right. If you intend to support a university for humanity, CommerceNet humbly suggests that you put your bet and efforts behind Dadabhoy University!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Artisan in the Era of Mass Production

Bufori may be a small car company in Kepong, Malaysia. It has evolved and developed into a reputable manufacturer of exotic handmade sports cars, one that integrates some of the most amazing state-of-the-art technology into its cars. While Bufori is a modern brand, it is built in the image of rare automobiles resembling those of 1930s coupes, yet it is no junk. These are super cars. Each car is a testimony to the 'perfectionist' attitude of the company.

The Bufori MKIII La Joya was introduced from 2002. Better known for its 100% Carbon fiber & Kevlar body on space frame, it is indeed a work of art. In the era of mass production, this masterpiece utilises fully adjustable monotube multi link McPherson strut suspension and mid mounted engine. Incorporating technology such as digital climate control, voice activated satellite navigation system, Bluetooth telecommunication, climate controlled electric seats, surround sound multi media, ABS (Antilock brake system), EBD (Electronic brake distribution), TCS (Traction control system), SST (Sequential shift transmission), SRS (Supplement restraint system), air bags & pre-tensioned seat belts, audio and visual front and rear park tronic, TPMS (Tyre pressure monitoring system), speed sensitive cruise control, auto dip mirrors, this model compliant to Euro 4 emissions is a technology tour de force.

The company was founded in 1986, when Gerry Khouri began work on a hobby aiming to build three special sports cars, one each for the three brothers: Anthony, George and Gerry - which resulted to Bufori Motor Car Company. In 1997 the Khouri brothers formed a company in Malaysia, the Bufori Motor Car Company (M) Sdn. Bhd. where the research and development now is being done as well as the production of the exotic car.

Perhaps Bufori is a testimonial of what the future of technology integration into a car should be. It also speaks volume why artisan has still a potential role in an era of mass production. If you are likely to invest in a car company, this could be it. But you may also need super strategists and organise a committed sales force to implement a global sales and marketing plan.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mobility for the New Generation

Nothing is more important than mobility. One of the most economical and effective mass transportation is the monorail. Yet, the awareness and promotion of this unique method of transportation is falling short. The problem is not that we are not aware, and not that the city government do not care. It boils down to purely dollar and 'sense'. It sure does make sense when the guy who runs one of the three installed monorails in urban transit manufacturing tells me he wanted to make this the most affordable of them all.

MTrans factory is tucked away along the old trunk road from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh. The founder, David Chew is a fighter. Fancy a guy from my home town Ipoh is making a world class transportation system. The other two companies being Bombardier and Hitachi. The man told me that monorails are not just for theme parks and zoos! Monorail systems around the world are proven technology and can carry hundreds of thousands of passengers safely and efficiently to their destinations every day.

When I first stepped into MTrans in 2004, I was not sure if this company will really be world class. I started experimenting if the system can be implemented in Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, before deciding to put some efforts into pushing it into Saudi Arabia. Riyadh was selected initially, but soon we settled for the holy cities of Mecca and Medinah.

It was not until June 2005 that a decision was made to push this mode of transport in as systematic manner. This put us in a better position to propel it strongly in Mauritius, Pakistan and the existing countries and cities that we were promoting.

CommerceNet should help monorail to gain more acceptance as an alternative to conventional rail, buses and cars. Several monorail projects in planning are now gaining momentum with the 'push' and 'pull' efforts of CommerceNet. Perhaps it will not be long when mass transit is really affordable and take unnecessary private vehicle off the roads - towards a better environment, a sustainable one that is!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

High-Performance Computing (HPC) Cluster

I read with keen interest that Bowie State University ( 4,000 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students), located 20 miles from Washington, D.C., recently unveiled Xseed, a high-performance computing (HPC) cluster. Xseed is a remarkable supercomputer comprising 224 dual-processor Xserve G5 servers. In June 2005, Xseed was ranked 166th in the TOP500 listing of the world’s fastest computers. That had ranked Bowie State within the top 25 universities worldwide in computational capacity. Remarkably, Xseed was built over the course of just a few months by a dozen mostly undergraduate students, under the supervision of a single computer science professor, at a cost of only US$1 million.

I was thinking about Mauritius CyberCity. What can be better than spending US$1 million to build a HPC cluster offered for the entire Mauritius? And extend the usage to researchers in the southern part of Africa? The physical location of the computer in Mauritius will symbolise Mauritius' commitment to making HPC a resource for the whole region. A supercomputing facility would encourage new areas of interdisciplinary study, stimulate new developments in R&D and facilitate distance learning through streaming media and other technologies. Mauritians and many people in southern part of Africa would have more powerful tools for creating multimedia, graphics, fine arts, video and software. Researchers in every field would have powerful new analytical tools at their disposal.

It is strategically important that with limited funds, Mauritius CyberCity should leverage them for maximum effect, in order to attract the right talent into the 'sun-sand and sea' country. There are countless worthy ways in which Mauritius can invest its budget dollars. But there is lesser alternative investment that would contribute more to the Mauritius CyberCity's standing in the global technology community, facilitate more research in all emerging fields and open more doors for collaboration than a supercomputing facility. Perhaps it is time CommerceNet can step in to recommend such a move.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Knowledge System - Health Informatics

I often imagine a Knowledge System sprawling across the diversity of Internet will become pervasive within the next 12 months... That is the time when we no longer need to define specifications to facilitate the interoperability of information and integration of content and services across and between vertical markets. That is where real people and virtual intelligent agents readily collaborate analysing data and solving complex problems in science, engineering, medicine, business, and other endeavors. With A.I., semantically tagged Web sites, wikis, and blogs, as well as social networks, vertical search engines crawl domain models, coordinate and trigger vast arrays of niche web services. Will that happen? In 12 months?

Maybe yes. I come across a budding company in Malaysia recently - The Amorphous Group ( No, CommerceNet has no investment into the company (yet). Interestingly, Amorphous owns a large Knowledge System in the dynamic field of Health Informatics. Health Informatics is increasingly recognised as an essential area of specialty. Some people like to define it, aptly as "applied information technology that involves the critical integration of medical sensitive information, resources via technology delivery to improve the quality of healthcare services". Why CommerceNet thinks Amorphous can be world class? Because it fits the four simple 'need' test below:

- One, create something really useful;
- Two, improve life of the people;
- Three, make right something that is wrong; and
- Four, keep something that is right.

Putting Amorphous' model to the test, we get:
- They are making the healthcare better by creating robust and accessible health Knowledge System;
- Secondly, the Knowledge System increases the service quality of healthcare and also the life of people;
- Thirdly, the system sets right what that is chaotic now, and put into system the knowledge of whereabout are the health resources; and
- Fourthly, the Knowledge System helps prevent the early demise of affordable healthcare!

Accuracy of healthcare information is highly critical. Yet, it is rather difficult to achieve an integrated, result oriented and effective interaction of the health and IT fields into a Knowledge System. Amorphous has carved a niche to become one of the foremost health informatics practitioners in the region. The company is still privately owned, run mostly by young medical doctors. They have made a dent in the Malaysian market and is now eyeing Singapore and the rest of ASEAN. Maybe, maybe... this is where CommerceNet can look into supporting seriously...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Catalyst

I had joined CommerceNet Singapore more than 5 years now. To think about it, one of the best part of CommerceNet is that we played an active role in many risky but visionary ideas. After simple due diligence, we invest and also arrange for investments into many types of endeavours, often taking a strategic equity stake in companies in return for the resources we supply.

These catalyst investments allow "ignition starts", where the small amount of money and generous assistance help the entrepreneur move beyond the "budding idea" stage, to having a business plan, working prototype and viable team. Many times, we are not looking into immediate returns. Most of the ventures we get ourselves into need rather long maturity period. We usually take on a 60-months timeframe view for each initiative that we support.

Often, the biggest problem is the lack of ideas... yes. Really. Lack of good ideas. So, we have a unique situation where there are many who are willing part with their money, seeking good early investments - but sadly, lacking a match. And I am not talking about Singapore alone.

In the course of duty, I had to chase emerging new ideas from Egypt to Mauritius, from Pakistan to Korea. It not not so easy to organise resources from the industry, plans and executes key strategies all at the same time. The constant need to be actively on the look out for initiatives that pioneer and advance tomorrow's technology today is getting more difficult. This is especially when we also have to keep up a strategic role as a key influencer, encouraging innovation and driving progress not only within the business and research communities, but also with governments' officials in the region.

I am coming to terms that more and more, CommerceNet have to become a VC - the 'Vulture Capital' variant, looking at visionary but failing ventures that are already invested by someone else. The ability to turn them around, match them with other players in the ecosystem, recycle their IPs and creations back into the ecosystem is becoming really important. This simple move may be more important now than the original idea of jump starting new ventures. Now it is more about ongoing ventures needing a 'catalyst' to succeed. And we will be there.