Organised by GIZ-ICONE and hosted at the Sokha Siem Reap Resort & Convention Center on December 13, DigiTech 2023 was a one-day digital transformation conference and exhibition that sought to promote the importance of digitalisation in northwestern Cambodia – an area that has seen less exposure to digital advancements compared to the capital city, Phnom Penh.
The conference featured special showcases and demos of digital tools and solutions appropriate for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as keynote presentations, breakout sessions and fireside chat discussions led by digital industry experts. These sessions were split across two stages: one focused on Digital Accounting and Finance, and another on Digital Marketing. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its diverse applications for business operations, as well as the practical application of digital technologies in corporate functions, were two topics prominently featured throughout the conference.
DigiTech 2023 also featured a networking reception to promote further collaboration and engagement between participating companies and digital service providers.
Watch B2B Cambodia’s interviews with Dr. Stefan Hanselmann, Head of GIZ-ICONE, and Eriks Eglitis, Digitalisation Consultant at GIZ-ICONE, on digitalisation in Cambodia:
Expanding The Focus Of Digitalisation Outside Phnom Penh
While speaking with B2B Cambodia, Dr. Stefan Hanselmann, Head of the GIZ-ICONE program, explained that GIZ has been actively involved in promoting digital solutions in northwestern Cambodia for approximately two years, with an approach involving raising awareness and providing practical digital solutions to local enterprises. DigiTech 2023 was organised with these two main approaches in mind.
“Obviously, digitalisation is very much a subject being discussed in the metropolitan area of Phnom Penh, but here in our part of Cambodia, it’s not so prominent yet,” said Hanselmann.
“We wanted to raise awareness on the necessity of embracing digitalisation as a topic and as a challenge, because the impacts of digitalisation won’t stop at Cambodia’s borders, nor will they remain contained within Phnom Penh, so digitalisation will eventually become something that companies here will have to deal with.”
Hanselmann stressed that GIZ-ICONE wishes to show that digitalisation need not be intimidating for Cambodian companies based in the provinces, and should be understood as something which can simplify business operations and enhance efficiency.
“We also wanted to show, at the same time, that digitalisation offers a lot of potential and promise, and it will allow companies to actually develop new tools and venture into new activities,” he added.
Connecting Businesses To Digital Leaders In Cambodia
DigiTech 2023 also featured an exhibition space with around 20 booths manned by some of Cambodia’s top leaders in digital technology, such as the Institute of Digital Research & Innovation at the Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology (CADT), and new local digital startups such as ‘Rean AI’, offering conference participants a chance to get connected with valuable digital service providers.
Lim Kimhorng, Business Development Coordinator at CADT, shared that her institute was participating in DigiTech 2023 to promote the Innovation for Development (I4D) program, which focuses on digitally supporting SMEs in Cambodia’s northwest through a collaboration with GIZ-ICONE.
“Supporting SMEs is very important because they… contribute hugely to the GDP and to economic growth in Cambodia, so we want to support their digital transformation,” said Kimhorng.
“Here in Siem Reap, there Is a lot of demand for digital skills-training and digital awareness, but they don’t have many opportunities.”
“In Phnom Penh, we have a lot of opportunities and big networks… So a lot of people who have the digital skills and connections have been brought here from the capital… to help connect participants with the broader ecosystem and spread awareness on how to cope with and resolve digital challenges through skills training,” she added.
Lay Kiri, Founder of Rean AI Plc., also had a booth promoting his company’s recently launched chat-based AI service application offered in up to 60 languages, including Khmer. He shared that his team had spent around two years developing the app, which finally launched earlier this year.
“We saw that GIZ was hosting this event, which we think is good for Cambodians, and someone from their team also contacted me to come and present our AI technology to SMEs and business owners,” Kiri told B2B Cambodia.
He explained that the ‘Rean AI’ platform is designed to provide versatile AI solutions that can be particularly useful for small businesses with limited resources.
“AI can help a lot in business, it can act like a staff member,” he said. “Just like how we request our staff to do a task, we can ask the AI to do it too, like create a strategic plan, a graphic design… or for example, if you want to conduct research about a product, you can just ask the AI and it can provide good information if we make sure the question is specific and clear.”
Watch B2B Cambodia’s interviews with participants of DigiTech 2023:
Empowering Cambodian SMEs For Growth
A number of participants attending DigiTech 2023 were businesses that had received support from the GIZ-ICONE program, including in the process of digitalisation.
Lily Lim, CEO & Founder of Red Dust Adventures (also known as Cambodia Jeep), shared that training, coaching, and digital marketing guidance provided by GIZ-ICONE had helped her transform her business marketing strategies, which was crucial in keeping her business afloat in the post-pandemic context.
“We had to adapt from a traditional form of marketing to a digital line of marketing, which I had only heard about, but had not really received a deep explanation for before,” said Lim. “Besides training, we’ve also had opportunities to go into the field, and the program has also supported us through business matching.”
“We had the opportunity to go to Mongolia, and it was my first time meeting different businesses and getting to understand how people from different cultures work,” added Lim. “Now I am getting trained on digital tools and also have a personal coach… Soon we will be invited to go to Berlin where we really hope to expose [our business and Cambodia] more to the world in order to bring in more tourists and help our economy.”
Soth Vannak, Director and Co-Founder of Australia Pacific International School (API) in Siem Reap, similarly shared how his engagement with GIZ-ICONE has encompassed personal growth, mentoring, and the promise of further expansion, particularly highlighting how the strengthening of his digital marketing strategy has helped to attract new students.
“Before our success and growth were pretty much thanks to word of mouth, with parents simply referring one another to our school, but now we’re trying to focus more on [our digital platforms]… so it’s another way for us to interact with parents [who can discover our school] and come and sign their children up,” shared Vannak.
The pharmacy chain, ‘Our Pharmacy Cambodia’, is another example of a small business that was able to benefit from support provided by the program and its digitalisation assistance.
“We were just pharmacists running the company, so our technology integration was very low… but GIZ-ICONE provided us with support in the digital field and let us join the I4D program between GIZ-ICONE and CADT,” explained the Founder of Our Pharmacy, Sor Sampisith. “They sent a technical expert on marketing and digitalisation to our company to teach and help us build a mobile app system and website for the pharmacy.”
He added that enhancing their digital systems has also helped to offer better training services to pharmaceutical staff in the provinces.
“Our pharmacies are in rural provinces, like in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey, and sometimes our medical staff don’t want to [be stationed] there at the country’s border because they believe they have no place to go and less chances to grow and develop,” added Sampisith. “But since we went digital, I am now able to teach our staff there [online] and we now plan to also establish a learning management system at our pharmacy so that we can make sure our staff are properly educated on pharmaceutical service.”
Cambodia’s Digital Divide And The Path Forward
Reflecting on the current state of digitalisation in the Kingdom, Eriks Eglitis, Digitalisation Consultant at GIZ-ICONE, noted that Cambodia currently has an interesting mix of digital developments, with the country’s progressive digital payment infrastructure being a particularly impressive highlight.
“Because Cambodia started its development comparatively recently, we see that the government, to some extent, is revolutionary,” said Eglitis. “Cambodia is one of the few countries in the world to have already implemented some blockchain-based solutions for the digital government, such as its very advanced digital payment infrastructure, so starting ‘late’ has put Cambodia in a very competitive position.”
This mark of progress, however, is contrasted with delayed developments in digitalisation seen on the provincial level, with a substantial digital divide continuing to persist between the capital city and rural areas.
“Cambodia is [no longer] a very small country as there are now 16-17 million people living here, and spreading out digital skills and making this knowledge scale into the masses of small and medium enterprises, for example, continues to be a big challenge,” noted Eglitis.
“Everyone has some sort of digital device, so everybody has some base level understanding [of the digital realm], but from there on, the paths and experiences are very different,” he added.
“There are companies, especially those which work in hospitality and tourism, who have to be connected to the world, so they use digital tools quite widely and wisely, while in other industries like food processing and agriculture, we see that there is still a lot more to be done in terms of becoming more contemporary and efficient with digital technologies.”
Hanselmann suggested that addressing this gap will require a technology transfer from the capital to the provinces, which he believes can be facilitated through the growing interest and demand among local companies in the northwest to ‘go digital’, as well as continued efforts to expand digital literacy.
“As far as I can see, a lot is either already happening or in the pipeline, so I think there’s a very good awareness about the need for digital literacy in general and there will be a lot of activities coming in the next several years,” said Hanselmann.
Eglitis also emphasised the importance of collaboration between the government and the private sector to narrow the digital divide. While the government could invest more in digital skills and modernise the education system, the private sector, which is typically driven by profit, also has to chime in and engage in patient and collaborative efforts.
“If we are willing to create a mindful society, a society which is sustainable in the long run, this patience [from the private sector] has to be there,” he said.
Such collaboration would not only improve digital literacy but also create sustainable and balanced development in the country, Eglitis concluded.
DigiTech 2023 brought together over 250 enterprises, 15 service providers, and 20 experts, to achieve three main goals: foster collaboration and networking, equip enterprises with digital tools, and introduce the new GIZ-ICONE voucher project.
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