As some of the biggest names in politics and business gathered in Hanoi for the World Economic Forum, technology was the star of the show.

Whether a startup or an established business, a leading economy or a rising one, Industry 4.0 has affected the way we all work – whether by connecting people, speeding up processes, or providing insights that support the decisions we make daily. This was the subject of a panel discussion I was invited to be a part of: Digital Markets, Global Opportunity.

Digital transformation has been at the core of the most recent wave of ASEAN’s growth and transformation, and is a key strategy that markets and companies – including ours – have employed.

Even as a company that makes physical products people consume, digital touches every part of our business and is one of our five strategic growth priorities globally. We are committed to making digital part of our DNA.

In ASEAN, a diverse region with 630 million people, a growing middle class and rising Internet penetration, the digital revolution has transformed our approach to business in many ways. It has touched everything, from how our consumers and customers experience our brand and interact with us, to how we work within the company and communicate across business functions. It has also allowed us to create shared value.

Creating Personalized Experiences

In a region teeming with digital natives, a large part of our focus has been on harnessing technology to create more personalized experiences, including using technology to understand not just what our customers want, but also when and how they want it.

In Japan, for example, we’ve introduced a platform called Coke ON. With this app, a consumer can walk up to any one of our quarter-of-a-million vending machines across the country, and with a single swipe, redeem loyalty points for drinks. To date, more than 10 million consumers have downloaded the Coke ON app. On the drawing board are plans for even more targeted and predictive promotions, like discounts on hot days, so people stay hydrated.

As a brand that engages with close to 20 percent of the world’s population on a daily basis, the digital revolution offers us the opportunity to harness the power of data and connectivity to grow our reach while using predictive marketing and creating emotive brand experiences.

We create opportunities for our customers to interact with us, and engage with far more than just our physical product.

Digitizing Across our Supply Chain

For our customers – the many retailers who form the backbone of the Coca-Cola system – we are part of the journey to embrace next generation processes, technology and innovation.

Some 3.8 million outlets in the region carry our products, from large hypermarkets and convenience stores to smaller mom-and-pop stores. As we transform ourselves, we help them transform in tandem. We have deployed technology to improve communication between our company and its distributors while helping them build new routes to market, for example through e-Commerce. 

It is a win-win situation. Even when not “within arm’s reach of desire”, we have put our products “within a click’s reach of desire” by digitizing touch points and experiences with our brand.

In Vietnam, our online chatbot Muacoke+ allows our retailers to order our products, then track their orders from point-to-point. Help is also just a click away, and the app will soon offer online promotions and loyalty rewards.

There is much more in the works to help our micro, small and medium enterprise partners, especially on the back of an anticipated 14 percent growth in e-Commerce in ASEAN. With applied analytics, for example, they can better predict sales, and invest in the right product mix. Our network of customers also provide expertise and support as they tap online opportunities to grow their revenue.

As with our consumers, we are creating seamless, convenient and memorable experiences for our customers, while helping them grow.

The payoffs could be significant. According to a newly released study by Bain & Company, presented at the ASEAN Economics Ministers Meeting in August, bringing the region’s small businesses on board in the digital economy could boost ASEAN’s GDP by US$1 trillion by 2025. 

There is also a knock-on effect. As business improves, so do the livelihoods of the business owners, and the well-being of their communities. This positive impact will be felt across generations, across the businesses they interact with, and at the regional and national levels. Everyone wins.

Digital Revolution from within

The true driver for digital, however, starts from within, which is why we have placed much emphasis on digitizing our own operations, processes and systems, up-skilling our people, and evolving our culture and how we communicate, including across business functions.

Within the company, we are becoming a workplace that is more connected, agile and engaged, using real-time data and analytics to guide us in each market, and to allow us to work faster and better.

Even within a region as diverse as ASEAN, our system allows us to share best practices and exchange great ideas, evening out the differences in access, opportunities and knowledge that may exist from country to country.

Defining ASEAN 4.0

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to redefine the relationship between man and technology, businesses in the region need to transform themselves to make the most of this changed relationship.

It means rethinking how we engage our consumers, how we support customers, and how we operate internally to fully harness its promise.

And I am most encouraged to see how we are leading the way in ASEAN.

Bharathi Viswanathan is chief information officer (CIO) for Coca-Cola Asia Pacific.