Y3 Technologies COO discusses how emerging tech is changing the supply chain industry

Gabriel Tho, COO at Y3 Technologies and CIO of YCH, speaks in an interview with CIO Asia about the challenges of the supply chain industry in APAC and how it is benefiting from emerging tech

Gabriel Tho, COO of Y3 Technologies and CIO of YCH
Y3 Technologies

Headquartered at the heart of Singapore’s glistening Supply Chain City, a massive business development strategically located in the Jurong Innovation District, are two of the leading supply chain management solutions in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region: YCH and Y3 Technologies.

Founded in 1955, YCH began as a modest passenger transportation company. Today is one the largest home-grown supply chain solutions company and leading regional supply chain management partner to many of the world’s leading brands across APAC today.

In a need to differentiate himself from the rest of the competition, Dr Robert Yap, Executive Chairman of YCH, created Y3 Technologies in 1981.

An IT company which provides software solutions to the supply chain industry, Y3 has since then created its own warehouse / transport management software and middleware to integrate other systems. Its portfolio includes clients from different sectors, such as technology, consumer goods, pharmaceutical and retail.

Gabriel Tho’s role in both companies epitomises the perfect multitasker. He is Chief Operations Officer (COO) for Y3 and Chief Information Officer (CIO) at YCH - not leaving him much time for idleness.

In his role as COO, Tho is in charge of the direction that his company takes, making sure that it's always ahead of the competition. As CIO for YCH, he oversees the company’s IT infrastructure and daily operations.

From Tho’s perspective, the biggest challenge that comes from combining both roles is meeting customers’ demands in the best possible way.

“As COO of Y3 I have to be creative and think of the solutions that best match our clients’ requirements, which means there’s a lot of customisation to meet those demands and go against standardisation”, Tho said.

“But as a product company you tend to standardise things, so it seems you need to take an opposite direction at times. One of my challenges then is how can I create my products that are standardisable and yet customisable at the same time? So the thinking behind the design of the applications becomes critical.”

Tho has a strong consumer-centric vision and makes sure that technology serves his clients' business interests and objectives.

“From an organisation point of view we have always looked at how to maximise technology as a form of differentiation”, he told CIO Asia. “Technologies have to integrate and provide a higher value to our clients especially since some clients we work with are not necessarily high-tech. The question is how to introduce these technologies and create real value for our clients.”

He continued saying that digital journeys are only meaningful as long as they benefit their clients:

“We ensure there’s proper traceability and visibility: these are the things which are part of the technology that we need to bring to our clients. So it’s not so much about internal digitalisation but how we translate this value to our clients.”

What are the challenges in the supply chain industry?

Supply chain is one of the industries that is most benefitting from the adoption and implementation of disruptive technologies.

Behind the Alibaba parcel that we get delivered at our doorstep lies a titanic logistic operation that makes possible an efficient and smooth product delivery.

It’s no surprise that automating supply chain processes cuts costs, improves effectiveness, eliminates human error and speeds up operations.

What once was sent from India to China in days, today can be delivered in a matter of hours thanks to technological progress and the right logistic coordination.

For companies which operate at an international level like YCH and Y3 exists the complication of language and cultural barriers, although as Tho affirms, most of the Asian market is able to communicate well in English.

And despite constraints such as the Great Firewall of China, Tho believes that working at a regional level comes with more advantages as due to the cross-leverage of resources and talent across the entire region.

In Tho’s view, the biggest challenges for the supply chain industry in the Asia Pacific region is finding a platform which all participating parts can agree to work on.  

“To have all stakeholders agreeing on which technology to use is challenging. For example, imagine we move goods from China to Singapore through land. You have to pass through different countries, customs, use different transporters, etc. Can all these stakeholders agree on a same platform or technology?”, he wondered.

Despite the technology being there, not every country is using it, which increases the difficulty with additional challenges to the whole supply chain industry ecosystem.

“The technology is there, for example, customs clearance software - but is every country using it? And if they are not using it, why not? How do you convince them to use it? It’s rather a communication and collaboration issue than a technological one. Sometimes is not even a matter of technology being good but which one.”

How technology is enhancing supply chain management

On a recent report, Gartner pointed out that among the top supply chain technology trends for 2018 are artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain.

As leading innovators in the industry, both YCH and Y3 are making sure that they don’t miss out in the emerging technological front.

“Between Y3 and YCH we do explore almost all the technologies that are in the horizon, including IoT, blockchain, AI and machine learning”, said Tho. “We do have pockets of different implementations. Because a lot of these are just emerging solutions we don’t necessarily roll them out in a big way but we adapt to each of our customers requirements.”

To illustrate how Y3 works with disruptive tech, Tho told us about a client case where they use IoT to monitor vaccines distribution.

“We have IoT devices that monitor the temperature of the vaccines in a continuous basis and should any of those temperatures go beyond the stipulated range, a warning will be sent to operations and we will notify the clients not to use those vaccines”, explained Tho.

The IoT sensors are placed inside storage cabinets and inside the boxes used for the vaccines transportation, so they are constantly monitored end-to-end, making them “absolutely safe”, affirmed Tho.

In August Y3 signed a memorandum of understanding with veriTAG, Sakae Fintech, NULS, Reefic Protocol and Morpheus Labs to launch one of the first international food blockchain alliances (“Foodchain”).

By using blockchain technology, Y3 and its partners intend to connect international resources and enhance the development of the Chinese and international food industry, promoting collaboration between countries and provide safer and higher-quality products.

Y3 is also working with universities on the field of data analytics and machine learning and with startups through Supply Chain Angels, an organisation integrated in the unique LEARN ecosystem that can only be found at Supply Chain City.

“[Supply Chain Angels] is a corporate venture arm of YCH, co-invested together with the Singapore government, where we nurture start-ups and work with them to see what new tech and solutions they can bring to the supply chain arena”, Tho told us.

What are the risks?

But with the implementation of these technologies come also some inherent cybersecurity risks.

Through IoT, vast amounts of data and information are stored in the cloud where it potentially interchanges with a myriad of different devices.

Privacy issues, as well as the risk of systems being hacked or breached, pose a concern for consumers and businesses everywhere.

Asked how Y3 deals with these security risks, he replied that it all depends on the design of your entire solution.

“First things first, we don’t collect information that we don’t need”, explained Tho. “In the vaccines case, we don’t collect personal data, so even if there’s a breach somehow we don’t lose anything - it’s just information about vaccines, not personal data.”

“Of course there’s still the risk relating to the business confidential information - that’s why the solution design is important and we use different layers of protection which are inbuilt into the solutions to ensure the security”, he concluded.