Traditional Businesses Can Innovate Too

Posted by nexlabs on May 11, 2018 11:52:00 PM

We are in the digital age, a period where businesses around the world try to keep up with ever-changing customers’ needs by using the latest technologies available. In order to stand out from competitors, companies regardless of their size and industry of focus, need to innovate. But what does innovation really mean?

The best definition I could find online goes something like this: ‘innovation is the act of successfully creating value out of new ideas by presenting a new value proposition, or to refine existing value propositions*’. Successful innovation with unconventional ideas can indeed disrupt industries altogether and give companies a strong competitive advantage for the long run. In Myanmar, innovation and traditional businesses — which are known to be more conservative — don’t appear to go hand-in-hand but changing this mindset is definitely one of our key goals at nexlabs.

Digital transformation reinvents business models by aiming to serve consumers’ needs better. DBS, named ‘World’s Best Digital Bank’, is a remarkable example of that. It leveraged on technology to reinvent traditional banking practices. Four years ago, the 49-year-old Singaporean bank launched Paylah!, an app that allows customers to carry out transactions on smart phones and subsequently even on smart watches. Taking a step further, in 2016, DBS launched DBS Asia X (DAX) which is an innovation facility to collaborate with startups and the broader FinTech community.

In Myanmar, great case studies are also starting to pop up. CMHL, owners of Myanmar’s largest supermarket chains, recently took its traditional retail business online, with the launch of City Mall Online, an e-commerce website. It consolidates City Mart, Ocean, City Baby Club, Seasons, City Care, Safari Book Store in one place, allowing the customer to experience a one-stop shopping experience. To achieve that, they had to integrate innovative solutions for product inventory across stores, last-mile logistics and payment options for a largely unbanked customer-base. While still in its early stages, it’s a bold move to lead the way Myanmar’s retail market will grow.

Recently, we had the opportunity to work with Mingalar Cinemas, Myanmar’s leading movie theatre chain, in developing a mobile app — Android and iOS versions — with a centralised backend admin tool. The app digitised the entire discovery, booking, and ticket-purchasing experience that is usually done in-person. Once the movie-goer reserves a seat, they will be given a unique QR code that can be shown to a cashier in exchange for a physical ticket. For the movie-goers, the app lets them skip the queues providing instead a simple, user-friendly, and efficient way to book a ticket online. On the operations side, a cashier point-of-sale Web App built on a cloud-based database addresses the inefficiency of manual data input at each individual cinema. An admin system for their central HQ lets them track all that data, and learn from it to adjust movie schedules, add new cinemas, and to monitor sales and attendance in real-time. This digital transformation of Mingalar Cinemas’ core business makes it the first cinema in Myanmar to be able to offer their customers a digital movie booking experience. Now that’s the true meaning of digital transformation!


Increasing consumer expectations and changing consumer needs create challenges but also create opportunities for businesses to innovate. Traditional businesses in Myanmar like CMHL and Mingalar Cinemas have digitised their business models to keep up with this rapidly changing global landscape, and have become the first players in their respective industries to do so. There are still issues specific to Myanmar, like the digital literacy gap, knowledge gap, lack of reliable payment options, and strict regulations — to name a few. It is human nature to minimise risk, but in order to grow, our businesses need to make bold moves and build digital products that have their users at the core.

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Topics: innovation, digital transformation