Docking My Ship at TechIsland 3.0

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It’s no exaggeration when we say that the key to economic growth in the Philippines rests heavily upon our local micro, small and medium enterprises. These are the sari-sari stores, neighbourhood Internet cafes, village talyers, 10-person call centers and the like, companies that don’t have the backing of brands such as San Miguel or Coca-Cola or Jollibee. MSMEs comprise 99.6 percent of all registered businesses in the country, yet only small slice of that pie leverages on the power of digital to invigorate and drive their businesses. That’s something that TechIsland 3.0 seeks to address.

Last April 22, I joined representatives from over 1400 MSMEs at the Harbour Tent of Sofitel Philippines for TechIsland 3.0, an initivative by PLDT Smart SME Nation that seeks to teach entrepreneurs how digital tools can help them grow their markets, reach more customers, empower their business processes, and, ultimately, become more profitable. By helping usher more of these businesses into the digital age, TechIsland hopes for a healthy and sustainable economic growth for the country.

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With the battlecry of “Challenge, change and conquer,” the plenary session was opened by Eric R. Alberto, PLDT EVP, Head of Enterprise and International and Carrier Business (EICB) and ePLDT CEO, who introduced the key speakers of the event. Alberto emphasized that PLDT has evolved from being a long distance telephone provider and is now well on its way to becoming the biggest tech company in the country.

Guest speakers at the plenary were Winston Damarillo (PLDT’s Chief Strategy Officer and CEO of the PLDT Group’s big data arm, Talas), advertising industry icon Merlee Jayme (Chairman – make that “Chairmom” – and CEO of advertising agency DENTSU Jayme Syfu), Laurence Cua (General Manager of Uber Philippines), and Alfredo Tan (Facebook Philippines Interim Country Director and Group Director of Global Marketing Solutions).

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Damarillo presented MarketBuilder, a marketing tool that harnesses big data to let businesses connect to their customers in a more relevant way. The solution drills deep into customer demographics, behavior and geolocation to deliver a message to the people who would be most responsive. Tan spoke about the power of discovery in a feed economy and the importance of a message to have “thumbstopping” power.

My favorite speakers would Merlee Jayme and Laurence Cua. Jayme talked about the importance of “Heart Sell” and how Filipinos respond more to emotional appeals rather than hard information, something which was very much apparent in last Monday’s elections. She spoke about how technology and innovation can help create messages that speak to the heart and provide genuine relevance to the lives of everyday people. Brand purpose, she says, should inspire a company’s digital moves.

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Cua, on the other hand, talked about how traffic was costing the Philippine economy some PhP2.4 billion per day, a problem that can be mitigated by getting more cars and drivers off the road. His vision for Uber was to allow Uber users to reclaim lost productivity and time instead of being stuck in traffic. He also pointed out that using Uber can actually be cheaper than buying and maintaining your own car.

After the plenary, the audience was divided into four tracks, targeting specific roles in an organization. Each track would be powered by digital business solutions presented by PLDT Smart SME Nation and its partners.

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The Captain track included CEOs and owners, with speakers giving a more macro perspective on digital strategies. The Navigator track focused on marketers, highlighting digital trends and effective cases of marketing activations. The Trader sessions spoke to people in finance and procurement, including talks on new fintech solutions. The Engineer sessions dealt with the realities of software security in a threat-filled landscape.

To celebrate and cap the event, TechIsland 3.0 culminated in a convention party, which allowed its delegates and speakers to mingle with each other and network against a backdrop of entertainment and festivity. Nothing like a good send-off to the entrepreneurs with newfound tools and knowledge to grow and empower their businesses.

That makes the summit’s name, “TechIsland,” all the more appropriate. People take their metaphorical ships to the island to get supplies, learn new things, interact with their fellow sailors, before leaving to navigate their own routes. The actual work is just starting, and PLDT Smart SME Nation promises to continue nurturing and supporting the undisputed backbone of the country’s economy.

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