Spicing Up the Business with 4IR

By Fourth Leap's Jamie Axel

Hexa Food's diverse food products

Hexa Food has come a long way from its humble roots. Starting the business from scratch, Gary Gan Kian Keat founded the company in 2007 with little to no experience in the F&B industry. Without a doubt, there were many hurdles that he had to overcome, from learning all aspects of the business including sales, marketing and accounting, to settling debts that were accrued by the previous owners. 

Hexa Food’s initial clients include foodservice operators and manufacturers, focusing on the business-to-business segment but soon expanded to supermarkets, hypermarkets, and more. As the business continues to grow, the company sets its sight towards global expansion and currently exports to over five different countries with more plans for the year 2020. 

Some of Gary’s proudest moments was when Hexa Food won 2nd place in the Enterprise 50 (E50), organised by SME-Corps in 2016, which is a prestigious award programme honouring and recognising the accomplishments of enterprising small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The nominees are judged based on several criteria including operations and management competencies, and financial capabilities. 

Where Technology Matters

The comfort zone is where dreams go to die; Gary was never in that zone. He challenged the convention and had to juggle various problems one would expect of a budding company. Back then, it was not only about developing the Hexa brand, but also maintaining and running of the business. With so many things to do and with none other than two other clerical staff, they were working on a very lean structure. That is where technology came in handy. 

Using nothing but simple digital tools and service providers such as Google, backed by the knowledge of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Gary managed to market his products digitally and focused on online engagement at a time when competitors hired salespeople and adhered to conventional methods. Proper execution with a slim margin of error and striking on a timely basis, the company rose and saw a whopping RM8 million in sales – all without hiring a single salesperson. 

As the company continues to grow, innovate and embrace 4IR technologies, Gary mentioned that one major thread that follows a significant change is to get everyone on board. This includes the top management, seniors and juniors within the company. “Educating the staff on how specific technology would assist them in their quotidian tasks makes a difference, and then let the tech do the talking.”

Today, the company is working with Huawei to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cloud technology into its operations. Hexa Food is interested to explore how AI can assist in Quality Assurance and reduce wastage. One simple example is to distinguish between the “good” and the “bad” chillies in a sack which will improve productivity and efficiency in the production line. 

Furthermore, having digitalised the data logging processes, the company can then focus on gathering data – machine data, production data and environment data – in order to improve the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), thus leading to higher efficiency. The employees are able to obtain measurements such as the temperature of foods to comply with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards.

Behind the scenes… The company ensures processes are compliant to international standards

4IR Tech: A Long Term Strategy

“We have a team of six people working on automation and 4IR technology and saw a marked improvement in efficiency,” shared Gary. 4IR is a long-term strategy, and often show a marked increase and significant benefit within a year or more. He mentioned that many of the processes have now been simplified.

The year 2020 would see the establishment of a new “smart” factory, with full adoption of 4IR technologies. Hexa Food hopes to see a 40% increase in efficiency in their smart factory. The company has since transitioned beyond the preliminary stages and look to improve its existing factories in stages. 

Hexa Food also has its own eCommerce platform, ebaza.com.my which was launched in 2015 to market its food products. Foreseeing the impact of eCommerce on the future, Gary proceeded to set his gaze on online marketplaces such as 11 Street, Lazada and Shopee. 

“Through trial and error, our in-house developers have created our very own software to automate mundane tasks and make jobs easier,” said Gary, adding that it isn’t enough to just adopt a certain technology, but it must make business sense, reducing manual procedures rather than increasing the workload of the employees. “It’s near impossible to get it right from the get-go because of uncertainties. All we had to do was iron out the kinks.” 

Knowing is the First Step

Gary asserts that 4IR technology would certainly benefit adopters, but with a caveat: one should not adopt new technologies to just jump on the bandwagon. “It’s imperative that you know how it will fit your business model. The adoption of technology into the business should be done with proper preplanning and knowledge on the particular tech,” he warned. He advises all to learn about what 4IR technologies can offer as it may just be the piece of the puzzle you never knew you were missing. 

“The journey to digitalisation and 4IR adoption isn’t a lonely road. There are many avenues and opportunities,” he said, citing Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)’s initiatives including the Digital Transformation Acceleration Programme (DTAP) that provides companies with the right tools to achieve their digital transformation goals. With the right partners and the right technology, any businesses can navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution without much difficulty, Gary concludes.