The silver lining in the black swan moment of COVID-19 is that it has been driving digitization like no other event since the dot-com boom, with the much-needed transition happening across all sectors. Advanced technologies like blockchain and AI hold a lot of value and have the power to transform people’s lives – a belief shared by the founders of Lina Network, a Vietnam-based digital transformation solutions provider committed to solving real-world problems.
To learn more about the platform’s business model, we sat down with Lina Network co-founder Mitchell Pham and Leigh Flounders, the company’s strategic consultant.
A Vietnamese New Zealander, Mitchell is a tech entrepreneur with over 27 years of experience in financial services, healthcare, professional services, transport and logistics. Having expanded his New Zealand business to Vietnam six years ago, Mitchell quickly realized that many industries here were ripe for a technology overhaul and saw opportunities for international collaboration.
Today, Lina’s globe-spanning network of board members includes such luminaries as Mitchell’s lifetime friend and fellow serial entrepreneur Leigh Flounders. Leigh’s connections in global banking and finance have been instrumental in positioning Lina Network as a pioneer in the field of digital transformation.
We ask Mitchell and Leigh about innovation in tech, realization of blockchain application in daily life and their E-Government Alliance project.
For companies like Lina who are at the forefront of tech, what opportunities do the current circumstances offer?
Mitchell: As a Viet Kieu, I have always felt that Vietnam has a lot to offer the world. Others have noticed the country's potential too, turning it into a bona fide outsourcing hub for businesses from all over the world. But I wanted Vietnam to become more than a bit player, so I brought Lina here to give local talent an opportunity to grow, to prove themselves. But also we felt that in Vietnam we could make a real difference and looking at the speed at which digitization is happening all around us, we were proven right!
Leigh: Distributed technology works so well because it’s scalable, immutable and highly adaptive. So when governments needed technology to manage citizen databases, for example, the likes of Lina Network offered ready-made solutions. But that was pre-COVID.
What COVID-19 did was setting the industry on fire. The speed at which businesses and governments are digitizing is unprecedented. And for Lina, who has come of age at a time when remote working, secure data sharing and increased cybersecurity are top of mind for businesses and governments, this is a really exciting time.
How are you implementing blockchain technology here in Asia? What were some of the biggest challenges? What were some of the early results that can be seen from this implementation?
Leigh: When we look at working with regional governments and large enterprises, it’s crucial to approach every project with empathy and avoid causing internal rifts. You are dealing with large bureaucracies relying on legacy technologies, so you need to tread carefully when bringing in a disruptive technology like Lina’s.
You need to make sure that it fits within the existing ecosystem and that it can be consumed by all of the stakeholders. With a digital driver’s license project for the Laos government, for example, these stakeholders included the license holder, the police and the intergovernmental departments that are accessing the data as well. What really helped to make it a success was the government’s readiness to embrace new technologies, its digital maturity – in fact, they leapfrogged existing solutions to embrace truly cutting-edge technology.
And while Lina solved some very specific problems, like fighting fraud and building trust in the government, the technology has a much wider use, because now you have a centralized digital ID database accessible by all departments that is safe, trustworthy and immutable.
How can lessons learned from the Laos project be applied in Vietnam?
Mitchell: When you look at Vietnam and some other emerging economies in the region, you realize that different governmental bodies and agencies operate independently and have different sets of data that they don’t share with each other. And so I think the very first opportunity for Lina is helping SEA governments, starting on the country level, to become part of a more connected model allowing them to better engage with the public. We call it a permissioned regional network, part of our E-Government Alliance (EGA).
Leigh: We are now in a position to become regional players: first in the ASEAN region, then the EU. To succeed in digitization and integration on a regional level, you need to have a certain level of maturity, from leadership and talent to strong technology and right connections. Lina has that.
Alongside the challenges that are unique to each Southeast Asian country, there are a number of common needs that can be more effectively addressed on a regional, rather than country level. Lina can act as a connector, allowing governments to learn from each other.
Once a group of Asian governments has come together to form a collective of collaborators, we can then extend an invitation to more digitally advanced nations, such as New Zealand, to come in and advise on strategy and implementation.
In Vietnam, do you anticipate digital transformation to be adopted more readily by the private or public sector?
Mitchell: Vietnam has a very advanced e-commerce industry with a solid foundation of supply chain logistics. And a ravenous appetite for new tech, as has been demonstrated by the Vietnamese enterprises time and again. So I expect the trend to continue.
When it comes to adoption by the government, things are different. Because each government body has a different level of maturity and because they rely on different digital platforms and more often than not have different workplace cultures, homogenizing these varying legacy technologies will be an uphill battle. So it will take time.
What place do emerging technologies occupy in your strategy?
Leigh: Emerging technologies like 5G, AI, biometrics, geospatial information, advanced, predictive and prescriptive analytics, as well as democratization of algorithms, will certainly open new opportunities. 5G, for example, is currently being rolled out in countries like New Zealand and the UAE, with Asia not far behind. The potential of this technology is huge.
Mitchell: For me, Lina’s focus has always been not on technology per se but on the journey. Since its foundation in 2017, Lina Network has been evolving as technology is evolving. So whatever the next big thing in tech is going to be, Lina will be at the forefront, just as we are with blockchain.