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The vulnerability of supply chains was put on full display when COVID-19 struck. It exposed the risks of global interdependence and the fragility of global supply chains.
With sudden shifts in demand, trade disruptions, and the inability to organize physical trade fairs and exhibitions — venues that encourage trade —global supply chains became strained. For many companies, the answer lay in accelerating the digitalization of trading to navigate the new challenges.
With over two million registered buyers and 130,000 quality suppliers using its online sourcing platform, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) decided to take the lead. It wanted to improve operational efficiency, unlock new opportunities, and simplify trade connectivity with smart sourcing.
It was a massive undertaking and needed a partner who intimately understood the global supply chain market, cognitive technologies, and the ability to create a smart sourcing platform. So, they chose IBM Global Business Services (GBS).
Our journey with HKTDC began over ten years ago when we helped the organization build the hktdc.com Sourcing platform to connect buyers and suppliers worldwide and propel business growth. The effort allowed us to gain an intimate understanding of the company’s needs and wants, learn about their infrastructure, and build a strong rapport with their management.
All these factors played a crucial role when HKTDC decided to become a one-stop digital sourcing and marketing platform for buyers and suppliers under the post pandemic new normal. It wanted the hktdc.com sourcing platform to offer a personalized experience for buyers, empower suppliers to improve brand equity and marketing efficiency with big data and cognitive technologies and scale quickly and easily. We played to our strengths and experience in cloud migration, AI, and UX design to achieve these goals.
Journey to Cloud
A key step in the transformation of HKTDC’s platform was the migration to AWS Cloud, which made the revamped hktdc.com Sourcing platform agile, scalable, extendable, and secure. All applications were aligned under common requirements for security, regulatory compliance, and governance. It could also scale within minutes, instead of waiting for days to procure and upgrade the computing power.
The sourcing platform was re-designed using a microservices architecture, providing lightweight cloud services. The design modularized the infrastructure and featured our end-to-end capabilities and the latest DevOps practices. Together, these capabilities streamlined the development cycle from months to weeks. Product lifecycles were also reduced from days to hours.
Development speed and infrastructure simplicity matter to suppliers when the market landscape evolves rapidly. The over 50 microservices allowed suppliers to quickly capture market growth and become agile to market changes. Ongoing managed services also allowed HKTDC to focus on its value proposition and leave the maintenance to our professionals.
To ensure the upgraded platform would meet users’ needs, we conducted a business consultancy study on the key user journey, the long term business strategy and the digitization roadmap. We also ran an enterprise design thinking workshop to co-create the fresh user experience (UX) design together with the HKTDC team.
The revamped hktdc.com Sourcing launched on Oct. 30, 2020. And it had an immediate impact on HKTDC’s business that went beyond initial expectations.
Various machine learning solutions were integrated into the platform. The new machine learning algorithms, including natural language processing, offered better multi-channel product recommendations, product analyses, and business performance transparency. Image recognition improved search capabilities by linking interest to defined keywords.
Suppliers could now build their branding and content and streamline their marketing strategy using integrated big data analytics features. Dashboards advised them on new opportunities, how to optimize their marketing strategies, and how well their customer services fared against their competitors.
Customer support proved to be HKTDC’s competitive edge. Their professional customer success team, backed by our knowledge and experience, helped SMEs improve digital sourcing. HKTDC’s global network with local chambers and trade partners deepened business connections and accelerated international trade.
The upgraded hktdc.com Sourcing platform continues IBM’s partnership with HKTDC, which is an ongoing cognitive transformation journey of applying AI, business analytics, cloud, and other emerging technologies to transform business models.
As a next step, we are looking to push forward an online-to-offline (O2O) or what we call the “phygital” model. It will meld the sourcing platform with year-round trade fairs and exhibitions as markets start opening up for physical events. It will further enhance the competitive positions of HKTDC and its buyers and sellers.
The hybrid experience will combine the best of the physical and virtual worlds. It will undoubtedly set a new benchmark for the future of sourcing and trading.