Q&A: Dentsu CIO Arvind Sethumadhavan on Asia’s Digital Disruption

According to Asia Pacific’s Digital Disruption – The Next Set of Waves, a white paper on trends in Asia’s digital economy, in 2020 nearly one-third of all connected devices worldwide will be located in the Asia, making it a crucial player in the future of IoT, AI, VR & AR, and no doubt several other acronyms that currently escape me.

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The 28-page report, which was put together by The Economist and Dentsu Aegis Network APAC, additionally offers an insightful read on how data generated by these new forms of consumer interaction will advance insight into behavioral patterns—allowing for more precise engagement with Asia’s consumers.


Branding in Asia recently caught up with Arvind Sethumadhavan, Chief Innovation Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network, to discuss the report.

I’m looking forward to the day when my shower talks to my coffee machine and toaster and tells them, “Hey, he’s wrapping things up in here, get ready for his arrival in the kitchen.” Am I expecting too much?

No, you are not, this is where the value proposition of connected devices comes to be realized. It is important for solutions to keep the balance between satisfying a need and being over intrusive with a broken-down user experience. Devices need to seamlessly work in the background.

There is much buzz in the report about Asia playing a crucial role in the development of IoT technologies. Aside from the sheer number of people, what makes Asia crucial?


The number of people apart, Asia is a key region for the manufacturing sector which enables building in new technologies into products. This coupled with the mobile-first, high smartphone penetration will act as a catalyst to adoption.

Analysts often draw the conclusion that because people are using apps to bank, order food and hail taxis, they will transition easily to internet connected devices in their home. What are your thoughts on that line of deduction?

I think the key for this transition is the ability for solutions to deliver a strong utility and a great user experience. IoT straddles the digital and physical worlds and I would argue that the user experience will need to be a lot more spot on for adoption (than in solutions which live only in the online world).

That said, the segment of people who have been adopters of the digital economy business models are going to be the earlier adopters of IoT solutions as they crave convenience.

What is the status now and going forward in terms of pricing which will allow more people to choose IoT over legacy items?

Pricing will be less of a barrier; the bigger hurdle is behavior shift for adoption which is dependent on the level of utility being offered. One thing which will happen is a stronger ecosystem of players who come together to deliver solutions.

Devices talking to each other will still need to be worked on, as with all platforms over time the manufacturers will come together to deliver this for the greater benefit, any outliers with niche platforms will suffer.

If you look at the concept of a home grid being controlled by IoT devices for better energy savings, then it is important for the device manufacturers, utility companies, and the telecommunications operator who provides the bandwidth to work together.

There are still compatibility issues preventing devices from talking to each other. Is a standard language norm on the way? 

With the mobile becoming the universal remote for a lot of applications, the default control platforms are taken care off. Devices talking to each other will still need to be worked on, as with all platforms over time the manufacturers will come together to deliver this for the greater benefit, any outliers with niche platforms will suffer.

The report also talks about Augmented and Virtual reality. How are marketers currently benefiting from that technology and how can they further benefit in the future?

Currently, the use of AR and VR in the marketing world is largely restricted to experiential situations such as test drives, tourism destinations, future simulations to name a few. Our Isobar teams did a simulation of what Singapore will look like in 2065 for the 50th anniversary of Singapore.

The future will be about scaling these out in a manner where people get to experience solutions being less hardware dependent, this is the reason also why AR is predicted to be much larger driven around the smartphone.

In terms of AI giving marketers the tools to construct more predictive behavioral profiles of me as a consumer, is there an inevitable point where the well runs dry on how much they can know about me?

The dynamic nature of the world means that humans are fast adapting and changing behaviors and developing new attitudes. This will continue with an ongoing process as has been with evolution, thus I don’t see a situation where the well runs dry.

We will need to keep learning about human behaviors across the various dimensions to be able to craft relevant messages delivered on relevant platforms and devices at the right time. The profiles of people are likely to change on the age continuum as well, thus necessitating us to stay relevant at all times.

You can download Asia Pacific’s Digital Disruption – The Next Set of Waves here.

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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