IoT first-mover eyes GBA market
A Hong Kong healthtech innovator applies IoT technologies to boost the battle against COVID-19.
13 July 2021
As technology advances, so does the development of healthcare services. In recent years, the Hong Kong government has been actively reforming the local healthcare system. The 2019-20 Budget earmarked an additional HK$5 billion for the Hospital Authority (HA) to accelerate the upgrade or acquisition of advanced medical devices and information technology (IT) equipment, to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare services.
Megasoft Limited was founded in 2009 and researches and develops applications for the Internet of Things (IoT). Its core business spans retail, healthcare, logistics, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, with a factory in Zhuhai and offices in Shenzhen, Wuhan and Singapore, and other cities responsible for product sales. In 2017, Megasoft developed the Drug Refill Management System (DRMS) for the HA by using IoT technology. This system has considerably reduced the time that patients have to wait when collecting drug refills and also enhanced the accuracy of the process.
In the face of the enormous challenges posed by COVID-19 for public health, businesses worldwide have come to realise the positive impact advanced technologies can have on healthcare. In order to gain a better understanding of IoT applications in the medical field, HKTDC Research interviewed Megasoft president Matthew Man, who shared his experience in researching IoT solutions and his views on the development prospects of the Guangdong‑Hong Kong‑Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA).
Diversity of IoT Applications
Mr Man has been engaged in the IT industry for over 30 years, specialising in applications of AI recognition and IoT solutions. He believes that the development of IoT rests on four main pillars: digital transformation; automation; network convergence; and new applications. Mr Man said: “We do not simply make a product but, based on these four pillars, we create a whole new ecosystem for our clients to transform their existing operations.”
In the early days of its establishment, Megasoft mainly targeted the jewellery and watch retail market, using radio‑frequency identification (RFID) technology to develop smart jewellery trays with a built‑in security system. This helped to solve problems such as the misplacement or theft of jewellery and watch items. Later, the company began to integrate cloud technology and big data applications to create a series of retail IoT solutions incorporating functions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), sales terminals, and customer relations management.
After establishing a strong foothold in the retail market, Megasoft expanded into the cold-chain logistics market. Its IoT Cold Chain Visibility Platform and Solution was awarded the Hong Kong ICT Awards – Best Smart Hong Kong Grand Award in 2017. Mr Man then turned to the smart healthcare market and developed a number of innovative healthcare solutions to help hospitals digitalise their operations.
Innovative healthcare solutions
Faced with an ageing population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, Hong Kong’s medical system has major challenges. Mr Man pointed out: “While the world has entered Industry 4.0, Hong Kong’s public healthcare still remains in the 2.0 era. Many logistics processes are still carried out manually, resulting in low transparency and efficiency. This has in turn led to the frequent overload of the system, so that healthcare workers are overworked.” Mr Man saw this as an opportunity and ventured into the healthcare IoT market. To date, Megasoft has developed 19 solutions targeting medical institutions, including a smart pharmacy management system, an intelligent laundry tracking system, and an inventory management system.
The best known of these solutions is the Drug Refill Management System (DRMS), a system for hospitals which shortens the waiting time for patients who need to collect multiple drugs on a long‑term basis. Previously, patients went to the hospital to collect their medicines, submitting their prescriptions at the pharmacy department and waiting for up to three hours before the prescribed drugs were ready for collection. With the introduction of DRMS, which incorporates Megasoft’s AccuPyk, the patients’ prescriptions are attached to a case for their drugs. The pharmacist prepares the drugs in advance and puts them into the case which comes with a barcode and a Bluetooth electronic label indicator light. The system monitors the location and temperature of each drug case in real time to ensure proper storage. When the patients come to collect their drug refill, they go to the E-Fill counter and scan the barcode on the prescription. The pharmacy department receives notice of the collection and the indicator light on the pre‑packed drug case will flash. This system shortens the whole process of drug collection from three hours to 30 minutes. It has also reduced human error and labour costs, increasing the efficiency of the pharmacy department.
More than 10 public hospitals in Hong Kong have adopted the system. “We approached the hospitals and promoted our technologies to them several years ago,” explained Mr Man. “At the time, they showed great interest in our solutions, but they were short of funds. Then the Hong Kong government began to allocate funds to the HA to support public hospitals in the introduction of innovative technologies to manage their medical services more efficiently. This support has made our cooperation possible.” Megasoft has not only won the approval of the HA, its outstanding achievements have also gained the recognition of various sectors. The company was winner of the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2020 – Smart Living Grand Award and Hong Kong Health Award 2019 – Health Technology Gold Award.
R&D of non-clinical healthcare IoT
Megasoft will continue to focus on the research and development (R&D) of non‑clinical healthcare IoT technology in the near future. “Healthcare IoT can be classified into clinical and non‑clinical,” Mr Man explained. “Clinical IoT technology is mainly for enhancing the reliability and speed of diagnosis and increasing treatment accuracy. This type of technology normally requires the approval of the local medical authority before it can be launched into the market. We don’t have any experience in clinical research, so we chose to start with non‑clinical applications. By using IoT technology to improve the logistics processes of medical institutions, such as tracking medical devices and patients or enhancing workflow, we aim to raise the productivity of staff and strengthen communication within and between medical institutions.”
The Hong Kong advantages
In Mr Man’s opinion, Hong Kong possesses two great advantages that have made it an ideal location for the growth of businesses. “Since Hong Kong has [Mainland] China as its strong backing, businesses making a foray into the mainland market can capitalise on the resources, connections and strengths across the border. At the same time, Hong Kong is a city with a free and open market and international vision and networks. It also has many well-qualified people who are bilingual and have international experience, making it easy for businesses to communicate with multinational corporations. As such, Hong Kong serves as a gateway to the world as well as the most effective springboard for overseas companies entering the mainland Chinese market. It is my first choice for building a base.”
In addition to these two great advantages, the efficiency of the Hong Kong people attracts businesses to establish a presence in Hong Kong, Mr Man believes. “It only took us two weeks to produce our smart wardrobe, completing the whole process from design to prototype production. If this took place overseas, it would probably take two months. Likewise, when we saw a chance to cooperate with the HA, our team immediately switched into high gear. We submitted the first proposal and sample within two months, successfully demonstrating the importance we attached to the project. In this way we managed to retain the client and win further opportunities.”
Even under the impact of COVID-19, Megasoft displayed great resilience and continued to grow. Mr Man said: “We have been pursuing organic growth relying on innovative and high-quality products as well as superior services. This approach may not deliver the fastest growth, but it is more durable and the stability of profit is greater. Even with the fluctuating pandemic situation, we expect the company to grow this year.”
Embracing GBA opportunities
When Megasoft was first established, it set up a factory in Zhuhai, taking full advantage of the strengths of the mainland GBA cities. “Zhuhai has in place a complete industry chain and an advanced manufacturing system, which is exactly what Hong Kong lacks. Therefore, we set up a factory in Zhuhai to take charge of production, and opened an office in Shenzhen to take charge of purchasing and tapping the mainland market. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has a sound system for intellectual property protection and a large pool of international talent, making it an ideal location for us to establish our R&D base. We have built a team of 50 in our Hong Kong headquarters, who are devoted to product development and management. Division of labour between Hong Kong and mainland GBA cities allows us to use our respective comparative advantages and create a mutually beneficial, win‑win relationship,” remarked Mr Man.
Mr Man is also optimistic about the growth potential of the GBA market. “Generally speaking, the size of the Hong Kong market is rather small. There are only about 50 hospitals in the SAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] and the room for growth is limited. Yet, the mainland is full of development opportunities. In Guangdong province alone, there are more than 1,000 3A [top-grade rated] hospitals. This is why the GBA market has always been one of our development focuses. We have already provided customised solutions for a number of hospitals in Guangdong, and the response has been positive. So, we will continue to expand this market,” said Mr Man.
To Hong Kong companies wishing to make a foray into the GBA market, Mr Man suggests that they should find a reliable partner. “This partner must fully understand the demands of the local market and must also have good connections in the sector concerned to help you attract potential clients. In addition, the product itself must be state‑of‑the‑art, efforts must be made to develop new products, and customised services should be provided according to the characteristics of the local market.”
Looking to the future, Mr Man has an eye beyond the GBA to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market. “In recent years, ASEAN has been developing rapidly. Moreover, the healthcare system in the region, especially in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, is similar to that of Hong Kong. In other words, opportunities abound in the region. We will continue to pursue innovation and develop more customised solutions for our clients, seizing each and every opportunity.”
- Medical Supplies & Medicine
- Hong Kong
- Mainland China