Originally published in Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age Book, 14 November 2017.
Tech Trends Changing the Landscape of ASEAN
At a time of enormous volatility in various parts of the world, ASEAN has shown consistent growth and has become such a dynamic region. Even with global headwinds, I believe that the outlook for Southeast Asia remains bright, maintaining a relatively positive growth trajectory and remaining an attractive destination for investments.
What makes this development more impressive is the interplay of key trends that have contributed to ASEAN’s potential for sustained growth. Southeast Asia is undergoing a demographic dividend, with over 50 percent of the population below the age of 30. Higher-skilled workers are also on the younger end of the workforce, with a median age in the mid-20s, suggesting an increasingly well-educated population that bodes well for ASEAN’s future productivity. This is particularly valuable when it comes to disruptions in employment that require more education, greater skill, and higher adaptability.
The growing economies of ASEAN member-nations drove increasing affluence. By 2030, the number of households with greater discretionary purchasing power is poised to nearly double, from 81 million households in 2013 to 163 million in 2030.
ASEAN is also experiencing rapid urbanization. Populations in major cities all over the region have grown by as much as 50 percent over the last decade. ASEAN’s cities account for over 65 percent of regional gross domestic product. This is likely to grow, with more than 90 million people expected to move to urban centers by 2030, driven by the prospect of higher wages.
Finally, ASEAN’s commitment to an open trade environment, as seen in the ASEAN Economic Community and in its participation in other free trade agreements and economic initiatives, provide a boost to the region’s potential.
The confluence of these factors drove the rapid transformation of many industries across the region. The digital revolution, in particular, is changing how consumers find and buy products and services, how businesses interact with customers and their supply chains, how governments engage citizens, and even how ASEAN works with the rest of the world. We have observed six key technology trends that are fueling this digital revolution.
First is mobile technology. Today’s mobile devices are equipped with enormous computing power, ever larger screens, pervasive high speed networks, and made even more accessible to individuals. Second is social media that has changed the way people and societies interact with one another and the rest of the world. Third is the shift in the way individuals now interact with their surroundings. From face-to-face and personal engagements, interactions are now done through a screen – from mobile phones to tablets to laptops and PCs, and even digital billboards. Fourth, the cloud has allowed individuals and enterprises the flexibility to store data, keep memories, and manage IT infrastructure.
Fifth is the accelerating adoption of the Internet of Things, which allows offloading mundane interactions between humans and machines into machine to machine, presents greater efficiencies in the way we do things. Finally, advanced analytics are helping solve various challenges in sectors such as healthcare and education to national security.
Overall, these six technology trends present tremendous potential and opportunities for enterprises, societies, and governments. However, the challenge lies in how we can properly harness the benefits they bring and on the flipside, manage their potential misuse.
With how the mobile and Internet economy is changing our lifestyle, it is imperative that ASEAN enterprises be able to adapt quickly by integrating digitization into their business strategies and operations. We have seen how start-up companies are flourishing in this environment where the nature of employment and entrepreneurship are shifting. Similarly, governments must adapt to the digital transformation to cater to the needs and preferences of the modern citizen.
Much more needs to be done in capturing the opportunities and navigating the challenges that digital transformation brings.
In closing, much more needs to be done in capturing the opportunities and navigating the challenges that digital transformation brings. This entails collaborative efforts among governments, the private sector, the academe, and research institutions, particularly in support for harnessing intellectual knowledge, innovation, and enabling frictionless flow of data and information. More than ever, close cooperation among ASEAN member nations is crucial in this journey towards digital revolution.
About Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala