Technology disruptions at work in Asean
By Grace Yip December 18, 2014
- Two powerful forces accelerating the pace of change in the region
- How to respond to these changes transforming Asean’s work environment
DRAMATIC changes are reinventing work and workforces across South-East Asia, presenting both challenges and opportunities to organisations in the region.
Asean stakeholders need to act fast if they are to rise to the demands of this radical transformation.
Drivers of disruptions
In its recent study, The Future-Ready Organisation: Re-inventing Work in Asean, Accenture has identified two powerful forces accelerating the pace of change in the region: The unique characteristics of Asean that are amplifying global trends; and the impact of technology across the region.
First, consider the demographics: Asean boasts one of the fastest-growing working-age populations in the world. By 2020, 55% of workers will be between 20 and 39 years old.
These ‘millennials’ – who entered adulthood at the start of the millennium – differ markedly from previous generations. As well as having different attitudes to work, and a tendency to ‘job-hop,’ they are digital natives, comfortable with and empowered by technology.
For this generation, digital devices are essential tools needed for work, communication, accessing entertainment, managing finances and busy schedules.
They expect companies to understand and enable their digital inclinations with mobile platforms and other digital channels that can increase productivity at work.
While changing demographics are accelerating the pace of change in Asean’s workplace, we are also seeing technology driving disruption at an organisational level, changing the way information is processed, how decisions are made, and how knowledge is shared.
Sophisticated analytics allow companies and organisations to uncover insights within their own operations and markets, in almost real time.
The cost of industrial-strength analytics is falling as computing power becomes more commoditised, making these tools more readily available and opening up opportunities to large and small organisations alike.
Some Asean companies and organisations are also increasingly accessing sophisticated tools to overcome ‘silo’ corporate mentalities and create truly collaborative operations.
For example, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) uses collaborative platforms to help enterprises solve real-world challenges by crowdsourcing solutions. The Data Innovation Challenge (Dextra) was launched to provide more than 9,000 datasets from various sectors to allow data scientists to extract insights and value.
With this, local enterprises can tap on the development of analytic solutions to address complex data-driven business challenges.
Many Asean organisations reduce costs by offloading routine tasks to automated assistants. One school in Singapore for instance is using web-based artificial intelligence ‘chat bots’ to identify students’ learning patterns and assess their educational needs.
No longer confined to the realms of science fiction, robots or drones are helping companies accomplish a broader range of work more efficiently and cost-effectively.
For example, an Indonesian palm oil producer is planning to use aerial drones to monitor new plantings and to track workers as they manage plantations. More activities will be performed by combined teams of human and robotic ‘workers.’
Talent and technology gaps
Despite the appetite for all things digital that exists in Asean, some organisations are advancing more quickly towards this future of work than others.
With the exception of Singapore, adoption of new technology among Asean-based firms is typically quite slow. Indonesia, for example, ranks 30th globally for innovation, yet it ranks 72nd for the latest availability of technology.
READ ALSO: Malaysia falling behind Indonesia in new tech adoption?
Without ready access to cutting-edge tools, businesses could be restricted not only in their ability to create new products and services, but also to adapt to new workers and ways of working.
Technology gaps are also evident in the workforce. The shortage of skilled talent is a common story in Asean, and lack of technology skills will hinder organisations from accessing the benefits of the enhanced digital tools.
Getting fit for the future
To respond to the changes transforming Asean’s work environment, Accenture has outlined some strategic recommendations for businesses operating in the region:
- Develop differentiated talent management strategies
Digital technologies are critical to enabling customised talent management. Analytics solutions can project the skills needed and when, enabling organisations to develop the most efficient staffing models and workers get the opportunity to gain new skills.
- Tap into an extended workforce
Technology will play a key role, allowing organisations to tap into diverse pools of talents to meet business goals. We are already seeing the rise of organisations such as global online marketplace oDesk in the region which connects over 4.5 million freelancers with 900,000 clients worldwide.
- Increase operating model agility
Technology also opens up the opportunity to enable faster decision making by those on the frontlines and closest to the customer. With more data in the hands of line managers, leaders in Asean will need to adapt, focusing on developing standardised procedures and giving their workforce the right decision-making tools.
Accordingly, companies need to make operating models as flexible and dynamic as possible or risk being left behind.
- Evolve the right management mindset
A change of mindset is required and in South-East Asia, where decisions tend to made centrally and a rigid adherence to hierarchy prevails, this could be quite challenging.
However, with technology-enabled autonomy on the frontlines likely to increase, it will be essential for companies to adapt, guiding leadership to focus on facilitating and integrating new ways of working rather than ‘command and control leadership.’
No time to wait
As work is reinvented in Asean and disruptive trends take hold, there are likely to be both winners and losers. Only those companies that proactively adjust to a more diverse and demanding workforce, are prepared to shift work practices, and embrace the power of technology, can expect to succeed in this new war for talent.
Grace Yip is managing director of Talent & Human Capital at Accenture Singapore.
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