Singapore seems to be one of the most digital ready countries among the ASEAN. Source: Shutterstock

Singapore seems to be one of the most digital ready countries among the ASEAN. Source: Shutterstock

Is the ASEAN finally ready for digital transformation?

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION is something that every board in every region, including the ASEAN, is prioritizing.

It moved from being a key differentiator to an enabler (of innovation) sometime last year, and is now something that is purely driven by customer demand and market forces. Fail to transform and you’ll lose your customers.

However, the question is, are businesses in the ASEAN region prepared to digitally transform? It doesn’t seem like it according to a new study published by Cisco.

The team surveyed between 75 and 200 IT executives across the region and found that 47 percent of them didn’t have the budget necessary to build the right digital infrastructure, 43 percent didn’t have the talent necessary to build the solutions needed to go digital, and 42 percent said that existing IT infrastructure was unfit and couldn’t support the next generation of technologies.

As a result, although the region is quite optimistic about digital transformation, they’re unable to take the lead.

Of course, there’s a difference between priority, focus, and need among each of the countries surveyed in the region — which is apparent in the overall development of certain technologies with the region.

Governments in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, for example, provide a favorable environment for digital transformation to be lead by businesses — which is why big data and analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation technologies have grown so popular in these countries.

Thailand leads the region in terms of adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), with 49 percent of businesses interested and investing in the technology. Compared to the ASEAN average of 38 percent, it’s a great victory for Thailand and puts it on the map as an innovator.

Given the vast potential of AI, the progress that businesses in Thailand make with the technology will also attract foreign investments from China and the US — both of whose governments are keen on accelerating the rate of adoption of the technology in businesses back home.

Thailand also beats the regional average (48 percent) for the adoption of automation technologies by 11 percent and is just 4 percent short of being the regional leader in this field. Given new initiatives by the government such as the SMART technology visa program implemented in February this year, there’s hope that the gap will be closed soon.

It’s interesting to note that while IoT is one of the most interesting technologies but sees the lowest adoption rate, hovering at 28 percent for the ASEAN region as a whole and at 36 percent for countries such as Vietnam and Singapore.

To be fair, the technology requires a fair bit of investment to implement — which ties back to one of the initial findings of the report highlighting the lack of budgets to create and build new and exciting digital solutions.

Overall, although ASEAN countries are the most confident about their digital future in the APAC region, there are several challenges that need to be immediately addressed if businesses in the region are to remain competitive and profitable.

In order to accelerate change, governments and businesses must work hand in hand, to ensure that the region collectively makes progress and prepares for the digital transformation that is now so critical to their very existence.