Gibu Mathew: Indonesia and the Philippines are the Key Nations to drive SEA’s Digital Transformation

Gibu Mathew, Vice President and General Manager in Asia-Pacific at Zoho Corp.

Digital jobs like machine learning engineers, data engineers and data scientists were some of the fastest-growing jobs in Southeast Asia from 2017 to 2021. These jobs require a wide range of technical skills, including mastery in programming languages like Python and Go, data management, and information security among many others.  Gibu Mathew, VP & GM APAC for Zoho Corporation share his thoughts in our interview session

What are the key trends in 2023 for SaaS-based solutions for enterprises and SMEs in SEA?

There is definitely an increase in demand for software solutions to manage a remote or distributed workforce. Hybrid working has increasingly become popular in the Southeast Asia region. According to CBRE, 60 percent of Asia Pacific companies expect to retain some form of hybrid working for their employees. As workplaces evolve, organizations need to transform the way they work to ensure business continuity while ensuring a proper work-life balance for their employees to work productively. This development presents the perfect opportunity for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to grow as it provides the necessary tools for organizations to stay productive and ensure successful collaboration in a hybrid-first future. Many businesses are using subscription-based services as it provides flexibility for users to pick the right technologies and services for their operations. With as-a-service models, businesses can purchase on-demand, subscription-based services that allows them to better manage their operational costs. A report by IDC found that as-a-service models in the Asia Pacific region, including SaaS, are expected to grow in value to USD165.2 billion by 2026.

As the SaaS market matures, we also see a trend towards consolidation in the SaaS landscape that will only accelerate in 2023. Technology-wise, the next consolidation wave will be ‘interoperability over integration’. In the year ahead, businesses that were early SaaS adopters will look to invest in unified cloud platforms that support interoperable services. Platforms as a service (PaaS) that enable businesses to pick and choose services that they require for their operations, add customised workflows via low-code/no-code provisions, and deploy them single-handedly in no time from a ‘single’ console will see traction for the greater flexibility they offer.

How much potential does the SEA market hold for Zoho, compared to other regions (i.e.: U.S., Europe, LATAM)?

The pandemic and the need for organisations to adapt to changing consumer behavior has driven the adoption of SaaS among SMEs. According to e-Conomy SEA 2022 report, there are over 460 million Internet users in Southeast Asia.  Compared to Europe, which has more than 400 million Internet users in 2022. This larger Internet user base in South East Asia presents us with more opportunities to develop the SaaS market in our region. To keep abreast if the consumption behavior trend, it is important also for businesses who are looking to use SaaS to digitally transform their business should definitely look to upskill and re-skill their workforce so they are properly equipped to use digital tools to enhance their operations.

How can Zoho solutions address the needs of SMEs?

With Zoho, businesses have access to a wide range of entry level solutions, to help kick start the digitalization journey. Start-ups are also able to tryout Zoho’s solutions for free and scale up their use as their business expands. Most Zoho solutions have comprehensive onboarding guides to help businesses get started with best practices to make adoption an easy process. There are also local implementation partners to provide additional assistance.

For businesses at the beginning of the transformation journey, solutions like Zoho Workplace and Zoho Invoice are able to provide teams with productivity solutions and the ability to simplify processes that were previously manual in nature. As businesses mature and develop more advance technological needs, Zoho is able to help businesses once again in the next step of their transformation journey, from customer experience with our Zoho CRM to and analytics dashboard that allows for unified, real-time insights that help business leaders make better decisions. Our Zoho Analytics platform allows organizations to connect and blend data from anywhere, including files, teams, departments, accounts, apps and databases. Through our Zoho AI assistant, it can transform data into insights, future-trends, and what-if analysis with a single click. It also has a low-code/no-code model that allows staff to build their own analytics algorithms or portals that are tailored to the needs of the business.

With an established cloud solution provider like Zoho, businesses will also have access to our built-in security and privacy capabilities to pass on these assurances to their customers.

What are your plans for the next year for the SEA market? Will you be launching any new products?

For 2023, Zoho continues to be committed to the transformation journey of the businesses in our region. We will be focusing on the continued improvement of our products to create more value for our users. . Since we launched Zoho One, our unified platform solution, five years ago, the suite has supported 50,000 organizations across more than 160 countries. This comprehensive, scalable platform comprising 45 unified applications has been able to support an extensive range of use cases, including AI, business intelligence, contextual communication and unified search. As we continue to improve our products included in this suite,  Zoho One will continue to enable clients to digitize and automate their business so that they are poised to compete in a rapidly-changing workplace environment.

Looking forward, Zoho is also interested in improving the Employee Experience (EX), as improved user interface and functionalities for employees, will naturally encourage greater adoption of the platforms with employees and consequently bring greater value to the business.

What are the challenges in penetrating your solutions to the SEA market?

Harnessing SaaS solutions to enhance their business performance requires organizations to have digital talents at the ready. In the Southeast Asian region, acquiring and retaining tech talents has become one of the region’s main challenges in accelerating digital transformation strategies. According to a survey by Robert Walters, a majority of companies in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have reported increased resignations and difficulties in hiring new talent over the past year. The same report also revealed some of the biggest challenges employers face when hiring new talent, such as lacking technical expertise, high salary and benefit expectations and increasing competition. Addressing the tech talent shortage requires employers to upskill their existing workforce so that they are better equipped to use digital solutions.

Improving digital literacy is another imperative as it empowers workers to maximize the full value of SaaS solutions. According to the 2022 edition of LinkedIn’s Job on the Rise, digital jobs like machine learning engineers, data engineers and data scientists were some of the fastest-growing jobs in Southeast Asia from 2017 to 2021. These jobs require a wide range of technical skills, including mastery in programming languages like Python and Go, data management, and information security among many others.

Which countries in the SEA region will become the backbone in the region’s business growth?

By analyzing population numbers and demographics, Indonesia and the Philippines stand out as key nations with the most potential to drive the region’s digital transformation forward. Indonesia has a GDP value of USD1 trillion which is the largest in the region according to ASEAN. It also reports that more than half of Indonesia’s population is aged below 20, and these digital natives can be a source to drive digital transformation. Furthermore, GlobalData also notes how rising internet and smartphone penetration have been a boon to e-commerce, projecting this growth to sustain in the coming years and enable Indonesia to be a significant contributor to the region’s digital economy.

In the Philippines, MSME’s (micro, small and medium enterprises) constitute an overwhelming 99.6 percent majority of businesses. The Philippines also experienced an increase of 12 million digital consumers in 2021, with 99 percent of them intending to continue using digital channels during the endemic phase. By implementing the right solutions, the Philippines has the potential to become one of the largest digital markets in the region.