Samit Chopra is the President and COO of WeWork.
Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that sank Asia-Pacific into a recession, many economies in the region have weathered what they hope is the worst of the storm.
Although most economies are tipped to rebound to pre-pandemic levels this year — thanks to factors such as the rollout of vaccines, the revival of global demand, and effectiveness of government spending — the crisis is not over.
If there’s one thing we have learned in the last 15 months, it’s that anything can happen, and being prepared for all eventualities is a must. While we can see that economic drivers such as exports and global expansion may help the region navigate its recovery and the next phase of growth, as business leaders in the region, we can’t afford to rely solely on these.
In fact, the silver lining may actually lie in domestic momentum and demand, as well as digital opportunities. While a recent report by Vodafone Business found just 27% of companies in APAC have been identified as ‘future ready’, almost half expect ‘substantial or radical’ changes to their business models in the coming year. In addition, more than half have accelerated digital transformation plans as a result of the pandemic.
Due to the economic and developmental diversity in the region, companies that are quick to adopt a multi-market expansion approach are often best positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities that APAC has to offer. And to help further boost the region's position as a global growth pioneer, business leaders also appear to have both the desire and opportunity to redefine this growth narrative, economic proposition and confidence.
There are several factors businesses need to take into account when embarking on digitalization and regional expansion, especially in regards to ensuring they remain nimble when scaling.
Stunted globalization needs digital solutions
The various restrictions that have been put in place around the world to help curb the spread of the pandemic mean international expansion has become increasingly complex and inconvenient for businesses. Brand-new hurdles around travel, visas and other bureaucratic matters have brought the growth of many businesses to a screeching halt. However, such bureaucracy is not de rigeur across the region. Vietnam, for example, is welcoming foreign businesses to help propel its economies forward. This presents a great opportunity for businesses that are eager to set up regional digital hubs, allowing them to grab a piece of the economic pie in a new market.
To keep overheads as low as possible during regional expansion, it can be beneficial to work with a regional network that is flexible enough to support rapid growth at scale without heavy upfront investments.
Rapid digitalization comes with fostering innovation
With the swift and widespread adoption of technology, APAC has become home to many fast-growing digital economies. Vietnam and Indonesia are developing at a break-neck pace, Indonesia is home to six tech unicorns, and more established digital hubs like Singapore and South Korea round out the region. As a whole, there are exciting opportunities for businesses across APAC, where mobile-first strategies reign supreme.
Technology companies that are able to act quickly and establish footholds in multiple countries within the region will be able to reap the most rewards from domestic expansion - effectively growing their customer base with the demand for digital solutions at every digital development level.
These opportunities are further amplified by government initiatives in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam, where funds have been earmarked for businesses that help the nation speed up digital transformation and growth to remain globally competitive. Continuous innovation – such as the transportation revolution by Grab, or digital payment solution BigPay that has quickly taken over SEA – is the key for growth in each APAC country. Having expertise, flexibility and speed in helping companies scale is crucial to keeping this momentum going.
How enterprises across APAC can be ‘future-ready’
While some parts of the world are showing early signs of a return to ‘normal life’, it’s always important to keep in mind that the pandemic isn’t over, and across the region, both lockdowns and social distancing remain the norm. With this, the human connection – powered by technology – has become even more important for success.
It’s now necessary to strike a balance between the two when considering plans for how to scale your business and set up for continued digital transformation and innovation into the future.
We must not forget that collaboration and connection remain more important than ever, especially in a diverse region like Asia. Based on the experiences our members have had expanding into the region, having a safe place that is well-equipped with technology and connectivity is essential to successfully establish regional digital hubs that can tap on the benefits APAC has to offer.