Is Southeast Asia the world's next HR tech hub?

Startups in APAC are poised to deliver the kind of change employers and their workforce need in this crisis and beyond

Is Southeast Asia the world's next HR tech hub?

Digital transformation has been a buzzword in the global HR tech scene for the past three years, but not everybody moved in the same pace.

Employers who embraced AI/automation, big data and cloud tech were hailed as champions of innovation, while those who shied away from adopting emerging tech began falling behind.

Fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19 has accelerated five years’ worth of digital transformation, introducing changes in a span of just eight months.

The pandemic has also pushed organisations to modernise their HCM or HRIS platforms to keep up with disruptions from the crisis. Now, it’s a matter of maintaining that momentum.

Read more: How COVID-19 is accelerating hiring automation

“HR Tech can be a force of good for creating a better working world,” said Daniel Callaghan, CEO of The Workplace Accelerator, a programme for growing HR tech startups in the Asia Pacific.

“It can help companies get more done by improving collaboration and engagement through better feedback platforms, or eliminating manual work through [robotic process automation] to help workers focus on higher value-added activities,” Callaghan told HRD.

Having a reliable HR ‘tech stack’ doesn’t just improve workers’ efficiency, collaboration and engagement – it can also help transform workplace culture in the process.

Introducing a real-time payroll system that allows for early wage access, for instance, can alleviate the mental and financial stress that employees associate with the traditional monthly pay cycle.

HR tech can also level the playing field for employees who are historically underrepresented, from the candidate selection to the promotion process.

“It has the ability to improve diversity and inclusion or remove biases in recruitment. It can provide greater career development opportunities and social mobility through online learning or gig economy-based platforms,” the CEO said.

The next ‘powerhouse’
For Callaghan, startups in the region are poised to deliver the kind of change employers and their workforce need during the crisis and beyond.

“Southeast Asia is undergoing a rapid period of growth and development,” he said.

“New practices and ways of working are being formed from the bottom up and have the potential to leapfrog old ways [of doing business] in a single movement.

“The sheer size of population and economic growth means that, over the next five years, Southeast Asia will become a powerhouse and have the collective manpower of more than 40% of the world.  Where better to help shape the tools of tomorrow’s workplace?

“With more than 2,000+ HR Tech businesses across the broader APAC region, there is massive potential,” he said.

Read more: Top 5 tech trends for HR leaders

The accelerator programme has introduced its first cohort of businesses that will undergo 16 weeks of mentorship, networking and potential funding from the accelerator’s own investment syndicate.

“The programme is structured to give real-world insight and hands-on practical advice to solving the problems and challenges the businesses are facing. Everyone involved in working with the participants is an HR Tech or HR professional at a senior level,” Callaghan said.

The seven ventures included in the programme cover six markets in APAC (the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and India) and four categories of HR Tech, from talent acquisition and talent management to core HR functions and productivity & collaboration.

“Accelerators have the potential to play a key role in keeping innovation alive in a post-COVID business climate,” Callaghan said.

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