Originally published in Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age Book, 14 November 2017.


Digital Revolution in ASEAN: The Impact Today and Drivers of Tomorrow


How will the digital revolution impact economic prosperity in ASEAN? What will be the driving factors?

No matter what industry you are in, “digital” is a familiar term that comes up in nearly every conversation today, especially if you are in ASEAN. Whether it’s DBS Bank, Axiata Group, Carousell, or RedMart, each of these companies is actively embracing the digital revolution and are making strides to engage with today’s tech savvy consumers.

Specifically looking at the automotive and transport industries, regional tech companies, global car manufacturers and even local governments are also leveraging digital innovations in order to connect with consumers within ASEAN.


Specifically looking at the automotive and transport industries, regional tech companies, global car manufacturers and even local governments are also leveraging digital innovations in order to connect with consumers within ASEAN.


A New Digital Experience

Grab, the region’s leading mobile taxi booking service network, is in 55 cities across Southeast Asia and the Grab app has been downloaded onto over 45 million devices1. Since its launch, the company has continuously rolled out new features to enhance user experience. In August 2017, Grab launched its new peer-to-peer fund transfer feature, to enable consumers to transfer GrabPay Credits to one another2.

BMW is also riding the digital wave globally and in the region from manufacturing plants to showrooms. For example, in 2016 Performance Motors (PML), the authorised dealer for BMW cars and motorcycles in Singapore, launched their newly renovated showroom under the “Future Retail” concept. As part of the launch, a new key offering in the form of the Virtual Product Presentation (VPP) device was introduced to enable the display of car configurations on a high-definition 3D displays in a highly realistic and detailed representation. Customers no longer have to rely on their imagination, or need to see in person, the colours, options, and packages they have chosen for their new BMW.

In order to bring the showroom to the customer, this year ASUS Global introduced the availability of the BMW i Augmented Reality (AR) Visualiser to customers in Singapore. Compatible with the new ASUS ZenFone AR smartphone and powered by Tango, Google’s smartphone augmented reality technology, customers can explore and pre-configure their ideal BMW i3 or BMW i8 wherever and whenever they chose to.

In the public transport sector, Singapore announced in 2017 that users with NFC-enabled mobile phones can simply tap in and out of the MRT, LRT and public buses using their phones. The country is also exploring the use of health and fitness wearable devices as payment modes for public transport rides. Thanks to digital innovations, Singapore is well on its way to a “hands free” fare system for public transport.


The Road Ahead in ASEAN

It’s clear the digital revolution is alive and kicking throughout certain markets in ASEAN. However, the question remains as to how ALL markets in ASEAN across all industries can embrace digital innovations in order to grow not only their individual economies, but the region as a whole. As the world’s 3rd largest economy with more than 630 million people, 70 percent under the age of 40, across 10 countries, ASEAN has a tough road ahead, but not an impossible one. In order to prosper in the next 50 years, a few key factors need to be considered.


Human Capital

According to “Digital in Southeast Asia in 2017”, a special report by We Are Social and Hootsuite, 53 percent of the combined population in the region is online today, 47 percent are active social media users, 133 percent have mobile subscriptions and 42 percent are active mobile social users. In order to tap this customer base and stay ahead of the game throughout the digital revolution, organisations need a different type of “human capital” than what was needed in the past.

In the past, we looked for employees with technical skills who could build innovative digital technologies. While they are still important today, organisations across the region need to search for employees who live and breathe the digital world. This new type of “human capital” is understanding what a customer wants and needs from a digital world and what experience they are looking for.



With 10 different countries within ASEAN, there are 10 different sets of regulations for every sector. The good news is, as a region, we are making progress in this area. For instance, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish the ASEAN Federation of Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Association (AFEHVA). The exchange of best practices, policies, information and technology will benefit all parties by creating a more favourable environment for the sector to develop and flourish in the long run.


Public and Private Cooperation

According to Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, “There are big problems that change the world. If we are working together, that will make us understand each other, appreciate each other, help each other.” When it comes to the digital revolution, private companies can only do so much. Without support and cooperation with the public sector, whether it be academic institutions or government bodies, there is a ceiling to what can be achieved.

For example, in order for electric vehicle adoption to be a success, car manufacturers can develop the vehicles, technology companies can develop the applications, and service providers can assist in the installation of charging infrastructure. However, without support from academic institutions for R&D or government organisations to incentivise consumers to adopt the new technology, success will be hindered.


New Opportunities, New Expectations

The proliferation of digitalisation has opened new doors to how we live, work and play and the demand for hassle-free experiences wherever we go has resulted in the development of new and innovative solutions. ASEAN is unmistakably at the forefront the digital revolution and, based on current and future developments, the region has a strong chance of maintaining this position globally.


Download PDF Document Download Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age e-book


About Paul de Courtois


Mr. Paul de Courtois began his career at the BMW Group in 1997 in the Sales department of BMW Group France. He then worked at BMW Group headquarters in Munich, BMW Group Hungary and BMW Group Poland before taking on his current position as Managing Director for BMW Group Asia in Singapore.