HR tech is one of the fastest-growing industries in the region and has a plethora of startups and established players in the market. However, due to the differing sophistication and market size of each country, Southeast Asia is a challenging region to dominate.

Therein lies the same issue for the HR technology industry as solutions need to be custom-built or tailored for specific markets. This presents a challenge to startups looking to scale their service and for most established businesses to adapt quickly to changing employer and employee needs.

This is where PeopleStrong want to step in to fill that hole in the market. We got a chance to speak to Adrian Tan, Regional Lead for the company in Southeast Asia, about why this Indian HR powerhouse is entering the challenging Southeast Asia market.

He shared his thoughts on the region and how the company plans to establish themselves in the region.

The PeopleStrong product dashboard

Congratulations on being part of PeopleStrong. Can you share why the company decided to expand into the region and what opportunities they see?

Thanks!

It really came from our existing customers in India. We have about 250+ companies that are using our Enterprise HR SaaS platform and some of them have offices in other parts of Asia, primarily Southeast Asia. They really like our product and hope that their non-India based employees can use them as well. Such feedback seeded the idea for us to consider markets outside of India.

In terms of opportunities, there is really plenty. From an HR Tech maturity perspective, India is a few years ahead. I would reckon it is because of two key factors: 

  1. The size of India companies. In Singapore, an SME is about 50 people. You can’t convince them about HR analytics when they are still running payroll on excel sheets. In India, an SME is about 500 people – way beyond the limit of using excel for everything. That forces them to look at better products to solve their HR challenges.
  2. India companies are more pragmatic and less brand sensitive, unlike Singapore where organisations tend to gravitate to the big boys so as to indemnify themselves of personal faults in the future if things go wrong. That encourages innovation by all vendors.

Given so, the solutions we bring to Singapore are years ahead relatively.

We look into the growth and value of HR tech in Southeast Asia

One issue that we sometimes come across is the relative infancy and lack of sophistication of the HR technology industry in the region. Is this something that you see in Southeast Asia?

Yes, I think it is because for the longest time there are only two types of providers. You have the local ones that are bootstrapped and offer solutions that are usable but require a 50 hours workshop to pick up. On the opposite spectrum, you have enterprise vendors that provide consumer-grade solution. But you need to sell your house and a kidney to afford the implementation fee.

Somehow there hasn’t been a deliberate effort to bring an enterprise-level solution with consumer-grade usability. That is what we are trying to bring to the table.

How do you define being ’employee-centric’ vs ‘HR-centric’? How does this impact both the business-side and the employees?

An example of HR-centric would be in the form of digitizing your performance review forms with only radio buttons and checkboxes. The rationale is this would make collation much easier especially for a big organisation. But the employee would be pissed as there would be no way for them to enter their subjective views. This would lead to unhappiness, affect morale and productivity in the workforce.

Employee-centric would provide the design thinking that employee would surely want to enter open text and provision for that. If the collation is an issue, natural language processing could be applied to automatically understand the content and filter them accordingly. Employee friction would be kept to a bare minimum. 

How are you working with clients like Singlife and IBF Singapore, both being in different stages of their business? Singlife is growing aggressively, while IBF is established and stable in size. 

By and large, their requirements are pretty similar in which they wish to replace their existing, non consumer-grade HR platform with something more intuitive. And because we offer end-to-end modules, they like the fact that we could cater to the breadth of their requirements (hire-to-exit) and also we play well with others via API integrations as well as Single Sign-Ons.

A high growth company will still carry some differences but scalability isn’t even an issue for us as we are hosting on AWS Singapore which caters to any companies dynamism in usage.

We look at retaining your top talent in 2019

What markets have the greatest potential for HR Tech disruption in Southeast Asia?

Right now we are very focused on Singapore and Thailand (TRUE corp is our client with 22,000 employees using our platform). We are seeing parallels in markets such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. By default, their larger workforce requires better solutions.

What’s next for PeopleStrong?

We will continue to educate the market about what we have and especially our #newcodeofwork which refers to bringing intelligence, connectivity and open devices to the future offices. And a big part of this would be our continued endeavour to bring clients’ feedback into our R&D. We also have an upcoming annual event in Feb 2020 in which we make major product announcements. Stay tuned!

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