The rapid digital transformation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has brought excellent opportunities and solutions and unforeseen challenges to startups in Southeast Asia. The region faced the COVID-19 pandemic but developed and adopted new technologies that are now standard in society. Some of the changes that have come to the fore in recent years are the no-code low-code development platforms.

No-code platforms enable laypeople to develop apps or software without technical coding or computer programming skills. Low-code platforms require some knowledge and deliver different additional solutions than no-code platforms. 

Niraj Naidu, APJ Head of Field Engineering, Datastax talks about the battle of the beasts: Apache Pulsar vs. Apache Kafka

An excellent example of a no-code solution is a website builder. These tools help people with no website development knowledge to use drag-and-drop features to build a website for their businesses. An example of a low-code platform is Mendix, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help design enterprise applications. 

NoCode.Tech, a company guiding people in bringing their software ideas to life, says laypeople can use these development platforms to build automation, create customer relationship management (CRM) and support systems, generate leads, and design landing pages. Furthermore, non-tech-savvy individuals can build databases, design mobile and web apps, create workflows, and more. 

Such solutions can be essential for companies in ASEAN, enabling them to streamline their operations, market their businesses, and enhance customer experiences. Unfortunately, Southeast Asian enterprises face challenges in accessing these technologies.

Challenges faced by startups in Southeast Asia

Even though ASEAN startups may want to join the no-code low-code revolution taking the world by storm, they face significant challenges, including

Limited digital skills and resources

Like many other regions, Southeast Asia faces a tech talent crunch that hinders its ability to innovate, adopt new technologies, and solve problems. Workers need reskilling and upskilling, but there are only so many experts to guide them.

Furthermore, issues about inclusion and inequality are preventing businesses from tapping into digital skills and knowledge from seniors, women and minorities. Failing to include other members of society prevents solutions from being well-rounded and valuable for all.

Governments have done a lot to digitise their countries. However, some of their laws and policies have limited companies from recruiting foreign tech experts that could guide the local workforces in upskilling. Thus, many workers do not have the tech abilities to boost their companies.

Small businesses cannot deploy the same level of resources as larger ones. This disadvantage manifests predominantly in the research and development (R&D) divisions. Startups struggle to compete; many must rely on cheap and insufficient coding and programming solutions.

Financial constraints

Secondly, ASEAN has struggled financially, much like the rest of the world, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. After shutting down economic activities to contain the virus spread, a reopening was thwarted several times by the emergence of disease variants. Sadly, many Southeast Asians lost their lives and businesses, and people continued suffering the social and economic fallout.

The global economic situation has recently worsened, limiting the foreign investment that benefits ASEAN startups. Founders need help to invest in much-needed resources like productivity apps, lead generation software, and more. No-code low-code development platforms can be expensive for emerging startups even though they offer an alternative to paying a coding or programming expert.

In addition, the costs of doing business are increasing, with the Federal Reserve’s interest rate rising in the United States affecting countries in Southeast Asia. Startups must contend with higher costs and maintain cash flow, which was already a challenge before the economic downturn.

Lack of access to technology

According to the e-Conomy SEA report 2022 by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company, there is much headroom for the digital economy to grow in ASEAN. The region is not where it wants to be, and many citizens are yet to join the digital revolution. Aside from the financial constraints preventing startups from accessing technology, societal and structural challenges hinder progress.

Infrastructure development, for example, needs to be quicker, as the slow pace is making it difficult for rural startups in Southeast Asia to access technological solutions. Connectivity issues have excluded many people from getting affordable and fast internet, complicating their ability to access no-code low-code solutions.

The recent push for environmental protection has also added pressure on startups to divert funds to ensure they meet sustainability goals. As such, there needs to be more money left for other projects.

With these obstacles in the way, the digital transformation in ASEAN will take some time before everyone can reap the benefits. Stakeholders should offer subsidies to ensure the region can adopt technologies and not be left behind. No-code low-code platforms provide an opportunity for startups to use or develop apps without too much effort, and this should be encouraged.