Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an increasingly important factor in the success of many startups in Southeast Asia. Its ability to automate tasks and improve operational efficiency can be a powerful tool for regional businesses in various sectors. However, finding the right balance between automation and human talent can be tricky. Southeast Asia’s AI and talent scene needs to complement, not work against each other, for true success. 

Careful implementation is necessary to reduce the negative impact of AI on jobs while still taking advantage of the efficiencies and time-saving attributes of the new technology. Training and upskilling staff to use AI is crucial and can benefit the company while helping employees adapt to new work practices. 

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The case for automation

Automation has become a buzzword for startups globally and in Southeast Asia. With the increasing advancement of technology, using AI and automation in the workplace has become more common. Many startups are adopting technology to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase productivity. In fact, according to McKinsey, at least one function has been fully automated in 31% of businesses

One significant benefit of automation is that it can handle repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing time for human talent to focus on more complex and creative tasks. It can save time, help reduce errors and improve the overall quality of work. Additionally, automation can also help to reduce costs, as it requires less maintenance and can work around the clock, eliminating the need for employees to work overtime.

Automation can be advantageous for startups in ASEAN, where more skilled workers are often needed. It can fill gaps in skills and knowledge, allowing startups to take on larger projects and compete more effectively in the market. Furthermore, automation can help to scale businesses quickly, allowing them to grow and expand operations without incurring additional costs.

However, since automation can potentially replace some human workers, leading to unemployment and job insecurity, it is vital to recognise its impact on the job market. As such, startups need to be mindful of the potential repercussions of automation on their workforce. While automation can help increase productivity and efficiency, it should not replace human talent.

Overall, the case for using AI is strong in regional startups. Still, there must be harmony between automation and human talent to ensure that both can coexist in the workplace if startups are to reap the benefits of automation while also providing long-term sustainability for their workforce.

Nurturing human talent

While automation has its benefits, certain tasks still require human talent, skills and expertise. Recognising human talent’s value in the startup ecosystem is vital.

One of the critical advantages of human talent is its ability to adapt and think creatively. Startups often require problem-solving skills that can only be developed through experience and intuition. Humans also provide valuable insights into market trends and customer behaviour, helping startups to pivot and stay ahead of the competition.

Moreover, employees play a critical role in building relationships and networking, which are crucial for startup success. Entrepreneurs and team members with strong interpersonal skills can build trust with investors, partners, and customers, helping to secure funding and grow the business.

While automation can improve efficiency, it also has the potential to displace workers. By prioritising the upskilling of workers to use AI to streamline mundane tasks, startups can create jobs that contribute to economic growth in the region.

Ultimately, startups should view automation and human talent as complementary rather than competing forces and create a dynamic and sustainable business model leveraging the best of both worlds.

Finding the right balance

Startups should consider the following key elements when implementing AI, machine learning and automation into their business:

1. Understand the business needs: Evaluate which tasks and processes can be automated and which require the expertise and creativity of human talent.

2. Invest in training: Training employees to work seamlessly alongside automated processes rather than being replaced by them is vital when implementing new technology.

3. Seek employee feedback: Talking to employees about their concerns on AI adoption and involving them in decision-making to find a solution that works for everyone will enhance acceptance.

4. Understand the importance of culture: A strong company culture can help balance automation and human talent, as it promotes collaboration and communication between employees and technology.

5. Continuously evaluate and adjust: As the startup grows and evolves, the balance between automation and human talent will also change. Regular assessment of processes and adaptation accordingly will ensure the utilisation of the strengths of both automation and human talent to the fullest. 

While challenging, finding the right balance between automation and human talent is possible and essential for the success of startups in Southeast Asia. By understanding the business needs, investing in training, seeking employee feedback, promoting a strong company culture, and continuously evaluating and adjusting, it is possible to strike the perfect balance between the AI and talent scene in Southeast Asia and reduce the negative impact of AI on jobs in the region