3 Product Management Challenges in Indonesia

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Product Management is a field I never thought of being a part of my life. I am a person who tends to like the exact sciences like physics and mathematics rather than business or economics. Unexpectedly the way of life led me to remain in product management for almost 5 years, not a small amount of time, approximately 18% of my total life. Of course, product management then defined who I am now. I’m known as a product person rather than, for example, a person who likes to write. Although I must admit that I am engaged in an industry that is still related to the subject of my previous course.

For almost 5 years I have found many things that are a challenge for product people in Indonesia, especially B2B products. Challenges that don’t seem to be happening much in the US but seem to be happening in Europe as well. This may be because the US market has matured with many technology startups entering the positive net profit stage year after year, considering that they have emerged since the 90s, through the dot com bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis.

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Software is something virtual, invisible, and the majority of Indonesians see adding a button or filter shouldn’t be difficult. This is not only the case with B2B clients, but also team members. Some real examples are ERP providers. Creating a feature is seen as something that should be fast and doesn’t have to take long. Whereas in software development, especially SaaS software, adding a feature requires a long study in terms of business needs, user habits, user color preferences, to the ability of the team itself. Because the addition or change of features means adding items in maintenance and system changes whose effort is no less than the development.

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Indonesian users are relatively fond of personalization of their software. This means that personal or business software needs to be able to adapt to the specific wishes of its users. This is obviously very difficult to do in software/applications with massive users like Gojek or Tokopedia. I don’t know the full story on Gojek/Tokopedia regarding this, however, for B2B this is something that is common in Indonesia. B2B software users in Indonesia have a tendency to request customization to their specific business needs. This is also why the SaaS concept software is still low overall even though the trend shows the opposite. According to BCG, the SaaS market in Indonesia will increase from $100 million in 2018 to $400 million in 2023 or 31.9%, a very significant increase. However, in general, it still focuses on HR and finance applications. This trend shows a breath of fresh air that universal software can also be adopted in Indonesia, but it needs to come with more attractive pricing through cloud.

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Product Management is a concept that recently entered Indonesia, which was only brought in by technology startups in the 2010s. Industries that have matured in Indonesia such as banking and manufacturing do not use this term. The closest are Brand Management, Production/Manufacturing Management, and Product Development in Manufacturing. This leads to unequal understanding and definition. Often Product Management, Project Management, and Brand Management (even QA) intersect so that they are assigned to one particular role. Also, product management is seen as a job that includes all products in the company. And most often, Product Manager is seen as a manager role, even though he is an individual contributor whose work will be managed by his lead. This misunderstanding occurs at almost every level of the company’s hierarchy, both stakeholders and staff, even the product staff themselves. I think it’s because there is no product holy book that can be a common direction.

These three things are challenges that I suppose still relevant in the 2020s decade. Thus, the action item that needs to be taken is for product people in Indonesia to come together, form a standard that can optionally be adopted by other people in product management, and also provide awareness to stakeholders related to the scope of product management work. There’s something I’ve forgotten: based on the BCG prediction, I’m still optimistic that in 2030 the adoption of SaaS in Indonesia is high, which shows that Indonesians will want to use a program that is universal in nature even though there are still few personalization features.

Finally, the points above are my personal opinions, so I am happy to accept criticism and input from readers so that my writing can be neater, more structured, and more accurate.

Klaten, October 25, 2022

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