Forging the digital Silk Road
2017-10-30, Chuan Neo Chong, chairwoman of Accentur

 What three words would you use to describe China today?

Innovation. Digital. Consumers. China is looking toward a digital future by encouraging innovation-led development. With national initiatives, such as Digital China, Internet Plus and Made in China 2025, we are witnessing a transformation in the nation and Chinese companies.

Work and life are being reinvented by innovative businesses and digital technologies. This in turn offers opportunities locally and globally.

Demands from next-generation Chinese consumers, or Gen Z, are motivated by unprecedented innovation and digital applications. Now, this has reached an enormous scale. It first appeared in the retail sector and has since spilled over into wider industries, such as manufacturing, travel and technology.

What opportunities will the Belt and Road Initiative create for China and the rest of the world?

This will once again put China at the epicenter of connectivity among more than 60 economies from Asia to Europe via Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and the Middle East. The timing is also perfect as there is an undeniable trend toward global digital trade.

There are already early leaders such as China’s e-payment companies. They have quickly expanded mobile payment offerings to consumers in Southeast Asia, Europe and North America.

Balanced trade should be two-way traffic. Asia’s aging population and fast per capita income growth also present great opportunities in finance, education, healthcare, media and entertainment.

A new, digital Silk Road will also pave the way for unprecedented trade volume in cross-border e-commerce. Small and medium-sized enterprises will be able to further engage in the global supply chain and reach out to international markets.

Could China’s experiences be used to solve global problems?

One of the most notable examples has been the ability to unleash potential in consumption. The ongoing supply-side restructuring in China, tax cuts and overcapacity reduction have boosted demand.

Consumption is expected to rise as households have more money to spend. Likewise, businesses will invest in innovation with increased financial power.

Our study reported that the market for tech-savvy, media-connected, next-generation consumers will be worth $6 trillion in Asia alone. Of course, digital is empowering customers with more choices.

Communication with consumers on every level will provide highly personalized products and services.

Which sectors do you think offer the most opportunities for development?

We believe digital sectors will take off in the near future. Our research found that by harnessing the power of digitalization, China stands to grow its GDP by an extra 3.75 percent by 2020. That is the equivalent of adding $527 billion to the economy.

As far as digital output, the country’s automotive, industrial equipment, infrastructure and transportation industries will lead the way in growth. Natural resources and consumer goods will be close behind. But the financial industry’s digital output will represent approximately one-third of the sector’s total in 2020.

In this fast-evolving ecosystem, organizations must learn how to utilize digital skills, technologies and accelerators to enhance their business performance.

What are the most innovative trends and products in China?

One of the most obvious trends is that many Chinese businesses are emerging as platform players (or foundation firms which roll out other companies). They are opening up new paths to strategic growth. Platform players and organizations can tap into resources and capacity that they do not have on their own.

The shift toward ecosystem-fueled value creation has crossed sectors in areas such as finance, transportation and manufacturing. The competitive landscape could easily be turned on its head. Platform players are not only pursuing growth, they are redefining it.

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