China has a rich history of innovation, and is the birthplace of many inventions that have shaped the world. Papermaking can be traced back to the year 105 CE, and the arrival of woodblock printing in 868 CE created the world’s first print culture. Together with the compass and gunpowder, these make up the four great inventions that were celebrated in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.
I recently had an opportunity to visit China to discover how today’s technologies are shaping major businesses. In the cloud, retail and financial services sectors especially, there was a strong desire to accelerate the pace of innovation, and to find new ways to reach customers. The size and scope of transformation is astounding, much of it led by the rise of younger, well-educated business leaders, who are shaking up workplaces and business models. The rapid change is supported by the financial “big bang” in Shanghai, which is driving the financial sector towards a leadership position on the global stage.
Engaging with Customers
A significant challenge in retail comes from the returns that result when customers buy clothes that are the wrong size. One of China’s biggest retailers has identified the opportunity to use 3D cameras in computing devices to help customers to choose clothes that are the right size, potentially from their homes as the cameras become integrated in more and more consumer devices. 3D cameras can be used to measure photographic subjects, enabling new applications that can offer tailored advice to shoppers seeking the perfect fit. Customer confidence and satisfaction are likely to improve significantly when customers can be sure of ordering the right size, which creates fantastic growth opportunities for businesses that demonstrate leadership in this area.
Reaching Out to Customers
One fascinating area of business at the moment is the rapid rise of the shared economy and the disruption it is creating for traditional business. In this model having access to something often trumps the need to own it. Consider examples such as AirBnB* accommodation services, or Uber* and Didi Dache* transportation services. This is causing many mainstream enterprises to put a spotlight on how to transform and create a digital platform for the future. I spoke with a large insurance provider and it was clear they knew they needed to transform but were unsure how to approach doing so. If you think about the shared economy examples above you could ask the question “what’s the insurance model” for them? It’s surely different to a traditional business. Is this an opportunity for the insurance industry first movers to develop new offerings around? If so, how would one deploy value add services to customers in the mobile manner they now demand and do so rapidly to gain some market traction? Part of the challenge with this is that many of the IT assets, systems and information sources are locked up in legacy architecture that has historically been difficult to access. A major advancement is in the sophistication and ease of use provided by modern API management technologies, which enable organizations to rapidly get to multiple sources of information and develop and mobilize new services in a fraction of the time it used to take.
The creation of the applications is sometimes complicated by the variety of mobile platforms in use. Many organizations worldwide are using HTML5 to create cross-platform applications, and one of the Chinese retailers I spoke to said they’ll be looking at tools that accelerate HTML5 development, so they can target more devices without increasing their development costs.
IoT for Energy
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key driver of business transformation, enabling businesses to have unprecedented insight into their infrastructure. One of the energy companies I met with is looking to build intelligence into everything from the drill head to the refinery and even into the network of petrol stations they have. One supplier was quoting $15,000 for an attachment to make a drill intelligent. When you consider they literally have hundreds of thousands of assets they need to re-instrument, this clearly doesn’t scale, and it doesn’t represent the most cost-effective solution available today, when standardized gateway solutions can add intelligence and connectivity at a fraction of the cost. The cost vector along with growing maturity in this new area will allow companies to make massive (and cost effective) improvements to the way they deploy intelligence across their business.
Mobility in Healthcare
Healthcare is a sector that is being transformed by technology worldwide, and China is no exception. I had an insight into how one leading hospital is using technology to improve communications between doctors (with tablets), nurses (with smartphones) and patients (with interactive kiosks); and how workflows between the hospital and the pharmacy are being integrated. They’ve been able to cut the time taken to provide a prescription by half, and 55% of patients now use the mobile application or interactive kiosks to make appointments and check in. That is increasing efficiency and cutting waiting times, delivering real benefits to patients and improving the level of care they receive.
Coming Together for the Cloud
The 8th Annual Internet Protocol Data Casting (IPDC) Forum brought together the top cloud computing companies, ranging from small and highly specialized providers to companies offering hyperscale solutions. It was a great opportunity to meet with peers and explore ways we can collaborate to drive innovation and help more businesses deploy the cloud successfully. There was strong interest in the SMAC paradigm (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) which is the new platform for building a digital business. In China as much as anywhere, it was clear that this paradigm will be transforming the workplace of tomorrow profoundly.
I’m looking forward to seeing how China uses all these technologies to drive its continued rapid growth, building on its reputation for creativity and invention.
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.