Mavericks Panel: Driving Digital Innovation
Jennifer Tan, CEO of Alipay Payment Services in Hong Kong, started by asking the audience a question. “Before you leave your house – what will you make sure you bring?”
“Mobile phone” was the response from the audience of around 500 senior business executives. “You don’t need a wallet? Only a mobile phone? You guys are very advanced!” she joked.
But Hong Kong still has some way to go in mobile payments. Tan showed a chart demonstrating that credit cards and cash still dominate. Other jurisdictions are streets ahead.
“Every time I go to Mainland China I don’t need any cash – I can just use Alipay,” Tan said. “In Hong Kong, I still need to carry cash, because taxi drivers and some small shops still only accept cash.”
Besides the convenience for consumers, mobile payments help merchants through better efficiency and a low implementation cost. “We want to help businesses to transform digitally,” Tan said.
Alipay’s technology is now being introduced to Hong Kong’s minibuses and wet markets, where merchants can enjoy the benefits of live transaction tracking.
Shing Chow, Founder and CEO of Lalamove, introduced his company’s fast intra-city delivery services. “If you want something delivered within a city, from placing an order to completion takes an average of 46 minutes.”
Lalamove today has a pool of around a million drivers – in Mainland China and Southeast Asia as well as Hong Kong – which it built in the space of just five years.
“How this happened is not due to my management or logistics expertise,” he said. Chow, formerly a professional poker player, said that mobile internet was what made his business possible.
He was also helped by the fact that Hong Kong already had a unique delivery model, using call centres to coordinate pick-ups and delivery.
“We were a sharing economy before the term had ever been heard,” Chow said. “A lot of the innovators in this area come from Hong Kong because we already had the model ready for digitalization.”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) company SenseTime is well known as one of the biggest unicorns to come out of Hong Kong, and has undergone astonishing growth since it was launched in 2014.
Esther Wong, Managing Director of Strategic Investment at SenseTime, explained that it is the largest privately held AI platform. She also emphasised its global credentials.
“We are one of the very few Chinese companies that exports technologies to the world,” she said, adding that the company makes 20% of its earnings from overseas. It works with major international names including Alibaba and Walmart, and Honda is using SenseTime’s technology to develop autonomous driving.
Wong gave an example of how SenseTime’s facial recognition technology can help businesses in the retail sector. “We can tell who comes in, what they do, what kind of goods they pick up, and how long they stay in the store.”
Aged just 26, Terence Kwok, Founder and CEO of Tink Labs (soon to rebrand to Hi Inc), was the youngest CEO on the panel. The company initially rented SIM cards and mobile phones from Hong Kong airport, but now offers a range of services via mobile phones provided in hotel rooms.
“For example, if you want to go to a Broadway show, you can buy the tickets, get them delivered to your hotel, and charge them to your room bill,” Kwok explained.
He said that the travel industry remains very fragmented. “There are over 5,000 different airlines, hundreds of thousands of hotels as well as players in the activities space. There are lots of people all trying to do their own thing, without coordination.”
Kwok expects this to change and sees a lot of consolidation ahead. He also commented that the travel industry remains “very archaic.”
“Companies are using technology that is straight out of the 1980s, and they are very unwilling to change,” he said. “No one is thinking about travel holistically. That is where we come into play. Our mission is to create a seamless travel journey.”
In the Q&A session, moderator Nisa Leung, Managing Partner of Qiming Venture Partners, asked how non-tech businesses could transform their company culture.
Tan from Alipay said that she had previously worked in a large conglomerate, and that such businesses need to be less cautious when adopting new ideas. Chow said that Lalamove thrived on its culture of less hierarchy and more transparency.
General Committee Panel – Smarter Hong Kong
While start-ups get much of the attention in the tech world, long-established businesses are also undergoing dramatic transformations. With speakers from the transport, power and finance sectors, the General Committee Panel represented industries that affect all of our daily lives.
“We are facing a world of accelerated change, and what I say will make you feel a little bit uncomfortable,” said Peter Wong, Group Managing Director of HSBC.
This is because the pace of change is so fast that it is impossible to predict what is around the corner. HSBC’s Payme app, for example, attracted a million users in less than 18 months. Wong noted that while phone and internet banking are well established, it has only been in the past few years that “everything took off big-time.”
To keep up with the rapid evolution of technology, HSBC is working with innovative companies in the sector, Wong explained. For example, it is developing partnerships with fintech companies in Hong Kong, Mainland China, the United Kingdom and Australia, and will invest $2.1 billion in the next few years in technology.
“All this is aimed at getting new ideas into the bank,” he said.
John Slosar, Chairman of Cathay Pacific, said that he had long emphasised the importance of investing in digital – for internal as well as customer-facing areas. Cathay has set up a dedicated digital unit, which has created an ecosystem of integrated operational data – a “central repository of truth,” as he put it.
Slosar pointed out that aviation is very complicated, particularly as airports get bigger and bigger, but that technology can help. “Squeezing out that last 3% or 4% of efficiency can mean the difference between smooth running and disaster,” he said.
Speaking more generally, Slosar said that for Hong Kong to really make itself felt in the digital world it needed two things: talent and an ecosystem of technology companies. He is optimistic about seeing an improvement in the manpower supply, thanks to the top-rated IT courses at Hong Kong’s universities.
Betty Yuen, CLP Group Director, said that “technology has changed the landscape for all business and economies, and it is no different for the power industry.”
The two biggest changes facing the sector are climate change and technology – and there is overlap in these two areas.
“Solar and wind can be developed on a smaller scale than, for example, coal-fired power stations. So small companies and even individuals can produce power.”
The industry has also seen change in the expectations of its users, Yuen explained. “Customers not only expect an uninterrupted electricity supply, they also want more information. For example, to be able to choose clean energy, or the option to adopt smart home solutions.”
CLP has set up an innovation team to drive changes, and also works with universities and other companies, and invests in start-ups. From such collaborations, it has been able to spot areas that need improvement. For example, CLP now uses robotics for high risk work, drones for checking hard-to-access locations, and uses big data to check its systems to predict faults before they occur.
Like our stable electricity supply, Hong Kong citizens can also take for granted a world-class transport system. But today, the MTR, which carries around 5.8 million passengers every day, must do more to keep its customers happy than getting them from A to B.
Lincoln Leong, CEO of MTR Corporation, explained how the MTR is using technology in a number of areas, including improving customer experience by providing more information, targeted advertising and more payment options.
Technology is also being used to enhance operational efficiency – for example the South Island Line is fully automated.
“We are also spending time looking at our maintenance,” Leong added. “How do we leverage the analytics of big data and all the information we are getting from across the network? We are monitoring lifts, escalators and air con across our network to improve customer experience and efficiency.”
The corporation is also using advanced building technology when designing new facilities. “We can leverage the natural environment instead of depending only on air con, and also leverage the use of natural light.”
Moderating the Q&A session, Oscar Chow, Non-executive Director of Chevalier International Holdings, asked about Hong Kong’s current smart city status. Wong from HSBC pointed out that smart city development needs a lot of data, and there were legislative challenges to accessing this.
The panelists all agreed that manpower was an issue, but that cooperation with the rest of the Greater Bay Area – in talent and in technology development – is the key if Hong Kong is to become a leading global smart city.
A Revolution in Healthcare
Founder of WeDoctor explains how technology can train medical ‘masters’ and is saving time and costs in Mainland China by connecting patients, doctors, hospitals, insurers and more
It is fair to say that WeDoctor has revolutionised the provision of healthcare in Mainland China. As our keynote speaker Liao Jieyuan, founder and CEO of WeDoctor, explained, resources are unevenly allocated, costs are high and insurance is inefficiently used. Patients often have to queue for hours just for a very brief consultation with a doctor.
WeDoctor uses technology to connect the different “information islands” in healthcare, insurance and pharma, and allows patients and doctors to save time and costs by communicating online. Today, the platform connects around 2,700 hospitals, 280,000 doctors and more than 180 million users.
Liao explained how he came to found WeDoctor. “In the past, I worked in AI. I wanted machines to be able to listen to us and speak our language,” he said. But a major health issue saw him hospitalized. Witnessing the failings in healthcare first-hand, he saw how technology could help.
He then founded WeDoctor, which initially linked patients and hospitals. In 2015, it established the first “internet hospital” to connect patients and doctors.
The third stage now connects all three elements – hospitals, doctors and patients. Patients can use mobile phones to see test results and make appointments, while doctors can use the platform to contact patients and consult one another.
The platform also acts as a one-stop shop, Liao said. When a doctor prescribes medication, the prescription can be picked up from a convenient drugstore.
“It is like moving the outpatients department of a hospital to your home or your office.”
WeDoctor’s internet model has given rise to the misconception that all consultations are done online. But Liao made the point that the first consultation with a doctor must be done in person. “Online must be integrated with offline,” he said.
The Mainland’s healthcare issues are particularly acute in rural areas, something that Liao well understands. “I grew up in the countryside and I understand how difficult it can be to see a doctor,” he said.
So WeDoctor developed a mobile vehicle that travels to remote areas to provide people with that crucial first consultation.
“When people see this vehicle, it’s like Chinese New Year,” Liao said. “Previously, they were not able to access convenient healthcare.”
The platform continues to use technology to innovate in the healthcare sphere. For example, it is using AI to gather the skills and experience of 500 ‘masters’ – specialists in their field. These include Professor Yu Jin, a renowned expert in gynaecology and infertility as well as traditional Chinese medicine. The technology will then be able to “replicate” Professor Yu, and targets to have the equivalent of 500 versions of her in operation to diagnose patients. This technology will use the knowledge gleaned from the specialists through AI, giving the patients access to the highest level of expertise without having to wait for a long time.
WeDoctor is helping the government by creating a centralised purchasing platform for medicines and equipment, and also in the insurance sphere, by providing consistent and active individual health data.
Liao explained that he had recently been working with the Chinese government on plans to improve healthcare using data and the internet. “Now internet plus and healthcare is being given a big push in terms of development.”
In fact, cooperation with the government has been key to the company’s success, and WeDoctor has enjoyed support at the highest level. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Kechiang both visited WeDoctor hospitals on 11 April last year – Xi in Hainan and Li in Shanghai.
But Liao explained that WeDoctor had to work hard to win this support.
“Healthcare is a regulated industry. This is a critical point,” he said. “In the beginning, the government did not understand, and did not support at first. So we built a model first in a small area in Shanghai.”
This small-scale pilot successfully showed what the platform was hoping to achieve, and set the train of cooperation in motion.
“If you can demonstrate how you can help to enhance the quality of services, then the government will be willing to support your innovations,” Liao said.