Speakers representing a wide variety of companies revealed at the Internet Economy Summit (IES) on 12 and 13 April how technology is transforming the way they do business.
It is helping them improve their product offerings, make efficiency savings and target customers more accurately. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data also have the potential to transform the way we live, from transport to health diagnosis.
In her opening remarks at the event, themed “New Impetus, New Economy,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the Internet had led the world into the digital era and created countless business opportunities.
“We must keep reinforcing and upgrading our capability, as well as providing a conducive ecosystem for innovation and technology development in Hong Kong,” she said.
Lam said the Government planned to strengthen Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the global innovation race, including more resources for R&D and nurturing a technology talent pool.
Mu Rongjun, Co-founder and Senior Vice President of Meituan-Dianping, noted the rapid development of e-commerce and the shared economy. The company focuses on group buying and online delivery, and recently acquired the bike-sharing platform Mobike. Mu discussed how the nature of jobs is changing as traditional industries become less dominant. He explained that as the demand for delivered food rockets, Meituan-Dianping has been able to offer jobs to former miners as delivery drivers.
Mu also made the point that today, many of these technologies are being developed in Asia. “In the past, we went to the U.S. to seek wisdom. Now, the world is coming to China to seek wisdom.”
This was echoed by Scott Beaumont, President of Google Greater China. He pointed out that half of the world’s internet users are in Asia, and their numbers are growing rapidly. “The Asian consumer is pushing the boundary of what these technologies can achieve.”
Among these innovative Asian companies is Ping An Technology, whose CEO, Ericson Chan, spoke at IES. Introducing Chan’s keynote address, Chamber CEO Shirley Yuen said: “The amazing scenes we see in science fiction movies will soon become a reality.”
This was borne out by Chan’s speech, which suggested that this future will arrive sooner than we imagine. He remarked that the latest technologies may turn out to be as important as fire or electricity.
Ping An is one of the biggest names in insurance in the world. But over the past three decades it has diversified into financial services, and now technology including AI, big data and cloud computing.
Some of the technologies that Chan described are nothing short of mind blowing. Voice and facial recognition capabilities are now faster and more accurate than a human, and can even recognise emotions. In the financial sector, this could provide immediate authentication of identity, and will be able to flag up if customers appear nervous or anxious.
Other technologies being developed have been able to predict health events, for example.
“We have been able to forecast flu and even long-term diseases such as diabetes,” Chan said. Health is an increasingly important sector for Ping An Technology, and the company is now working on a healthcare ecosystem.
Stephen Russo, Director of Worldwide Cognitive City Solutions at IBM, discussed how technology can help cities become smarter, for example by warning of unusual weather events. He reported his own recent experience of getting trapped for several days in the northeastern U.S. by a snowstorm. Better predictions would enable businesses to plan in advance. “Being more prepared is just as important as responding in real time,” he said.
But as the benefits of technology grow, so too do the threats. Andrew Rubin, CEO of Illumio, revealed how the huge increase in the volume of data created in recent years means that the “attack surface” has also grown. And while the amount of money being spent on cybersecurity has increased, it is no longer sufficient, he said. Illumio offers a solution it calls micro-segmentation, which reduces this attack surface.
“We cannot prevent every breach” he said, “but we can mitigate these problems when they occur.”
Despite the huge advances in technology, some things have stayed the same. IES speakers from across a range of industries made the same point – the customer is king. In fact, technology is enabling businesses to deliver better products, bespoke services and to develop a deeper understanding of what their customers want.
David Yeh, GM, Ecosystem Partners at Amazon Web Services in Greater China, discussed some of the changes e-commerce has brought. He noted that the traditional supply chain was linear, so manufacturers did not know what their customers thought of their products. Now, manufacturers can receive feedback very quickly, and can change and customise accordingly.
Technology advances are just as important to companies in traditional sectors. Ravel Lai, Regional IT and Digital Director at Jardine Restaurant Group HK, said that 72% of Pizza Hut’s members use its app to place orders. This enables the company to rapidly respond to customer demand and trends.
Karen Chan, Vice President of German Pool HK, agreed. Even as a traditional retailer of electronic products, the company has moved to online for sales and marketing, for example.
“The mobile phone is already the internet world,” she said. “It is an indispensible part of our life and work.”