Digitization: Is China Now Leading the World?

A man using digital tablet with building holograms and internet media icons seeming to float above it.

China now has one of the largest and fastest evolving digital ecosystems in the world. (Image: Sasinparaksa via Dreamstime)

Not too long ago, China was ranked among the technologically backward countries, for sure. However, cut to 2021 and the picture is totally different. It seems China may now be leading the world in digitization. It is now among the thriving digital economies of the world with almost 1 billion web users and its e-commerce sales shot up to a staggering US$1.7 trillion in 2020. It’s not only about the size and figures. The innovation and disruption are worth noting, too. The country is emerging as a leader in many sectors, including the likes of health tech, mobility, fintech, on-demand services, social media, etc. 

Digitization in China

The great retail integration

In China, the consolidation of retail sectors is noteworthy. The outcome is a massive, integrated retail landscape. The Chinese social media platforms are playing key roles in the transformation. Content-based e-commerce is growing through platforms like Douyin, Toutiao, and Bilibili. E-commerce sales are going to be dominated by live streaming and broadcasting as China steps into the Internet-of-things (IoT) age. Experts think supply chain agility will also get a boost. 

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The mobility revolution

China has developed a shared mobility network and the wider availability of electric vehicles (EVs), along with connected “smart vehicles” will take it to new heights. Already, local EV brands have tasted success in the domestic market, including players like Xpeng, Nio, and Li Auto. The upcoming EVs will have IoT features and they will revive updates over the air, much like smartphones. The comprehensive application of AI will not only enrich the customer experience but will also aid the authorities in reducing traffic congestion. Mobility as a service (MaaS) will be a reality soon. Next on the horizon is the commercialization of autonomous driving. This is in sync with Beijing’s target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Nio ES8, an all-electric, 7-seater midsize sport utility vehicle manufactured by Chinese automobile manufacturer Nio, seen in blue.
Already, local EV brands such as Nio have tasted success in the domestic market. (Image: Michael Vi via Dreamstime)

The virtualization of services

Partly triggered by the pandemic, many services are going to be offered in virtual form in the near future. Already, the benefits of using virtual services in sectors like education and healthcare have been felt. Gradually, other sectors will also hop on the bandwagon. Platforms like DingTalk, made by Alibaba, will aid in the convergence of offline and online education delivery. China is all set to experiment with AI for offering interactive and immersive, as well as personalized, learning experiences. This will be spearheaded by 5G adoption. The virtualization of services will also seep into government services and legal sectors.

Digitization of social life

Social networking platforms are not new anymore. The instances of people living in a virtual reality are more prevalent than ever before. The merging of physical and virtual social activities is clear. In Shanghai, there is a bicycle community that came together thanks to an app and now do other social activities together. People who use popular online games streaming sites like DouYu and Huya and like a particular title or genre are taking their online interactions into the real world by forming clubs or joining yoga classes as a group. The top digital players like Tencent are now making portfolios to offer the users a metaverse — a kind of decentralized, customizable ecosystem. 

Digital urbanization

Chinese digital innovations are not limited to the capital and large cities alone. The facilities are also being extended to other cities. Tencent is setting up a smart city in Shenzhen, with a focus on people and the environment. This will benefit the citizens and also help the e-commerce and transport sectors thrive.

Digitization is happening to entire cities in China, like Shenzhen.
A smart city is being set up in Shenzhen, China. (Image: Sean Pavone via Dreamstime)

Industrial IoT digitization

In China, many companies are now moving to the deployment of IoT for mass production and workflow management. IoT is also being used to manage digital supply chain development. Manufacturing companies are warming up to IoT to enhance their efficiency and sustainability. Midea has already started using IoT technologies for enhancing manufacturing processes. Its assembly lines are sensor-enabled and support flexible automation. SAIC, a top automaker has resorted to digital manufacturing and the result is an enhanced customer-to-business model. 

The noteworthy thing is these emerging digital innovations and technologies are being managed by China with remarkable accuracy and the speed and accuracy have left others stunned.

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