China’s once-astounding growth has begun to slow despite the government’s efforts to launch numerous stimulus efforts. As labor costs have risen, China has been losing its cost advantage to countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia. To maintain its edge, China’s economy will have to shift to higher value and more advanced industries — with big data as one of the tools to empower this shift.
Gartner has found that China is now the third biggest spender when it comes to business IT, trailing only the United States and Japan. Even as China’s economy has slowed in recent months, technology spending has remained high.
The potential for big data to revolutionize China is enormous. China boasts the world’s largest and most valuable consumer market. It is already the world’s workshop, producing countless goods for export. Big data will provide key insights into China’s immense consumer market, and will assist Chinese firms looking to engage in high-value economic activities.
Just how much data is being generated? Tencent Holdings reports that its data hoard contains as much as 15 times as much information as the world’s largest library. Tencent’s WeChat app alone has some 760 million people, and the platform’s financial payment services feature offers key insights into consumer preferences. This data itself could be valuable to a wide range of firms, including logistics and financial services.
When big data first emerged, it was often treated as a luxury for the most well-funded companies. That’s because early big data efforts were built from the ground up, and were a huge burden on IT and data departments. Now, big data software solutions allow many more companies to engage in advanced data analytics.
Many of China’s hottest companies, such as Alibaba, are tech companies. Alibaba is often explained as China’s version of Amazon, a massive online marketplace where customers can buy just about anything. How serious is Alibaba about embracing big data? The company has actually set up an 800-person data-platform division team. It will take time before the company can fully monetize its data, but the potential is there.
Online marketplaces generate immense amounts of data, much of which is vital for developing competitive strategies and sales efforts. Big data allows websites to learn more about their customers and their habits, manage supplies and inventories, uncover developing trends and more.
Alibaba isn’t the only company looking to improve its big data game. Search engine giant Baidu, which is more or less the Google of China, has set up its Beijing Big Data Lab and aims to take insights from searches and other company services. Baidu then plans to apply them to other industries such as healthcare, machine learning and predictive analysis.
E-commerce is especially important for China, which boasts the largest market in the world at $615 billion dollars in 2015. That’s about the size of the United States and Europe combined. Mobile commerce is especially important, with engagement of 70 percent of China’s mobile Internet users. In the United States, only about 31 percent of users have embraced m-commerce.
Given the immense size of China’s consumer markets, the total amount of data generated is already massive and will only grow in the future. Big data offers the only efficient way to handle such data loads and is proving vital for companies competing in the marketplaces.
Another big disruptor is JD.com, an online retailer that focuses on delivering to consumers. Using big data to control and distribute inventories as well as a world-class logistics system, JD can actually deliver goods to nearly every Chinese person in two days. Given China’s immense size, this accomplishment is astonishing. JD also uses big data for financial modeling and can finance many of its customers’ purchases.
Much of the discussion has so far focused on the most obvious applications of big data, such as websites like Alibaba. Big data will provide many other benefits, however, and more traditional companies, such as manufacturers, will also be able to leverage it. Big data applied to manufacturing has many benefits, and will prove vital for companies looking to modernize and adapt to the fast changing global economy.
For example, big data can be used to monitor product quality, and to uncover defects. Not only can data analytics recognize the problem, but it can often be used to uncover what’s causing the defects. Data analytics can also cut costs through energy savings, more accurate supply forecasting and by tracking and identifying supplier defects. As China’s manufacturing sector becomes more advanced, big data can also support increased customization and niche manufacturing.
But there’s another side to all of this data collection. Chinese authorities “have a wealth of data at their disposal about what individuals are doing at a micro level in ways that they never had before,” said Ronald Deibert, the Director of The Citizen Lab, a group of researchers at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. It’s fascinating to think about.
We’re only scratching on the surface. Much as China is entering a new era, big data is also entering a new era, constantly evolving and adapting to changing conditions. Big data can be applied in countless ways. And as platforms advance, the world will develop new applications.