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Health for the connected consumer

By Zhong Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-08 09:46
Roy Jakobs, executive vice-president of Royal Philips, and chief business leader for the group's Personal Health Businesses, at a media roundtable in Nanjing in early March. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Roy Jakobs helps Philips adapt to tech-enabled lifestyles of the 21st century

Conversant in five European languages and having traveled and worked in many parts of the world, Roy Jakobs, executive vice-president of appliance giant Royal Philips, thinks he knows a thing or two about the latest activities in innovation.

A healthy lifestyle, digital technology, consumption upgrade and sustainable business growth - these and other similar themes are very much on his radar, given his additional role as chief business leader for the personal health business of the Amsterdam-headquartered group.

Jakobs believes China's ongoing consumption upgrade and the government's Healthy China 2030 national strategy will raise the country's demand for more healthcare products and solutions.

Oral healthcare, sleep aids, male grooming products, and even kitchen appliances will likely see a spike in sales, he said.

Philips sees a growing healthcare problem in the world, and China also faces many health challenges, including an aging population with a higher burden of chronic diseases and increasing rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease linked to lifestyle factors like smoking. All these result in serious pressures on the Chinese medical system, he said.

"Consumer trends show that there is a growing need for people to take care of their health. Keeping people healthy is widely recognized as one of the best ways to counter the rising cost of treating the sick," said Jakobs.

As personalized solutions can enable healthier lifestyles and support disease prevention, we think that digitalization and technological innovation are paving the way for more personalized, affordable and accessible healthcare service, said Jakobs, adding his company has accumulated expertise in connectivity, cloud technology, big data and artificial intelligence or AI.

Attracted by China's market potential and mature telecommunication infrastructure, Philips established an AI lab in Shanghai in 2018 to drive the deep integration of AI technologies with a wide spectrum of areas, including medical imaging, image-guided therapies, patient monitoring, health informatics, home care and personal health.

"We believe AI will help connect the health journey, adding context to health data and turning it into actionable information that will help consumers and our healthcare customers to achieve their goals. This technology is a key enabler to improve service to both patients and consumers," said Jakobs.

Within the company, Jakobs and his colleagues have another way to address AI. They call it Adaptive Intelligence, as it supports solutions that adapt to people's needs and extend their capabilities - helping consumers to live healthy lifestyles.

They expect these AI-enabled personal health solutions to make consumer products more intelligent than ever before, have them adapt to user needs to provide optimized personalized user experiences.

Jakobs, who previously worked in Shanghai for two-and-a-half years and lived with his family, said Chinese consumers like innovation and are fast-paced, so multinationals need to be fast in developing their innovations too.

"They (Chinese consumers) like connectivity and bringing software to the game, so we need to become more intelligent in our solutions," he said. "The shopping behavior has changed a lot, both in the consumer journey for education as well as for shopping, and you need to be where your consumer is, and the Chinese consumer moves fast."

In addition to setting up most of its research and development facilities in China and the United States, Philips has its manufacturing facilities in China, he said. The company has over 8,000 employees and more than 1,000 engineers in China. They help it to export more from China than it imports. China currently is Philips' second-largest market after the US.

Because Philips employs around 77,000 employees across sales and services in more than 100 countries and regions, Jakobs stressed that China has always been a fairly important hub in its global operations, especially in economies related to the Belt and Road Initiative. The company's products made in China reach every country and region in the world.

It is expensive to cure diseases and many places are short of doctors, especially in rural areas, these days. So, the government has already looked at how to deal with this situation, said Sun Fuquan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development in Beijing. As Chinese consumers have become more health-conscious, they are shifting from personal to personalized healthcare products, he said.

After living and working in Belgium, Portugal, Italy, the Middle East and China for many years, Jakobs and his wife now live in Amsterdam. He enjoys traveling, outdoor recreational activities, cooking, reading during his spare time, and coaching his three children to play football during weekends.

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