Business / Technology

Internet Plus plan a real wake-up call for Chinese companies

By Gao Yuan (China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-10 07:33

Chinese companies have rushed to embrace the World Wide Web since Premier Li Keqiang described the Internet Plus strategy in last year's Government Work Report to the nation's top legislature.

One year later, many firms are doing great work online, but there are still enterprises in traditional sectors that have no idea how to link their business to the Web.

I have been covering China's technology transformation for five years now. When I was reporting events such as the two sessions, I gave a little extra attention to what the members of the political advisory body were saying about information technology-related topics, and Internet Plus was one of the buzzwords or phrases I heard the most.

Allow me to talk about what we did well over the past year.

Chinese tech firms put out an array of excellent practices in both consumer and enterprise markets after Li advocated a wider use of IT technologies in traditional industries to lift efficiency and the quality of products and services.

Giant companies, including Alibaba and Tencent, took advantage of Internet Plus to expand their businesses in more traditionally offline segments, including financial services, imports and entertainment.

Pony Ma, a National People's Congress deputy and the chairman of Tencent, said in his motion submitted to the legislature that the country should give greater support to Internet use in rural areas.

"The Internet Plus initiative should be connected to the people's needs and help upgrade public services such as healthcare," said Ma.

Small tech companies were also introducing products to serve niche markets. I've seen startups that sell juice online rapidly grow their business in Beijing and other big cities. I've talked to young entrepreneurs who have developed three-dimensional cameras and live streaming systems so physicians in Shanghai can perform pancreas surgery on patients thousands of kilometers away by controlling a pair of robotic hands on site.

Internet Plus is creating huge opportunities for all of the technology-savvy companies.

But for factories, mining and more labor-intensive sectors, putting their business online could be a tough task. Many NPC deputies and CPPCC members talked about this issue and introduced motions and suggestions.

The situation is very similar to the rise in cloud computing five or six years ago.

Back then, a great number of executives were excited about the dawning of a new era for their business management and could not wait to see how a fluffy mass of liquid droplets up in the air could help them hire fewer accountants or warehouse workers.

Half a decade has past and it turns out cloud computing is still holding up its earliest customers in finance and energy sectors. Making new technologies a popular practice in our daily lives could take longer than we thought.

I do not think Premier Li introduced the Internet Plus initiative just to boost the slowing future economy: Implementing new financial policies will be more effective in stimulating growth.

The initiative is instead aimed at tackling some of the long-term challenges in China's slack manufacturing sector, inefficient healthcare system and overloaded agricultural industry in the coming decades. I believe the core idea of Internet Plus is to issue a wake-up call for all the participants in these sectors to reform their old ways of doing things.

In my interviews last year, a lot of entrepreneurs and government officials were confusing Internet Plus with other national strategies such as "Made in China 2025", a plan to upgrade the manufacturing sector.

It is easy to understand this confusion because these strategies touch some of the same problems but from different angles. The problem is that China is in urgent need of arming the areas that are critical to its economy with the most advanced technologies because we are already lagging behind.

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