Jul 10, 2020

Gartner: how Chinese companies have adapted to COVID-19

Business Continuity
Daniel Sun
4 min
Working from home
Daniel Sun, Research Vice President at Gartner discusses the successes Chinese company’s have had when adapting to COVID-19...

When the Hangzhou Intime department store in China realised customers would not be able to access its brick-and-mortar location during the COVID-19 quarantine, it partnered with Taobao of Alibaba Group to focus on a new channel — social marketing. Using its own employees and sales clerks to host, Hangzhou Intime reported one livestream event generated the same as pre-coronavirus weekly in store sales.

This partnership enabled them to maintain relationships with their customers and, more importantly, build up a positive cash flow channel that continued to bear fruit even as stores opened and the lockdown was lifted. 

Essentially all businesses were affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Those that demonstrated innovation increased business model resilience and adapted to the new business environment.

Under such challenging circumstances, China provides some great examples of business model resilience among companies within traditional industries that the rest of the world can learn from.

Two types of Chinese organisations demonstrating strong business model resilience were those that leveraged digital giants successfully and those with a strong automation foundation.

Partnering with digital giants

With movie theatres closed during the coronavirus outbreak, Huanxi Media risked losing millions of dollars on its movie “Lost in Russia.” The company partnered with ByteDance, a digital media platform best known for TikTok, as a new distribution channel for the movie specifically because the platform covers the majority of the movie’s target audience. As a result, Huanxi earned $91 million and a share of the advertising revenue.

More than 40% of CIOs and IT leaders consider their relationship with digital dragons (a more impressive subset of digital giants) to be tactical and view them solely as technology providers. In addition, less than 2% of businesses think of the digital dragons as strategic business partners. This is a major mindset issue, which makes CIOs and IT leaders a main “barrier” to companies partnering with digital giants to raise business model resilience.

These numbers may change as the world recovers from the pandemic because the giants emerge and recover relatively strong. CIOs might also still shy away from partnering with the competition, however, the reality is that many of these partnerships forged during the crisis have proven successful for both parties and will be built upon.

A fundamental step for successfully leveraging digital giants is to evaluate your current business models and see if they fit within it, only then can you decide where to use digital giants in order to optimise your activities and plans. 

Leverage automation successfully

Automation is not something that every company can achieve immediately however, it evidently and undoubtably helps companies to successfully navigate crisis recovery in China and across the world. If the COVID-19 pandemic becomes cyclical, automation can allow companies to navigate any future instances of this pandemic more comfortably and economically. Given that the achievement of automation is largely driven by digital technologies and capabilities, CIOs should take the lead. 

A rapid and successful deployment of automation was when China Minsheng Bank (CMB) invested heavily in digital transformation and process automation for years. It knew the business loan application process could be cumbersome and complicated, which was not ideal for the organisations most in need during a pandemic.

CMB created a new product supply chain product with the capability to review online applications, verify accounts, mange online lending and automatically approval the right customers. The product reduced the approval process time to 30 minutes which massively improved customer experience and CMB’s operational effectiveness which made it an attractive offering for businesses during the pandemic and today. 

Obviously, it’s not possible to automate every piece of the business, but you should look for vulnerable areas where frequent human error, slow completion time and tedious manual work are the main issues. Once these areas are identified, work with stakeholders to match them with the key automation technology instead of always relying on better skilled labour. 

By focusing on the three key technologies of automation: robotic process automation, intelligent business process management suites, and integration platform as a service, businesses can find a solution to almost all of their automation needs.

For organisations looking to establish automation during the post-COVID-19 recovery, hiring an entirely new team to build your automated system isn’t feasible. Instead, look to current employee skill sets and try to leverage those by upskilling and reskilling you best talent.

Focus then on minimum viability automations over fully comprehensive automation to reach milestone that earn you more time to invest. It is an organisation-wide project and by keep less tech-savvy stakeholders looped into the process the end result will strongly focus on achieving key business priorities more effectively.

For more information on business topics in Asia Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief APAC.

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Jun 7, 2021

Business Chief Legend: Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek

3 min
Singaporean Ho Ching created the largest listed defence engineering company in Asia, before leading Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund to global success

Ask Singaporeans who Ho Ching is, and the majority will answer the ‘wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’. And that’s certainly true. However, she’s also the CEO of Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, and one of the world’s largest investment companies.

Well, she is until October 1, 2021, as she recently announced she would be retiring following 16 years as CEO of the investment giant.

Since taking the reins in 2004, two years after joining Temasek as Executive Director, Ho has gradually transformed what was an investment firm wholly owned by Singapore’s Government into an active investor worldwide, splashing out on sectors like life sciences and tech, expanding its physical footprint with 11 offices worldwide (from London to Mumbai to San Francisco) and delivering growth of US$120 billion between 2010-2020.

Described by Temasek chairman Lim Boon Heng as having taken “bold steps to open new pathways in finding the character of the organisations”, Ho is credited with building Temasek’s international portfolio, with China recently surpassing Singapore for the first time.

As global a footprint as Ho may have however, she has her feet firmly planted on Singapore soil and is committed to this tiny city-state where she was not only educated (excluding a year at Stanford) but has remained throughout her long and illustrious career – first as an engineer at the Ministry of Defence in 1976, where she met her husband, and most notably as CEO of Singapore Technologies, where she spent a decade, and where she is credited with repositioning and growing the group into the largest listed defence engineering company in Asia.

It’s little wonder Ho has featured on Forbes’ annual World’s Most Powerful Women list for the past 16 years, in 2007 as the third most powerful woman in business outside the US, and in 2020 at #30 worldwide.

But it’s not all business. Ho has a strong track record in Singapore public service, serving as chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research and as deputy chairman of the Economic Development Board; and is a committed philanthropist with a focus on learning difficulties and healthcare.

As the pandemic kicked off, she not only led active investments in technology and life sciences, with German COVID-19 vaccine developer BioNTech among the most recent additions to Temasek’s portfolio, but through the Temasek Foundation – the firm’s philanthropic arm which supports vulnerable groups close to Ho’s heart, handed out hand sanitiser and face masks.

So, you would be forgiven for thinking that at age 68, Ho might simply relax. But in March 2021, just as she announced her retirement from Temasek, Ho joined the Board of Directors of Wellcome Leap, a US-based non-profit organisation that’s dedicated to accelerating innovations in global health. Not ready to put her firmly grounded feet up yet it seems.


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